How to Resolve Conflict in Workplace Essay
The inevitability of conflicts within an organization suggests that organizational leaders need to embrace them rather than avoid them. Thus, although there are many ways of dealing with conflicts at workplaces, such as collaboration, compromise, competing, avoidance, and accommodation, any strategy that emphasizes leaving conflicts unaddressed is inappropriate.
Conflicts often produce a negative implication on the performance of an organization (Bagshaw, 2004). Since the principal goal of organizational leadership is to look for mechanisms of resolving challenges, which may hinder the performance of an organization so that it delivers value to its owners (shareholders), conflict avoidance constitutes a risky approach to conflict management.
Organizations comprise people from different cultural, professional, racial, age, and other demographic backgrounds. Where people are segregated along these diversity differences, cultural conflicts arise. This suggests that managers and leaders within organizations encounter immense challenges in seeking effective strategies for recruitment, training, developing, and retaining the most talented personnel in an organization characterized by immense workforce diversities.
These challenges become even more pronounced as many organizations endeavor to engage in global businesses as a measure of increasing their competitive advantage. The more diverse the workforce is, the higher the risks of workplace conflicts associated with diversity differences. However, organizations gain from higher workforce innovation and creativity potential upon adopting effective strategies for handling this diversity.
Defining workplace conflicts.
In a healthy organization, conflicts are predictable. Workplaces bring people from different cultural backgrounds. Such people have different opinions and views towards various issues encountered in an organization’s daily activities. Such different opinions and views create points of parity and disparity. The disparities lead to conflicts. Bacal (1998, p. 8) defines workplace conflict as “issues that generate frequent expressions of emotions, frustration, and anger.”
This suggests that whenever two or more people work together, they disagree on strategies for accomplishing some desired outcomes. Such disagreements can be either constructive or destructive in an organization. In fact, Bacal (1998) refers to destructive conflicts as ugly clashes, while constructive disagreements are good organizational conflicts. While it is impossible to eliminate workplace conflicts, destructive conflicts are highly undesirable. They should be kept at minimal levels.
Organizations, individuals, and even work teams require constructive conflict for them to grow. Engaging in opposing discussions, especially on mechanisms of accomplishing certain outcomes, creates opportunities for “thinking and doing things that can be useful to everyone” (Bacal, 1998, p.8).
In this sense, the outcomes of decisions made following engagements in constructive conflicts are in favor and accommodative of all key stakeholders’ interests within an organization. Destructive conflicts make people in an organization uncomfortable.
In some situations, escalated conflicts have the implication of compelling people to quit (Bagshaw, 2004). Organizations that experience destructive conflicts also encounter challenges of “…lower morale, lower productivity, higher turnover, and more employee burnout” (Bacal, 1998, p.8). This suggests that organizational leaders and managers should focus on eliminating destructive conflicts while encouraging constructive conflicts in an effort to build higher-performing organizations.
Causes of Conflicts in the Workplace
Workplace conflicts are broadly subdivided into caustic and productive conflicts. Destructive conflicts often involve personality clashes. This occurs when people fail to get along with one another. This type of conflict in the workplace is often fuelled by emotion and perceptions about somebody else’s motives and character. For example, a team leader jumps on someone for being late because they view the team member as lazy and disrespectful.
The team member sees the team leader as out to ‘get’ them because they are not one of the ‘favored children.’ The second type occurs when people view decisions and ideas articulated to a given job or task differently. Conflicting ideas become productive in the event that parties in conflicts have the willingness to engage in brainstorming sessions (Bacal, 1998). In such situations, compromised ideas are, at times, better in enhancing the success of an organization compared to an original idea.
As a cause of workplace conflicts, as hinted above, personality clashes initiate disputes regarding certain business practices, which then skyrocket into mutual loathing (Collinsin & Rourke, 2005). In some cases, two people may not like each other right from the beginning due to diversity differences and other personality differences.
This claim implies that workplace diversity may be a big contributor to conflicts within an organization. Personality clashes also contribute to workplace disputes, which may escalate to become conflicts since people possess different beliefs, values, and approaches to handling problems. When people fail or have difficulties in appreciating and embracing other people’s work methods, clashes emerge.
Some conflicts within an organization can emerge due to a lack of trust in the HR to handle differences between two disagreeing employees. The situation makes the parties engaged in conflict expand their differences when permitted to take matters into their hands. Therefore, HRM deserves to evaluate the circumstances that may cause disregard the consideration of the roles of HRM in conflict resolution by employees.
Gramberg (2005, p. 94) supports this position by further claiming, “interpersonal skills are important to managers with regard to building workplace trust and cooperation from staff members who are collectively accountable for furthering business goals.” In fact, one of the roles of management in an organization is to ensure a peaceful environment characterized by workforce collaboration in the effort to meet an organization’s goals, mission, and aims.
Failure of employee collaboration may give rise to workplace conflicts. Other causes of conflicts within workplaces include poor or inadequate communication, which gives rise to misunderstandings, and limited organizational resources, which lead to competition and conflicting needs. Poor performance in tasks that are allocated to employees may also lead to conflicts when some tasks with higher effort input demands or when poorly completed tasks are reallocated to other employees.
Globalized organizations embrace diversity in their workforce. This strategic initiative is impaired by the belief that employing people from diverse backgrounds gives an organization a competitive advantage. For instance, an organization develops the capacity to tap and benefit from a wide range of talents and knowledge bases (Johnson & Keddy, 2010). This means that an organization is able to innovate and create a wide range of products, which translates into increased profitability while traded in the global markets.
Focusing on diversity as a strategic initiative for an organization delivers gains in terms of enhanced growth through an increment of product range due to innovation that is brought by people possessing different capabilities working together. However, it is crucial to note that diversity also brings together people from different cultural backgrounds (Gramberg, 2005).
The above assertion implies that diversity has the impact of creating cultural conflicts in workplaces. Institute of Leadership and Management (2007) confirms how the HRM is important in resolving such conflicts since it helps to create a common organizational culture by helping employees understand that different people have different abilities and beliefs and that these differences should not be permitted to influence the way people relate with one another.
Alternatively, diversity differences need to avoid personality clashes within workplaces. The HR, being charged with ensuring that employees work in harmony without conflicting situations that lead to personality clashes, should deploy diversity to enhance success by treating any conflict arising from cultural differences and frictions as an act of indiscipline and negligence to comply with an established organizational culture.
While this role may be well established in the outline of the mandates of the HRM in an organization, communication may hinder the success of the initiatives deployed by HR to curb personality conflicts.
Studies by Bacal (1998) and Lee (2008) identify communication as a major cause of workplace conflicts. Leaders for dynamic organizations appreciate the importance of effective communication, particularly while working in an environment of consistent change.
Communication has the ability to deliver tangible products as opposed to being a soft component of leadership roles. Improving the satisfaction of consumers, enhancing the quality of service delivery and product quality, and enhancing retention together with the satisfaction of employees depend on effective communication (Lee, 2008). These aspects also constitute the ingredients of workplace conflicts.
In an organization that employs people from diverse backgrounds, communication is the tool deployed to harness individual differences of employees to align them to a common organizational culture guided by the aims, missions, goals, and objectives of the organization (Johnson & Keddy 2010). This suggests that communication is also important in the effective resolution of employee conflicts. Conflicts influence employee productivity. Hence, the performance of an organization is also affected negatively.
Poor communication often results in resistance to change, especially where the persons working in an organization consider the changes being implemented as threats to their jobs and personal excellence.
For instance, while personnel at the headquarters of an organization may be fighting for standardization of products produced by an organization to ease supply chain and logistics challenges, workers at departmental levels of various products may be opposed to such an endeavor. This disparity creates destructive workplace conflicts between an organization and employees at different hierarchical levels.
Inadequate communication at the intra-organizational levels may result in different perceptions of ideas and strategies that will enhance organizational success in the market (Bacal, 1998). This claim implies that conflicts in ideology minimize the opportunities for channeling organizational energy to the implementation of ideas and strategies that will enhance the increment of productivity of an organization.
Communicating both adequately and effectively is crucial for the elimination of workplace conflicts. Institute of Leadership and Management (2007) confirms that the availability of adequate and unambiguous information helps employees to collectively support effectively while doing what is within their capacity to ensure that an organization succeeds in the direction set by leaders and managers.
In this sense, the goal of an effective communication program within an organization is to foster a change in employees’ behaviors and perceptions toward other employees, which may trigger personality clashes.
Effecting the desired change in an organization through communication takes different forms. It may involve the harmonization of people’s attitudes or alteration of work processes in an effort to support the organization’s success by eliminating the clash of ideas in the manner of executing various job elements, which may be destructive.
Effective communication entails communicating strategies for success through translating the essential business objectives and goals into terms that employees can understand easily (Johnson & Keddy, 2010).
In response to such communication, employees become engaged and aligned in readiness to work collectively toward driving organizational success. In fact, when communication fails, misunderstanding arises, resulting in the failure of employees to execute tasks as desired by managers and leaders. This translates into workplace conflicts between managers, supervisors, and leaders with employees.
Impacts of Workplace Conflict
The human resource arm of an organization has an immense responsibility to ensure that top talent within an organization is retained. HRM is the core competency of an organization whose objective is to handle issues related to employees.
Such issues include enhancing motivation, enhancing job satisfaction, laying remuneration structures, giving advice on promotions, and aiding an organization to acquire top talent through selection and recruitment. Addressing issues that result in poor performance of employees, such as poor job satisfaction, calls for the HRM to establish correlations for the challenges. Lee (2008) identifies ugly workplace conflicts as one of the correlates of poor job satisfaction.
As a core competency for an organization, HRM engages in tasks such as training and development and managing conflicts within organizations through conflict resolution. Conflicts that HRM enhances their management are between an organization and employees or between employees and other employees. These conflicts produce both positive and negative impacts on an organization.
Conflicts may have the impact of creating opportunities for organizational growth. Bacal (1998) supports this impact by adding that a good organizational conflict entails providing the means for learning and setting mechanisms for fostering employee cooperation.
Collins and Rourke (2005) maintain that conflicts may create an opportunity for employees to learn strategies for effectively handling similar conflicts in the future.
While workplace conflicts may emanate from poor communication, conflicts can provide a means through which people become aware and/or understand the various issues that may translate into future conflicts.
Through this understanding, people are able to develop honesty and transparent organizational communication channels (Lee, 2008). Different ideas and angles of view on a given issue that may be influencing an organization have the impact of creating well-brainstormed ideas, which aid an organization in achieving better performance levels.
Organizational performance is a function of many variables. Some of these variables are workforce morale, employee turnover rates, productivity, and employee burnout. Bacal (1998) confirms that these variables correlate directly with workplace conflicts.
As revealed before, one of the common causes of workplace conflicts is workforce diversity, especially in terms of professional capabilities and cultural differences. This assertion implies that effective management of workforce diversity can improve workforce productivity, enhance workforce engagement, and foster the reduction of staff absenteeism and workforce turnover.
HRM plays a central role in handling all issues negatively influencing employees’ productivity in the workplace. In case of ugly conflicts, diversity implies leading to conflicts, which impair employees’ productivity by lowering their work morale. However, an organization will benefit if good organizational conflicts arise from diversity differences.
Google provides an important benchmark on how positive conflicts of workforce diversity can enhance the performance of an organization. Google Company gains from the varied viewpoints of its diverse workforce in effect that such a workforce provides increased problem-solving capacities and enhanced creativity levels.
In this context, it is inferable that proper management of good organizational conflicts involving exchange and disagreement on various ideas akin to diversity differences in talent and creativity levels has positive impacts. For instance, the creativity and innovativeness of a diverse workforce have made Google gain via establishing a central position in the competitive market.
The goal of managing workforce conflicts is to ensure that conflicts do not negatively impact organizations’ success. Labor turnover constitutes one of the negative impacts of workplace conflicts. In many organizations, labor turnover is deployed as a measure of performance. It measures the decisions of the worker to remain committed to the work of an organization (Bacal, 1998). Employee turnover is divided into two main types: voluntary and involuntary turnover.
Voluntary turnover occurs when employees decide to quit employment out of their own will to engage in other activities, such as self-employment, but not because the job was dissatisfying. In the case of involuntary turnover, people are compelled by circumstances to quit their employment. Such circumstances include poor pay, perception of exploitation, conflicts with other employees, and work-personal life conflicts, among other reasons.
Labor turnover is controllable or unavoidable in some situations. For instance, where workplace conflicts cause labor turnover, proper management of such conflicts can control and avoid them. Where this does not happen, the impacts of labor turnover due to destructive workplace conflicts have serious consequences on the performance of an organization both in the short and long term.
McClure (2004) contends that high turnover in organizations leads to increased costs of recruitment together with training of new employees to fill the gap left by the outgoing employees. Turnover is one of the issues that organizations seeking to exploit cost competitiveness as a strategy of success should address proactively. Addressing it proactively calls for organizations to deal with its causation, such as workplace conflicts.
The best approach to the management of organizational conflicts encompasses developing strategies for their prevention (Wisinski, 2003). However, the occurrence of conflicts indicates potential problems that negatively impact employees’ productivity, such as low motivation.
They also create opportunities for establishing good relationships among work teams and individuals when arbitration, mediation, and reconciliation efforts succeed. Considering that good relationship among employees is the foundation for higher work team productivity, mild destructive workplace conflicts in this sense can help build better-performing work teams.
Handling Conflicts in the Workplace
In practice, employees are not able to handle misunderstandings with their peers in an effective way before such misunderstandings have translated to personality clashes. The realization of this argument calls for the management to step in to look for mechanisms for handling conflicts (Myatt, 2012; Cloke & Goldsmith, 2005).
One such mechanism is adopting disciplinary measures for employees engaging in unproductive conflicts. However, intra-communication and inter-communication strategies are vital before disciplinary action is adopted.
This move calls for HR managers to possess good interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills. “These skills are deployed to help harness employees’ personal and social skills that are necessary for conflict resolution” (Masters & Albright, 2002, p.117).
Indeed, interpersonal communication comprises an essential skill in conflict management within an organization in the effort to diffuse various stressful environments together with hostile situations, which may create fertile grounds for the development of conflicts (Myatt, 2012, para.8).
In organizational settings, the emergence of conflicts is hard to prevent. According to Gramberg (2005), the main challenge is how to resolve workplace conflicts. To reduce incidences of defiant behaviors, effective management of employees entails effectively communicating the rules and procedures of punishing employees in case of breach of the established rules and regulations that define the codes of ethics and organizational culture.
Since any grievances and disciplinary actions within an organization begin with clear and precise communication of the implications of an employee’s acts of misconduct, interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills are an important requirement for a manager who endeavors to prepare, conduct, and conclude grievance and disciplinary cases effectively.
Scholars have developed many models to describe various mechanisms of resolving conflicts within an organization. Thomas-Kilmann proposed one such model. According to his model, conflicts can be handled using five main styles: accommodating, shunning, working together, rivalry, and compromising.
Accommodation involves the decision by an organization to cooperate with parties in conflict to the highest possible degree. Often, one party works against its desired goals and/or outcomes. The strategy works well when one party in conflict has a better solution to a given problem (Masters & Albright, 2002). It helps in building strong ties between two or more parties in conflict.
Alternatively, one may choose to ignore the need to resolve a given conflict. This approach entails the resolution of conflicts by avoiding them. This style works well when the effective solution is costly, when one perceives that he or she has minimal probabilities for winning, or when an issue in conflict is trivial. However, avoiding is not an effective strategy in the long term (Bagshaw, 2004: Bacal, 1998).
The collaboration includes partnering to follow a goal that another party pursues. During the collaboration, an effort is made to accommodate all people’s ideas for synthesis to develop a single superior idea for resolving a conflict.
Such an idea also needs to consider all points of agreement and disagreement between the collaborating parties (Bagshaw, 2004). This way, it becomes possible to break away from the win-lose strategy to explore the win-win strategy. This approach requires an incredibly high capacity to trust one another in the development of a superior idea for the resolution of a conflict.
The approach is opposed to the competing technique in which the focus is on the win-lose approach to conflict resolution (Gramberg, 2005). Competing approaches work well in times of dire need to make quick decisions. In the case of compromising, parties in conflict focus on a lose-lose strategy. The approach is best suited whenever parties in conflict pursue goals and objectives that cannot converge.
Lee (2008) asserts that managers should engage in communication with employees and other organizational stakeholders for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is attributed to the expensiveness of ineffective communication in an organization. In modern workplaces, communication in management is important since workplace environments continue to be sophisticated.
They also involve complex interaction processes among all individual units that make the whole organization. Consequently, collaboration capability enables an organization to gain from a diverse creative workforce that requires ardent and unambiguous communication (Lee, 2008). This way, it becomes possible to handle workplace conflicts that are attributed to poor and inadequate communication.
Upon establishing the issues that attract conflicts between various employees and/or an organization, the focus shifts to establishing mechanisms of healing the wounds caused by a conflict.
In this process, Gramberg (2005) identifies reconciliation, arbitration, and mediation as important techniques for handling workplace conflicts. Reconciliation involves the admission of wrongdoing followed by forgiveness. Mediation involves bringing two parties in conflict together through a third party by revisiting the series of events or disputes that led to the conflict.
This step is then followed by suggesting codes of behavior or reactions that should have prevented the conflict. In each case, the parties in conflict identify their own mistakes and put effort into ensuring they would not repeat the same mistakes in future workplace interaction processes (Gramberg, 2005). Arbitration through a third non-partisan party, including a court, becomes important where conflicts have translated to personal injuries and/or paying off damages is necessary.
Nature and Solutions of Workplace Conflicts
From the discussions in the literature review section, workplace conflicts have both negative and positive impacts. Even ugly conflicts may also have some aspects of positive impacts if managed effectively. Managing workplace conflicts requires the deployment of various techniques and approaches. From the Thomas-Kilmann model for conflict management, the techniques involve avoiding, challenging, teamwork, negotiation, and accommodation.
In the context of the Gramberg (2005), arbitration, reconciliation, and mediation can suffice as solutions to workplace conflicts. The appropriateness of each of these solutions depends on the cause of conflicts encountered by an organization and the desired outcomes. For instance, organizations seeking to have a motivated workforce in a bid to enhance their productivity in the long term will seek solutions that have long-term outcomes in the resolution of employee conflicts.
Based on the literature review, one of the causes of conflicts in the workplace is the allocation of tasks that are impartially done by poorly performing employees to higher performing employees after they (higher performing employees) have completed their allocated work. A possible solution to this challenge encompasses the deployment of performance-based pay systems.
Performance-based reimbursement is a system of payment in which people are rewarded or paid equivalently for their amount of work or output. A good example of this payment mechanism is the payment of salespeople on commission, depending on the number of sales made. Another potential cause of conflicts in an organization is personality clashes. A possible solution involves employing people with diverse personality traits.
When a conflict occurs, accepting it as the status quo followed by its avoidance may be a possible response to workplace conflicts with the anticipation that the conflict will fade (Collinsin & Rourke, 2005). Alternatively, parties in conflicts can work collaboratively to establish a common ground of mutual benefit. This approach can sometimes fail to work, with parties resorting to compromising, accommodation, or competing.
Competing calls for parties to engage in a dialogue such that the best party emerges the winner. The losing party follows the directive issued by the winner. This alternative opposes the compromising option, which advocates for parties in conflict to consider acquiring little gains and/or incur some losses in the effort to establish a middle ground. People wishing to embrace accommodation as an alternative to the resolution of conflicts surrender their demands and needs in the quest to please another party (Gramberg, 2005).
In these five alternatives, parties in conflict may engage in dialogue voluntarily without mediation from a third non-partisan party. Bringing parties in conflict into an agreement may also call for arbitration. In situations where one party admits wrongdoing, reconciliation becomes an important alternative to the solution of workplace conflicts.
Diversity constitutes a major cause of conflicts within an organization. It refers to the myriads of differences existing among people working in an organization concerning parameters such as gender, race, community values, age, sexual affection, income levels, work experience, parental status, religious beliefs, ethnicity, religion, and physical abilities.
Where organizational culture reinforces the significance of diversity differences in contributing to and explaining workplace behaviors, performance levels, stigmatization of abilities of various people, and stereotyping of people from a given cultural background, ugly conflicts are inevitable. A solution to this challenge is developing an organizational culture that embraces workforce differences in line with an organization’s goals, objectives, and mission.
Tackling Conflict: Conflict Management Styles, Implication of Conflict Management Styles, and the Relationship between Conflict Management and Job Satisfaction
Traditionally, many organizations were managed hierarchically through a bureaucratic system in which pay level was a function of an employee’s position in the hierarchy of management. Adopting a performance-based pay system in such organizations entails adopting organizational change. Unfortunately, people generally resist change, especially when the desired change influences them negatively.
Performance-based payment system encompasses one of the changes that may face hefty criticisms from employees, particularly those at senior levels in the hierarchical management protocol. Senior employees whose payment needs adjustment to meet their performance levels are most likely to object to the system when a subordinate who records a high-performance level earns a higher income than they do.
On the other hand, the subordinates will embrace the change. Consequently, implementing performance-based pay systems within an organization may create conflicts between employees, their line managers, and supervisors. Additionally, in an effort to earn higher pay, employees may work at unsafe speeds. This situation is undesired. Thus, this solution is inappropriate since it may introduce other conflicts.
An alternative to implementing performance pay systems involves seeking to resolve workplace conflicts related to personality clashes by employing people of assorted personality traits. While this strategy has the merits of ensuring that people with similar personalities work under similar work environments, it becomes hard to find enough people possessing exactly similar personality traits in large work teams.
For effectiveness in the performance of a work team, diversity in personality traits may also be important, especially where an organization intends to create a work team that engages in constructive conflicts to enhance the brainstorming of ideas. Consequently, this solution is inappropriate since some levels of disagreements in decision-making processes and the manner of contextualization of issues are important in developing the most effective strategies for enhancing organizational performance.
Parties in workplace engage in conflicts due to different opinions. This implies that seeking to compel conflicting people to establish a compromise, accommodation, or collaboration attracts some challenges since none of the parties would be willing to sacrifice his or her self-esteem. Competing is perhaps the best approach for ensuring that a superior party in a conflict wins.
This boosts the self-esteem of the winner but immensely destroys the self-image of the loser. In the case where conflicts involve issues that are directly related to work, the loser suffers low job morale, which may affect his or her satisfaction with the job. This may lead to an intention of turnover or even the actual turnover. The converse of this claim is true for the winning party.
From an organizational dimension, the goal is to enhance the motivation and commitment of all employees in their work commitment. In overall, this suggests that the organization will have lost by deploying competing styles for workplace conflict management. Although the conflicts may be resolved, collaboration may also have similar impacts, just like competition, since one party must surrender to the demands of another party. Avoidance is the most inappropriate alternative.
Diversity management, as an approach to the resolution of workplace conflicts, implies that strategies for managing workforce diversity cuts across different causation elements for conflicts in workplaces. Thus, it can help in the elimination of conflicts that are associated with different levels of expertise, thus leading to a low performance by some employees that will necessitate the incorporation of performance pay-based systems while addressing the issues of personality differences, which may create personality clashes.
It also rhymes well with the concerns of mediation, reconciliation, and arbitration since conflicts that require these mechanisms of conflict resolution are akin to differences among individuals. Diversity management is the most preferred approach in the management of workplace conflicts in globalized organizations.
There are different approaches to solving conflicts. The article recommends a proactive passive approach as opposed to a reactive approach. The recommended proactive passive approach emphasizes handling the causation of conflicts in workplaces effectively. Mediation, arbitration, and reconciliation are reactive since they are deployed after a conflict has already occurred and caused damage to an organization.
Avoiding, competing, collaborating, compromising, and accommodating are equally reactive approaches. The adoption of performance-based pay systems is a recommendable approach to the management of conflicts that are associated with poor performance among some employees. However, they can create more problems and conflicts in the end. Thus, the approach is unsuitable.
The best approach for managing workplace conflicts entails understanding the benefits of adopting a multicultural environment tolerant of diverse workforce. By accomplishing this strategy, organizations would gain immensely in the form of increased productivity of the diverse workforce, hence boosting the profitability of the organization in question.
Incorporating this recommendation requires all management staff members, from top to bottom, to understand workforce diversity’s relevance from moral and business perspectives. Another way of incorporating the recommendation is by altering organizational values to orient people to commit themselves to promoting workforce diversity within the work environment.
A third way of incorporating the recommendation involves the creation of awareness and/or skills that focus on diversity training. This strategy needs to be implemented by managers of organizations in the quest to ensure that workforce socialization is directly congruent with the adopted new values.
In turn, it can increase understanding among people from diverse cultural backgrounds and increase group cohesion. It can also foster the improvement of self-knowledge. When employees embrace the diversity and diversity needs of all their work team members, they can carefully examine their objectives. Through this path, they can understand what is most important to them, thus improving their focus and enhancing their efficiency. This strategy is an essential catalyst for job satisfaction.
Conflict is inevitable in the workplace. It is a reality in every work environment by bringing people from diverse backgrounds together. While people continue to work in teams while caring about the manner their work team members treat them, disagreements will always arise to create conflicts in the workplaces.
Conflicts refer to the various issues emerging in the workplace that create emotions such as anger, discontent, and frustration. Such emotions produce either positive impacts or negative impacts on an organization. For instance, positive impacts may encompass the provision of an opportunity for organizational growth. Negative impacts involve issues such as reduced employee motivation, turnover, low job satisfaction, and reduced employee productivity.
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Wisinski, J. (2003). Resolving Conflicts on the Job . New York< NY: Amacom.
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Leadership Guide to Conflict and Conflict Management
“A part of effective leadership is caring for and supporting one another, even when there is conflict or a difference of opinion.” -Ty Howard
Introduction Conflict may occur between people or within groups in all kinds of situations. Due to the wide range of differences among people, the lack of conflict may signal the absence of effective interaction. Conflict should not be considered good or bad, rather it may be viewed as a necessity to help build meaningful relationships between people and groups. The means and how the conflict is handled will determine whether it is productive or devastating. Conflict has a potential to create positive opportunities and advancement towards a common goal, however, conflict can also devastate relationships and lead to negative outcomes ((Kazimoto, 2013; Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
Today’s healthcare leaders are taught to lead change, development, and transformation in organizations. Leadership may be described as the ability to emphasize the pursuit of goals and motivate others to pursue them as well. Northouse states that leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal (Northouse, 2016). Others characterize leadership as the ability to inspire trust, build relationships, encourage followers .
An under-reported aspect that is not commonly discussed among leadership qualities is the ability to handle conflict (Guttman, 2004). Guttman explains that there might be two reasons as to why there is little recognition of conflict management in leaders. One is called rationalistic fallacy, and Guttman explains that most of the literature available focuses on arming leaders with all necessary leadership concepts and success will just follow, almost as if it is assumed that leaders will automatically know how to manage conflict. Secondly, Guttman explains that leaders may have a fatalistic attitude towards conflict. Leaders may look at conflict as situation that will never be resolved, so why bother addressing it? We should focus on what can be addressed and changed (Guttman, 2004).
Conflict management is a skill that leaders must be able to employ when needed to help foster a productive working environment (Guttman, 2004). There is a realization that conflict management should be a skill that leaders need to give priority to learning and mastering (Kazimoto, 2013). The inability of a leader to deal with conflict will not only lead to negative outcomes but may also undermine the credibility of the leader (Kazimoto, 2013). Whereas if a leader is able to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and foster teamwork, making it clear that this is his/her value system, there is a likelihood that this value system will be adopted by the entire organization (Guttman, 2004). Therefore, it is very important that we discuss and address conflict management as a leadership skill.
This chapter will discuss the definition of conflict and its sources, describe conflict management and resolution, and discuss a guide for leaders to use to help them effectively manage and resolve conflict. We discuss the different types of conflict that can exist and describe the different conflict management modes that can be used to address them. Lastly, we will analyze the relationship between leadership and conflict management through a literature review. By reading this chapter, I hope that readers will understand conflict, the role it plays within teams and organizations, and the importance of developing conflict management skills for leaders.
Defining Conflict What is conflict? The answer to this question varies, depending on the source. The Webster Dictionary defines conflict as “the competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: an antagonistic state or action.” For some, the definition of conflict may involve war, military fight, or political dispute. For others, conflict involves a disagreement that arises when two or more people or parties pursue a common goal. Conflict means different things to different people, making it very difficult to come up with a universal or true definition. To complicate this even further, when one party may feel that they are in a conflict situation, the other party may think that they are just in a simple discussion about differing opinions (Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013; Conflict, 2011).
To fully understand conflict and how to manage it, we first need to establish a definition that will allow us to effectively discuss conflict management and its use by today’s leaders. Conflict can be described as a disagreement among two entities that may be portrayed by antagonism or hostility. This is usually fueled by the opposition of one party to another to reach an objective that is different from the other, even though both parties are working towards a common goal (Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013). To help us better understand what conflict is, we need to analyze its possible sources. According to American psychologist Daniel Katz, conflict may arise from 3 different sources: economic, value, and power. (Evans, 2013)
- Economic Conflict involves competing motives to attain scarce resources. This type of conflict typically occurs when behavior and emotions of each party are aimed at increasing their own gain. Each party involved may come into conflict as a result of them trying to attain the most of these resources. An example of this is when union and management conflict on how to divide and distribute company funds (Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
- Value Conflict involves incompatibility in the ways of life. This type of conflict includes the different preferences and ideologies that people may have as their principles. This type of conflict is very difficult to resolve because the differences are belief-based and not fact-based. An example of this is demonstrated in international war in which each side asserts its own set of beliefs (Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
- Power Conflict occurs when each party tries to exert and maintain its maximum influence in the relationship and social setting. For one party to have influence over the other, one party must be stronger (in terms of influence) than the other. This will result in a power struggle that may end in winning, losing, or a deadlock with continuous tension between both parties. This type of conflict may occur between individuals, groups, or nations. This conflict will come into play when one party chooses to take a power approach to the relationship. The key word here is “chooses.” The power conflict is a choice that is made by one party to exert its influence on the other. It is also important to note that power may enter all types of conflict since the parties are trying to control each other (Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
According to Ana Shetach, an organizational consultant in team process and development, conflict can be a result from every aspect such as attitude, race, gender, looks, education, opinions, feelings, religion and cultures. Conflict may also arise from differences in values, affiliations, roles, positions, and status. Even though it seems that there is a vast array of sources for conflict, most conflict is not of a pure type and typically is a mixture of several sources (Shetach, 2012).
Conflict is an inevitable part of life and occurs naturally during our daily activities. There will always be differences of opinions or disagreements between individuals and/or groups. Conflict is a basic part of the human experience and can influence our actions or decisions in one way or another. It should not be viewed as an action that always results in negative outcomes but instead as an opportunity for learning and growth which may lead to positive outcomes. We can reach positive outcomes through effective conflict management and resolution, which will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter (Evans, 2013).
Since conflict can result in emotions that can make a situation uncomfortable, it is often avoided. Feelings such as guilt, anger, anxiety, and fear can be a direct result of conflict, which can cause individuals to avoid it all together. Conflict can be a good thing and avoiding it to preserve a false impression of harmony can cause even more damage (Loehr, 2017a). If we analyze the CPP Global Human Capital Report, we see evidence that conflict can lead to positive outcomes within the workplace environment. This research project asked 5000 individuals about their experiences with conflict in the workplace environment. They reported, that as a result of conflict:
- 41% of respondents had better understanding of others
- 33% of respondents had improved working relationships
- 29% of respondents found a better solution to a problem
- 21% of respondents saw higher performance in the team
- 18% of respondents felt increased motivation (CPP Global Human Capital Report, 2008)
Based on this report, we can conclude that conflict can lead to positive outcomes and increased productivity, depending on the conflict itself (Loehr, 2017a). Approximately 76% of the respondents reported that conflict resulted in some type of positive outcome. This speaks volumes to the ideology that conflict within the workplace is something that should be welcomed and not avoided (CPP Global Human Capital Report, 2008).
Conflict can occur in various ways in the human experience, whether it is within one-self between differing ideas or between people. Even though this chapter will focus on the conflict at the social level, it is important that we review all the different levels of conflict that may exist. The levels of conflict that we will discuss include interpersonal, intrapersonal, intergroup, and intragroup conflict (Loehr, 2017a; Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
Levels of Conflict
- Interpersonal Conflict . This level of conflict occurs when two individuals have differing goals or approaches in their relationship. Each individual has their own type of personality, and because of this, there will always be differences in choices and opinions. Compromise is necessary for managing this type of conflict and can eventually help lead to personal growth and developing relationships with others. If interpersonal conflict is not addressed, it can become destructive to the point where a mediator (leader) may be needed (Loehr, 2017a; Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
- Intrapersonal Conflict. This level of conflict occurs within an individual and takes place within the person’s mind. This is a physiological type of conflict that can involve thoughts and emotions, desires, values, and principles. This type of conflict can be difficult to resolve if the individual has trouble interpreting their own inner battles. It may lead to symptoms that can become physically apparent, such as anxiety, restlessness, or even depression. This level of conflict can create other levels of conflict if the individual is unable to come to a resolution on their own. An individual who is unable to come to terms on their own inner conflicts may allow this to affect their relationships with other individuals and therefore create interpersonal conflict. Typically, it is best for an individual dealing with intrapersonal conflict to communicate with others who may help them resolve their conflict and help relieve them of the situation (Loehr, 2017a; Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
- Intergroup Conflict. This level of conflict occurs when two different groups or teams within the same organization have a disagreement. This may be a result of competition for resources, differences in goals or interests, or even threats to group identity. This type of conflict can be very destructive and escalate very quickly if not resolved effectively. This can ultimately lead to high costs for the organization. On the other hand, intergroup conflict can lead to remarkable progress towards a positive outcome for the organization if it is managed appropriately (Loehr, 2017a; Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
- Intragroup Conflict . This level of conflict can occur between two individuals who are within the same group or team. Similar to interpersonal conflict, disagreements between team members typically are a result of different personalities. Within a team, conflict can be very beneficial as it can lead to progress to accomplishing team objectives and goals. However, if intragroup conflict is not managed correctly, it can disrupt the harmony of the entire team and result in slowed productivity (Loehr, 2017a; Fisher, 2000; Evans, 2013).
Regardless of the level of conflict that takes place, there are several methods that can be employed to help manage conflicts. And with the seemingly infinite triggers for conflict, management of conflict is a constant challenge for leaders. To help address this, we will next discuss what conflict management is and then later examine the role of leadership in conflict management and resolution.
Conflict Management Conflict Management may be defined as the process of reducing negative outcomes of conflict while increasing the positive . Effectively managed conflicts can lead to a resolution that will result in positive outcomes and productivity for the team and/or organization (Loehr, 2017b; Evans, 2013). Leaders need to be able to manage conflict when it occurs, and their ability to manage them is critical to the success of the individuals and/or teams involved (Guttman, 2004). There are several models available for leaders to use when determining their conflict management behavior. So where do leaders begin when they want to recognize their own conflict management styles? In this section, we will cover a popular method of conflict management styles, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, that will help us answer this question (Loehr, 2017b; Evans, 2013).
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is an assessment tool that helps measure an individual’s behavior in conflict situations. The assessment takes less than 15 minutes to complete and provides feedback to an individual about how effectively they can use five different conflict-handling modes. TKI helps leaders understand how individual or team dynamics are affected by each of the modes, as well as helping leaders decide on which mode to employ in different conflict situations (Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
The TKI is based on two dimensions of behavior that help characterize the five different conflict-handling modes. The first dimension is assertiveness, and this describes the extent to which a person will try to fulfill their own concerns. The second is cooperativeness, and this describes the extent to which a person will try to fulfil others’ concerns. The five conflict-handling modes fall within a scale of assertiveness and cooperativeness as shown in the figure below. They include: avoiding, accommodating, competing, collaborating, and compromising (Loehr, 2017b; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
The TKI Five Conflict-Handling Modes (Avoiding, Accomodating, Competing, Collaborating, and Compromising) Avoiding This mode is low assertiveness and low cooperative. The leader withdraws from the conflict, and therefore no one wins. They do not pursue their own concerns nor the concerns of others. The leader may deal with the conflict in a passive attitude in hopes that the situation just “resolves itself.” In many cases, avoiding conflict may be effective and beneficial, but on the other hand, it prevents the matter from being resolved and can lead to larger issues. Situations when this mode is useful include: when emotions are elevated and everyone involved needs time to calm down so that productive discussions can take place, the issue is of low importance, the team is able to resolve the conflict without participation from leadership, there are more important matters that need to be addressed, and the benefit of avoiding the conflict outweighs the benefit of addressing it. This mode should not be used when the conflict needs to be resolved in a timely manner and when the reason for ignoring the conflict is just that (Loehr, 2017a; Mediate.com; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
Accommodating This mode is low assertiveness and high cooperation. The leader ignores their own concerns in order to fulfill the concerns of others. They are willing to sacrifice their own needs to “keep the peace” within the team. Therefore, the leader loses and the other person or party wins. This mode can be effective, as it can yield an immediate solution to the issue but may also reveal the leader as a “doormat” who will accommodate to anyone who causes conflict. Situations when this mode is useful include: when an individual realizes they are wrong and accepts a better solution, when the issue is more important to the other person or party which can be seen as a good gesture and builds social credits for future use, when damage may result if the leader continues to push their own agenda, when a leader wants to allow the team to develop and learn from their own mistakes, and when harmony needs to be maintained to avoid trouble within the team. This mode should not be used when the outcome is critical to the success of the team and when safety is an absolute necessity to the resolution of the conflict (Loehr, 2017b; Mediate.com; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
Competing This mode is high assertiveness and low cooperation. The leader fulfills their own concerns at the expense of others. The leader uses any appropriate power they have to win the conflict. This is a powerful and effective conflict-handling mode and can be appropriate and necessary in certain situations. The misuse of this mode can lead to new conflict; therefore, leaders who use this conflict-handling mode need to be mindful of this possibility so that they are able to reach a productive resolution. Situations when this mode is useful include: an immediate decision is needed, an outcome is critical and cannot be compromised, strong leadership needs to be demonstrated, unpopular actions are needed, when company or organizational welfare is at stake, and when self-interests need to be protected. This mode should be avoided when: relationships are strained and may lead to retaliation, the outcome is not very important to the leader, it may result in weakened support and commitment from followers, and when the leader is not very knowledgeable of the situation (Loehr, 2017b; Mediate.com; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
Collaborating This mode is high assertiveness and high cooperation. In this mode both individuals or teams win the conflict. The leader works with the team to ensure that a resolution is met that fulfills both of their concerns. This mode will require a lot of time, energy and resources to identify the underlying needs of each party. This mode is often described as “putting an idea on top of an idea on top of an idea” to help develop the best resolution to a conflict that will satisfy all parties involved. The best resolution in this mode is typically a solution to the conflict that would not have been produced by a single individual. Many leaders encourage collaboration because not only can it lead to positive outcomes, but more importantly it can result in stronger team structure and creativity. Situations when this mode is useful include: the concerns of parties involved are too important to be compromised, to identify and resolve feelings that have been interfering with team dynamics, improve team structure and commitment, to merge ideas from individuals with different viewpoints on a situation, and when the objective is to learn. This mode should be avoided in situations where time, energy and resources are limited, a quick and vital decision needs to be made, and the conflict itself is not worth the time and effort (Loehr, 2017b; Mediate.com; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
Compromising This mode is moderate assertiveness and moderate cooperative. It is often described as “giving up more than one would want” to allow for each individual to have their concerns partially fulfilled. This can be viewed as a situation where neither person wins or losses, but rather as an acceptable solution that is reached by either splitting the difference between the two positions, trading concerns, or seeking a middle ground. Leaders who use this conflict-handling mode may be able to produce acceptable outcomes but may put themselves in a situation where team members will take advantage of the them. This can be a result of the team knowing that their leader will compromise during negotiations. Compromising can also lead to a less optimal outcome because less effort is needed to use this mode. Situations when this mode is effective include: a temporary and/or quick decision to a complex issue is needed, the welfare of the organization will benefit from the compromise of both parties, both parties are of equal power and rank, when other modes of conflict-handling are not working, and when the goals are moderately important and not worth the time and effort. This mode should be avoided when partial satisfaction of each party’s concerns may lead to propagation of the issue or when a leader recognizes that their team is taking advantage of their compromising style (Loehr, 2017b; Mediate.com; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
Personal Reflections on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument I chose the TKC Instrument because I felt it encompassed all aspects of conflict behavior and does a thorough job of explaining those behaviors. When compared to other models, the TKI model is more specific in the description of conflict behaviors as well. The TKI model has been around for well over 30 years, and I feel it does a very good job of breaking down a complex theory of conflict styles into a format that is easily understood and can be used by anyone.
Leaders should be capable of using all five conflict-handling modes and should not limit themselves to using only one mode during times of conflict (Loehr, 2017b). Leaders must be able to adapt to different conflict situations and recognize which type of conflict-handling mode is best to employ given the conflict at hand (Mediate.com). The use of these modes can result in positive or negative resolutions and it is imperative that today’s leaders understand how to effectively employ them (Loehr, 2017b; Mediate.com; Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.).
Leadership and Conflict Management The leader’s role in managing conflict can have a significant impact on how they are resolved within the workplace or organization. Leaders spend about 24% of their time resolving conflicts, however the process to approaching conflict management relates to a great extent to their leadership style (Guttman, 2004). Leaders who use conflict management skills can provide guidance and direction towards conflict resolution. A common trait of leaders is they are able to build teams that work well together and help to set the tone for the organization. They must be able to facilitate the resolution of conflicts through effective conflict management (Guttman, 2004; Doucet, Poitras & Chenevert, 2009).
Leaders exhibit a variety of characteristics and traits that allow them to be great leaders, but does it help them when it comes to conflict management? I believe that it does. These same traits can help leaders dealt with conflict. The ability to recognize one’s own leadership style will ultimately help describe how a leader handles conflict. Peter Northouse states that “it is up to the leader to assess what action, if any, is needed and then intervene with the specific leadership function to meet the demand of the situation.” To be an effective leader, one needs to respond with the action that is required of the situation” (Northouse, 2016). I feel this demonstrates that the job of a leader is to analyze a conflict and facilitate the situation to produce a resolution that can be positive and productive. Northouse reassures us that any leader can draw on his/her leadership skills to employ appropriate conflict management strategies (Northouse, 2016).
A study conducted by Zhang et al. analyzed the relationship between transformational leadership and conflict management. Zhang et al. looked at how transformational leadership affects team coordination and performance through conflict management. What they found was that transformational leaders who used conflict management methods were able influence their teams to establish stronger identities, discuss their disagreements and frustrations outwardly, and work out solutions that benefited the team (Zhang, Cao, Tjosvold, 2011). I feel that this study helps to confirm that leaders must be able to possess conflict management skills to effectively run a productive team and organization. This study also shows us that there may be a possibility that certain leadership styles are more effective at conflict management. This is not definite but hopefully there will be more studies done to determine this.
Earlier in the chapter, we discussed the different types of conflict-handling modes that leaders may possess, but it is also necessary to briefly discuss the leadership skills and behaviors needed to effectively manage conflicts. Leadership skills needed to be effective at conflict management can be categorized to show which skills match up with five of the TKI conflict-handling modes. The avoiding mode requires leadership skills such as: to be able to withdraw from a conflict or sidestep issues, have the ability to leave issues unresolved, and to have a sense of timing . The accommodating mode requires skills such as: being able to obey orders, set your own concerns aside, selflessness, and the ability to yield for the greater good. The competing mode requires skills such as: standing your ground, debating, using influence, stating your position clearly, and stressing your feelings. The collaborating mode requires skills such as: active listening, identifying concerns, analyzing input, and confrontation. The compromising mode requires skills such as: negotiating and finding the middle ground, making concessions, and assessing value (Kilmann & Thomas, n.d.; Understanding Conflict and Conflict Management, n.d.). Behaviors that allow leaders to be effective at conflict management include (Guttman, 2004):
- Be Candid . Leaders cannot hesitate to put issues on the table to be discussed
- Be Receptive . Leaders need to make sure that team members understand that it is ok for conflict to exist and that everyone’s opinion will be discussed
- Depersonalize . Leaders must be able to remove personal feeling from the mix and view conflict as a team issue
- Learn to Listen . Leaders must listen carefully and make sure that they provide feedback as well
- Be clear . Leaders need to make sure that all team members understand how decisions will be made to resolve the conflict
- Out-law Triangulation . Leaders must prevent team members from “ganging-up” on others that they may disagree with
- Be Accountable . Leaders must make sure that they follow through on their actions but also hold others to their actions as well
- Recognize and Reward . Leaders must be able to recognize successful conflict management and then reward it
Effective leaders know how to bring conflict situations out into the open so that all parties involved can begin to work towards a resolution that will benefit everyone. They manage conflicts in way that it is seen as an opportunity to build productive relationships (Guttman, 2004; Kazimoto, 2013).
Conclusion The means in which conflict is managed will determine whether the outcome will be positive and productive, or negative and destructive. Leaders are taught to lead change, development, and transformation in organizations. One way leaders can accomplish their goals is through effective conflict management. Conflict can be described as a disagreement among two parties that is usually portrayed as antagonism or hostility. Conflict can arise from three different sources: economic, value, and power conflicts. Conflict can also occur at different levels of the human experience, which include: interpersonal, intrapersonal, intergroup, and intragroup conflict levels.
Conflict management is the process of reducing negative outcomes while increasing the positive. Leaders must be able to utilize conflict management skills to provide direction and guidance towards a resolution. Leaders can use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument to help them recognize and understand their own conflict handling modes. The TKI model also helps leaders understand which conflict handling modes are most appropriate for each particular conflict situation.
Zhang et al. shows us that transformational leaders are able to effectively influence their teams to workout solutions to their conflicts. This shows us that transformational leaders are able to utilize conflict management effectively. Peter Northouse also tells us that an effective leader needs to be able to respond to a situation with an action that is required of that particular situation. Therefore, leaders must be able draw on their leadership skills to effectively employ conflict management strategies.
Conflict is certain to occur regardless of the setting and individuals involved. For conflict to result in a positive outcome, leaders and teams must recognize that conflict not only exists but is a necessity. Understanding conflict allows leaders to manage it more effectively and can provide a path to accomplishing positive outcomes. Conflict management can be an active force that will allow leaders grow healthy relationships within their organizations which can ultimately result in effective productivity.
Conflict management must be a part of a leader’s toolbox and be deployed when conflict arises within a team or organization. If conflict is not addressed in a timely manner, it can not only affect the moral of the team/organization but can create larger issues later. Once this happens it may be more difficult to resolve then it would have been if the conflict was addressed immediately and effectively. Leaders must be able to recognize that conflict can cause negative issues within their team or organization. If they are able to pull on their leadership skills and recognize which conflict-handling mode is required for each situation, they can create an opportunity to improve team structure and dynamics, and ultimately achieve their goal of changing, developing, and transforming organizations.
Leadership in Healthcare and Public Health Copyright © 2018 by Fadi Smiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Conflict-Management Styles: Pitfalls and Best Practices
Conflict-management styles can affect how disputes play out in organizations and beyond. research on conflict-management styles offers advice on managing such difficult situations..
By Katie Shonk — on August 17th, 2023 / Conflict Resolution
People approach conflict differently, depending on their innate tendencies, their life experiences, and the demands of the moment. Negotiation and conflict-management research reveals how our differing conflict-management styles mesh with best practices in conflict resolution.
A Model of Conflict-Management Styles
In 1974, Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann introduced a questionnaire, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument , designed to measure people’s conflict styles. Based on people’s responses to pairs of statements, the instrument categorizes respondents into five different conflict styles:
- Competing. When adopting a competing style, people view interpersonal conflict resolution as win-lose games. Rather than recognizing the value of ensuring that each party walks away satisfied, disputants focus narrowly on claiming as much as they can for themselves. While value claiming is an important component of negotiation, a single-minded competitive orientation sacrifices value in the long run and perpetuates conflict.
- Avoiding. Because dealing with conflict directly can be highly uncomfortable, many of us prefer to avoid it. An avoidant conflict style might at first appear to be the opposite of a competitive style, but in fact, it can be similarly obstructive. When we avoid conflict, we often allow problems to grow worse.
- Accommodating. Because they defer so often to others, negotiators who adopt an accommodating style can seem agreeable and easygoing. But when people consistently put others’ needs first, they are liable to experience resentment that builds up over time. Accommodating negotiators typically will benefit from learning to express their needs and concerns.
- Compromising. Sometimes we try to resolve conflict by proposing seemingly equal compromises, such as meeting in the middle between two extreme positions, or by making a significant compromise just to move forward. Although a compromising conflict style can move a conversation forward, the solution is often unsatisfying and temporary because it doesn’t address the root issues at stake.
- Collaborating. Those who adopt a collaborative conflict-resolution style work to understand the deeper needs behind other parties’ demands and to express their own needs. They see value in working through strong emotions that come up, and they propose tradeoffs across issues that will give each side more of what they want.
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A collaborative negotiation style is usually the most effective style for managing conflict and fostering productive long-term relationships; however, different conflict-management styles can be effectively applied to different phases and types of conflict in management. Moreover, though we may have a predisposition toward a particular conflict style, we adopt different styles depending on the situation.
Competing is often useful when you’ve jointly created value through collaboration and now need to divide up resources. Accommodating may be the best immediate choice when your boss is unhappy about a project that went awry. Avoiding can be wise when someone seems volatile or when we don’t expect to deal with them again. And compromising can be a fine way of resolving a minor issue quickly.
Conflict-Management Styles : Lessons from Marriage Research
Can people with different conflict-management styles get along? In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail . . . and How You Can Make Yours Last (Simon & Schuster, 1995), psychologist John Gottman writes that healthy marriages tend to settle into three different styles of problem solving: validating (compromising often and working out problems to mutual satisfaction), conflict-avoidant (agreeing to disagree and rarely confronting differences directly), and volatile (frequently engaging in passionate disputes).
Perhaps surprisingly, Gottman’s research suggests that “all three styles are equally stable and bode equally well for the marriage’s future,” as he writes. Which style a couple leans toward isn’t important; what’s more important for lasting satisfaction is that both spouses adopt the same style.
Though Gottman’s research was conducted on married couples, the results suggest that disputants in the business world who have similar conflict-management styles may find they feel comfortable managing (or avoiding) conflict with each other.
When Conflict-Management Styles Are Complementary
By contrast, in the realm of negotiation, the results of a 2015 study published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research by Scott Wiltermuth, Larissa Z. Tiedens, and Margaret Neale found benefits when pairs of participants used one of two different negotiating styles.
They assigned study participants to engage in a negotiation simulation using either a dominant or submissive negotiating style. Those assigned to be dominant were told to express their preferences with confidence, use expansive body postures, and otherwise try to influence their counterpart. Those assigned to the submissive style were told to be cooperative, agreeable, and conflict avoidant.
Interestingly, pairs in which one party behaved dominantly and the other submissively achieved better results in the negotiation than pairs who were in the same condition (whether dominance, submission, or a control group). It seems the pairs of dominant/submissive negotiators benefited from their complementary communication style. A pattern in which one person stated her preferences directly and the other asked questions enabled the negotiators to claim the most value. By asking questions, the submissive negotiators assessed how to meet their own goals—and helped their dominant counterparts feel respected and competent in the process.
The research we’ve covered on negotiation and conflict-management styles suggests that opportunities to work through differences abound, regardless of our natural tendencies. Rather than spending a lot of time diagnosing each other’s conflict-management styles, strive for open collaboration that confronts difficult emotions and encourages joint problem solving.
What lessons about conflict-management styles have you learned in your own negotiation and conflict-resolution efforts?
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