Conflict and Paradox

I am moved to write on this topic after a conversation with a colleague of mine about the paradoxes that exist in group development. We have both experienced the debilitating effects dysfunctional groups but our thoughts are quite different with respect to some of the root causes. After a robust conversation, we concluded that there is a lot to learn from the narratives of people who have gained invaluable results from working in groups and what are the best practices used to accomplish the group’s objectives. Until that is done, I will share some thoughts on the  issue of conflict and paradox.

Conflicts exist everywhere. So do paradoxes. In the home, school, enterprise (public and private), among friends, and among acquaintances. No one is immune.

Conflict: A situation between two or more inter-dependent parties that is characterized by perceived differences that the parties consider negative. The result being incompatible goals which lead to behaviors that aggravate an already tense relationship.

Paradox: A statement or set of statements that are self contradictory. You can easily spot the paradox in each of the sentences below:

  • This is the beginning of the end.
  • I have gone through bittersweet moments in life.

Here are two more from perhaps your favourite literary works.

  • Animal Farm: “All animals are equal; but some are more equal than others.”
  • Hamlet: “I must be cruel to be kind.”

Consider for a minute the existence of paradoxes in group life. A group comprises people from varying backgrounds, each seeking to advance his status within the group or not. The behaviors that are employed by the individuals are driven by emotions and thoughts that are contradictory and will end in group paralysis if there is no focus on reducing the occurrence of destructive conflict.

The concept of conflict resolution is in itself a paradox and group life breeds elements associated with contradictory emotions, behaviors and rhetoric. Left to our own devices to protect ourselves and our interests without an appreciation of group dynamics, renders growth and productivity unrealistic.

So, for a group of executives working on a project, each may think that his particular approach is the best. Where there is an inability to agree on a course of action/actions towards a positive outcome, ends in conflict. What each participant fails to grasp is that each may be right. There are many “truths” to resolving issues, but getting to the collaborative space where members are given the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas is a huge issue.

Hadeed (2014) extends the view that groups must prepare for creative problem solving by pursuing the following:

  • Put aside the idea ‘my solution is the only solution’.
  • Recognize that problem solving works best when it is collaborative.
  • A need to to recognize there may be more than one truths to a conflict.

If I were to ask what colour is the sky, you would give me a variety of answers, all of which echo some truth. You could tell me the sky is blue. Someone else could provide the scientific response that suggests it has no colour but that of light being diffracted by the gases in the atmosphere. Another may yet say that the colour is black, at nights. Each response holds some truth. What would need to be decided is the best response in light of all the possibilities that exist.

Finding the Group’s Truth – Getting Unstuck

Here is a charm. For groups to become unstuck they have to get creative. This cannot be achieved where there is an absence of trust and rapport. Ask yourself, “is preserving my ego and interest worth the demise of the group and its objectives?”

If you are in favour of the group’s success then consider the following:

  • Acknowledge that there is a challenge.
  • Create ground rules to support the group’s agenda.
  • Drill down to identify the root cause of the challenge. Select and clarify the issues that are manifested.
  • A range of issues may be uncovered. Analyze the “discoveries” and create responses that will treat with the deficiencies.
  • Establish mechanisms for follow-up.
  • Create an environment that values the contributions of the members of the group. Each individual brings to the table expertise and competencies that will help the group succeed. Acknowledge the contributions made.

I want you to recognize that change is mired in destruction. For something new to be erected, one has to destroy something old. The test is to not reinforce the same way of treating with group conflict but identifying novel ways that will provide better outcomes.


S.A. Hadeed, (2014). Power-point presentation Problem-solving paradoxically and creatively.

Katz, Neil & Associates (2014) Conflict Management: Overt and Covert Dynamics. Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

School of Humanities and Social Sciences.


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