Conflict represents a recognizable and significant disagreement of ideas or interests between two or more parties. The severity of a conflict can range from minor problems to full-scale wars.
-Patricia Swann, Cases in Public Relations Management: The Rise of Social Media and Activism
No one likes conflict. However, conflict is a part of life and if handled properly can be a valuable learning experience.
Conflict management has four stages: the proactive stage, the strategic stage, the reactive stage and the recovery stage. Whether we know it or not, we use these phases to manage various kinds of conflict every day.
Driving, for example. The proactive stage is one where you scan the environment and look for potential problems: are there kids playing near the road? Is the road under construction? Is there debris in the the road? The strategic stage is the one where you adapt the crisis plan: if the kids run into the road, or something blows onto your windshield, are you going to hit the brakes or swerve? Is there other traffic around that should change your plan? The reactive stage involves putting the plan into action and resolving the conflict: you swerved and you didn’t hit the kids or the barriers. The recovery stage includes image restoration and reputation management and this is where my analogy somewhat falls apart. But I suppose it could apply. Maybe you get out of the car and apologize to the kids for scaring them and ask if they’re OK.
The same general things apply in other situations. As PR practitioners, we are on the front lines when it comes to conflict management. We have to be aware of what is happening relevant to our particular field and company and know what has the potential to cause problems. We also have to know what the plan is in the event that something happens, because one size does not fit all. One angry tweet might be handled differently based on who it came from and its content and an and email might be handled in a totally different way. Knowing how to adapt the plan in all cases is vital, as is know who to contact and what to say.
The end result should always be the same, whether you are dealing with a huge scandal or an angry customer: restoring the image and reputation of the company you represent is vital.