In the literature on conflict management, conflict is usually defined in terms of incompatible goals and activities. In contrast, Thomas (1992), making no reference to such incompatibilities, defines conflict as a process that begins when one party feels negatively affected by another. This paper modifies and extends Thomas’ definition thus: One party is in conflict with another when he or she 1. experiences psychological or physical pain, 2. holds the other party to be responsible for this pain, and 3. does not accept this situation. This definition is nested in a theoretical perspective that sees pain as a signal that something is wrong and needs to be changed. Pain represents an opportunity to learn and develop--personally, organizationally, socially. When the cause of the pain is projected onto another party and conflict appears, the opportunity for social development may be seized and the parties may learn and grow, or it may be missed--lost in suppression, projections, fear, etc. Conflict is thus seen, not as an outcome of regrettably incompatible goals or activities, but as an active potential for learning and development. Some implications for conflict resolution practice are outlined.
Main Research Area:
International Association for Conflict Management Annual Conference, 1998