In this article we will discuss about conflict management. Also learn about: 1. Strategies for Handling Conflicts 2. Conflict Management Process 3. Conflict Management Techniques 4. Managing Conflict 5. Conflict Resolution Structural Techniques.
Conflict Management: Strategies, Process and Techniques
Strategies for Handling Conflicts:
There are many ways to handle conflict at the organisation level:
Conflict Management Strategy # i. Ignoring the Conflict:
If the conflict is not too severe and the consequences are not very serious, managers tend to ignore it and pretend that it does not exist. Some managers think conflicts speak badly about an organization, so they ignore the conflict and hope it will eventually resolve itself. Because the sources of conflict are neither identified nor resolved, this strategy fails to put out the fires in time. Eventually, the situation may go from bad to worse.
Conflict Management Strategy # ii. Physical Separation:
If the warring factions or parties are physically separated, the likelihood of open hostility and aggression is reduced. Parties, however, may continue to indulge in sabotage and occasional acts of aggression unless the source of conflict is eliminated. Physical separation may work when the two groups are not required to interact while achieving targets. If they need to interact, however, separation may not solve the issue.
Conflict Management Strategy # iii. Withdrawal:
Another way may be to withdraw from a conflict it when it takes place. The withdrawal may be from the situation (fighting for resources, for promotion etc.) or from the relationship with the other group (one party may severe connection with the other as in the case of Proctor and Gamble and Godrej Soaps Ltd).
Conflict Management Strategy # iv. Dominance:
Quite often, managers use positional authority to fire a lower ranking subordinate they consider to be a trouble-maker. Conflicting parties are told to maintain a calm composure, an appearance of grace and drop their fight and get on with the job.
Conflict Management Strategy # v. Appeal Procedures:
Here parties involved in a conflict seek help from a higher authority in order to resolve a knotty issue. For example if, the faculty members could not decide on the allocation of work load, they may refer their disagreement to the principal of the college for a final, binding decision.
Conflict Management Strategy # vi. Compromise:
Parties involved in a conflict arrive at a solution through a compromise formula. For example, management may offer to increase wages by 4 per cent, while the union may be seeking 8 per cent. Both may finally agree on a figure of 6 per cent. Compromise can be used very effectively when the goal sought (e.g., money) can be divided equitably. If this is not possible, one group should be prepared to give up something of value as concession. Compromise may also involve third-party interventions as well as total group or representative negotiating and voting.
Strategy # vii. Liaison Group/Intermediaries/Integrators:
To arbitrate differences between two warring factions, a full-time integrator can be appointed who can speak the language of both the parties. The integrator has to use expertise and persuasion to achieve coordination and get people together. He must understand each group’s problems and able to rally both groups toward a mutually agreeable solution.
Conflict Management Strategy # viii. Forcing People to Assume another Role/Position:
Inter organisational activities, sometimes, help in reducing conflict. Exchange of people between interdependent departments creates an atmosphere where the newcomer can exchange his views with others. It helps him see the big picture and his role in it. As group members understand each other better they tend to lessen some of their perceptual distortions. Role reversal or empathy helps them in “shaking up” their narrow perspectives, departmental loyalties and misunderstandings created by the organisational boundaries.
Conflict Management Strategy # ix. Reduce Interdependence:
The potential for conflict is very great in situations where two departments have to work in an interdependent fashion and share scarce resources. As a result of this mutual dependency there are more occasions for disagreement and conflict. One way to resolve conflict is to reduce interdependencies by moving from reciprocal to sequential or from sequential to pooled interdependence. Departments maybe provided with resources and inventories that are independent of those provided for other departments (known as “decoupling”).
However, decoupling is an expensive proposition; it increases costs because of duplication of effort and equipment. To avoid this, large ‘buffers’ (inventories) are created. For example, department A might send its output into the buffer inventory and department B might be allowed to process goods from this inventory independently. Sometimes, formal integration departments may also be created to facilitate coordination and smoothen work flow.
Conflict Management Strategy # x. Procedural and Structural Changes:
Conflict can be put to rest if procedures are changed to facilitate effective delivery of a service. Instead of asking the cashier to prepare the draft, every bank executive may be empowered to handle customer requests for making drafts quickly. The arrangement of physical facilities can also be changed to eliminate barriers that come in the way of executing work.
For example, when known antagonists are seated in conference directly across from each other, the amount of conflict increases. When they are seated side by side, the conflict tends to decrease.
Conflict Management Strategy # xi. Super Ordinate Goals:
A super ordinate goal is a common goal that appeals to all the parties involved and cannot be accomplished by the resources of any single party separately. Super ordinate goals demand interdependence and cooperation between departments. It is believed that the possibilities for achieving harmony are greatly enhanced when disagreeing parties are brought together to work towards overriding goals which are real and compelling to all concerned. For example, national leaders use the ploy of claiming that their countries are about to be attacked in order to bring about (at least) a temporary unification on the opposing factions in their own countries.
Conflict Management Strategy # xii. Identifying a Common Enemy:
“A strong enemy is a great unifying force. If the parties are made to perceive that their very existence depends on how they tackle a conflictful situation, they work unitedly to realize the goal. The threat of Hitler, for example, produced an alliance between the Western powers and Russia that fell apart as soon as the common threat disappeared.
Conflict Management Strategy # xiii. Integrated Problem Solving:
Another conflict management strategy tries to find a solution that incorporates the requirements of both parties.
Both parties work together to define the problem and identify mutually satisfactory solutions. They freely exchange task-related information. A minimum level of trust between parties is essential for this strategy to produce results. Since it takes time for parties to resolve issues through healthy interaction, there should be no pressure for a quick settlement of contentious issues.
Problem solving is a healthy approach for it recognizes that usually neither party is completely right or wrong. Creating a concession is not interpreted as a sign of weakness. Neither party feels that it has to win every battle to maintain self-respect. For conflicts resulting from misunderstanding or language problems, the problem solving or confrontation method has yielded good results. For solving more complex problems (e.g. conflicts where parties have different value systems), the method has not been very successful.
Conflict Management Process
When a conflict, arises whether intra-individual, inter- individual; intra-group or inter- group in an organisation, it must be resolved as early as possible. In an organisation, there must be someone to intervene before the situation goes worse and generally a superior helps to improve the situation.
In order to resolve the conflict effectively the seniors or superior should handle the situation carefully and take the following steps:
1. Preliminary step — knowing the conflict;
2. Diagnosing the issue;
3. Applying any of the conflict handling modes.
Conflict Management Process # 1. Preliminary Step:
The first stage in resolving the conflict is to know the full details of the conflict. As soon as the conflict comes to the knowledge of the senior or superior, he should handle the conflict skillfully.
The first thing to note in the stage of conflict because, if it is in its initial stage, it requires less efforts and much efforts will be needed at advanced stage of conflict. Even the strategies used may also differ from stage to stage though there is hardly a relationship between the stage of conflict and strategies used.
Before analysing the issues involved in the conflict, it should also be considered that the person who is being entrusted the responsibility to intervene and resolve the conflict, should be objective enough in handling the problem.
Though, it is very difficult to keep emotions and sentiments out of the job and attain absolute depersonalisation, yet one can be objective if he keeps an open mind. For this purpose, one should listen to views of individuals who are in conflict though they may not be fully in agreement with him provided the individual concerned does not carry rigid perception. The seniors or superior must try to keep the individual’s mind open.
Conflict Management Process # 2. Diagnosing the Issue:
In diagnosing the issues, the issues involved in the conflict should be analysed and it should be understood what this conflict is about. How far it has already involved. Thus, the nature of conflict should be found out. Generally, conflict may arise due to facts, goals, methods, and values.
In other words, facts at the disposal of two parties may differ or their goals may differ or their methods to be used for doing a particular task may differ or their views about what is good, bad, wrong or right may differ. So, the person entrusted to handle the conflict must find out what the conflict is about.
The next thing in diagnosing the issue is to know why these differences between the two parties have arised. The factors responsible for promoting the difference may be informational, perceptual, role factors can the like. At times, the information received by two parties may be different and therefore they may draw different conclusions. People may also have different backgrounds.
Their beliefs, attitudes, values, and cultural norms may differ and therefore their perception may differ. An individual may have different roles in different groups of which he is a member and these roles may clash or the role of one individual may differ from the other individual. For Example — A senior or superior may have an urgency of getting a particular work done but the sub-ordinates does not think so. It may lead two persons to clash.
Once the problem is identified and what has caused the problem becomes known, the stage at which it has already reached can be properly understood. The next important step is to develop a strategy to deal with the situation.
Conflict Management Process 3. Conflict Handling Modes:
There are a number of strategies which we may adopt to resolve the conflict and the important of them are as follows:
(a) To avoid appearance of conflict;
(b) Not permitting conflict to surface;
(d) Letting the parties in conflict to settle their scores; and
(e) To solve the problems mutually.
(a) To Avoid Appearance of Conflict:
This approach suggests that such conditions and atmosphere should be created in the organisation so that there may not be any conflict in the organisation. If any conflict arises it should be removed and redressed as early as possible. This situation is possible when the organisation is staffed with like-minded people and possibly keeps a watch over their inter-personal relations.
They should always be submissive to their superior and should never be aggressive or in conflict with him. If there is a difference of opinion between the two, it should be removed or it should be ignored.
This kind of conformity and agreement may be necessary where blind faith in the leader of the group is required. It is very common in political and religious organisations which demand total commitment of members towards
the goals arid ideals of the organisation. But in this approach, the creativity of the members is lost and they are not able to put forward their ideas for the sake of simple conformity.
(b) Not Permitting Conflict to Surface:
This strategy suggest that loyalty and cooperation to the group is supreme and disagreement need not be tolerated and may be treated equivalent to disloyalty to group. People who are loyal and co-operative should be rewarded and those, who are not should be removed or should be punished.
As soon as the conflict is known to the superior, the parties in conflict should be warned of the serious consequences and should be ordered to sink their differences or matters be referred to ‘upstairs’ or the superior should insist on his own way.
This kind of approach of repression and forcing may work where talent difference is not so important as the pressure of the time but such suppressed differences may erupt at any time appropriate for the organisation and may hit safe targets. This approach does not create a satisfying situation and if the matter is allowed to brew for long, the party concerned whose views are suppressed always looks for an opportunity embarrassing the position of authority holder.
Under this approach an attempt should be made by the authority holder to sweep out the difference and to smoother the affairs to make it look as if the problem never existed. He may exercise persuasion, highlighting the merits and demerits of their cases. He may conciliate, mediate, bringing home to them the commonness in their view points and if necessary even go for arbitration.
It is quite possible that the both the parties may leave the case to the superior to give his judgement, in case of failure of finding any solution of the case, then both will accept his decision. It may also be just possible that a compromise takes place or they may arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.
Under this approach both parties make a shift in their stand on give and take basis. It may be with or without the intervention of the superior. This strategy is most commonly used.
(d) Letting the Parties in Conflict to Settle their Scores:
Sometimes, we find that the parties adopt a rigid attitude in the organisation and are not aware able to reason or appeal. They are allowed to fight out the issues. They are given an opportunity to test their strength and capacities and to bear the consequences whatsoever. In such cases it can be possible that the party may have the realisation of each other’s strength and leave their priorities, accept the ideas and interpretation of others and resort to bargaining. The parties, before this approach should assess the cost of such conflicts – economical and social.
This approach has far reaching consequences. In case the opposition feels defeated there will develop personal distance that will never be reduced. The losing party will always try to find out ways how to take revenge. Besides such potentially disruptive consequences of this approach, it almost necessarily places strains on the status on power system in the organisation. It acknowledges and legitimises the heterogeneity of goals. This approach is not willingly or frequently adopted.
(e) Mutual Problem Solving:
When two parties are conscious about the existence of a problem and try to resolve their difference themselves, it is called mutual problem solving or collaborating. As both parties are interested in finding a solution, the reference should always be made of the shared goals, generally the sub-ordinate goals. The perceptions of people are not rigid.
This approach is better when time pressure is not serious though it is a very time consuming process to come across a common acceptable solution. If in the mean while a party loses patience, all efforts are likely to go waste. Therefore, a solution should be resolved before a party loses patience.
Whatever may be the approach for handling conflict, it is necessary to be sure that communication channels are neither blocked – non broken down. Free flow of information must be maintained otherwise lack of information or blocked communication channels causes disruptive behaviours. As a result, the gap between the two parties widens and then it will be irreparable. It may also be suggested that whatever may be the nature, stage or class of conflict; it should always be regarded as individual (and not group conflict) and analytic conflict.
In short, an impression should not be created that the conflict has engulfed the whole organisation. The approach should be problem solving and persistent persuasion of the parties.
Conflict Management Techniques
Several styles or techniques have been suggested for managing conflict. Based on styles’ assertiveness (the extent to which one’s goals met) and cooperativeness (the extent to which one wants to see the other party’s concerns met). Thomas has classified conflict management styles into five style; avoiding, accommodating, competing, compromising and collaborating.
There may be two approaches for managing the organizational conflict- (1) Preventive measures and (2) Curative measures. In the preventive measures, the management tries to create a situation or environment where dysfunctional aspects of conflicts do not take place.
As in most of the cases, conflict is destructive in nature, it should be resolved as soon, after it has developed, as possible, but all efforts should be made to prevent it from developing.
Both these measures are explained as follows:
Conflict Management Technique # 1. Preventive Measures:
Some of the preventive measures which the management can take to manage the organizational conflicts are-
I. Establishing Common Goals:
The major reason for the development of conflict is the incompatible goals. This is particularly true in case of conflict among groups and between individuals and organization. The basic strategy of reducing the conflict should be to find common goals upon which groups can agree and to re-establish valid communication between the groups.
The mutual dependence of groups can be brought through the super ordinate goals because they are the goals which are of high value to the group. Super ordinate goals are those that take precedence over other goals that may separate the conflicting parties.
Group conflicts can also be reduced through the use of incentive systems designed to reward the activities that benefit the larger system, as opposed to those which are primarily in the interest of subunits.
II. Reduction in Interdependence:
The main reason for inter-group conflict is interdependence among them, e.g., line and staff managers. As such, less the interdependence, less will be the amount of conflict among them. In organizations, such interdependence cannot be altogether avoided. However, instead of separating the units organizationally, they can be separated physically. The physical separation, is not a permanent measure of managing conflict.
III. Reduction in Shared Resources:
Another reason of inter-group conflict is sharing of the scarce resources by the groups. The management of conflict suggests reducing the sharing. One technique for this can be increasing the resources, so that each unit is independent in using them. But as the resources are scarce, they cannot always be increased. Thus, the best possible alternative is optimum allocation of the scarce resources.
IV. Trust and Communication:
The greater the trust among the members of the unit, the more open and honest the communication will be. Individuals and groups should be encouraged to communicate openly with each other, so that misunderstandings can be removed and they are in a position to understand the problems of each other when necessary.
After communication, the next step should be proper co-ordination. Properly co-ordinated activities reduce the conflict. Wherever there are problems in co-ordination, a special liasion office should be established to deal with these problems.
VI. Exchange of Personnel:
Another method of reducing and managing conflict is that personnel of conflicting groups may be exchanged for a specified period. Exchange of people is very similar to role reversal. It is aimed at greater understanding between people by forcing each to present and defend the other’s position.
VII. Use of Superior Authority:
If conflict cannot be resolved by two organizational members or by two groups,-it may be referred to a common superior, who will resolve the conflict by giving a decision. Such a decision may not necessarily bring agreement, but it will usually be accepted because of the recognised superior authority of high ranking official.
VIII. Reorganization of Groups:
A manager can prevent the occurrence of many conflicts by reorganising the groups. People who have got something in common will be placed in one group. Because of something in common, these people tend to see things in the same perspective, to have common interest and objective, to approach problems in much the same way. The behaviour of such groups is more predictable and it is easy for the manager to avoid conflicts.
Conflict Management Technique # 2. Curative Measures (or) Resolving Behavioural Conflict:
The curative measures include the resolution of conflicts when they take place and become dysfunctional in the organization. Two questions are involved in this- (i) What are the different conflict resolution modes? and (ii) How can the manager know which type of conflict resolution style should be adopted under what kinds of circumstances?
Thomas has offered a contingency approach to resolving conflicts which we will illustrate now:
If two groups or parties X and Y experience conflict, each could be more concerned about their own self or they could experience more concern for the other. When concern for the self is very low, they could be very unassertive and if concern for the self is high, they could be very assertive. If their concern for the other is low they would tend to be uncooperative and if it is high, they would be very co-operative.
This could be depicted with the help of the following figure:
At first glance, an avoiding style may appear to have no value as a mode of managing conflict. An avoiding style may reflect a failure to address important issues and a tendency to remain neutral when there is a need to take a position. An avoider may also exhibit detachment from the conflict and a readiness to comply or conform, based on indifference.
Avoiding is, thus, advisable in the following situations:
(a) When you desire that people should cool down, so that they regain their composure and perspective, after which, the tension may be handled more productively.
(b) When more information is needed to made a good decision.
(c) When someone else can resolve the conflict more effectively.
(d) When the issue which provokes the conflicts is symptomatic of another more basic underlying matter and attempting to resolve the surface issue will not help the situation.
If, in a conflicting situation, party X is concerned neither about himself nor the other, X is likely to avoid facing or handling the conflict. When the situation is, thus, ignored or neglected, then Y might just get the better of X by taking advantage of X’s avoidance behaviour.
i. When an issue is trivial, of only passing importance, or when other more important issues are pressing.
ii. When you perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns, e.g., when you have low power or you are frustrated by something which would be very difficult to change (national policies, someone’s personality structure, etc.).
iii. When the potential damage of confronting a conflict outweighs the benefits of its resolution.
iv. To let people cool down – to reduce tensions to a productive level and to regain perspective and composure.
v. When gathering more information outweighs the advantages of an immediate decision.
vi. When others can resolve the conflict more effectively.
vii. When the issue seems tangential or symptomatic of another more basic issue.
If you scored high:
i. Does your coordination suffer because people have trouble getting your inputs on issues?
ii. Does it often appear that people are “walking on eggshells?”
(Sometimes a dysfunctional amount of energy can be devoted to caution and the avoiding of issues, indicating that issues need to be faced and resolved.)
iii. Are decisions on important issues made by default?
If you scored low:
i. Do you find yourself hurting people’s feelings or stirring up hostilities?
(You may need to exercise more discretion in confronting issues or more tact in framing issues in non-threatening ways. Tact is partially the art of avoiding potentially disruptive aspects of an issue.)
ii. Do you often feel harried or overwhelmed by a number of issues?
(You may need to devote more time to setting priorities – deciding which issues are relatively unimportant and perhaps delegating them to others.)
A competing style is high on assertiveness and low on cooperativeness. This style is power oriented and approaches conflict in terms of a “Win-Lost” strategy. On the negative side, a competitor may suppress, intimidate or coerce other parties into conflict. On the positive side, a competing style may be necessary when a quick, decisive action is required or when important but unpopular courses of action may be taken. In addition, competing may be required when “you know you are right” is an issue.
Thus, while the competing mode is useful in certain situations, people have to be careful not so surround themselves with “Yes Man” and not to foster ignorance and duplicity in the system. People low on this mode can learn to use their power more and enhance their own as well as their organization’s effectiveness.
If on the other hand, X has very high concern for himself, but very low concern for the other, then X will take a very high competitive stance and would approach the conflict situation from “I win-you lose” stance. The competitive mode of handling the conflict will then resolve who wins and who loses in the situation.
The Competing Style is when you stress your position without considering opposing points of view. This style is highly assertive with minimal cooperativeness; the goal is to win. The competing style is used when a person has to take quick action, make unpopular decisions, handle vital issues, or when one needs protection in a situation where noncompetitive behavior can be exploited.
To develop this style you must develop your ability to argue and debate, use your rank or position, assert your opinions and feelings and learn to state your position and stand your ground.
Overuse of this style can lead to lack of feedback, reduced learning and low empowerment. This can result in being surrounded by “Yes-Men”. People who overuse the competing style often use inflammatory statements due to a lack of interpersonal skills training.
When overuse is taken to an extreme the person will create errors in the implementation of the task by withholding needed information, talking behind another person’s back (or “back-stabbing”), using eye motions and gestures designed to express disapproval and creating distractions by fiddling or interrupting. Overuse of this style can be exhibited through constant tension or anger and occasional outbursts of violent temper.
Under use of the competing style leads to a lowered level of influence, indecisiveness, slow action and withheld contributions. When the competing style is underused some emergent behaviors people exhibit include justifying the behaviors, demanding concessions as a condition of working on the problem, threatening separation as a way of making others give in and launching personal attacks.
i. When quick, decisive action is vital, e.g., emergencies.
ii. On important issues where unpopular courses of action need to be implemented, e.g., cost cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline.
iii. On issues vital to company welfare when you know you’re right.
iv. To protect yourself against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.
If you scored high:
i. Are you surrounded by “yes” men?
(If so, perhaps it’s because they have learned that it’s unwise to disagree with you, or have given up trying to influence you. This closes you off from information.)
ii. Are subordinates afraid to admit ignorance and uncertainties to you?
(In competitive climates, one must fight for influence and respect – which means acting more certain and confident than one feels. The upshot is that people are less able to ask for information and opinion – they are less able to learn.)
If you scored low:
i. Do you often feel powerless in situations?
(It may be because you are unaware of the power you do have, unskilled in its use, or uncomfortable with the idea of using it. This may hinder your effectiveness by restricting your influence.)
ii. Do you have trouble taking a firm stand, even when you see the need?
(Sometimes concerns for other’s feelings or anxieties about the use of power cause us to vacillate, which may mean postponing the decision and adding to the suffering and/or resentment of others.)
The Avoiding Style is when you do not satisfy your concerns or the concerns of the other person. This style is low assertiveness and low cooperativeness. The goal is to delay. It is appropriate to use this style when there are issues of low importance, to reduce tensions, or to buy time.
Avoidance is also appropriate when you are in a low power position and have little control over the situation, when you need to allow others to deal with the conflict, or when the problem is symptomatic of a much larger issue and you need to work on the core issue.
To develop skills in this style use foresight in knowing when to withdraw, learn to sidestep loaded questions or sensitive areas by using diplomacy, become skillful at creating a sense of timing and practice leaving things unresolved.
Overuse of the avoidance style can result in a low level of input, decision-making by default and allowing issues to fester, which can produce a breakdown in communication between team members. This can inhibit brainstorming sessions from being productive and can prevent the team from functioning. People who overuse avoidance feel they cannot speak frankly without fear of repercussions.
The overuse of conflict avoidance can often be a result of childhood experiences, past work-related incidents and negative experiences with conflict resolution. Behaviors associated with the overuse of avoidance include being silent, sullen and untruthful when asked if something is wrong being.
A milder form of avoidance behavior is when the team member procrastinates about getting work done and deliberately takes an opposing point of view inappropriately during a decision-making situation, or is timid, withdrawn, or shy. Extreme behaviors can occur when avoidance is overused.
A person begins to be negative, critical and sarcastic. Other extreme avoidance behaviors include becoming passive aggressive by being late and not paying attention at meetings. It also lends a greater importance to this style as compared to the other styles because you have devoted such a disproportionate amount of time to the style.
Under use of the avoidance style results in hostility and hurt feelings. In addition, work can become overwhelming because too many issues are taken on at once, resulting in an inability to prioritize and delegate. When avoidance is underused a team member may deny that there is a problem and allow their hurt feelings to prevent communication.
If X has concern both for the self and for the other, then X would approach the conflict situation in a collaborative more with a desire to solve whatever problem exists, in a way that would benefit both the parties.
A “win-win” stance will be taken in such a case and the resolution of conflict will result in stratifying experience for both the parties.
Collaborating involves an attempt to work with the other person to find solutions that would be satisfying to both parties. The collaborating style is high on both cooperation and assertion. It is possible only if the parties to a conflict recast it as a problem-solving situation.
A problem solving approach requires the following conditions:
(a) There is an attempt to depersonalise the conflict. That is, the parties to the conflict channel their energies in solving the problem rather than defeating each other.
(b) The goals, opinions, attitudes and feelings of all parties are accepted as legitimate concerns and all parties play a constructive role.
(c) The parties realise that a conflict issue can make a constructive contribution to the quality of human relationships if the issue is worked through in a supporting and trusting climate in which opinions and differences are freely aired.
The various approaches of conflict management suggest that management can take a variety of actions depending on the situations, parties to conflicts, issues to conflicts and the organizational resources available. All the five conflict modes are useful under different situations and there are advantages and disadvantages. On the basis of conflict handling behaviours, we can take a contingency approach to handling conflict situations.
i. To find an integrative solution when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised.
ii. When your objective is to learn, e.g., testing your own assumptions, understanding the views of others.
iii. To merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem.
iv. To gain commitment by incorporating other’s concerns into a consensual decision.
v. To work through hard feelings which have been interfering with an interpersonal relationship.
If you scored high:
i. Do you spend time discussing issues in depth that do not seem to deserve it?
(Collaboration takes time and energy – perhaps the scarcest organizational resources. Trivial problems don’t require optimal solutions and not all personal differences need to be hashed out. The overuse of collaboration and consensual decision-making sometimes represents a desire to minimize risk by diffusing responsibility for a decision or by postponing action.)
ii. Does your collaborative behavior fail to elicit collaborative responses from others?
(The exploratory and tentative nature of some collaborative behavior may make it easy for others to disregard collaborative overtures, or the trust and openness may be taken advantage of. You may be missing some cues that indicate the presence of defensiveness, strong feelings, impatience, competitiveness, or conflicting interests.)
If you scored low:
i. Is it hard for you to see differences as opportunities for joint gain – as opportunities to learn or solve problems?
(Although there are often threatening or unproductive aspects of conflict, indiscriminate pessimism can prevent you from seeing collaborative possibilities and thus deprive you of the mutual gains and satisfactions which accompany successful collaboration.)
ii. Are subordinates uncommitted to your decisions or policies?
(Perhaps their own concerns are not being incorporated into those decisions or policies.)
If X has medium level of concern both for himself and the other, then he would take a compromising stance with the attitude of “give and take” and be willing to share the resources so that neither totally wins nor totally loses.
After going through all the above models, the question arises as to whether there is one best mode for conflict resolution? All five modes are suitable for different situations and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. But we have to understand which mode works best in what kind of a situation, keeping in view its drawbacks, so that we can learn to be more flexible in the use of our conflict handling styles to suit the different types of conflictful situations.
To some people, the word compromise suggests weakness and lack of commitment to a position. A compromiser may be thought of as a person who puts expediency above principle or who seeks short term solutions at the expense of long term objectives. A compromising style results in each conflict participant sharing in some degree of winning and losing.
It is essential, however, to recognise the potential value of compromise. Compromise is a common and practical approach to conflict management because it often fits the realities of organizational life. This ‘fit’ occurs when a conflict is not important enough to either party to warrant the time and psychological investment in one of the more assertive modes of conflict management.
In addition, compromise may be the only practical way of handling a situation, in which two equally strong and persuasive parties attempt to work out a solution.
Compromise is an expedient mode to settle complex issues in the short run till a more thorough and permanent solution to the problem can be found. This is particularly true, when solutions have to be arrived at under extreme time pressures. It can also be used as a backup mode when both collaboration and competition fail to work effectively in resolving the conflicts.
The Compromising Style is finding a middle ground or forgoing some of your concerns and committing to other’s concerns. This style is moderately assertive and moderately cooperative; the goal is to find middle ground. The compromising style is used with issues of moderate importance, when both parties are equally powerful and equally committed to opposing views.
This style produces temporary solutions and is appropriate when time is a concern and as a backup for the competing and collaborating styles when they are unsuccessful in resolving the situation. Compromising skills include the ability to communicate and keep the dialogue open, the ability to find an answer that is fair to both parties, the ability to give up part of what you want and the ability to assign value to all aspects of the issue.
Overuse of the compromising style leads to loss of long-term goals, a lack of trust, creation of a cynical environment and being viewed as having no firm values. Overuse of compromise can result in making concessions to keep people happy without resolving the original conflict.
Under use leads to unnecessary confrontations, frequent power struggles and ineffective negotiating.
i. When goals are moderately important, but not worth the effort or potential disruption of more assertive modes.
ii. When two opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals, e.g., as in labor-management bargaining.
iii. To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.
iv. To arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure.
v. As a backup mode when collaboration or competition fails to be successful.
If you scored high:
i. Do you concentrate so heavily upon the practicalities and tactics of compromise that you sometimes lose sight of larger issues – principles, values, long-term objectives, or company/team welfare?
ii. Does an emphasis on bargaining and trading create a cynical climate of gamesmanship? (Such a climate might undermine interpersonal trust and deflect attention away from the merits of the issues discussed.)
If you scored low:
i. Do you find yourself too sensitive or embarrassed to be effective in bargaining situations?
ii. Do you find it hard to make concessions?
(Without this safety valve, you may have trouble getting gracefully out of mutually destructive arguments, power struggles, etc.)
The Collaborating Style is when the concern is to satisfy both sides. It is highly assertive and highly cooperative; the goal is to find a “win/win” solution. Appropriate uses for the collaborating style include integrating solutions, learning, merging perspectives, gaining commitment and improving relationships.
Using this style can support open discussion of issues, task proficiency, equal distribution of work amongst the team members, better brainstorming and development of creative problem solving. This style is appropriate to use frequently in a team environment. Collaborating skills include the ability to use active or effective listening, confront situations in a non-threatening way, analyze input and identify underlying concerns.
Overuse of the collaborating style can lead to spending too much time on trivial matters, diffusion of responsibility, being taken advantage of and being overloaded with work. Under use can result in using quick fix solutions, lack of commitment by other team members, disempowerment and loss of innovation.
The accommodating style is low in assertiveness and high in cooperativeness. A person who uses an accommodating style, as the primary approach to conflict management, may be showing too little concern for personal goals. Such a lack of concern may lead to lack of influence and recognition. It means that conflicts are resolved without each party to the conflict presenting his or her view in a forceful and meaningful way.
If X is highly concerned about the other but not so much about himself, that is, X is co-operative but very unassertive about satisfying his own concerns, then, he will be eager to give into Y and please Y. To ensure that Y’s concerns are satisfied, X would be very accommodating and thus, try to resolve conflict through a policy of appeasement.
The accommodating style has its uses.
It is useful when:
(a) A conflict issue is more important to the other person;
(b) Another style’s disadvantages outweigh those of the accommodating style;
(c) Maintaining harmony is important;
(d) It is advantageous to allow the other person the experience of winning and lastly when;
(e) An accommodating style on an issue may make the other person more receptive on another more important issue. We can say that there is an element of self-sacrifice in this mode.
The Accommodating Style is foregoing your concerns in order to satisfy the concerns of others. This style is low assertiveness and high cooperativeness; the goal is to yield. The accommodating style is appropriate to use in situations when you want to show that you are reasonable, develop performance, create good will, keep peace, retreat, or for issues of low importance. Accommodating skills include the ability to sacrifice, the ability to be selfless, the ability to obey orders and the ability to yield.
Overuse of the accommodating style results in ideas getting little attention, restricted influence, loss of contribution and anarchy. People who overuse the accommodating style exhibit a lack of desire to change and usually demonstrate anxiety over future uncertainties.
One of their main desires may be to keep everything the same. When accommodating is overused certain behaviors emerge. Some of these emergent behaviors include giving up personal space, making “me” or other victim statements, being overly helpful and then holding a grudge and speaking in an extremely quiet almost unintelligible voice.
Under use of the accommodating style can result in lack of rapport, low morale and an inability to yield. When the accommodating style is underused a person may display apathy as a way of not addressing the anger or hurt and make statements full of innuendo and double meanings.
i. When you realize that you are wrong (or less experienced or knowledgeable) – to allow a better position to be heard, to from others and to show that you are reasonable.
ii. When the issue is much more important to the other person than to yourself – to satisfy the needs of others and as a goodwill gesture to help maintain a cooperative relationship.
iii. To build up social credits for later issues which are important to you.
iv. When continued competition would only damage your cause – when you are outmatched and losing.
v. When preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important.
vi. To aid in the managerial development of subordinates by allowing them to experiment and learn from their own mistakes.
If you scored high:
i. Do you feel that your own ideas and concerns are not getting the attention they deserve?
(Deferring too much to the concerns of others can deprive you of influence, respect and recognition. It also deprives the organization of your potential contributions.)
ii. Is discipline lax?
(Although discipline for its own sake may be of little value, there are often rules, procedures and assignments whose implementation is crucial for you or the organization.)
If you scored low:
i. Do you have trouble building goodwill with others?
(Accommodation on minor issues that are important to others is a gesture of goodwill.)
ii. Do others often seem to regard you as unreasonable?
iii. Do you have trouble admitting it when you are wrong?
iv. Do you recognize legitimate exceptions to rules?
v. Do you know when to give up?
A good general approach in minimising and resolving conflicts consists of the following three steps:
i. Establish and maintain a low conflict, low stress climate, with co-operation as the norm.
ii. Isolate each significant conflict to a single, specific task issue or family of issues. Do not accept personality clashes but insist that the protagonists focus on a concrete issue and its rational elements.
iii. Help the protagonists apply a rational problem solving model or procedure to the issue, go for a workable compromise.
Under certain circumstances, conflict is necessary and desirable in order to create changes and challenges within the organization. In such situations, management would evolve a policy of conflict stimulation so that it encourages involvement and innovation.
Some of the specific techniques for stimulating conflict are as discussed below:
(i) While appointing the managers, change oriented persons should be appointed who are not conservative in their outlook and who will encourage innovation and change in status quo.
(ii) Competition should be encouraged in the organization because properly managed competition can enhance conflict which is in the interests of the organization.
(iii) Scarcity should be manipulated in the organization so that the individuals and groups compete for these scarce resources. This will cause conflict which will be beneficial for the organization as it will lead to maximum utilisation of scare resources.
(iv) Responsibilities should be given to the junior staff members while ignoring the senior members. It will result in a conflict and the senior members will work harder to prove their worth and to prove that they are better than the junior members.
1. When quick, decisive action is vital (e.g., emergencies).
2. On important issues where unpopular actions need implementing (e.g., cost cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline).
3. On issues vital to company welfare when you know you are right.
4. Against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behaviour.
1. To find an integrative solution when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised.
2. When your objective is to learn.
3. To merge insights from people with different perspectives.
4. To gain commitment by incorporating concern into a consensus.
5. To work through feelings those have interfered with a relationship.
1. When goals are important, but not worth the effort or potential disruption of more assertive modes.
2. When opponents with equal power are committed to mutually exclusive goals.
3. To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.
4. To arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure.
5. As a backup when collaboration or competition is unsuccessful.
1. When an issue is trivial, or more important issues are pressing.
2. When you perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns.
3. When potential disruption outweighs the benefits of resolution.
4. To let people cool down and regain perspective.
5. When gathering information supersedes immediate decisions.
6. When other can resolve the conflict more effectively.
7. When issues seem tangential or symptomatic of other issues.
1. When you find you are wrong to allow a better position to be heard, to learn and to show your reasonableness.
2. When issues are more important to others than to yourself to satisfy others and maintain cooperation.
3. To build social credits for later issues.
4. To minimize loss when you are outmatched and losing.
5. When harmony and stability are especially important.
6. To allow employees to develop by learning from mistakes.
Managing Conflict: Preventive and Curative Approach
There are broadly two approaches for the management of conflicts:
(i) Preventive Approach
(ii) Curative Approach
(i) Preventive Approach:
It’s an age-old saying that “Prevention is better than cure”. Management cannot altogether stop conflict, as it is inevitable and to the some extent, desirable too, but it can take effective steps to prevent its occurrence. Preventing a conflict is often easier than reducing it once it begins.
The techniques that can be used for prevention of conflict are:
(a) Focus on Subordinate Goals:
The management should always talk in terms of overall organizational goals and their accomplishment.
(b) Well Defined Structural Specifications:
Ambiguities in jobs, tasks, roles, are important sources of organizational conflicts. If they are clearly laid down, properly defined, detailed spelt out, conflicts can be minimized. Uncertainties of any kind should be removed.
(c) Sharing of Information:
A number of conflicts develop due to lack of information or due to manipulation of available information. Misconceptions and misperceptions among individuals and their groups can be reduced if the information flow is free and clear.
(d) Creating Win-Win situation:
Conflicts within an organization should never be perceived as gain to one party and loss to the other. All conflicts should ultimately prove to be beneficial to the organization. So they should be viewed as individual and the parties concerned should put their heads together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
(ii) Curative Approach:
Once it becomes known that a conflict has developed, whether at the individual or group level, it needs to be handled properly. All conflicts should ultimately prove to be beneficial to the organization.
Curative approach of conflict handling includes following steps:
(a) Diagnosing the issue
(b) Strategies for reduction of conflict
(c) Implementation of strategy.
(a) Diagnosing the Issue:
For diagnosing the issue, it is necessary to understand that conflict are about, which issues or differences why it has developed, how far it has progressed. Therefore, the first step is to find nature of conflict.
Conflict may arise due to difference in – a. goals b. methods c. values d. facts.
The next thing is to know, why difference between two parties have arisen. Once, the problem is identified and its cause becomes known, the stage of its evolution can be properly understood.
(ii) Strategies for Reduction of Conflict:
Once a conflict has developed and has started showing signs of becoming dysfunctional, it needs to be resolved or at least reduced. In order to reduce conflict, two approaches are available-either change the people or change their attitudes.
(iii) Implementation of Strategy:
Once a superior has made an assessment of the situation and is able to select a suitable conflict- handling mode. He should take all the concerned people into confidence.
Conflict Resolution Structural Techniques
Conflict can sometimes be resolved or prevented by designing an appropriate organization structure.
Following are some of the frequently employed techniques to resolve conflict:
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 1. Dominance through Position:
The simplest conceivable conflict solution is elimination of the other party -to force opponents to flee and give up the fight, or slay them. Quite often managers use positional authority to fire a lower ranking sub-ordinate they consider to be a trouble-maker, Conflicting parties are told to maintain a calm composure, an appearance of grace and drop their fight and get on with the job.
Positional authority enables a manager to serve as a situational authority enables a manager to serve as a ‘conflict sponge’ to absorb the antagonistic feelings of the disputants. Sometimes, managers try to alleviate conflict through “physical separation”. Groups are not allowed to interact with each other. Separation helps in attaining a temporary solution and provides enough time for more fundamental conflict resolution afterwards.
It has the distinct advantage of preventing more damage from being done and of preventing the creation of further rationale for fighting. Individuals in organization, with rare exception, recognise and accept the authority of their superiors as an acceptable way of resolving conflicts. Although they may not be in agreement with these decisions, they abide by them.
Stagner, after conducting research on executive decision-making in major corporations in America, found the (power of) chief executive to be most widely employed arbiter of disagreements. However, it is always not possible to effectively resolve interdepartmental conflicts through the use of positional authority. The ‘dominance approach’ does little to prevent recurrence of conflict in a more violent form later on.
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 2. Appeals Procedures:
A conventional method of resolving disputes in organization is for the people in disagreement to ask a higher authority to help them arrive at a solution by resolving the problem satisfactorily. A formal procedure for redressing grievances is demanded through an appeal made to “one’s boss’s boss”. For if the faculty members could not decide on the allocation of work load, they may refer their disagreement to the principal of the college for a final, binding decision.
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 3. Liaison Groups/Intermediaries/Integrators:
To arbiter differences between two warring factions a full-time integrator can be appointed who can speak the language of both the parties. The integrator has to use expertise and persuasion to achieve co-ordination and get people together. He must understand each group’s problems and able to rally both groups toward a mutually agreeable solution. “Lawrence and Lorsch” found that many organizations have reduced inter-departmental conflicts by setting up special liaisons between the conflicting departments.
One advantage of the liaison person is that he is perceived as not having a vested interest in either group or department. Sometimes, third party consultant’s mostly human relations experts can also be appointed to change attitudes and reduce conflicts.
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 4. Member Rotation:
Inter-organizational exchange activities help in reducing conflict. Exchange of people between interdependent departments creates an atmosphere where the new corner can exchange his views with others; it helps him see the big picture and his role in it. As group members understand each other better they tend to lesson some of their perceptual distortions. Role reversal or empathy helps them in “shaking up” their narrow perspectives, departmental loyalties and misunderstandings created by the organizational boundaries.
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 5. Reduce Interdependence:
The potential for conflict is very great in situations where two departments have to work in an interdependent fashion and share scarce resources. As a result of this mutual dependency there are more occasions for disagreement and conflict. One way to resolve conflict is to reduce interdependences by moving from reciprocal to sequential or from sequential to pooled inter-dependence.
Departments maybe provided with resources and inventories that are independent of those provided for other departments (known as ‘decoupling’). However, decoupling is an expensive proposition; it increases costs because of duplication of effort and equipment. To avoid this, large ‘buffers’ (inventories) are created.
For example, department A might send its output into the buffer inventory and department B might be allowed to process goods from this inventory independently. Sometimes, formal integration departments may also be created to facilitate co-ordination and smooth work flow.
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 6. Super Ordinate Goals:
A super ordinate goal is a common goal that appeals to all the parties involved and cannot be accomplished by the resources of any single party separately. Super ordinate goals demand interdependence and cooperation between departments. It is believed that the possibilities for achieving harmony are greatly enhanced when disagreeing parties’ arc brought together to work toward overriding goals which are real and compelling to all concerned.
For example, national leaders use the ploy of claiming that their countries are about to be attacked in order to bring about (at least) a temporary unification on the opposing factions in their own Countries.
Conflict Resolution Structural Technique # 7. Identifying a Common Enemy:
The classical study by Sherif and Sherif illustrates how groups in conflict temporarily resolve their differences to combat a common enemy. The Sherifs and their colleagues stimulated conflict by encouraging rivalry between groups at a boys’ camp. When the conflict had become very intense, they experimented with two effective methods- One was creation of super ordinate goals and the other was to present a common ‘threat’ or ‘enemy’. In the latter case, a camp truck was rigged to breakdown on the way to a camp out.
Neither group could know how the truck was to be repaired independently. The boys got a rope and both groups pulled together to start the truck. In the words of Boulding, “A strong enemy is a great unifying force; in the face of a common threat and overriding common purpose of victory or survival, the conflicting claims of the group fall into the background and are swallowed up into the single, measurable, overriding end of winning conflicts.” The threat of Hitler, for example, produced an alliance between the Western powers and Russia that fell apart as soon as the common threat disappeared.