Conflict occurs naturally and involves two or more parties with differing interests and perspectives. It takes place at personal levels (between family members and friends and even within oneself) and at formal levels (between politicians, diplomats and businesses). It can also act as a stimulus for addressing complaints.  However, if channelled improperly, conflict has the potential to intensify and erupt into violence.

What is Conflict Management?

Conflict management is not the same thing as Conflict resolution. conflict resolution involves the reduction, elimination, or termination of all forms and types of conflict while conflict management is the practice of being able to identify and handle conflicts sensibly, fairly, and efficiently with the goal of improving learning in an organisation or amongst a people.

Conflict management refers to techniques and ideas designed to reduce the negative effects of conflict and enhance the positive outcomes for all parties involved. Conflict management is not saying “shut the door, we don’t want to have conflict”, it is however saying “conflict is ongoing, what do we do so that its impact is not terrible on us?”

It’s important to note that there are many strategies we can use in conflict situations, but each of us tends to habitually use some strategies more often than other strategies.  To most effectively resolve a conflict, we should use the strategy that is most appropriate for that particular conflict situation.  However, that strategy might not be the strategy that we would naturally want to use.

There are series of strategies we can choose from when in conflict situations:

  • Forcing/Competition – this is using formal authority or other power that you possess to satisfy your concerns without regard to the concerns of the party that you are in conflict with. Competition operates as a zero-sum game, in which one side wins and other loses. Highly assertive personalities often fall back on competition as a conflict management strategy.
  • Accommodating – this is allowing the other party to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own. The use of accommodation often occurs when one of the parties wishes to keep the peace or perceives the issue as minor.
  • Avoiding – this implies not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it. By delaying or ignoring the conflict, the ”avoider” hopes the problem resolves itself without a confrontation. Those who actively avoid conflict frequently have low esteem or hold a position of low power.
  • Compromising – this means attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both parties, but completely satisfactory to neither. The compromising strategy typically calls for both sides of a conflict to give up elements of their position in order to establish an acceptable, if not agreeable, solution. This strategy prevails most often in conflicts where the parties hold approximately equivalent power.
  • Collaborating – this entails cooperating with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing your own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win). Collaboration works by integrating ideas set out by multiple people. The object is to find a creative solution acceptable to everyone. Collaboration, though useful, calls for a significant time commitment, however not necessarily appropriate to all conflicts.

How to Match Strategies to Situations

There are a few key variables that define conflict management situations and determine which conflict management strategies are likely to be effective.  Time pressure is an important variable–if there were never any time pressures, collaboration might always be the best approach to use.  In addition to time pressures, we have:

  • Issue importance – the extent to which important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict.
  • Relationship importance – how important it is that you maintain a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party.
  • Relative power – how much power you have compared to how much power the other party has.

When you find yourself in conflict over very important issues, you should normally try to collaborate with the other party.  But, if time is precious and if you have enough power to impose your will, forcing is more appropriate.  Realising that, you might need to repair the relationship after using a forcing strategy if the other party feels that you did not show adequate consideration for their concerns.  For instance, you are a teacher and you’re in class teaching, and you have 2 students arguing & disturbing the class, you do not have ample time to apply “collaboration”, hence, with your power, you could shut both down or send them out of the class, but can decide to have a “collaboration” session with them after your class. Again, collaborating is normally the best strategy for handling conflicts over important issues.

When dealing with moderately important issues, compromising can often lead to quick solutions.  However, compromise does not completely satisfy either party, and compromise does not foster innovation the way that collaboration will do.  So, collaborating is a better approach to dealing with very important issues. For instance, Federal Government and the Boko Haram militants; with the Chibok girls in their custody, it might be inappropriate for the Federal Government to use force or avoidance strategy, both parties would need to give up something to gain another – they come up with a strategy that is acceptable by both parties but not necessarily satisfactory to both parties.

When you also find yourself in conflict over a fairly unimportant issue, using an accommodating strategy is a quick way to resolve the conflict without straining your relationship with the other party.  Collaborating is also an option, but it might not be worth the time. For instance, a quarrel over a bucket water with a roommate; it’s not worth the time the collaborating strategy will use.

Avoiding should normally be reserved for situations where there is a clear advantage to waiting to resolve the conflict.  Too often, interpersonal conflicts persist and even worsen if there is no attempt to resolve them.  Avoiding is appropriate if you are too busy with more important concerns and if your relationship with the other party is unimportant. For instance, an issue of #20 with a taxi driver – the issue is cheap, and the relationship is nothing, so walk away. However, if either the issue or the relationship between the parties is important, then avoidance is a poor strategy.

 The Role of Youth

As a young person, you are not a dead person; neither are you a useless person, nor a threat to your community, nor a “small” person. You are an energetic, vibrant & creative individual who has the capacity to bring about great change in your community.

Hence, as youth, having understood conflict management, our role is to identify conflicts wherever we find ourselves and handle them properly.

Many young people lack the understanding on the strategies involved in managing conflicts and even its application, we can help sensitise communities, schools & peers on this. Sensitisation can come inform of writings, radio broadcast, organising trainings on workplace conflict management in corporate organisations & institutions; organizing awareness programs for youth in communities, and even through normal conversations.

Par adventure, as a youth, you might be directly involved in a conflict situation, you ought to see yourself as the change agent, hence you take the first step in applying the right strategy, and where necessary, you can be the first to make the compromise and let the matter go.

Lastly, as youths, the same way we see the Government as owing the youth the formulation and implementation of good policies as well as the right environment to aid our development, it is the same way we should see ourselves – we should know that we owe our communities the knowledge we have acquired; we owe our communities the skills we have gained; we owe our communities peace in every way possible.

Written by Joy Amanabo

Director of Finance, Nigeria Youth 4 Peace Initiative