How successfully we manage conflict issues, will have a direct impact on the sustainability of the collaboration.

A conflict occurs when the actions of some-one trying to reach their goal, blocks or interferes with the actions of another person focused on reaching his or her goal.

Conflict can produce beneficial outcomes if :

a) effective approaches are used to handle conflict constructively

b) people become aware of and practice the skills of managing conflict

c) people are supported and encouraged to do so, by the values of their organisation and the culture of the collaboration.

Reasons for conflict

There are a number of reasons why conflict may arise during collaborative activities. Understanding the drivers of the conflict may help you better manage the situation.

Biosocial sources1

Frustrations can arise where expectations aren’t meet by the reality. Improvements may take longer than expected or power imbalances may arise. This is known as “relative deprivation” and the conflict may intensify when concessions are made.

Personality and interactional sources

Everybody is different. Abrasive personalities; psychological disturbances;  poor interpersonal skills; irritation between people; rivalry; differences in interactional styles; inequities (inequalities) in relationships can all contribute to interpersonal conflict.

Structural sources

Power, status and perceived inequities are the underlying forces in many forms of conflict. Ensure that the structure of the collaboration ensures that people are treated respectfully and fairly.

Cultural and ideological sources of conflict

Conflict will arise where organisations have differing value systems. Partner with like minded services. Conflict can also arise where there is difference in ethnic culture, and all partners in the collaboration need to be committed to working to build a common understanding.


During the collaborative activities the numerous sources of conflict may converge. They interact to produce a complex dispute. There may be many reasosn, for example, why two workers from different agencies are in conflict. There may be structural reasons such as the difference in power: or different personalities and interactional style, or the beliefs, cultural and ideological, may differ between the two workers and these may also be contributing to the complexity of the dispute.

For successful results all those involved in a conflict need to agree on, and utilise, the same process to solve it. The methods for resolving conflict are the same regardless of the scale of the issue.

  • Treat people with respect at all times.
  • Think before acting and be sure you have accurate information to support your perspective.
  • Listen, before wanting to be heard.
  • Check to ensure that you have understood what is being said.
  • Separate the people from the problem. Do not attack or blame. Use “I” language …. “I feel”, …. “I think”. “I feel upset when” … not “You make me upset”.
  • Calmly explain your own perspective and encourage questions.
  • To deal with conflict constructively use persuasion rather than coercion. Understanding how to resolve conflict with grace and tact will increase the likelihood of successful collaboration and build trusting relationships.
  • Focus on “interest”, not “position”. “Why you want” not, “what you want”.
  • Look for options that can bring at least some benefit to both parties.
  • Refocus personal attacks, by agreeing with the small part of a statement that may be true, and then moving on. “Yes, perhaps you are right, we are not hearing you view, would you like to restate it clearly now”.
  • Ask appropriate questions to draw out the real issues.

A constructive agreement is reached where:

  • the agreement is win/ win, optimising benefit and leaving both parties satisfied
  • the disputants can work together cooperatively
  • any further conflicts can be dealt with constructively

Where all else fails, don’t be reluctant to bring in a mediator or facilitator. Sometimes, just the presence of an outside neutral person can change the group dynamic and tip the balance. However, even with a skilled mediator, both parties must really want a successful outcome for the negotiation to succeed.

1 Adapted from Bisno, H.  (1988)  Managing Conflict. London: SAGE Publications.  pp27-30

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