TIPs: Theory, Application, and Practice

DOING CONFLICT BETTER is a learned skill, which means it can be studied, researched and taught, as I’ve done for many years. Many excellent conflict managers and theorists have studied conflict related topics. As a result, there’s now a large body of theory and literature on conflict studies.

Being CONFLICT COMPETENT means understanding what’s happening in a conflict situation (theory), knowing what to do to change it for the better (implementation), and then achieving that goal (practice). The three ingredients that comprise conflict competence are:

  1. Theories are tested ideas and principles that explain;
  2. Implement the appropriate theory as needed in a context;
  3. Practice the right skill for the situation.

The theories of conflict are evidence based with good foundations. Having one or more theories gives you options and strategies because you understand what’s likely going on in a situation. Theory is like the Polar Star, a compass or a map. They are all guides for us so we don’t get lost or misled. Conflict theory underpins and shores you up during stressful situations. If you don’t know what to do, you can ask yourself, ‘what does a theory say about this?’ And you’ll have an answer to your question because you have a theory of conflict.

Theory is a tool and tools are to be used. Skill with a tool means knowing when to apply which theory in what situation. The best musical theorist in the world might not be able to play an instrument well and thus, won’t help in a concert. Likewise, conflict theory with a practical use is much more than interesting in an abstract way; it’s a helpful tool in a conflict.

Once the theory is gained and useable, there are skills to putting conflict competence into practice. One of the skills is conducting a conflict analysis under the pressure of the conflict. That means not reacting on a first impulse to the first insult. The practice of conflict competence is more measured and mindful. It takes time to decide on an appropriate next step that improves communication.

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