Chapter 1 – Introduction to Communication and Communication Theory in Nursing
Conflict is a variance in perceptions and opinions that involves a perceived or actual threat.
It is important to avoid thinking of threat as an intention to inflict physical harm or pain upon someone. Rather, consider threat as an unfavourable situation and force that may adversely affect you.
Threat is embedded in conflict because a person’s perception or position quickly becomes part of who they are (i.e., their self concept) and as such, an opposition to this perception is considered “a threat to self” (De Dreu & van Knippenberg, 2005, p. 345). A perceived threat or an actual threat happens with conflict because you perceive that something/someone is challenging your beliefs or needs and may affect your sense of self or the relationship you have with them.
Have you ever perceived a threat when having a difference of opinion or disagreed with someone else? Have you felt a sense of threat in a setting where there are deeply engrained power dynamics? Have you been engaged in a class discussion where you had a different way of seeing things than another person? Have you had a concern about a university/school’s policy? Have you received a grade on a paper from a professor and you did not agree with it? You may feel worried to speak up about an issue because the other person has a different perspective than you. You may fear that if you speak up, they will think you are ignorant or that it may affect your relationship with them.
These are all examples of conflict, and are associated with a perceived threat or actual threat.
Conflict can trigger strong emotions and has the potential to negatively affect how you respond and how you communicate.
Consider how you have responded to conflict in the past. Did you ignore or avoid the conflict? Did you take the disagreement personally? Did you engage in intense and relentless argument? Have you ever not addressed it with the person, but instead posted on social media or gossiped to a friend or peer? These are all ineffective ways to deal with conflict because it never resolves the problem – the conflict.
It is important to understand and address conflict as it is a part of any relationship including those in the educational and professional settings. There is the possibility that you can transform how you perceive conflict, and thus, how you address conflict – this is the positive lens of conflict.
The positive lens of conflict
A starting point is to transform how you view conflict. Have you ever considered viewing conflict from a positive lens? Conflict suggests that you have an opinion that you hold as meaningful or important. In itself, this is a good thing. It can be beneficial to approach conflict as an opportunity. You can learn and grow by truly listening to another person’s view and sharing your own. Part of this is seeking to understand what the perceived threat is for you and for the other person(s). If approached professionally, this sharing can help you feel good that you have shared your opinion, why it matters to you, and participated collaboratively and respectfully to manage the conflict. Additionally, by learning and growing while engaging professionally with another person, this can sometimes create a connection that cultivates your relationship with them. It can also add to a positive resolution related to the conflict with the potential for creative and divergent thinking.
De Dreu, C., & van Knippenberg, D. (2005). The possessive self as a barrier to conflict resolution: Effects of mere ownership, process accountability, and self-concept clarity on competitive cognitions and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(3), 345-357. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.525