Most of us fear conflict and do our best to avoid it. Sometimes this can be to the
detriment of expressing our true feelings or voicing an opinion. Conflict at best is
unpleasant. More commonly it is deeply distressful. Unless we completely remove
ourselves from all interactions, it is likely that at some point, we will experience
conflict and dispute of some kind.
Conflict arises from the division of a finite resource, opposing views, goal frustration,
injustice witnessed and a belief that our core concerns have not been met sufficiently
(status, autonomy, belonging, acknowledgement and meaning). A dispute however,
is an event that surfaces out of this conflict. There is a peak of intensity in the conflict
that requires some action and change, to be taken. This could be a discussion, a
facilitated restorative meeting, mediation, adjudication, or Court. The hope is that by
intervening with the appropriate process, the dispute will be resolved, and the conflict
will go away.
But not all conflict situations evolve into disputes. Conflict can exist in the absence of
Imagine a relationship where one partner uses criticism, contempt, and sarcasm to
communicate their needs and discontent. A dispute will only occur if this behaviour is
challenged by the other partner. What if the criticised partner has disengaged,
become ‘battle weary” or lost their ability to protect their dignity? In this case, no
dispute will arise, even though the conflict will continue. This rumbling on-going
conflict creates toxicity, a poison that impacts negatively on our minds, emotions,
and bodies. The longer conflict is left to fester in our personal and workplace lives,
the more difficult it is to resolve. Participants to the conflict become well practiced in
their roles of persecutor and victim.
Sometimes conflict does not disappear after a dispute has been resolved.
Imagine a workplace whereby a dispute has arisen over pay and conditions. The
employer and employee have met and reached agreement, and the dispute is
technically over. However, during the meeting, no acknowledgement was made as to
why the dispute arose, no discussion was held about the impact of the issue nor
reference made to the on-going core concerns of the employee. Despite a dispute
resolving, conflict can remain.
To fully resolve a dispute, it takes time, patience, and empathy. Our task saturated
worlds of work and family often do not support this slow process. Beneath a dispute,
lies a deeper pool of conflict, that requires enquiry and interest to be stilled and
satisfied. Time spent here, is time well spent.