What do we mean by conflict climate? The conflict climate is the psychological atmosphere that impacts conflict. It includes such variables as trust, power, conflict strategy and personal behavior. A harmful climate for conflict consists of threats of power abuse, lack of trust, competition and defensiveness. When the conflict climate is harmful a competitive or an avoidance approach to managing conflict is usually used. This article will examine some of the factors that contribute to harmful conflict climates and provide tips for improving your conflict climate when these factors are at work.
Power is defined as the ability to influence or control events or people. Power may be derived from position, structure or laws. Legitimate power differences occur in relationships between a parent and child and an employer and employee. Some power differences are institutionalized such as in the courtroom, classroom, or military. The difficulty comes when the power is abused through threats and intimidation. Intimidation can take place through words, conduct or physical presence. Powerful speech consists of verbal and non-verbal messages which have the effect of dominating and controlling others.
If you have power and are interested in sharing it you should find opportunities to solicit input from those you work with and demonstrate legitimate interest in joint problem solving. Find ways to share responsibility with your team.
Threat of Competition
Competition, as a conflict strategy is characterized by dominating, controlling and forcing one's decision on others. Abigail, Ruth. Managing Conflict Through Communication. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2011. There is nothing per se wrong with competition and it is a healthy force unless it is perceived as threatening. This can occur when the resolution of the conflict is a win for one and a loss for the other and is accompanied by negative attitudes, revenge, power plays and abuse behavior or words. A cooperative climate on the other hand is characterized by open and honest communication and a desire to resolve a problem so that each individual wins.
Threat of Distrust
Trust is the reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. We trust people who have our best interests in mind and wish no harm towards us. Distrust takes place when we lack confidence in or are wary of another person. Distrust contributes to an unhealthy climate when words and actions are inconsistent or a promise is broken.
There are two different kinds of communication behaviors-defensive and supportive. Defensiveness arises from strategies that exhibit evaluation, control, strategy, superiority and certainty. For example evaluation consists of praise and blame while nonjudgmental description is worded in a way that doesn't threaten self-esteem. Defensive behaviors are associated with feelings of inadequacy insecurity fear or uncertainty
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