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How to manage conflict when it can't be resolved

Because all conflict cannot be resolved, sometimes the conflict needs to be constrained and managed to limit its intensity, and to prevent it from causing consequences that are unacceptable to those involved. Conflict may also need to be managed to prevent other parties from being adversely impacted by the fallout from an unrestrained conflict.

To illustrate how to successfully manage and control conflict, let's examine the case of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union which lasted roughly from 1947 to 1991, a period of almost fifty years.

The primary cause of the conflict was a difference in political and economic systems, and a desire of each country to impose their system on each other as well as other countries of the world.

While the conflict never resulted in a shooting war between the two countries, it did manifest itself in the use of proxy states and various espionage and propaganda activities designed to inflict non-fatal damage and gain advantage over the other party.

The most dangerous aspect of the competition was a nuclear arms race that resulted in each nation building and deploying approximately ten thousand nuclear weapons capable of striking and destroying the other country. As each state increased their stock of nuclear weapons, it became clear that if one side used them, the other side would have the capability to respond in a way that would ensure the complete destruction of the other, and possibly the entire world.

Here are three of the strategies that were used to manage this historic conflict and prevent the destruction of the human race. You can use these same three strategies to control conflicts that can destroy your business and personal relationships.

The cost of the conflict was unacceptable

Because the consequences of failing to manage the conflict would be unacceptable to everyone involved, both parties showed restraint and managed the conflict to keep it from growing. In order for this to work, both parties must feel that there is an approximate balance of power.

There was an approximate balance of power

Because each side was able to deploy and maintain a similar size military, neither side was encouraged to attempt to take advantage of the other. In personal and business relationships, power can be expressed in many ways from the authority given by a superior to having control over a person's livelihood, physical safety, or emotional state.

The key to successful use of this strategy is perception. If one party perceives that they have an advantage, they may seek to exploit it and resolve the conflict in their favor. In the case of the Cold War, both nations believed that destroying their opponent would lead to their own destruction. The strategy was even given a name: Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD.

Each party shared a higher value

Even though the countries were in conflict over issues that were important to them (democracy and capitalism vs. communism and socialism), they shared the higher value of preserving life, and that value was more important than the ones that were in conflict.

Once again, perception can be critical because if one person thinks there is a common shared value that will control the conflict and the other person doesn't share the same belief, they may be tempted to exploit the perceived difference to their advantage

Put it to use

If you are involved in a conflict that can't be resolved, use these three strategies to manage the conflict and prevent consequences that are unacceptable to you. Because perceptions are crucial to the successful use of these tactics, be sure to ascertain your competitors' beliefs and perceptions as accurately as possible.

By using these three proven methods your conflict can be managed and controlled.


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