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Conflict can exist in the absence of a dispute.

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

a dispute.


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.