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Lecture #1
The Nature of Conflict
29 August 2001
• A term used to mean a variety of things.
• A struggle over values and claims to scarce status,
power and resources in which the aims of the
opponents are to neutralize, injure or eliminate
their rivals.
• The opposition between individuals or groups on
the basis of competing interests, different
identities, and /or differing attitudes.
Every conflict is set in a context.
You cannot resolve a conflict
without understanding its context.
Conflict resolution methods must
be melded to the specific context.
Resolving conflict is not a simple
Some conflicts last for
generations (e.g. ethnic wars).
Conflicts may involve:
• Individuals
• Groups
• Institutions
Categorizing Conflict
1 Conflicts in which the parties have failed to
recognize a solution. These are amenable to
traditional and alternative dispute resolution
2 Intractable or deep-rooted conflicts. Very
difficult to resolve. Typically involve deep
feelings and values and often have extended
histories (e.g. Northern Ireland).
Perceived Conflict
• “Conflict does not only come about when
values or needs are actually, objectively
incompatible, or when conflict is
manifested in action; it exists when one of
the parties perceives it to exist” (Tillett,
1991, p.8).
The Value of Conflict
• How one views conflict depends largely
upon how conflict is valued.
• Schelling (1980) distinguished between:
“those that treat conflict as a pathological state
and seek its causes and treatment, and those
that take conflict for granted and study the
behavior associated with it” (p.3).
A society without conflict is a
dead society (Coser, 1957).
Agree or disagree?
Is Conflict Bad?
Stimulates new thoughts.
Promotes social change.
Defines group relationships and boundaries.
May prevent withdrawl of group members.
Creates new associations and coalitions.
Helps form our sense of personal identity.
Many nation states were forged through bitter
social conflict.
What is the nurture versus nature
debate regarding conflict?
The Origins of Conflict
• Three basic theory types:
– Inherency - biological/genetic basis, cannot be
– Contingency - external forces influence
– Interactionist - behavior depends upon inherent
and contingent factors.
• Question: What is the most common
institutional method employed in an
effort to resolve conflicts and disputes?
• Question: Why do we need additional
methods for resolving conflicts?
Three Traditions of Conflict
• Organizational development and
management science;
• International relations; and
• Alternative dispute resolution.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
• A set of procedures and processes designed
to provide alternatives to adjudicated
settlement of conflicts.
• ADR - Popular approaches to resolving
environmental disputes.
Questions to Ask About a
Specific Conflict
• Is this a good conflict?
• What are the sources of this conflict?
• Do the skills and resources required for
resolution exist?
• Is there a desire to engage in resolution?
Cultural Considerations
• Western methods of conflict resolution
may not be appropriate or effective in
other cultures.
• A small group activity.
• Produce as many ideas as quickly as
• Emphasis on quantity not quality.
• No criticism of ideas when given.
• Build on other people’s ideas.
• Nominate a recorder of the group’s ideas.
How many causes or sources of
environmental conflicts can you
Work in your group for 10 minutes.
Who is your recorder/reporter?
Remember: No censuring of ideas!