Conflict Management Strategies


Re: Conflict Management


Workplace violence is the number one cause of death for women, and the second highest cause for men.  Management must intervene, and the most effective means of intervention is through training in conflict resolution. Managers are likely to spend 20 percent of their time dealing with employee conflicts, from disagreements about the job itself to personality conflicts.

    Conflict increases with increased levels of hierarchy, more workers, and the standardization of jobs The word “conflict” has a negative connotation, but isn’t always a bad thing. It pushes managers to analyze their goals, it forces employees to communicate, and sometimes it can lead to creative solutions. Sometimes, it will result in high-quality decision making that would otherwise be impossible. One such conflict led to the formation of Saturn (automotive). In this regard, it can lead people to step out of their usual way of thinking. One study showed that high-quality decisions occurred in 45 percent of situations where the subordinates resisted. Creative solutions only occurred in 18 percent of cases where resistance was weak or non-existant. Therefore, conflict brings out the best in employee’s thinking.

    There are three popular definitions of conflict: 1) the actions of one person or organization is in direct opposition to the actions of another; 2) the conditions or goals of individuals are incompatible; 3) a struggle over values and scarce resources in which opponents seek to neutralize their rivals. There are four axioms that are relevant to communication: 1) conflict involves at least two parties, and can only be generated or resolved through communication; 2) It develops from perceived mutually exclusive goals, and the important thing to remember is that they are perceived to be mutually exclusive; 3) Conflict involves different value systems, especially with employees who are in vastly different positions; 4) conflict will only terminate when each side is convinced that it has one or lost.

    Managers must understand the source of a conflict in order to find the proper resolution. The lines of authority, and specifically the way one individual or department is dependent on another, can encourage conflict. It is especially exacerbated by the limited availability of resources. Perceived conflict occurs when parties misunderstand each other’s positions. Managers must find ways to prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place, such as unappreciated employees. 55 percent of employees said that they are rarely thanked by their bosses.

    The strategies most commonly employed in conflict resolution are: accommodation, problem solving, avoidance, compromise, and force. Accomodation requires the managers to look at everyone’s needs in order to please everyone. Often, he must give in to ideas that conflict with his own needs or goals. Problem solving evaluates each point of view in order to come to a solution while taking in everyone’s opinions. Avoidance tends to sound like a negative idea, but it can include ignoring the grumblings of negative comments, or a manager who changes the subject when the tone of a discussion becomes threatening. This is typically used in large bureaucracies that have conflicting policies. One might hear “It’s not my fault, it’s just the company policy” when this technique is used. Forcing is used when a manager must accomplish his goals without consideration of others’ opinions and or feelings. It is the number one conflict resolution technique used by managers. It should not be mistaken with a long-term solution. Compromise, which is similar to negotiating, is used when: (1) management does not have the power to “force” the issue on the other party, or (2) the parties realize that winning may not be worth the cost in money, time, or energy.

    A win-win resolution involves solving the conflict so that everyone is satisfied. Rather than using a combative approach, management instead seeks to foster cooperation. One approach that often does not work is taking a vote for the majority rule. In the case of prison officials discussing guard uniforms, they took a vote, which was three to five. The winning members, of course, were pleased while the losing members became angry or refused to participate in further discussion.

 There are four beliefs necessary to implement the win-win strategy. The first is that cooperation is better than competition. While competition can lead to unexpected results, these results can’t be accomplished without the cooperation of other employees. Next, the parties need to be trustworthy, otherwise they may conceal or distort information. Third, status differences can be minimized – a manager should not use influence to force a lower-level employee to give in. Finally, everyone needs to find mutually-acceptable solutions.

    In conclusion, the five steps of the problem-solving process are: 1) define the problem; 2) analyze the problem; 3) brainstorm solutions; 4) develop criteria for a good solution; 5) evaluate the alternatives using independently derived criteria. Conflict in any organization cannot be avoided, but it can be managed effectively.

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