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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 5

The Inevitability of Conflict

Teams that work closely together on a daily basis are bound to experience conflict. "Conflict is really a byproduct of open communication. Rather than a sign of problems and dysfunction, conflict is normal and natural, to be expected" (Briggs, 1997, p.250).

4 women sitting at a table

The Advantages of Occasional Conflict

Conflict is not only inevitable, but also necessary for effective team functioning. The word "conflict" is generally associated with a host of unpleasant sensations, thoughts and feelings. But in reality, team conflict generates a number of healthy processes. For example, conflict can:

  • Energize a team
  • Motivate team members to clarify their individual viewpoints
  • Allow team members the opportunity to hear different perspectives
  • Broaden awareness by stimulating discussion, debate and reflection
  • Encourage creative problem-solving among team members

When conflict is managed properly, the team benefits. Relationships are strengthened and communication improves. The team learns that conflict is acceptable and that problems can be solved through collaboration. Moreover, a little conflict helps safeguard against GroupThink (Lesson 4). Recall that Group Think involves faulty decision-making that arises from a team's collective desire to maintain agreement and harmony at all costs (Janis, 1972).

Different Types of Conflict

Conflict is not a one-dimensional construct. Researchers have identified at least two different types of conflict.

One type of conflict is called task conflict. Task conflict is not personal. It is issue-related. Examples include "conflict about the distribution of resources, about procedures and policies, and about judgments and the interpretation of facts" (DeDreu & VanVianen, 2001, p.313). Task conflicts are relatively non-threatening to one's personal identity. As such, they are less intense and generate less negative emotion than do personal conflicts. Task conflict has also been described as Type C or cognitive conflict (Amason, et. al., 1995). Such conflicts are relatively easy to manage.

Another type of conflict is relationship conflict. Relationship conflict is personal. Such conflicts are about personal issues, personal preferences, values, morals and beliefs. "Relationship conflicts...involve negative emotions and threaten one's personal identity and feelings of self-worth" (DeDreu & VanVianen, 2001, p.310). Such conflicts are characterized by high intensity. They tend to be very difficult to manage. This type of conflict has also been described as Type A or affective conflict (Amason, et. al., 1995).

Later, we shall see that different types of conflict may require different management strategies.

 

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