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What is a Conflict and How Does it Affect Negotiation

5. What is a conflict and how does it give rise to negotiation?

“Conflicts” arise when one or more parties to a situation differ in their interests or objectives. One or more of the party’s actions or ideas (beliefs) in furtherance of these interests or objectives are incongruent or at odds with those of another party. There are two primary categories of conflict:

• Intra-personal Conflict (or intra-psychic conflict) – This regards the internal conflict that an individual experiences regarding her ideas, thoughts, emotions, values, predispositions, etc. These conflicts are psychological and are worked out through cognition (mental reasoning) rather than negotiated with another party.

• Interpersonal Conflict – This regards the conflict between two or more individuals whose interests or objectives are at odds. Sub-classifications of inter personal conflicts involving more than two people include:

⁃ Intra-group Conflict – This regards conflicts that arise between members of small group (such as a team or family). In a negotiation, such intra-group conflicts are equally important to the conflicts that exist with the counterparty.

⁃ Intergroup Conflict – This regards conflicts that arise between different groups (such as teams, businesses, nations, etc.). This is the most commonly understood type of conflict in a group negotiation.

In interpersonal conflict, the parties cannot act or otherwise achieve their interests or objectives without interacting with (negotiating with) another party with the same or similar interests or objectives. Further, in some interpersonal conflicts, the parties cannot achieve their interests or objectives simultaneously. That is, any negotiation over the interests at stake will cause one party to benefit at the expense of another. This is known as a “distributive negotiation”. In other interpersonal conflicts, the parties can achieve their desired outcomes in the negotiation without usurping value from the other party. This is known as an “integrative negotiation”.

• Discussion: Do you think understanding the nature of the conflict among or between the parties to the negotiation is important? Can you think of a scenario where intra-group conflict can have a greater impact on negotiations that inter-group conflict? (Hint: Think about the current political climate in the United States Congress and how party-line politics affects the ability to reach agreement on the passage of law.)

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