Why does conflict happen?

In the world of conflict resolution and the interest-based model, interests are the underlying cause of conflict between organizations, people, and family members. So what are interests and how are they important?

An interest refers to one of these nine: a concern, hope, expectation, assumption, priority, belief, feeling, value or need. Identifying these interests can help us to gain a perspective on conflict and help us in understanding what is important to ourselves and others.

Let’s look at an example of interests at work.

A couple is deciding on where to go for vacation this year.  One partner wants to go to Iceland – he heard from several friends that it’s the “latest” place to travel to, has great fishing, lots of outdoor activities and has a unique culture.

The other partner wants to go to Mexico – she craves sun, relaxation, the beach, and wants the cultural experience of Mexico with local markets,music and salsa dancing.  For her, the sun and beach provide a relaxing escape. She has been taking a Spanish language class and wants to practice her language skills.

In sum, we have the following interests at work.  One partner:  priority is traveling to a “trendy” destination; hopes for fishing; values outdoor pursuits; believes the culture will be interesting; needs to travel to a unique location.

The other partner: needs relaxation which means sun and beach time; hopes to practice her Spanish; believes she deserves a great vacation since it has been a hard work year; priority is a vacation which has “local elements” to it.

The question is not just where they go on vacation-if all they do is discuss where they each want to go without discussing why it is important,  they will not actually understand what is important about each choice.  The “why”…

After discussing these interests with each other, they have to prioritize which ones are most important.  Are there any in common?  Perhaps they both want an experience of “local and unique culture”.  Maybe fishing is not as important as this aspect and maybe the sun is very important in the destination choice. Options might looks like:  they will go to Iceland this year and Mexico next year; or Mexico this year and Iceland next year; or go to one of these destinations this year and take a mini-vacation at Xmas or Easter; or pick a different place altogether that meets some of the interests of both parties – like Costa Rica, which allows for practicing Spanish, the sun, local markets and interesting outdoor activities like zip lining, jungle tours and likely some unique cultural aspects. They might need to do more research.  Another option may be to go to one of above choices but the other party then plans their own travel with their friends to the other destination.

If these interests are very important to each person, and a lot of energy is invested in them, it may take time to discuss and reach a resolution. If one party really doesn’t have strong interests in the vacation choice, the other party whose interests are of stronger importance,  may sway the outcome.  Only the two parties involved in this negotiation know how important their interests are.

The next time you are in conflict think about the above list of nine, as they are the heart of the conflict.
Spend some time reflecting on what is important for you. Listen carefully and identify what is important for the other party and for yourself. Look for common ground. The most effective solution will take into account the interests of both parties.

Linda Varro
Juntura Mediation/coaching