Postponed conflict is any conflict that is postponed or delayed until it erupts at a later time. Postponed conflict can result from failure to resolve underlying issues properly, failure to address the problem at all and the conscious choice to set aside conflicts due to greater threats.
• Ignoring It
Conflict can be postponed by simply ignoring it. By refusing to admit there is a problem, the problem or conflict does not have to be resolved at that time. However, this can cause the conflict to worsen as animosity or rivalries worsen.
Unlike ignoring a problem, managers can avoid the problem. They may assign blame for the conflict on an external factor, minimize the conflict or seek a simple fix that does not address the root causes. Avoidance is a temporary solution and thus creates postponed conflict.
In a truce, each side attempts to arrange peace. A common example in the work place is a manager calling in two feuding coworkers and asking them to agree to get along. Initially, the conflict appears resolved. However, the attempt to get along simply by promising to forgive and forget often fails. The conflict is thus only postponed because the underlying causes of the conflict are not resolved.
• Peace in the Face of Greater Threats
There is an Arabic saying, “My brother and I against my cousin. My cousin and I against the tribe. The tribe against the world.” Fighting within a group is postponed when an outside threat presents itself. The group unites to face the outside conflict. However, the peace achieved when working together for a greater cause falls apart when the outside threat is vanquished or the external danger has past.
This example arises frequently in the workplace. Two employees with a serious rivalry may set aside their conflict when faced with a greater rival or choosing to get along to avoid both individuals being laid off. Another postponed conflict is commonly seen in unionized workplaces when unions drop their conflict with management to prevent bankruptcy of the company, since failure of the company costs everyone their jobs. The conflict is thus postponed until the outside threat is gone.