Why conflict can be difficult to resolve

Posted March 18th, 2008

The main reason that conflicts are so difficult to resolve is that they are predominantly influenced by emotions. When emotions like anger and resentment are felt it is often difficult for people to behave rationally. The likelihood of the person understanding the others point of view diminishes as their own strong emotions take over.

Emotions play a role in how people make sense of their relationships, concept of power, and social status. People constantly evaluate situations and events to work out if they are personally relevant. These understandings and appraisals are infused with various emotions and feelings. So, emotion not only serves a side effect of conflict, but also frames the way in which parties understand and define their dispute.

Secondly, within the context of relationships, emotions typically express people’s agendas, desires, and goals. When people perceive that they have incompatible goals or that others are interfering with their desires and pursuits, this elicits emotions and leads to conflict.

Imagine an iceberg, a small percentage is above the iceberg and visible, while a large part is below the water line and obscured from view. The small part represents our behaviour; we can see and hear it.

Just below the surface is our emotions – we can neither see nor hear them, but we can often guess how we and others are feeling by observing the behaviours. For example; when someone is smiling, we can guess they are happy, when they frown we guess they are sad etc.

If we go deeper down the iceberg we get to a place that represents the things that are most important to us: our needs and interests. These are the things that drive our emotions and in turn cause us to act and react the way we do when in conflict.

When dealing with conflict it is tempting to overlook the emotional aspect and often we are told to treat things only from an objective point of view. This is dangerous and usually leads to failure. Our aim should be to identify that emotions play a part and look for methods of addressing the emotive issues. Only then can we overcome the substantive needs of those involved.

This article is an excerpt from the training materials for trainers called ‘Conflict Handling’, which are available from our website at Trainer Bubble. Visit us today and buy this fantastic resource.


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