Myth #1 - Every conflict can be resolved.
When I conduct a conflict resolution seminar, I ask my class whether they believe that every conflict can be resolved, and a show of hands usually indicates that most of them think there is always a way to resolve the problem. Perhaps they only vote this way because it seems like the right answer, but they are always shocked when I prove to them that not every disagreement can be resolved.
The reason that not every conflict can be resolved is that sometimes the parties don't have any values or beliefs that are more important to them than the issue that is causing the conflict.
Let's look at two wars (the most extreme form of conflict) to illustrate this.
In the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, there was never any open conflict involving weapons and no soldiers from either side were killed. This is because that while the issues in conflict were important to each country, they were not important enough to risk destroying the world by starting a military action that could result in a nuclear war.
An opposite example is the civil war fought in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. In that case the issue of whether slavery would be allowed in the states was deemed to be more important than the destruction caused by the war that was fought to settle the issue.
Some people might argue that a war is a way of resolving a conflict, but most will agree that war is something that should be avoided, not used as a method of conflict resolution. War is a failure to resolve a conflict, not a method of resolving it.
Myth #2 - Every conflict must be resolved.
Some conflicts revolve around issues that are relatively unimportant to one or more of the parties and one party can easily concede the point. With other minor issues the conflict is temporary and can safely be ignored until everyone forgets about it and no harm is done.
Too frequently minor issues that should have been avoided escalate into a serious conflict because other unrelated subjects are introduced. Another reason for uncontrolled escalation are that the parties have a history of conflict that impacts the current problem and makes it seem more important than it really is.
Myth #3 - There must always be a win/win solution.
While it is desirable to have a conflict resolution where all parties feel like they have won, sometimes other considerations are more important than making everyone happy. The two major obstacles to creating win/win conflict resolution solutions are time and expertise.
Win/win resolutions can be extremely time-consuming because they require a three-step process of information gathering, venting, and brainstorming. The amount of time required to complete this process must be balanced with the necessity of discovering a solution that satisfies everyone.
In addition, the urgency of a solution should also be considered when decided whether to invest in a win/win outcome. For example, if the building is on fire and there is conflict about how best to escape, there isn't time for the full three-step process. In the greater interest of saving lies, a decision has to be made and imposed even if some people are still complaining about the plan.
Lack of expertise can also interfere with crafting a perfect solution. Building the consensus required for a win/win outcome requires skill and practice that may not be available or cost-effective in all situations.
As you gain more exposure to conflict resolution you will also find that many times the conflict is so painful that the parties are satisfied with a "good enough" outcome rather than a perfect solution. When this happens be alert for signs of the conflict re-emerging because it has not been resolved, only suppressed.
The next time you face conflict, keep these three myths in mind and use them to temper your expectations.
To learn more about conflict resolution, download my free 10-Day Conflict Resolution Email Series at Conflict Resolution Tools.
(This article copyright 2010 and may be used with full credit given to author.)
About the Author
Author, Speaker, Conflict Resolution Expert Paul Endress creates and teaches both online and onsite programs that certify business leaders on how to set values and beliefs to prevent and resolve organizational conflict. Endress has been quoted on the front page of USATODAY, as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, and dozens of other leading business publications.
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