Occupy London - a positive form of conflict?

Posted 11 Nov 2011 by heathercoop

In conflict situations, there are a range of different approaches or conflict management styles available to us. However, we are all likely to have a preferred style of dealing with conflict, which we rely on in most situations. This may be because we are comfortable with our skills in that mode or because using that mode has worked for us in past situations. However, by acting unconsciously or out of habit, we may not be using the approach that is most appropriate for the particular situation.


When we talk about conflict, we are not necessarily referring to aggressive confrontations or arguments. Conflict is simply any situation in which one person’s concerns are different from those of another person. The ‘Occupy London’ protest is a good illustration of some of the issues involved in conflict management, with the key stakeholders being driven to resolve the protest by different agendas, and in different ways.


The Church of England were placed in an unenviable position by protestors camping outside St Paul’s. The church became an unwilling participant in a conflict situation between the protestors and the corporation, by virtue of the protest being held on its doorstep. Initially the church’s response to the crisis was one of avoidance. Their dilemma of supporting the cause but being unable to carry out day-to-day business led to a paralysis in their response and later to resignations of senior staff. This is a clear example of how avoidance of conflict, or failure to take a decisive and unified approach, can have negative consequences for organisations.


However, following these resignations and mounting pressure to take more decisive action, the church appeared to change strategy and adopt a more collaborative and proactive approach to the conflict situation, seeking a solution that would benefit all parties. Their decision to pause legal action and strike a deal with protestors, prompted the corporation to follow suit, and for the conflict to reach a more collaborative stage. By avoiding the confrontational method of eviction, and through compromise and dialogue, the church was able to reach an agreement with the protestors to scale down the size of the encampment, in return for a commitment to delay the eviction. This paved the way for the opening of talks between the protestors and the corporation. By changing their strategy for dealing with the conflict, and perhaps moving away from the use of their preferred conflict style, the church was able to achieve a compromise with the other parties involved, and move towards a more effective resolution.


The Thomas Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) can assist individuals in understanding and becoming more aware of their own preferred conflict styles and those of others. Through greater understanding of different conflict management styles, people can learn to adapt their own style to different situations, in order to maximise the likelihood of effective conflict resolution. By improving the ways in which they manage and respond to conflict situations, individuals can enhance their effectiveness within teams and the organisation as a whole.

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