Understanding Conflict Part 1: Identification

There is a reason that almost every great piece of fiction involves some sort of conflict. It makes things interesting, and we are hardwired to be attracted to it. But when it invades our lives it can be less than welcome. Learning to deal with it can be difficult but understanding how conflict manifests can give you an upper hand in successfully overcoming it.

I would say that the first step to dealing with conflict is being able to properly identify it. Conflict has become a label for a variety of human experiences including indecision, general problems and stressful situations. While it may seem inconsequential, mislabeling an experience as conflict may result in using a screwdriver when the right tool for the job is a monkey wrench. Although indecision, stress and general problems may cause conflict, or arise as a result of conflict, the implications of unresolved conflict not only impact the individuals involved but also the bottom line.

Properly identifying an issue as conflict requires an understanding of the nature of the beast. According to Daniel Dana, author of Conflict Resolution, conflict exists when four criteria are met:

1.     Interdependence – When two or more people need something from one another and there is some degree of vulnerability if that need isn’t met.

2.     Blame – This occurs when one of the involved parties find fault with the other for causing the problem.

3.     Anger – Whether it’s displayed or not, this is when they become emotionally upset about the situation.

4.     Setback – This evolves once the issue begins to affect performance, productivity or engagement.

When all of these factors are in play, you can bet that conflict is on its way, if it hasn’t already arrived.

Conflict impacts not only the individuals involved but also the bottom line. When individuals are involved in conflict it is likely that they are stressed, annoyed, distracted, and emotionally distressed. Any of these factors can result in wasted time, bad decisions, turnover, increased absences, sabotage, theft and damages. Ultimately, this impacts performance, productivity and engagement. It’s costly, and worth the time it takes to avoid or resolve—more on that next week.


Dana, Daniel. Conflict Resolution. New York, NY: The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2001. Print.

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