Conflict Management or Conflict Resolution?

Conflict management and conflict resolution are often used synonymously. But are they synonymous concepts? Or is there a difference between the two? And if there is a difference, is it significant enough to matter? As with lots of issues, the answers to these questions are; it depends. It depends on who you use as your authority on the concepts and the level of interaction of the parties involved in the conflict.

Well, for me and my life experiences, there are significant differences between the two concepts. And with these differences come different skills needed to address each aspect of the conflict. Managing conflict implies that the conflict exists, but it is controlled in such a way that the conflict is not a major problem. On the other hand, resolving conflict means that some end or solution to the conflict has been determined.

Perhaps an example can serve to clarify the differences. In my earlier life and career as a counselor, and being pretty idealistic, I believed that all conflicts could be resolved if you just talked about the issues long enough. Then I had a situation that challenged my beliefs. I was working with two individuals who were having a major conflict. The conflict was such that it was interfering in both the individuals' lives, families, social worlds , and work environments.

I proceeded with my normal routine of interviewing each individual separately to gain each person's perspective on the conflict and what would be needed to bring it to an agreed upon solution. Then I brought the two individuals together to begin the process of hearing each other and start the healing needed.

To make a long story shorter, after 4 or 5 sessions over several weeks, not only was the relationship not improving, it was actually getting worse. There were several times when physical violence could have been a natural outcome of the sessions.

After many hours of reflection, I decided a new strategy was needed. I began researching the literature on dispute resolution, conflict management, and conflict resolution. I became convince this was one of those cases that could never be resolved without some major personality shifts and the intense therapy to make that happen. I turned my attention instead to managing or controlling the conflict. I started looking for ways to get the two individuals, and others involved on the periphery, to agree to restructure the environments.

We began identifying ways these two individuals could function in their individual worlds with as little interaction as possible. While it was not easy and it took time and trial and error, it did work. However, the conflict did not go away or get resolved. It became manageable.

Are there conflicts in your world that need to be managed instead of resolved? Or conflicts that need resolving and not managed? If so, how do we go about using the best approach for the conflict situation?

In the next post, I will share the skills needed to resolve a conflict, the skills needed to manage the conflict, and the skills that are helpful to both.

Until next time, spend some time observing conflicts, whether international, national, local, or personal, and determine if you think the conflict should be resolved or managed.