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4.0 Conflict Management   and Peace Building

4.2 Unit 001 : Conflict Management

4.2.1 Definition of Conflict

Conflict is a process that occurs between two or more persons (groups, organizations, states) when they have different points of views, different goals, different needs and values and they fight over limited resources to address them.

4.2.2 Attributes of Conflict

  1. Conflict is natural part of life: Whenever two or more people are gathered there is conflict or potential conflict. More than that, an existence free of conflict would be very boring. People seek conflict in their lives.
  2. Conflict is neither good nor bad: The way we solve conflicts or the outcomes of conflicts can be good or bad. We should not eliminate conflicts, but we should know how to have lively controversies. Instead of deadly quarrels, how to create constructive conflicts and avoid destructive ones.
  3. Constructive conflicts have many positive outcomes: People’s interest and curiosity are stimulated.  People grow; establish their group and personal identities, by testing and assessing one’s self processes.
  4. Destructive Conflicts are violent and have negative outcomes: Parties go beyond seeking to achieve their goals peacefully and try to dominate and destroy each other. Destructive conflicts have a tendency to expand and escalate.

1.2.3     Causes of Conflicts


The following are some of the major potential sources of conflicts in organizations:

  1. Aggressive Nature of Man: A man is aggressive in nature and seeks expression of his aggressive impulses. Some conflict in organizations stems from the normal need of some people to find outlets for their aggressive impulses.
  2. Competition for Limited Resources: Inter-group conflict may arise when groups in the organization compete to win their share of the organization's scarce or limited resources such as money, materials and manpower.
  3. Clashes of Values and Interests: Differences in value and interests of various groups may result into conflict between or among the groups involved.
  4. Antagonistic Roles: Inter-group conflicts may arise because different groups occupy different roles that are apparently antagonistic to each other, e.g. the accounts department whose main role is to conserve the organizations funds may be in conflict with the marketing department whose role in promotion may require it to spend quite an amount of the organizational funds.
  5. Drives for Power (Political Maneuvering): Inter-group conflicts may arise due to political manoeuvring that certain groups may engage in as they try to acquire power in the organization, e.g. wanting to be in charge of certain new responsibilities.
  6. Poorly Defined Responsibilities: When job responsibilities are for example ambiguous, conflict may arise from disagreements about which groups have got certain responsibilities over certain tasks.
  7. Introduction of Change: Changes such as acquisition and mergers creates a lot of competition and conflict at the initial stages. For example, when an organization is merged into another, a power struggle often exists between the acquiring and acquired organizations. Similarly, where certain changes are introduced into the organization conflict may arise between management and workers between those opposed to and those for the change.
  8. Organizational Climate: An organizational character, personality or climate such as the amount of psychological distance organizational units maintain from each other, can be a major source of inter-group conflict. For example, there would be minimal conflict when professional groups have very much or very little distance psychologically from the administration than when they have medium distance.
  9. Distortion of communication.
  10. Attitude and value difference


4.2.6 Conflict analysis tools

The Traiees should be able to understand what is conflict analysis and the tools that are used in the analysis

The Facilitator should begin the discussion by asking, “What is conflict analysis?” writing down responses from the participants on a flipchart. After all responses are given, the Facilitator should provide the following below definition on the flip chart and discuss any differences in the definitions.

Definition: “A process of examining and understanding the reality of a conflict situation from a variety of perspectives” The Facilitator should then present the following information: Conflict analysis is not a onetime exercise. It must be an on-going process.   As the situation is developing one can adapt the actions to changing factors, dynamics and circumstances

Why do we conduct conflict analysis?

  1. To understand the background and history of situations as well as current events
  2. To identify all the relevant groups involved not just the main groups and the obvious ones.
  3. To understand the perspectives of all groups
  4. To understand how they relate to one another
  5. To identify factors and trends those underpin conflicts.
  6. To understand positions, interests and needs of actors
  7. To understand the dynamics of conflicts
  8. To understand the relationships




4.2.8 Communication and Conflict Handling


The Facilitator should ask the participants what communication is and how they communicate with others.

The Facilitator should ask the following probing questions:

  1. Do we only communicate with words?
  2. Why is listening important to communication?
  3. How does body language communicate? Can you give examples?
  4. Can a person give contradictory communication clues at the same time? Can you give examples?
  5. Is communication is different depending upon who you are communicating with? Give some examples.


How Can Communication Be Improved?

Effective communication requires that meaning must be transmitted and understood. The responsibility for communication rests upon Sender.

What the sender can do to improve communication:

  1. Clarify ideas before communicating
  2. Examine the purpose of communication
  3. Remove hierarchical barriers
  4. Status differences in organizations can limit the effectiveness of communication between superiors and subordinates—this creates a psychological distance which makes employees filter the information they give to management, withholding any information they feel is distasteful.
  5. Remove interpersonal barriers
  6. Communication is an interpersonal process, interpersonal barriers such as distrust, defensiveness, and domination hinder open communication.
  7. Be sensitive to the receiver's perspective
  8. The communicator should be empathetic to the receiver i.e. be able to put himself in the shoes of the receiver.
  9. Develop and maintain credibility
  10. Credibility is usually measured by one's expertise on the subject matter being communicated.
  11. Support words with action.
  12. Avoid information overload i.e. giving more information than they can handle or process. A gate keeper could be used to screen the information or filtering and prioritizing of information could help reduce overload.
  13. Avoid information under load
  14. Giving too little information, this often leads to employee dissatisfaction.
  15. Be a good listener
  16. Effective communication takes place only when the sender is satisfied with the receiver’s response.


Other Ways to Improve Communication

  1. Brief message—a lengthy message gives room for distortion
  2. Appropriate vocabulary—language used must be understood by both the sender and the receiver
  3. Accuracy and Completeness
  4. Selective Communication
  5. Empathy
  6. Use of visual devices
  7. Use of combined media
  8. Follow up and Good listening




4.2.4 Types of Conflicts

Conflicts can be classified into the following four types

  1. Interpersonal conflict refers to a conflict between two individuals. This occurs typically due to how people are different from one another. We have varied personalities which usually results to incompatible choices and opinions. Apparently, it is a natural occurrence which can eventually help in personal growth or developing your relationships with others.
  1. Intrapersonal conflict occurs within an individual. The experience takes place in the person’s mind. Hence, it is a type of conflict that is psychological involving the individual’s thoughts, values, principles and emotions.
  2. Intragroup conflict is a type of conflict that happens among individuals within a team. The incompatibilities and misunderstandings among these individuals lead to an intragroup conflict. It is arises from interpersonal disagreements (e.g. team members have different personalities which may lead to tension) or differences in views and ideas (e.g. in a presentation, members of the team might find the notions presented by the one presiding to be erroneous due to their differences in opinion). Within a team, conflict can be helpful in coming up with decisions which will eventually allow them to reach their objectives as a team.
  3. Intergroup conflict takes place when a misunderstanding arises among different teams within an organization. For instance, one department of an organization can come in conflict with another department. This is due to the varied sets of goals and interests of these different groups. In addition, competition also contributes for intergroup conflict to arise.


 Exercise 1

Facilitator discusses the difference between a root cause, a core issue and an effect of a conflict, giving an example of a conflict which incorporates all three aspects. Participants are divided into groups. Each group is asked to select a conflict in their area that they are familiar with and discuss. The Facilitator may want to provide a list of examples on the flipchart. Regroup and have each group present their work for the entire group to discuss. The Facilitator should then review different conflict management styles and in what scenarios each should and can be used.

 4.2.5 Conflict Management Styles

Conflicts may be managed by the conflicting parties themselves or by third parties. Organizational conflicts can be met with non-attention, suppression or resolution.

  1. Lose-Lose Strategies:
  1.  In lose-lose strategy both parties in the conflict lose in the sense that neither achieves its true desires in the conflict. Conflict is managed in such a way that its underlying reasons remain unaffected. Consequently future conflict of a similar nature is likely to occur. There are three basic approaches to conflict management in the lose-lose strategy;
  2. Avoidance: Managing conflict by avoidance is an extreme form of non-attention. In this approach there is no direct attempt to deal with a manifest conflict. Everyone pretends that conflict does not really exist or if it does exist, it is such that it will simply disappear. Consequently, in this strategy, the conflict is left to develop on its own into a constructive or destructive force within the organization.
  3. Smoothing: This is managing conflict by playing down differences among the conflicting parties and high-lighting similarities and areas of agreement. The aim is to encourage peaceful co-existence through recognition of common interests. Smoothing may ignore the real essence of a given conflict. It is a form of a non-attention of a minor form.
  4. Compromise: In this approach accommodations are made such that each party in the conflict gives up something of value to each other. As a result neither party gains its full desires and the reasons for conflict remain unsolved.
  1. Win-Lose Strategy

In win-lose strategy, one party in the conflict wins while the other loses. One party wins by achieving its desires at the expense of the other party's desires. The root causes of conflict are not addressed. Instead, there is a tendency to suppress desires of at least one of the parties. Therefore future conflicts of a similar nature are likely to occur.  

i.      Competition: In this approach, a victory is achieved on the part of the winning party.

ii.      Authoritative Command: Here a formal authority simply dictates a solution and specifies what is gained and lost and by whom e.g. government intervenes in strikes and gives workers time to conform. When the authority is a party to the conflict, it is easy to predict who will be the winner and who is the loser.                                                     

  1. Win-Win Strategy

Win-win strategy provides the best solution to conflict. It is a strategy that truly resolves conflict. It involves the recognition by all conflicting parties that something is wrong and needs attention. Both parties in the conflict win as both achieve their goals.

4.2.7 Conflict Analysis Tools

Tool number




Root cause analysis

To help the affected examine the origins and underlying causes of conflict.


Issue analysis

To examine the issues that contribute to conflict and the specific issues that give rise to a specific conflict in more detail, focusing on five categories:

1) problems with information;
2) conflicting interests;
3) difficult relationships;
4) structural inequalities;
5) conflicting values.


Stakeholder identification and analysis

To identify and assess the dependency and power of different stakeholders in a conflict.


4Rs analysis (rights, responsibilities, returns, relationships)

To examine the rights, responsibilities and benefits of different stakeholders in relation to natural resources, as part of improving understanding of a conflict.

To examine the relationships among (or within) different stakeholder groups.


Conflict time line

To assist stakeholders in examining the history of a conflict and to improve their understanding of the sequence of events that led to the conflict.


Mapping conflict over resource use

To show geographically where land or resource use conflicts exist or may exist in the future.

To determine the primary issues of conflict.




4.2.9 Tips for Conflict Resolution

  1. Negotiate: Remain calm.  Try not to overreact to difficult situations.  By remaining calm it will be more likely that others will consider your viewpoint.
  2. Avoid ultimatums.
  3. If one loses, both lose.
  4. Establish common ground rules:   You may even want to ask your partner-in-conflict to read and discuss these rules with you.   When parties accept positive common ground rules for managing a conflict, resolution becomes much more likely.
  5. Say what you really mean (do not use generalities): Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on. Don’t generalize. Avoid words, such as “never” or “always.” Don’t stockpile. Storing up lots of grievances and hurt feelings over time is counterproductive. It’s almost impossible to deal with numerous old problems for which interpretations may differ.   Try to deal with problems as they arise.
  6. Avoid accusations and attacks: Accusations will cause others to defend themselves.   Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
  7. Own your own feelings first ("I" statements): Express feelings in words, not actions.   Telling someone directly and  honestly  how  you  feel  can  be  a  very  powerful  form  of communication.
  8. Always check out your perceptions. Avoid “make believe.”   Exaggerating or inventing a complaint - or your feelings about it - will prevent the real issues from surfacing. Stick with the facts and your honest feelings.
  9. State your wishes and requests clearly and directly.
  10. Repeat the message you think you received.
  11. Refuse to fight dirty (name-calling, threats, etc.): Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
  12. Resist giving the silent treatment: Avoid clamming up. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result.   Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication.
  13. Focus on the issue and focus on the present. Deal with only one issue at a time.   Don’t introduce other topics until each is fully discussed.   This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
  14. Take a short break: If you start to feel so angry or upset that you feel you may lose control, take a break and do something to help you feel steadier
    take a walk, do some deep breathing, and do the dishes - whatever works for you.
  15. Use humor and comic relief, when possible
  16. Always look for closure: The Facilitator should review the tips with the participants and ask participants if they can provide any examples of experiences where these tips were used and conflict was averted or situations where one or more of these tips were not used, but if they did conflict could have been averted.


Related Topics

4.1 Training Outline

4.2.2 Attributes Of Conflict

1.2.3 Causes of Conflicts

4.2.4 Types of Conflicts

4.2.5 Conflict Management Styles

4.2.6 Conflict analysis tools

4.2.8 Communication and Conflict Handling

4.2.9 Tips for Conflict Resolution