Management and Conflict Resolution

All conflict within an organization is detrimental to employees and the organization. Discuss. Conflict can be defined as “a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or it is about to negatively affect, something the first party cares about”,(Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007). Huczynski and Buchanan (2007) also perceive conflict as a mental state which has to be acknowledged by the two parties involved to comply with its definition. In an organizational environment, conflict is strongly connected to managerial skills.

There are different situations where conflict can occur but it is often a consequence of lack of communication, misunderstandings, disagreements which mean basic human interaction. According to French et al (2008) “managers must be skilled participants in the dynamics of interpersonal conflict”, moreover when they are directly involved. Frames of reference In order to address the question “Is conflict detrimental to employees and the organization? ” we would have to look at the four frames of reference on conflict (Fox, 1966, 1973 cited in Huczynski and Buchanan 2007): unitarist, pluralist, interactionist and radical.

The unitarist view upon conflict is that it is nonexistent in an organization and has to be avoided by all means. This implies that employees have to have the same goals as management and no difference of opinion may interfere, while the company is seen as an ideal environment. Generally the attitude of the company relies on the resolution, considering the causes as being lack of communication due to involvement of third parties such as unions. The pluralist approach is opposite the unitarist one, rejecting the idea of a harmonious environment where employees and management share the same interests and goals.

In this frame, the conflict will appear between groups (departments), or managerial functions of the same level. This is due to clashes between views upon the organizational goals. Management has a key role in dissolving and balancing conflict through compromise. This frame sees conflict as an unavoidable part of organizational behavior. The interactionist view is the most embracing frame towards conflict. According to it, conflict is necessary in the organizational environment as it functions positively upon it. In this view, f there is too much order and good understanding there will be less room to bring forward change. Therefore, conflict will be stimulated, in order to avoid lack of self criticism and change. Conflict can manifest as functional and dysfunctional, depending on its wholesome influence on the organizational performance. Functional conflict is “a form of conflict which supports organization goals and improves performances”(Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007), while dysfunctional conflict manifests in the opposite way, affecting the company’s course.

There is a constant need of conflict needed to be maintained at a managerial level in order to motivate, stimulate and encourage work. Joni and Beyer (2009) state that “Within an acceptable range of competition and tension, science shows, dissent will fire up more of an individual’s brain, stimulating more pathways and engaging more creative centers”. This is their view upon the present day need for conflict in organizations to motivate people. The radical frame of reference is the widest as it gives the most answers to the analysis upon conflict.

While the interactionist view sees conflict as a tool to improve performance, the radical approach implies that organizations are fields of conflict between managers and employees. The reference has been based on the Marxist critique on capitalism. Organizing and co-ordination Conflict can surface from many situations but its source can be classified according to Huczynski and Buchanan (2007) using the co-ordination of an organization. Co-ordination develops through differentiation, actual co-ordination, response, perceptions and feelings and dealing with conflict.

These are the processes through which departments are created, how their responsibilities are introduced and how employees react to them. Organizing is separating employees according to their functions and specialties into departments to clarify roles and avoid duplication, for effectiveness and rapid performance. Conflict can arise in these processes because of the perception groups or individuals may have about their role. If hierarchy in groups is not settled, employees might have differences in who has the right to more authority.

In other cases, groups may compete on the basis that they are more important to the good of the company; therefore their concept about the goals of the company may differ. In addition to the different stereotypes organizational groups may develop, there is the issue of interdependence between departments, as they have different tasks but sometimes they must perform for a single objective. Intergroup conflict may surface due to different time perspectives and lack of sources, such as budget cuts.

Huczynski and Buchanan (2007) define the three ways thorough which the process of co-ordination deploys: formal direction, mutual adjustment and special liaison. These are measures taken to prevent conflict in the first place and are used depending on the structure of the organization. Formal direction represents all the written orders employees receive from senior staff. These include rules, policies and hierarchy. These are basic implementations that are necessary even in small companies, and contribute to the company culture.

Mutual adjustment represents manager to employee communication made through other more experienced member. It ranges from job requirements to statement of objectives. Special liaison refers to using a more experienced member to train staff and offer broader information about their activities. All these methods of co-ordination are mainly ways of hedging that people know their roles and responsibilities and how to be deployed. All of the measures above represent actions taken by organization in order to have a clear differentiation between employees and their roles and to co-ordinate their functions.

The reaction to this form or organizational order consists of perceptions and emotions from employees. Types of conflict French et al(2008) agree that another classification of conflict is made through communication levels: intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup conflict and interorganizational conflict. Intrapersonal conflict is usually the perception an individual has upon the goals and opportunities received. The best example would be choosing between equal alternatives. Interpersonal conflict occurs between two individuals and intergroup conflict is between larger groups such as departments.

Interorganisational conflict occurs between organizations or larger units in large organizations, such as trade unions. According to Higgerson (1996) there are specific cues managers should follow in anticipating a conflict. Changes in behavior such as verbal or non verbal signs and change of attitude can all reflect how employees react to an uncomfortable situation that can lead to conflict. Changes in policies can affect employees as people react in various ways to change and adjust in their own time.

Changes in the department such as a new location, a new colleague or other similar aspects are also risky factors towards the harmony of the work place. Causes of conflict Mills and Murgatroyd (1991) distinguish possible causes of conflict related to ownership and control: the process of making profit (versus costs), the labour contract, alienation, class. Making profit relates to the desire of the ownership to obtain profit and to reduce costs, which include employee wages. Moreover, due to competitiveness, those in charge may take cut backs on existing working conditions or refuse improvement.

This all leads to employee dissatisfaction, manifesting in differences between trade unions and management. The labor contract refers mostly to the company culture and what rules the employee may have to obey. Alienation is routine, lack of change, of rewards or of motivation. Kanter (1977) named the limited possibilities of getting advanced “the stuck”: “Low promotion rates, or short ladders and low ceilings in their job category, meant that few expectations were ever created for such jobs to involve movement”.

Class refers to the forming of trade unions as a way of better communication with management. Nevertheless, trade unions, while trying to sustain their own interests may contradict the organizational benefit. Trade unions may become hard to handle due to the number of employees involved. Conflict resolution The co-ordination process may not be effective and does not guarantee a peaceful and harmonious environment. Moreover, managers may consider it inefficient and before adjusting it to meet the needs of the organization, they may implement conflict resolution methods.

Also management can implement changes to induce conflict where considered. According to Kuczynski and Buchanan (2007) conflict resolution is “a process which has as its objective the ending of the conflict between the disagreeing parties”. According to French et al (2008) there are several stages of conflict: antecedent conditions, perceived and felt conflict, manifest conflict, conflict resolution or suppression and conflict aftermath. Antecedent onditions are the causes of conflict, while manifest is expressing it directly through behaviour. Conflict resolution methods rely on the dimensions Thomas, K. (1976) cited in Huczynski and Buchanan (2007) gave: how assertive or unassertive the parties are and how co-operative or uncooperative. Furthermore, there are five approaches to conflict management: competing, avoiding, compromising, accommodating and collaborating. These are actual frames by which people act on a day to day basis when dealing with conflict.

While competing, either a manager or employee forces the other party into their own opinion about the issue without taking into consideration the opposite view. This case is a win-lose situation which involves ignoring the other party’s concerns but takes action in resolving the conflict. Avoiding, on the other hand, does not take any action in setting at rest discord and may increase frustration and tension. Compromising is addressing the issue and letting the other party know what the disaffection is, but taking into consideration their view about the problem.

This is a quick proceeding towards a solution, but ineffective in the long term as the problems may resurface. Accommodating is pleasing the other party without expressing discontent, therefore giving them opportunity to take advantage. Collaborating is reaching resolution by working together and finding a fair approach to the settlement of the infighting. Managers and individuals in social environments often use just one or limited approaches to solving conflict, but for the best outcome they should range depending on the situation.

Jordan and Troth (2004) cited in Godse and Thingujam (2010) state that “integrative and dominating styles of conflict handling are positively correlated with ability to deal with own and others’ emotions and overall emotional intelligence of the individuals members working in a team; however they also found that avoiding style of conflict resolution style is negatively correlated with ability to deal with own emotions and overall emotional intelligence of individuals in the team”. According to Walton, R. nd McKersie, R. (1965) cited in Kuczynski and Buchanan (2007) there are distributive bargaining strategies and integrative bargaining strategies. These are strategies in which fixed or variable resources are apportioned and which lead to a win-lose, respectively win-win situations. An example for where distributive bargaining is applied is the settlement of salaries, working conditions between trade unions and senior management. These are short time solutions with limited resources (e. . budget) which concerns just one party’s interests. Integrative bargaining on the other hand aims to increase resources and satisfy both parties, following their congruent interests. Being a win-win situation and having pleased both sides the effect will be long term. According to Mott (1972) cited in Godse and Thingujam (2010) there is a strong connection between the integrative and obliging approach to conflict resolution and organizational effectiveness.

There is a frequent possibility that parties involved in a conflict may develop hostility making communication fatuous. Mediation is the involvement of a third party that can resolve the discord, by not actually controlling it but by facilitating the communication process. Mediators can function as guides to the solution of the problem, by influencing opinions on both sides. The solution is quick and does not involve emotional involvement, as it is neutral.

If mediation fails to succeed, arbitration comes in place. Arbitration is a process in which a third neutral party has the authority to decide what is wrong and what is right in the dispute. The operation is similar to judging. Mediation and arbitration need to be exercised by managers, as often they are not involved in the conflict as it is, but need to manage it. The authority they represent makes it easier as the two parts involved in conflict would have to respect higher orders.

Moreover, as Huczynski and Buchanan (2007) state “parties lack the skills, information and impartiality to work through the conflict on their own”. Interactionists may have to disagree on the use of conflict in these situations. As French et al (2008) agree that constructive conflict “offers the people involved a chance to identify otherwise neglected problems and opportunities; performance and creativity can improve as a result”.

This approach encourages managers to look through the initial reaction towards conflict (frustration, stress, discontent) and try to balance it to the favorable degree for the organization. Moreover, interactionists have techniques to stimulate conflict. According to Huczynski and Buchanan (2007) conflict stimuli can be communication (withholding information), company restructuring, devil ’s advocate, dialectic method (through debates: thesis and antithesis result in synthesis), bringing outsider and leadership style.

Conflict is not only part of the ordinary interaction between human beings. At an organizational level, conflict needs to be seen as an essential part of its behavior and culture. Its positive influence relies on how management copes with it and if conflict would be beneficial. Many conflicts derive from lack of communication, but all of them have to be treated using communication skills. Expertise in conflict resolution and negotiation are crucial in the work environment and very sought after management qualities.

References: 1) Department Chair Online Resource Center (1996) Managing Conflict. Available at: http://www. acenet. edu/resources/chairs/docs/Higgerson_conflict. pdf 2) French, R. et at (2008) Organizational Behaviour. Chicester: John Wiley &Sons Limited 3) Godse, A. S. and Thingujam N. S. (2010) Perceived Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution Styles among Information Technology Professionals: Testing the Mediating Role of Personality. Singapore Management Review pp. -3. 4) Hucziynski, A. A. and Buchanan, D. A. (2007) Organizational Behaviour-6th edition. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited 5) Joni, S. A. and Beyer, D. (2009) How to pick a good fight. Harvard Business Review Vol. 87, pp. 2-5. 6) Kanter, R. M. (1977) Men and women of the corporation. New York: Basic Books 7) Mills, A. J and Murgatroyd, S. J. (1991) Organizational rules- a framework for understanding organizational action. Buckingham:Open University Press

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