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Conflict management is the use of a variety of techniques to prevent conflict and resolve it when it arises. In any situation where groups are working together, there is a possibility of conflict, and taking some steps to address it before it happens can reduce stress and keep members of the group happier. Workplaces, sports teams, families, and other groups of people can use conflict management and may choose from a variety of approaches to preventing, identifying, and handling conflict.
The first step in conflict management is trying to prevent conflict. This can include setting standards for behavior in group settings and asking people to abide by some guidelines for the way they interact with each other. Rules may include mandates for respecting space, working to keep noise levels down, keeping shared areas clean, and so forth. These measures prevent low-level conflict. They can also allow for rapidly spotting the early warning signs and heading them off at the pass before a dispute becomes vicious.
One approach involves negotiation, where the parties to a conflict meet with each other and attempt to work it out on their own. This requires accommodations and collaboration from all parties to work together on a common goal, identifying the issue at the core of the conflict and addressing it. The negotiators may agree on a contract with each other or could implement some simple changes to resolve their conflict and work more harmoniously together.
Sometimes conflict management needs to move to mediation, where a neutral third party facilitates communication and discussion. This may be necessary because of higher stakes or an inability to work together in negotiating sessions. Mediators can include coworkers and friends as well as supervisors and other people in positions of power. It is important to work with a mediator who will not favor one party or the other, as this can fuel more conflict.
Arbitration is another approach to conflict management. This involves a third party who sits as a judge, hearing both sides and issuing an opinion. The opinion can include rules for all parties to follow, such as ordering a coworker who is bothering another to keep contacts purely professional and to only approach the colleague in the presence of witnesses. Arbitration can be necessary when a conflict appears intractable and the parties are incapable of negotiating or mediating to resolve the situation. This option tends to be less favored, as the parties may emerge from arbitration with feelings of resentment or frustration.