Introduction to Creative Conflict Resolution

NPOs are considered hubs of cooperation, teamwork, social innovation, and solidarity. However, conflicts, disagreements, and tensions may arise in NPOs as in any other field, thus undermining the harmonious atmosphere of communication and creative thinking.

During the course of HIGGS’s Bootcamp we pointed out that in the process of assessing the needs of a project, among other factors/parameters, we should investigate the potential conflicts between stakeholders. We also saw that conflict management constitutes a notable skill in project management.

I decided to write this text after a recent conversation around the issue of conflict which I had with the staff of some organizations, during which I heard the following remarks: “When X (director) joins us in the office, the atmosphere becomes extremely tense… Colleague Y shows no respect for the work I do and discredits it… We waste a lot of time discussing things that are obvious, just because colleague Y wants to control everything, because of his insecurity, and this leads to tension, etc.”

Indeed, conflicts which are not managed effectively lead to stress, tension, wasted time and energy; sometimes, they may result in the dismantling of entire organizations. Obviously, the issue of conflict in the workplace cannot be analyzed in depth in this article. My intention, however, is to present the following points to encourage a much-needed discussion, and give some directions for further studies on a creative and efficient conflict management and resolution/transformation .

First: The theory of conflicts highlights the potential function of conflicts as a starting point for personal, social and (in this case) organizational development and progress, emphasizing that it is normal and legitimate to disagree; however we must handle them appropriately.

Second: Conflicts are complex phenomena because they are triggered by elements of psychology, culture, organization, circumstances etc. Creative conflict resolution/management/transformation requires knowledge and skills. It is important to understand that, apart from practical knowledge, a deep personal cultivation, communication skills, and empathy are also required; these are skills that we never stop learning throughout our life.

In light of the previous two points, we can pinpoint a few basic principles for daily conflict management:

  • Having good relationships should be a priority. Mutual respect and serenity, even in moments of tension, are helpful.
  • Learn to discern facts from their interpretations, and separate people from problems. The latter distinction is particularly important. This will give you a better understanding of the person in front of you and the difficult situations you are facing.
  • People may strive for the same position within a company for very different interests, needs, or To separate professional development from personal interests/needs, you need to listen carefully to your staff. Here is an example: Two people in a company claim they deserve a promotion and each claim they are the right person (they long for the same position). Their interests, however, may be different. The first employee may want the promotion for financial reasons, while the second employee is only interested in travelling, one of the perks of the new position. Assuming that both employees are capable and qualified for the promotion, a creative director could promote the employee who seeks the increase in salary, while also offering the other employee the opportunity to travel more frequently. Therefore, although there is only one position, the needs of both parties may be efficiently met.
  • First listen, then talk: To solve a problem effectively, you need to understand your interlocutor’s argument before you start supporting your position.
  • Agree on actual facts: Agree on objective factors which will have an impact on your decision.
  • Investigate different options on the issue you are discussing with the person you disagree with.

For a more complete overview of these principles, please refer to the following sources:

Dr. Eugenia Vathakou

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