Conflict is an intrinsic and inevitable aspect of social change. It is am expression of the heterogeneity of interests, values and beliefs that arise as new formations generated by social change com up against inherited constraints. It is agreed by most that not all conflicts can or should be resolved. In most cases the conflict wants to be won by both parties involved. This essay will attempt to critically analyse theories and models held within the topics of conflict, conflict management and conflict resolution.
An understanding of the nature of conflict including both the positive and negative aspects, using the reconciliation debate within Australia, should be reached. Condliffe (2003) defines conflict as a perceived thereat to our collective or individual goals, which are associated with our intra personal and interpersonal wants. Conflict is sometimes used to refer to inconsistencies in the motions, sentiments, purposes or claims of entities and sometimes to the process of resolving these inconsistencies as stated by Burton (1990). The process of conflict characteristically goes through stages of perception, realisation, avoidance, flashpoint, intervention, strategy and evaluation. Conflict is a necessary process that has both negative and positive aspects but is always present in our society. Conflict is not always straightforward and in fact some conflicts cannot be resolved at all or if they are resolved, time limited solutions can be a result and things may fall apart again later, this relating to Tidwell's statement.
The issues that lead to conflict are those that are deeply rooted in human behaviours. The resolution of conflict or conflict resolution is the transformation of relationships in a particular case by the solution of the problems, which led to the conflictual behaviour in the first place as stated by Burton (1990). This transformation does not necessarily eliminate future problems in relationships or remove residual antagonisms. Conflict that occurs in society can be resolved leaving the two parties involved with closure of the problem. Most conflict can be managed instead of resolved completely.
Not only can conflict be managed or resolved but also there are identified ways of responding to the nature of conflict. Thomas (1979, 90) states that there are five styles that you can be faced with when confronted with conflict. These are avoidance, compromise, competition, accommodation and collaboration. Avoiding conflicts and hoping that they will "go away" is one of the five styles listed by Thomas. This encompasses putting problems under consideration or on hold, invoking slow procedures to stifle the conflict and the use of secrecy to avoid confrontation. Compromise is the use of negotiation or the looking for deals and or trade offs and finding satisfactory or acceptable solutions.
Competition is the creation of win lose situations, the use of rivalry, the use of power play to get ones ends and the forcing of submission. Accommodation is giving way or submission and compliance. The last of Thomas styles is collaboration, which is a problem-solving stance. It includes confronting differences and sharing ideas and information, search for integrative solutions, finding situations where all can win and seeing problems and conflicts as challenging. Any of these styles may be adhered to and acknowledged at the appropriate time.
Each of these styles could be used as appropriate to the situation. These can all have both positive and negative effects depending on the situation. We may choose to avoid the conflict with a partner if we feel that the relationship should be maintained and is more important than the conflict at hand. We may even adopt a more competitive style if a decision is to be made quickly and the goal is more important than the relationship. Most conflict theorists write about conclusion according to the situation of conflict. If the conflict is concluded then society may live in harmony.
They view this as an only source of conflict resolution. This sounds acceptable in theory but in the presence of real society Thomas five styles of conflict management could be more realistic in terms of conflict resolution. Closure could be and does sound the practical solution but the relationship could break down again in later days. Conflict is usually either issue based or personality based or both together. Differences of opinions on certain issues frequently lead to conflict amongst individuals and groups especially in work place situations. Theorists such as Karl Marx wish society to live in harmony with no conflict present.
Difference of opinion may cause conflict with certain parties, but this conflict may have constructive reasons behind it therefore making it beneficial. It is quite difficult to draw the line between disputes that are the normal and constructive features of social life and the conflicts that are deep rooted and destructive of human needs. Deutsh's (1973) model shows us more clearly the distinction between underlying issues and overt disputing behaviour, causing constructive and deconstructive conflict. Conflict can be constructive and healthy for an organisation, individuals or groups. It can aid in developing individuals and improving the organisation or group by building on the individual assets of its members. Conflict can bring about underlying issues.
It can force people to confront possible defects in a solution and choose a better one. The understanding of real interests, goals and needs is enhanced and ongoing communication around those issues is induced. In addition, it can prevent premature and inappropriate resolution of conflict. Constructive conflict occurs when people change and grow personally from the conflict, involvement of the individuals affected by the conflict is increased, cohesiveness is formed among team members, and a solution to the problem is found. However, if conflict is not managed properly, it can be detrimental to any individuals involved by threatening their unity, their work place partnerships, team relationships, and interpersonal connections. Deconstructive conflict occurs when a decision has not been found and the problem remains, energy is taken away from more important activities or issues, morale of teams or individuals is destroyed, and groups of people or teams are polarised.
Unless the issue is addressed, the outcomes present will probably not be effective, especially in the longer term. The relationship could breakdown in the long run according to the resolution maintained. Reconciliation is a term which refers to a process whereby Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, non-Indigenous Australians and the nation of Australia can forge a new relationship based on mutual understanding, recognition and respect as stated by the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR, 2002). All Australians seek an Australian society that is based on recognised rights, fair dealing, friendly relations and shared respect. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation's vision is for a united Australia and it has recognised that better relationships need to be forged between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community, as well as between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and within their communities and organisations. The case of reconciliation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia is a fine example where conflict has been resolved or thought to be resolved within a large group of people.
On the surface of this conflict the resolution seems recognised, partly by the government of Australia. The aboriginal people feel differently as they do not feel as though this problem has been resolved to the most full. Although many positive aspects have evolved from this process of resolution, judicial, legislative and political developments have impacted negatively on the reconciliation process. Jonas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner (2002), stated that there is a lack of progress in implementing reconciliation, commenting that There is an urgent need for the federal government to commit, in meaningful terms, to the final recommendations of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. This proves that the government is somewhat acting on hearsay. They are communicating to the public that they want to resolve this ongoing conflict but really on the inside of this they are really not doing anything of the sort.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation believes that a key element of reconciliation is the recognition by all Australians of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, firstly because of their status as the original peoples of the continent and the Torres Strait Islands and secondly as Australian citizens. This conflict is not being resolved or managed very effectively. The use of avoidance (Thomas, 1979) seems to be a recurring issue with the government and some people of Australian society. The government is seen to use compromise within this issue. This is seen when the government gave a public apology on behalf of all Australians to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Ultimately, the Australian Government will decide whether to accept all, or only some, of the proposals Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples want to achieve.
However, the pursuit of reconciliation and closure or just plainly management of the ongoing conflict, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will not conclude until this is met by the government. Conflict arises in many settings: it can be claimed that conflict itself is not a problem but a healthy part of life that, if managed productively leads to opportunities for change and growth. But if positive conflict management efforts do not occur, or fail despite best efforts, consequences, such as those highlighted within the Reconciliation debate in Australia, can occur without much delay. Conflict resolution methods have a very wide scope and can be applied to problems of partners, of parents, work and to members of organisations. We now hear much talk about negotiation, mediation, peacemaking, peacekeeping, negotiated settlements, intermediaries, negotiators and constructive diplomacy. These are all very relevant to conflict but if the two parties are not willing to resolve through the use of these methods then it is plainly an end to an end.
It is better to maintain management of the conflict than to split both parties into a power stricken fight to win. Resolving conflict is not always possible, as sometimes people have reasons for continuing conflict or even avoiding it. This has been shown throughout this essay using the reconciliation debate as a prime example of the simplicity of avoiding a situation. Resolution is not always the answer but it is the key.