Conflict, an integral and avoidable part of human existence, is inherent and prevalent within and among individuals or groups. It is natural, inevitable, necessary, and normal (Mayer, 2012). It oftentimes defines our behaviour. Conflict propels behaviour to oneself and disposition towards others. Conflict according to Michael Nicholson is ‘an activity which takes place when conscious beings… wish to carry out mutually inconsistent acts concerning their wants, needs or obligations’. Bernard Mayer (2012) opines that ‘we may think of conflict as a feeling, a disagreement, real or perceived incompatibility of interest, a product of inconsistent worldviews, or a set of behaviors’.
However conflict has the potential of causing disaffection and if not checked could lead to crisis thereby resulting in damage to or loss of property and loss of lives. Conflict has various forms and it comes in multilayers of dynamics. Handling of conflict requires tact, diplomacy and sometimes expertise. For peace and growth of any society, there is need to put in place strategies for resolving conflict. Approaches to conflict resolutions vary according to the source, trigger, the person or group handling the conflict and the type of conflict and the dramatis personae involved.
Conflict can be broadly classified into personal and group. Within each of these interpersonal conflict, intra personal conflict, inter group conflict and intra group conflict. Whatever type of conflict it is, conflict not checked or properly managed is a crisis in waiting. Conflict must be properly addressed or managed at the brewing stage to avoid grave consequences. Such conflict could lead to violence resulting to impasse, imbroglio or even war! Whatever is the view of the manager of conflict, there is need to avoid it by taking practical steps to prevent it or resolve it when it occurs.
CONFLICT DYNAMICS: VIEWS AND SOLUTIONS
Conflict occurs as a result of disagreement and deferring opinions, beliefs or selfish interest. It is a struggle that could degenerate to crisis or breakdown of law and order. Conflict, according to Michael Nicholson, is ‘an activity which takes place when conscious beings (individuals or groups) wish to carry out mutually inconsistent acts concerning their wants, needs or obligations.’ It is ‘an escalation of disagreement which is its common prerequisite, and is characterized by existence of conflict behavior, in which the beings are actually trying to damage one another’. Conflict begins with disagreement, and followed by verbal abuse and interference. Conflict ‘emerges and is experienced along cognitive (perception), emotional (feeling), and behavioral (action) dimensions’. Conflict index includes mutual image of misunderstanding, hostile utterances, actions and responses that seek to put the interest (s) of the other party in a disadvantaged position (Akpuru-Aja, 2009).
Conflict has been a subject of concern and has been a universal theme in many literature. Conflict could be within man himself, conflict with fellow man, conflict between man and society, conflict between man and nature, conflict between man and machine, conflict between man and fate or supernatural forces. Generally conflict is grouped into interpersonal, intrapersonal, inter group and intra group.
- Intrapersonal Conflict: This is the type of conflict plaguing man within. It is the type of conflict that a man struggles to grapple with. It is a form of struggle within which leads to restlessness and consequently, depression. It could be an emotional, intellectual or psychological disagreement and incompatibility. This conflict is found in what some called cognitive dissonance which occurs when there is struggle between two opposing interests within a man such that it causes confusion. This could define man’s disposition and disposition to others.
- Interpersonal Conflict: Interpersonal conflict occurs as a result of conflict of opinions, views and decisions between an individual and another or between one group and another.It is a reflection of selfishness in which case each individual or group tries to lord his or its selfish interest or opinion over those of others. In this case every person tries to justify his position or stand. It is a clash of interest leading to crisis or violence.
- Intergroup Conflict: This is the type of conflict that occurs between one group in an organization and another. Such groups or sections also try to maintain a position not agreeable by the other group. This could be between a student union and management. It could also be between an association and another or between an individual, association and the government or even between an institution and another.
- Intragroup Conflict: Intra group conflict arises as a result of conflict of interest between individuals within a group. Each individual also tries to advance an opinion or cause of action not popularly accepted by other members of the group. It could be lack of uniformity in opinion, belief, principle or philosophy leading to disagreement. For instance, within a group or association there could be dissenting views or shades of opinion leading to formation of sub groups within a group or formation of different splinter groups or parallel associations and bodies. For instance, within the Academic Staff Union of Universities, there is the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), a new association in the Obafemi Awolowo University and other universities in Nigeria. The Oodua Peoples Congress has two factions- the one led by the Founding Father, Dr Frederick Fasehun and another ‘militant’ group led by Aare Gani Adams. There are several similar associations that have paved ways for splinter groups as a result of internal conflict.
STAGES OF CONFLICT
- Latent or Brewing Stage: At this stage participants involved in the conflict are unconscious of it.
- Perceived Stage: Here participants or parties involved are aware that there is a conflict hence they look for ways to avoid it or engage in it.
- Felt Stage: At this stage the conflict creates stress and anxiety among parties or characters involved in the conflict.
- Manifest: This is when conflict is open and can be observed. It is an escalation stage.
- Aftermath: This is the outcome or consequence of conflict including resolution or dissolution.
Aja Akpuru- Aja (2009) in an article entitled, ‘Basic Concepts of Conflicts’, identified phases into which conflict graduates – early conflict indicators, conflict resistance, explosive or exhaustive conflict, and terrorism which according to him, is the ‘most deadly spiral and highest level of violence’Akpuru-Aja (2009) also identified the following conflict dynamics:
- History of the relationship
- The primary and secondary actors
- The structures (factional goals, attitudes and behaviours)
- The intensity (low, moderate or extreme violence
- Strategies adopted by parties, including communication patterns and interactions between parties
- The pattern of regime responses, and
- The facilitators of conflict transformation
CAUSES OF CONFLICT
- Struggle for scarce or limited resources.
- Inequality or injustice.
- Emotional and psychological disposition/condition (depression).
Causes of conflict can be understood or better appreciated against the background of ‘circle of conflict’ developed by Christopher Moore (2003). The cycle consists of five components namely: relationship problems, data problems, value differences, structural problems, and interests.
COMMON CONFLICTS IN SCHOOLS
Every community or organization has its peculiar type of conflict prevalent in it. In many tertiary institutions in Nigeria, the following types of conflict are manifest:
- Students’ restiveness
- Student – student conflict
- Student management conflict
- Staff –management conflict
- Staff – staff conflict
- School versus host community
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STYLES
Conflict, as earlier observed, is inevitable in any human society. Therefore, appropriate practical and proactive steps must be taken to manage it to avoid it sliding into unimaginable damning consequences. There are various strategic approaches to conflict management. Each handler or mediator and arbitrator or manager adopts strategies or styles most convenient and appropriate to a situation. However, the following conflict management styles are discernible:
Integrating Conflict Management Style: This has been described as most suitable style that involves high level of concern for oneself and others. It involves considering all shades of opinions, ideas, concerns, fears and integrating them for purpose of arriving at a resolution
Compromising: Compromising conflict management style involves shifting ground and finding a meeting point in resolving conflict especially when there is no time to access or consider all options. In That case, it is appropriate that a stand or position is maintained that will be acceptable to all parties. In this case some participants are ready to jettison some of their positions or interest in the interest of peace and harmony.
Dominating: Dominating style is selfish and egocentric in resolving conflict. It is a win-lose situation and autocratic disposition to conflict resolution in which one party tries to dominate others by lording their opinions, views and interest over others. Here participants consciously tries to impose their views on others whom they are either cajoled or forced to accept their own worldviews and positions. This approach to conflict management is common among tyrants who often care less about others but are concerned about themselves alone and what they want. But this style as crude as it may be has its advantage. It is useful in an emergency situation when opposing or conflicting parties or sides cannot reach a consensus and as such urgent action has to be taken.
Obliging: Conversely, obliging conflict management approach involves consideration for others and little or less consideration for oneself.
Avoiding: This style involves a low concern for oneself and others.
Whatever form of conflict that occurs either within an individual or between two individuals or groups, it is a bomb waiting to explode if not managed or controlled. Over the years, violence, bloodletting, wanton destruction of life and property has occurred as a result of conflict which was not attended to. Therefore in the university system, management must put in place proactive measures to address conflict and also put in place conflict or crises management team to address conflict when it occurs.
SOLUTIONS TO CONFLICT
In finding solutions to a problem, we must understand the problem itself and appreciate its complexity. In understanding the root of conflict, Mayer (2012)counsels that ‘If we are to be effective in handling conflict, we must start with a way to make sense of it and to embrace both its complexity and its essence’. In doing this, he posits:
We need tools that help us separate out the many complex interactions that make up a conflict, that help us understand the roots of conflict, and that give us a reasonable handle on the forces that motivate the behavior and interaction of all participants, including ourselves
Mediation/arbitration: This involves a third party trying to resolve conflict between two parties or between two or among groups.
Cooperation: In conflict resolution, parties involved in the conflict must cooperate with the mediators or negotiators if any meaningful achievement is to be made.
Compromise: Sometimes, when parties involved in a dispute or conflict embrace the live and let’s live attitude to life, resolution of conflict becomes much easier. In other words, both parties must be ready to compromise their positions for peace to reign otherwise the resolution will linger.
Fairness, Equity and Justice: The best approach to avoid or resolve conflict is equitable distribution of resources and understanding needs of parties.
Dialogue and Negotiation or Engagement: This is perhaps the most important approach to conflict resolution. This could be done at any stage of the crisis. It involves parties coming to the round table to ‘jaw jaw’ instead of ‘war war’. Here, parties are allowed to express their opinions and negotiate their needs.
Whatever approach or style that we might want to adopt in handling conflict situation, there is a common purpose, assumptions about what constitutes ‘constructive engagement’.And this ‘seem characteristic, if not of every element in an effective conflict intervention system, at least of the system as a whole’. The four core values, according to Mayer involve a commitment to dialogue, an emphasis on needs, empowerment and respect.
The prevalence or ubiquity of conflict in the society is a necessity and inevitable. Conflict arises as a result of clash of interest. Dynamics of conflict is a phenomenon that confront individuals, groups and must be addressed headlong. Such conflict dynamics come from various sources ranging from internal conflict, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intergroup or even international. The dynamics of conflict require multi-dimensional approaches. In summary, it is imperative to identify sources or causes of a particular conflict in order to proffer solutions. Not only this, it is cost effective and could prevent violent conflict or crisis if conflicts are managed when they are still at the brewing stage.
SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- The school management should as a matter of necessity establish within the system, conflict and crisis management team saddled with the onerous responsibility of interfacing between the school authorities and segments capable of igniting conflict.
- The human nature is capable of enduring pains, discomfort and feelings. Often individuals are willing to share these feelings and emotions with others with the hope of finding satisfaction or relief. However when there is pent- up anger and emotions arising from lack of or unavailability of avenue or channel to express views, opinions, or feelings there is sudden outburst of the bottled emotions, the consequences of which may be grievous. To avoid such condition or situation from causing avoidable unpleasant reactions, there is need to open the communication channel so that aggrieved individuals or group and association could ventilate their opinions.
- Strategic Dialogue: Management must constantly engage stakeholders or parties involved in conflicts in dialogue as a veritable tool for resolving conflict when it is still at the brewing stage or even at the escalation or manifestation stage.
- Since most conflicts often arise from clash of interest, it is suggested that management should consider interest of all stakeholders with a view to reconciling such interests with that of the institution. Similarly, management must ensure equitable distribution of available resources among various interest groups and individuals.
- It is also recommended that management should have their ears on the ground, tolerate gossip and invest heavily in intelligence.
- When conflict eventually leads to crisis and perhaps injury to persons or property, commensurate compensation should be paid and punishment given to erring individual or group.
Oyebade is the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone XI. He delivered the speech during the Security Week of the Security Department of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in Osun State on 18th December 2019.