Thursday, 21 January 2010

Does conflict deserve such a bad press?

We've just started a new section to the 'Persuasive Communications' unit about conflict. In an organisational context it's an interesting topic. Having just completed a report for 'Ethics, Issues and Crisis Management' about Royal Mail's internal modernisation issues, I feel like I've already had a bit of a head start.

When you first think of conflict, you tend to think of the negatives. You wouldn't be wrong in thinking that conflict can destroy an organisation, which is probably why it gets such a bad press. Not many journalists are going to report on a conflict that actually solved a company problem - where's the drama in that?

Theorists define conflict as "a process which begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something the first party cares about" (Huczynski and Buchana, 2004, pg 791).

In our PR class of around 25, we were asked how many of us actually enjoy conflict. I was one of only two to raise a hand. The other was one of my close friends, perhaps that's one of the reasons we get along so well! The thing is, I think conflict is important and highly beneficial in any situation.

For instance, in our group work in PR, conflicting ideas are worked through in order to reach a solution that everyone is happy with. Two people may come to the table with completely different views of what needs to be done to achieve our objectives, a potentially argumentative situation. However, by compromising and talking through the reasons for our ideas, we can reach an agreeable compromise. The key is to arrive with an open mind and a willingness to listen.

Huczynski and Buchanan also said that "Conflict is a state of mind. It has to be percieved by the parties involved" (2004, pg 791). Therefore, if our group had not communicated our ideas effectively to each other, in theory there would not have been any conflict...well not at that time, anyway.

I think it's better to have conflict and resolve the issues early on than to have miscommunication. It's hardly productive if we continue to work on a project with different ideas of the outcome. That's a mistake I made in my first year. It only leads to more intense conflict further down the line, often when it's too late to resolve fairly.

A video we watched during the seminar 'from no to yes' said that the three rules of conflict resolution are:
1. Active listening
2. Win yourself a hearing
3. Work to a joint solution

The conclusion I can draw from the first week of this unit is that conflict is a good thing when issues are communicated effectively and resolved with an open mind.


  1. It's important to establish what conflict is and I think you have done that very well Beth. Many people think that organisational conflict is about screaming and shouting at each other to get your views heard but in fact it is about generating conflicting ideas in order to produce better results. Imagine working with a group of "like-minded" individuals - how boring would that be! At least healthy conflict urges new ideas to be brought to the table and considered; after all this encourages innovation. A very interesting topic!

  2. i'm only in my first year at pr but they told us the same thing, that conflict is good in a organisation, but are they just saying this so that we know what we'll be dealing with and that we won't be surprised when we get to that part of our jobs? or should we actually encourage conflict. i get that in some way this is better, but in the long run it may be tiring..

  3. Hi Chloe, thanks for visiting. I think they are telling you the truth! Some conflict is good for an organisation, but from a personal stance it depends on how you deal with it as to whether it is good for you. If you tend to avoid conflict you are probably not going to be at your best in a highly competitive environment. However, I think the best results come after a bit of debate. If you are enthusiastic and things don't get nasty (when conflict goes too far) you shouldn't get tired! I hope first year is treating you well!

  4. This makes a lot of sense. Like most things the grey area is better than the black and white. So if two conflicting arguments create this 'grey area' then thats great.
    Also the people conflicting have to be mature about it and understand its a debate, nothing personal, to get a better outcome.