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7. Training module on conflict management

Definition of conflict management

Differences are inevitable in a local group having members with different experiences, attitudes and expectations. However, some conflicts can support organizational goals. Indeed, too little conflict may lead to apathy, lack of creativity, indecision and missed-out deadlines. Clashes of ideas about tasks also help in choosing better tasks and projects. These are ‘functional conflicts’.

Functional conflicts can emerge from leaving a selected incidence of conflict to persist, which can be overcome by ‘programming’ a conflict in the process decision-making by the group by assigning someone the role of a critic. This also helps to avoid ‘group thinking’ where group members publicly agree with a course of action, while privately having serious reservations about it.

The most difficult conflicts are those arising out of value differences. The most important thing is to understand the real cause of the differences. Yet every resolution of a conflict can also feed a new conflict in a group. It is, therefore, useful to see conflicts as a series of expressions of existing differences within a group, having some links to each other. How effectively a group deals with conflict management largely affects the efficiency level of its functioning.

Common ways of dealing with conflicts within a group

  1. Avoiding - withdraw from the conflict situation, leaving it to chance.

  2. Harmonizing - generally cover up the differences and claim that things are fine.

  3. Bargaining - negotiate to arrive at a compromise, bargaining for gains by both parties

  4. Forcing - push a party to accept the decision made by a leader or majority.

  5. Problem solving - confront differences and resolve them on a collaborative basis.

Conflict-management styles

Collaborating - Conflicting parties jointly identify the problem, weigh and choose a solution.

Accommodating - Playing down differences while emphasizing commonalties.

Competing - Shows high concern for self-interest and less concern for the other’s interest. Encourages ‘I win, you lose’ tactics.

Avoiding - Either passive withdrawal from the problem or active suppression of the issue.

Compromising - A give-and-take approach involving moderate concern for both self and others. Each party has to give up something of value. It may include external or third party intervention.

Managing conflict

Factors affecting conflict

Table 9.1 Matching conflict-management approaches with group level conditions


Conflict-management approach







Issue importance






Relationship importance






Relative power






Time constraints






Table 9.2 Matching conflict management with process of goals-setting by the group

Conflict-handling style

Appropriate situations


· When both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised
· When objective is to learn
· To merge insights from people with different perspectives
· To gain commitment by incorporating concerns into a consensus
· To work through feelings that have interfered with a relationship


· To allow a better position to be heard and to show reasonableness
· When issues are more important to others than yourself
· To build social credit for later issues
· To minimize loss when you are outmatched and losing
· When harmony and stability are especially important
· To allow subordinates to develop by learning from mistakes


· When quick, decisive action is vital
· On important issues where unpopular actions need implementing
· On issues vital to organization and when you know you are right
· Against people who take advantage of non-competitive behaviour


· When an issue is trivial, or more important issues are pressing
· When you see no chance of satisfying your concerns
· To let people ‘cool down’ and regain perspective
· Gathering information supersedes the immediate decision
· When others can resolve the conflict more effectively


· When goals are important, but not worth potential disruption of more assertive modes
· When equal power opponents are committed to mutually exclusive goals
· To find temporary settlements of complex issues
· To arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure
· As a backup when collaboration or competition is unsuccessful

What to do when you are:

The lead person to present and clarify the background of the conflict

Problem identification

i) Clearly explain your problem in terms of behaviour, consequences, and feelings.

ii) Persist until understood and encourage two-way discussion.

iii) Manage the agenda carefully.


Make a request. Focus on things you share in common (principles, goals and constraints) as the basis for recommending preferred alternatives.

A chairperson in the group conflict management

Problem identification

i) Establish a climate for joint problem solving

ii) Seek additional information about the problem

iii) Agree with some aspects of the complaint(s)


Ask for recommendations - to avoid debating the merits of a single suggestion, brainstorm and seek multiple alternatives.

A mediator for managing conflict

Problem identification

i) Acknowledge that a conflict exists

ii) Maintain a neutral posture

iii) Manage the discussion to ensure fairness


Explore options by focusing on interests behind stated positions

Table 9.3 Comparison of conflict-handling styles



Your posture

Supporting raionale

Likely outcome

I. Collaborating

Solve the problem together

“This is my position, what is yours?” “I am committed to finding the best possible solution.” “What do the facts suggest?”

The positions of both parties are equally important (though not necessarily equally valid). Equal emphasis should be placed on the quality, outcome and fairness of the decision-making process.

The problem is most likely to be resolved. Also, both parties are committed to the solution and satisfied that they have been treated fairly.

II. Accommodating

Don’t upset the other person

“How can I help you feel good about this encounter?” My position isn’t so important that it is worth risking bad feelings between us.”

Maintaining harmonious relationships should be our top priority.

Other person is likely to take advantage.

III. Competing

Get your way

“I know what’s right” Don’t question my judgement or authority.”

It is better to risk causing a few hard feelings than to abandon an issue you are committed to.

You feel vindicated, but other party feels defeated and possibly humiliated.

IV. Avoiding

Avoid having to deal with conflict

“I’m neutral to this issue.” Let me think about it.” “That’s someone else’s problem.”

Disagreements are inherently bad because they create tension.

Interpersonal problems don’t get resolved, causing long-term frustration manifested in many ways.

V. Compromising

Reach an agreement quickly

“Let’s search for a solution we can both live with so we can get on our work.”

Prolonged conflicts alienate people from their work and engender bitter feelings.

The participants become conditioned to seek expedient rather than effective solutions.

Training module on conflict management

Table 9.4 Contents, objectives and methodology on partnership and conflict management

Partnership content


Specific objective


Role of stakeholders in poverty alleviation

Behavioural aspects of building partnership

Knowledge of basic government management functions; tendering, budgeting etc.

Organizational abilities for PRI meetings

Communication skills

Role of officials, elected representatives, NGO representatives and civil society including beneficiaries

1. Clarification of role of local development agencies like DRDA, banks, PRIs and NGOs

2 Understanding the attitudes, beliefs, motivation, awareness, socio-cultural aspects and development of partnership among all stakeholders for poverty alleviation




Self-analysis techniques

Simulation game

Story telling and problem-solving

Field visit to success and failure sites

Conflict-resolution content




Concept and sources of conflict


Methods of conflict resolution

Institutional mechanism for conflict management among government and NGOs at panchayat level

Leadership development on problem-solving, development-oriented attitude and social communication skills

Negotiating skills

Panchayat role in summoning development officers

To clarify the concept of conflict and collaboration

To identify the sources of conflict

To understand the process of effective conflict management

To plan collaboration with stakeholders

To clarify the institutional set-up and interests of stakeholders in conflict- resolution




Simulation game

Case study


Source: Conservation Extension Manual for Mid-Level Technicians, Local Development Training Academy, Kathmandu, Nepal. pp.113-119.

Contributed by C. S. Singhal, Associate Professor, Centre for Behavioural and Organisational Development, National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad, India.

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