After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Introduction to Conflicts 2. Meaning of Conflict 3. Types of Conflicts 4. Conflict Process 5. Getting to the Roots 6. Identify your Orientation 7. Getting to the Emotional Roots 8. Behavioural Change 9. Learn to Listen Emphatically to Others 10. Set the Stage for Mutual Gain Solutions 11. The Step by Step Technique and Other Details.
Definitions to Conflicts:
When one or more people try to work together each having his independent personality, a situation tends to rise when one’s interests and expectations clash with those of the others. It is as natural as working together. It is the interactive behaviour at individual and organizational level, which is conducive to the state of frustration and leads to emergence of conflicts.
It is a disruptive state of mind, individually when one is at disadvantageous position than what one thinks to be, and collectively it is a state of mind where sense of competition exists between interdependent groups who perceive their needs ideas and goals are incompatible.
In simple words conflict is a state of mind when you and someone else in contact with you, directly and/or indirectly, try to compete for achieving set objectives. This is a time and energy absorbing activity, which nobody likes but is, compelled to get into it to win over the other. Still it is not so much of a negative activity.
A conflict indicates communication and an urge on the part of the people involved to be listened to. In an organization these disruptive actions sometimes prove to be highly constructive in nature. They provide opportunities for exchange of information and creation of new ideas.
The position of a manager in a conflict zone is very difficult. His key role is to be a target listener with empathic attitude. This attitude is the basis for resolving conflicts.
He has to listen to what people say and what they do not say, what they mean and what they do not mean. The emotional control on his part is vital. The moment he brings into his own emotions the direction of the conflict will change from constructive to disruptive.
Meaning of Conflict:
(i) It is a process involving two or more parties or individuals where one feels that the other person or party is depriving of his rightful gains or what he perceives as rightful gains.
(ii) It is a situation under which you and someone else though depend on each other or need each other yet tend to compete for achieving different objectives and create a winning situation for yourself without showing any intension or willingness to budge.
(iii) Or in other words conflict is a sort of competition between parties who perceive their actions to needs, goals, or ideas to be incompatible.
Types of Conflicts:
Conflicts are basically of two types: the functional type and dysfunctional type. The supportive conflicts, which add or tend to add to the overall performance of the individual or the group, are called the functional conflicts. On the other hand if the conflicts tend to create hindrance to the individual or group activities such conflicts are called the dysfunctional conflicts.
Both these groups are further divided in to objective and personal types of conflicts. The objective types are based on facts and figures, which are at variance from the given situation to the one visualized as should be.
For example punishing an employee for not achieving set goals and his counter response to your allegations. Personal type conflicts are based on personal assumptions and perceptions. For example criticizing an employee for his attitude.
The conflict develops in five phases. The starting point for a conflict to show up is when someone feels (1st phase) that what is due to him or her is not being given acknowledged or awarded. That feeling gradually grows up and the individual or the group show it up outwardly (2nd phase) as their emotional outburst or a behavioral pattern not expected of them in the normal circumstances.
The feelings get specific words of expression (3rd phase) for others to know what they feel. This is the phase when they let others know or realize or feel that what they want or expect and are not getting. Verbal or written forms of expressions indicate the outward behavior (4th phase).
The individual or the group at this stage expects others (those in power or those with decision-making powers or those who are perceived as having some facilities, which the aggrieved individual or the group does not have) to listen to them or notice them. Finally the causes of distortion/conflict are discussed and resolved (5th phase).
An employee feels he is not paid enough for the job he is doing. He gets disturbed. He starts making mistakes or coming to the work in untidy way. He becomes touchy and picks up argument on trivial issues. His manager or boss calls to discuss his behaviour.
The employee says that he is not satisfied with his pay packet for the work he is contributing to the organization. The manager realizes and offers some increase. The employee is not satisfied and asks for more. The manager puts up the final figure and says take it or leave. The employee may take it or leave depending on his situation.
Getting to the Roots:
The word conflict is an indicator of an organization’s and a managers’ functional health. If the atmosphere is devoid of conflicts it represents a lethargic environment and a state of stagnation precursor to vanishing act. On the other hand the presence of conflicts indicate a healthy environment where the interpersonal interaction is taking place.
The positive side of the conflicts is that they cause changes, facilitate group cohesiveness, improve overall effectiveness and bring about a sense of competitiveness in the organization. The negative side of the conflicts is that, if uncontrolled they can bring disaster for the organization or for the manager concerned.
The role of the managers is to keep a proper balance of the functional and dysfunctional conflicts. His prime job is to eliminate the recurrence of the dysfunctional conflicts and promote the functional conflicts.
The manager is more often operating on interpersonal basis which is laced with numerous problems or the conflicts, some are small and some are large enough to cause concern. Emotions, reasons and actions are the three tools with which he traverses to pinpoint the problems and find ways and means to resolve them.
In real life situations conflicts often involve the objective type and the personal type. As manager you have to learn to recognize and handle the issues separately. The size or the magnitude of the conflicts is also important issue.
The conflicts usually involve several issues composing of larger and smaller ones. Generally the larger one is one surrounded by numerous smaller ones eclipsing the larger one from clear view. The smaller issue especially the personal ones can grow and ultimately escalate the zone of the conflict.
The conflicts tend to grow when each party expects a vastly different outcome. If one party expects to lose and the other party expects to win, you are more likely to perceive and treat the conflict as larger.
People argue more when they think they do not have many options or believe there isn’t enough of something to go around. The more they argue the more they invest their identities in a position and the more they get locked into those positions.
The situations and environments also impact conflicts. This includes the history of your relationship with the other party or parties irrespective whether the situation is social or work related.
Cultural differences such as gender, race, religion, social status, and nationality also affect conflicts and its resolution. We tend to like and agree with people who like us. We tend to disparage people who are different or have different values.
The individual personality does play a significant role in conflict resolution. There are no set rules to pinpoint the personality traits but the most prominent one is the self-mastery.
While trying to understand the nature and extent of the conflicts, it would be better to keep a positive frame of mind. Gain as much as possible knowledge about the issues involved. Establish a working relationship based on trust and open communication with the other party.
Get everyone involved to cooperate on a solution instead of trying to change others. Manage group processes and decision making by clarifying the real issue and expanding the range of options.
Identify your Orientation:
(i) How you as the manager handle the conflicts? You can attempt to “win”, you try to find a compromise, and you try to avoid the conflict at all the costs. Generally the more important an outcome is to you the more likely you are to adopt a style that will achieve that outcome.
(ii) A competitive orientation for example concentrates on getting what you want at the expense of the other party. When you try to maximize both your interests and those of the other party; you exhibit a collaborative style of conflict resolution.
(iii) On the other hand when outcomes are not important to you, you probably try to accommodate or avoid the other party.
(iv) Accommodating behaviour sacrifices your interests for those of the other party. Avoiding behaviour does not try to maximize anyone’s interests.
(v) The individualistic orientation exists when you try to do as well as you can for yourself without concern for the other party. It is essentially self-focused competition.
(vi) During a conflict you may exhibit one orientation while other party exhibits another. If only one of you is competitive the dynamics of the relationship will be competitive. When one party is threatening, critical, or condescending, for example, the other party is likely to follow suit.
(vii) For creating a collaborative outcome both of you must act collaboratively. Your willingness to collaborate is just not enough.
(viii) You must create and maintain the type of constructive environment that will foster a collaborative orientation in the other party. You must minimize competition in the resolution process.
Getting to the Emotional Roots:
(i) Identifying your motivational orientation explains how you react during conflict. It is very important to identify why you act that way. Whenever you are confronted with a new situation you process the information in two ways; rationally and emotionally.
Rational processing is thoughtful, analytical, and reflective. It weighs data carefully and is a time consuming activity. Emotional processing is quick, impulsive, and powerful. It takes in big chunks of information and acts immediately. Good example is “whether to fight or to flee” in the face of eminent danger.
(ii) People react to conflicts emotionally rather than rationally because the emotional mind is based on perceptions rather than facts. As a result it is often wrong. In order to respond to a conflict rationally instead of emotionally, you must become aware of what you are feeling and why. The key to this self-awareness lies in identifying your core interpersonal zones.
(iii) There are five interpersonal zones and all the time some one is trying to invade through them to reach you, how you react would depend how active those particular zones are at the time of invasion. Calm & Composed zone. Your emotions and behaviour are cool, calm, and composed.
You are at your best and you know about it. When you are in this zone during a conflict, you interact easily, exchange information freely, and work towards an agreement that satisfies everyone. The Reactive zone: You feel uncomfortable, you unconsciously associate a current situation or event with a negative memory, which causes you to feel, frustrated, agitated, and defensive.
This keeps you from resolving conflicts peacefully or successfully. Moral zone: It houses your attitudes. Your definitions of right and wrong spring from this zone. Values form the core of many of your beliefs, emotions, and behaviors, even though you may not always behave in ways that reflect them. Social zone.
It refers to the way you prefer to interact with others and how you generally behave towards them People, activities, and things energize some people. Others get their energy from the world of ideas, emotions, and impressions. Cognitive zone: It represents the way we gather, evaluate, and act on information that we receive.
(iv) People with low level of concern for others and self tend to avoid conflicts. People with high self-concern and low concern for others tend to behave in a competitive manner during conflicts. People with low self-concern and high concern for others tend exhibit-accommodating behavior during conflicts. People with high self-concern and high concern for others show collaborative tendencies during conflicts.
If you want to be a successful manager even during crises and conflicts then the area which requires first attention is your own behavioural pattern. This is a conditioned reflex pattern, which you develop over a length of time, and is not a fixed proposition, it can be changed, if circumstances so require. How can we change our behavioural pattern?
(i) There are four principles of interaction to guide your behavior, the discipline, desire, patience; detached responsibility; acceptance; and mutual gain. During conflicts it is not difficult to slip into familiar pattern of behaviour that is to pull ranks to get your way or perhaps give in to shorten interaction.
The main problem is that competing, accommodating, or even avoiding becomes your comfort zone each time you win using this orientation. Furthermore even when these strategies resolve short-term objectives they often worsen personal issues in the long run. Collaboration is tougher to learn than the other strategies because you have to control your emotions. However it yields the best results.
(ii) Dealing with conflicts usually makes people feel uncomfortable. That is why it is so much important for you to develop discipline.
(iii) Learn to focus on your objectives and constructive resolution. This will help you persevere if the other party becomes competitive or insulating during a conflict situation
(iv) Working towards a constructive resolution will be easier if you want to collaborate. In other words you must desire a constructive process, not just a favourable ending.
(v) Be willing to let the interaction follow its natural course. This takes patience.
(vi) You must recognize that other parties might not have the necessary skills to manage conflicts and will need more time to work through their issues.
(vii) You must learn to detach responsibility. When you worry, obsessed, and stay preoccupied with a problem or person, you are too attached. You confuse objective issues with personal ones and you start dealing with others from your hot zone.
(viii) If you find yourself in the said position, just step back, recognize that you can control some things but not others. Accept responsibility for the things you can control like your thoughts and reactions.
(ix) Identify the things that you cannot control and let them loose from your intended grip especially the other party’s thoughts and actions.
(x) You can like someone without liking their behaviour so learn to separate the other party in the conflict from their actions.
(xi) Try to think about why some specific behaviour bothers you and why the other party is acting that way. How does they perceive you. Put yourself in that person’s place and feel the way he might have felt.
(xii) Have a mind set for mutual gains; collaboration should be a win-win situation for you and everybody else in the conflict. This action would require open communication and trust, a shared perception that there are enough resources to satisfy everyone, recognition of the common interests and goals, and rationally fair behaviour.
(xiii) You must understand that you lose when you get too much attached. You must learn when to say no and say it firmly. You must know what is acceptable to you and what is not, never let anybody overstep on those limits.
Learn to Listen Emphatically to Others:
(i) What is emphatic listening? It is the ability to feel for another person’s situation, to put yourself in another person’s place. It requires what the other person is saying and what is the explicit meaning as well as how that person feels about the issue and what is the implicit meaning.
(ii) Listening involves more than hearing what the other person is saying. It involves comprehending what that other person is feeling. When you listen passively you are not really listening at all. You simply hear the words but not the meaning. Responsive listening is the same except you occasionally punctuate the speaker’s remarks by some short words like “yes” or “I see”.
If you are thinking about what you are going to say while the speaker is talking than in that case you are listening selectively. If on the other hand you are going to ask some clarifications than you are listening attentively. In our day-to-day life we listen in these four categories (passively, responsively, selectively and attentively) but none of these forms takes in what the speaker needs or is feeling.
It is only when you actively listen do the speaker, you tend to realize the meaning behind the said words. At this level you look for nonverbal clues such as postures and facial expressions and pay attention to his tone.
You may try to restate or re-phrase what is said to verify your own comprehension. You understand that the person has feelings even though you may not feel they are justified. This is the stage of emphatic listening.
(iii) Try to attend to both the contents and emotions of what the other person is saying. Just stop whatever you are doing and give full attention to the speaker. Listen for the overall substance, tone of voice, rate of speech, and inflection. You must be alert to his body language and facial expressions.
(iv) Do not interrupt unless there is no way.
(v) Do not sit on the judgment and suspend your decision and analysis. You may be tempted to offer advice as you listen, just do not do it. Be aware of what you are feeling and make sure these emotions do not suppress what the other person is saying.
(vi) Try your best to convey your understanding of the explicit and implicit meanings, and when you speak don’t simply rephrase what you heard rather dig deeper. Try to understand what the speaker is feeling. Make sure your remarks reflect this understanding.
(vii) You must remain sensitive to the signs of resistance and defensiveness. If you misinterpret the speaker’s intent or meaning, you will see the signals such as closed body posture or an unhappy expression.
Set the Stage for Mutual Gain Solutions:
Your goals in a conflict situation should always be to seek a resolution based on mutual gain. That is the beauty of collaboration. It might sound simple; identify a common or shared goal and then work to achieve it. But you must have certain conditions in place in order to produce a constructive outcome.
Make sure you establish the following at some point in the process:
(i) Create opportunities, as much as possible, for face to face interaction. Talking in person lets you see nonverbal clues that indicate what the other party is feeling.
(ii) Develop high acquaintance potential. You have to like the other party as a person and be willing to establish a relationship that goes beyond the issues of the disputes.
(iii) Try to get any third party on board before settling the dispute otherwise they could undermine your efforts.
(iv) Frame the conflicts as problem you and the other party must work together.
(v) Try your best to induce the other party to come out with probable solutions and put forward yours too.
(vi) When you are trying to arrive at some workable solutions to a problem just keep an open agenda and do not try to, and do not let the other party also to do so, pin you down with a specific agenda, keep this agenda as much open as possible.
The only agenda you should have is to work towards mutual gains. In the event you set up your specific agenda it would send a message to the other party that you are interested in meeting your own needs.
The Step by Step Technique:
Collaboration is a continuous process moving in steps like preparation, initiation, facilitation, understanding, review, and conclusions and agreement.
(I) The Interaction Stage:
i. Plan to spend as much time on this first step as you would be spending on resolving the conflict.
ii. Organize your thoughts so that you can see the big picture.
iii. Ask yourself what are your and the other party’s comfort and hot zones.
iv. Is the other party typically competitive or collaborative?
v. How will you adapt or modify your behavior to be effective with the other party?
vi. Think about the factors that affects the conflict.
vii. Identify the objective and the personal issues.
viii. Determine where you and the other person stands on these issues.
ix. Develop your own questions and counter questions.
x. If you were in the other party’s place, what would you want?
xi. Consider any additional information, data, or expertise that you would need in order to understand the issues.
xii. Review the nature of the past relationship.
xiii. Consider why the current working relationship is becoming difficult.
xiv. Breakdown the power distribution equation and find out who is more powerful.
xv. Ask yourself, will this be an ongoing relationship?
xvi. At the end ask yourself whether you have the authority to make and follow through on the commitments
(II) Initiate the Exchange:
You cannot assume the other party knows there is a problem, even if that person knows, he or she is not likely to initiate the resolution process. Facing conflicts is what most people prefer to avoid. So initiate the exchange by letting the other party know that you have an issue you want to discuss. State the result, your feelings, and situation that caused the result—the issue.
Make sure you identify the situation as your problem not a problem you are having with other persons. It is better to say “I am upset that I didn’t receive the financial analysis as yet” than to say “You did not send me the financial report as yet”. In this case the use of “you” is accusatory and only makes the other party defensive. This transforms an objective issue into a personal issue.
At this stage ask the third party for his opinion, feedback and help. You could involve the third party by asking question like” Help me to understand what is going on” instead of “Why haven’t I received the report”. Involving the other party provides you with more information about the issue.
It secures the other party’s commitment to the resolution and signals your acceptance of him or her. You are in fact saying that the individual is capable and important to the resolution process.
(III) Facilitate the Relationship:
Adopt the kind of personal style that encourages collaboration. Start by communicating openly. If you take the lead the other party will follow suit. The more you discuss about yourself the more the other party will reveal to you. Show that you are a person who trusts and can be trusted.
While the trust doesn’t guarantee collaboration, not having trust increases the probability you and the other party will end up competing. It is very important that you get to know the other party as much as possible. Look for opportunities to interact. The more you are exposed to someone the more likely you are to like that person which strengths your collaborative efforts.
Complete the Resolution Process:
This is the last stage for reaching a resolution. The three steps described earlier (interaction, exchange, and facilitation) are the beginning of the resolution process. The further steps are, understanding the interests, examining the solutions, and reaching the consensus.
(i) Find out what the other party wants.
(ii) Why these interests are so much important to them. This is the stage when you use your empathetic listening powers to the hilt You must not only listen but also keep your eyes and ears open and active.
(iii) Every problem has more than one solution. In order to find the best agreement one that offers both parties mutual gain, you have to explore many options.
(iv) One way to find many options is to conduct a brainstorming session. Allow the possibilities to flow without judging, discussing, or criticizing them. Your purpose is to get the ideas out on the table.
(v) Another way is to invite third parties into the process. Their perspective may offer just the right objective insight that you need.
(vi) Once you have identified a variety of solutions analyze them minutely for suitability and unsuitability. Look at them from various angles. Create different combinations and evaluate each.
(vii) Finally you arrive at the most optimum solution. This solution must meet the legitimate needs of every one. It must be fair and each party understands it and is willing to accept and commit to it.
(viii) Before you finalize the agreement just go over the interests, the objectives, the measurement standards and the final solution. At each point stop and make sure everyone understands and is in agreement with it.
(ix) Some people may be in a hurry to wrap-up the process at this stage but don’t allow them to rush things instead do it right.
(x) The final step is to gain commitment. Reach a consensus on how you will implement and evaluate the solution.
(xi) During implementation keep in mind that you cannot control whether the other party lives up to their commitment. You can only control your own actions.
Have an Alternative Plan Ready Before Attempting Resolution:
Conflict resolutions do not always work for reasons you cannot anticipate or control. Therefore you should have an alternative course of action prepared before you enter the resolution process. This alternative gives you the freedom to walk away from a specific process that has turned bad. It keeps you from feeling you have no other choice than to accommodate the other party.
Meeting the Challenge:
As you try to resolve the conflicts you are faced with numerous challenges but do not let the challenges hold you back. Generally you dislike someone because that person has invaded one of your interpersonal zones. Think about what that person does that makes you uncomfortable.
Now think about why he or she might be acting that way. Try to understand how the individual perceives you. Spend some time with the other party. Get to know him or her outside the context of the conflict. If this fails detached responsibility and exercise your alternative.
There is always the haunch that the other party won’t collaborate. This is the time to listen empathetically. Try to understand why the other party is resistant? Have you sent conflicting signals about your intent to collaborate? Does the individual have the necessary skills? Many people who do not like to collaborate suffer from lack of self-esteem. Use the principle of interaction to engage them in the resolution process.
Sometimes we feel that the other party won’t talk. Try asking open-ended questions that require more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Or use silence to draw them out. Silence creates a healthy tension that makes people want to break the dead air. Maintain discipline, desire, and patience and wait for the other party to speak first. Keep in mind that some people need to work their thoughts before discussing them.
There is also a fear of being duped by the other party. In that case do your homework during the preparation phase and develop a solid alternative. This will help you to determine whether you have reached a wise resolution.
As long as the solution satisfies every one’s long term interests, it won’t matter whether the other party has duped you. In fact may be you satisfied an important personal need and in the process boosted the other party’s self-esteem.
Finally there is the growing concern that how can I establish trust in the other party? The answer is very simple. The trust is a matter of choice. All you can do is to behave in trustworthy manners.