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Conflict Management

January 17, 2007 06:30 AM 1
Total Posts: 28
Join Date: November 22, 2006
Rank: Executive
Post Date: January 1, 1970
Posts: 28
Location: United States

Conflict Management

Hello team,

Conflict is an inevitable part of effective work groups. When dealt with constructively, conflict can push managers and employees to explore diversity, differences of opinion, personality or style and to develop solutions that are more effective than when only one solution is explored. If conflict is left unresolved, it can unravel relationships and eventually effectiveness and productivity of the work group suffers.

People deal with conflict more or less effectively. Depending on their style, they:

- Avoid, pretend things are OK, act too busy to deal with it or assume it will pass with time.

- Placate-listens and empathizes with others, tells them what they want to hear, rethinks decisions and procedures regularly.

- Aggression-lays down the law, expects compliance more than independent thinking, rarely listens to another’s point of view.

Proactive-listens, asks questions, states opinions and expectations clearly and directly, looks for concerns, focusing on the conflict solutions that address those concerns.

Conflict rarely starts at an extreme level; it grows over time if unaddressed. What starts as differences, disagreements or irritations can grow to observable tension with outward arguing or under the surface struggles. Toward the other end of the continuum is aggression, explosiveness or undermining. It is important to deal with conflict at the lowest possible level to prevent the situation from worsening.

Just as conflict can increase over time, relationships with the people involved in the conflict deteriorate over time. Stages of relationship deterioration include:

- Attempts to be nice and persuasive to solve the problem.

- Frustration builds leading to blaming, threats and defensive reactions.

- One issue becomes many issues with unrelated attacks to the person or behind their backs. Labels related to personality characteristics can begin. Conflict resolution is difficult at this stage.

- Retaliation begins. Others in the unit are pulled in and begin to take sides. The people involved begin doing things they normally would not, e.g. exaggerating the truth, ‘tattling’, looking for mistakes and pointing them out. Objectivity is lost. Resolution is extremely difficult at this point.

- Anger and hostility spreads thoughout the workgroup. Scapegoating, bullying and polarization are common. Relationships may be intolerable and irreparable at this point. 

The manager or management team needs to be skilled in identifying early stage conflict, create an environment where differences are accepted and worked with rather than marginalized, able to model proactive responses to disagreements or conflict, and be ready to mediate conflict amongst group members. Again, a proactive response to conflict means first and foremost, listening. It also means asking questions, stating opinions clearly and directly, and looking for the concerns or underlying issues that might shed light on potential solutions.

It is also very helpful for the manager to be clear about what types of issues can be negotiated and which can be discussed, even debated but not negotiated. Often manager/employee or employee/employee conflict escalates because people are trying to negotiate things which can only be debated. Or they don’t differentiate between a debate and a problem solving session by ending with a clear agreed upon expectation about what will be different after the discussion is concluded.

Issues that can be discussed not negotiated:

- Beliefs
- Anger
- Trust
- Blame or fault
- Values or principles
- Hurt feelings
- Perceptions
- Interpretations

Issues that can be negotiated:

- How people treat each other (group norms)
- Sharing space
- Communicating about problems
- Job responsibilities (if the manager is willing)
- How decisions are made
- The ways the work gets done
- Appropriate noise levels