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  • Shalabh Capoor

Conflict Management

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

(A) What is conflict?

Webster’s Dictionary describes Conflict as ‘A battle, contest or opposing forces existing between primitive desires and moral, religious or ethical ideas’.

In simpler words Conflict is any type of disagreement between two or more individuals. It is a state of incompatibility of ideas between two or more parties or individuals. When people have contrasting views about any topic, they do not see eye to eye, which results into conflict.

It is an inevitable and unavoidable part of our everyday professional and personal lives and is the basis of all relationships. The strength of relationship is not related to how many conflicts occur but more on how each conflict is resolved.

(B) Why Conflicts??

The very basis of all conflicts is the underlying dichotomy of our psychological make-up that guides our thinking.

While on one hand we go for differentiation (read Variety), when it comes to buying clothes etc., not wanting to have another similar set of the type that we already have, on the other hand we want a perfect cloning of our thinking, meaning we want everyone to think as we do and agree to whatever our opinion is. This dichotomy gives rise to disagreements and hence conflict, since people have their individual ways of looking at situations and things and hence draw different conclusions, from the same situation, about the appropriate course of actions, resulting into conflicts.

The trade-offs, in-built in every situation, too contribute their own mite in generating conflicts. Since we have scarcity of whatever resource we use, such as Time, Money etc., these resources used for one activity can also be spent on some other activity, each giving its own set of rewards and returns. Deciding what would be the best return, from the resource being consumed, too adds to a conflict, as different persons may have different views on it, and hence conflict ensues.

(C) Conflict in an Organisational Context:

In organisational context conflicts are said to arise from any of the following reasons:

u Scarcity of resources: Finance, Equipment, Facilities etc.

u Value and beliefs of individuals involved.

u Difference in attitudes towards work guided by perceptions about a particular situation.

u Disagreements about the end objective (Targets, Goals etc.)

u Clash of Priorities and Interests.

u Inadequately defined Roles, responsibilities, Authorities and Accountabilities.

u Communication barriers

u Poor or inadequate properly defined organisational structure

u Lack of Teamwork

u Lack of clarity in roles or responsibilities between individuals.

Conflicts can be a boon as well as a bane for the organisation. They can be functional as well as dysfunctional. A Healthy conflict can promote positive competition and creativity, lead to innovation and accelerate competitiveness and excellence but if the conflict is seen to be threatening or appears to be leading to a breakdown situation it can be highly unproductive and demotivating. It can prevent attainment of goals and cause frustration in the individuals involved.

It is important to understand different type of conflicts that are prevalent in an organisation because the methodologies and strategies to deal with each type of conflict are different.

(D) Types of Conflicts:

Conflicts can be broadly divided into four categories:

v Intra-Personal: Conflict within an individual

v Inter-Personal: Conflict with another individual

v Inter-Group: Conflict with other groups

v Organisational: Conflict among organisations

Each type of conflict requires a different strategy to deal with it and it is important to understand first to identify the type of conflict that exists before attempting to deal with it.

(E) Dealing with Conflict:

Approaches to deal with Conflicts branch into two major classes which are:

ü Conflict Management

ü Conflict Resolution

These approaches are usually assumed to be the same but there is a fundamental difference between the two.

While Conflict Management is the approach of containment, that seeks to keep the conflict within reasonable and possibly useful bounds, Conflict Resolution refers to that approach which attempts to resolve and end the conflict.

(i) Conflict Management:

It refers to the practice of recognising and dealing with disputes in a rational, balanced and effective way. Implemented within a business environment usually requires effective communication, problem solving abilities and good negotiating skills.

The whole effort is to ensure the conflict is contained within acceptable limits and is rather productive enough to channelize the efforts of all the parties involved in conflict towards company’s overall goals. Effective Conflict management is a way forward to resolve the conflict as it gradually generates an environment conducive to encouraging the involved parties to take positive steps towards resolving the conflict.

Choice of Conflict Management Approach depends upon the type of conflict. Different types of conflicts arise from different sources and therefore are to be dealt differently as give below:

Ø Intra-Personal Conflict:

This conflict, within an individual, arises from pulls of different needs, goals and motives which are influenced by situations. In an organisation it can be minimised if the roles, responsibilities, the boundary areas, the authority and goals are defined very clearly. Such a step helps reduce vacillation of mind which in turn reduces conflict.

Ø Inter- Personal Conflict:

Most prevalent type of conflict this type of conflict arises from disagreements, antagonisms, pre-conceived notions, organisational decisions and many other reasons. This is the most threatening type of conflict since it gives rise to extremely stressful situations and creates an atmosphere of acrimony and distrust.

It is highly dysfunctional if not handled right and so needs expeditious problem resolution. For managing such conflict very high level of effective Inter-personal skills, mentoring and above all creative problem solving skills are needed.

Ø Inter-Group Conflict:

These conflicts primarily arise from different groups vying for a power and authority Status. In any organisation there are acknowledged as well as perceived power groups which overtly or covertly vie for gaining a superior status and this results into inter-group conflicts.

To achieve their goals they may adopt an approach, in both words and actions that can prevent an organisation to get optimal results and create serious consequences for growth as well as reputation of the organisation. The most damaging effect of these conflicts is that it plays havoc with the peace of the mind of individuals involved as many of them may be unwilling participants, having been caught in the quagmire created by the power tussles. It damages the very fabric of collaborative working not allowing the organisation to derive the gains possible from a synergistic approach.

These conflicts need to be addressed with a lot of alacrity, perseverance and skill and may take a long time to come to a manageable level. Team building exercises, Forming Cross-Functional teams for different goals, Concerted Communication and Training are some of the approaches adopted to manage this type of conflict.

Ø Organisational Conflict:

This type of conflict usually occurs between competing organisations. Although their impact on day to day functioning of individuals is limited they are dysfunctional for an economy to grow.

This type of conflict is usually addressed by arbitration or judicial intervention.

Managing the conflict within acceptable limits to prevent it from becoming dysfunctional is of paramount importance to each organisation. The best possible solution is to create a Win-Win Situation for both the parties involved. However due to prevailing realities organisations may go for conflict management styles which necessarily do not result into Win-Win situation for both the parties but provide the most acceptable solution under the circumstances.

Some of the styles adopted for Managing Conflict are:

a) Avoidance Style:

This style advocates brushing the conflict under the carpet by undermining its importance and adopting a stance that it does not exist. This ostrich like approach creates a LOSE-LOSE situation for both the parties and more so for the organisation since the problem has only been brushed aside and simmers under the surface. There is always a danger of the problem snowballing into a major issue sometimes later which may be difficult to manage.

But this is a useful style if the situation is only to be managed for a small time or the matter of conflict is a trivial issue. It is also adopted if the management does not have adequate information about all the aspects of the issue and need to buy some time to collect all the relevant information and then decide the course of action.

This style is also adopted if both the parties involved are major power centres and antagonising any of them could result into adverse consequences. The management hopes that by not taking due cognizance of the conflict the conflict may fizzle out and so goes for the avoidance style.

b) Smoothing Style:

This style seeks to put a balm on the wounds of the parties under conflict and in it tries to persuade one of the parties to accept other party’s views or suggestions. This usually creates a WIN-LOSE situation as the party whose views are accepted feels it has scored a victory where as the other party which has been persuaded to accept a solution not palatable to it may nurse ill feelings or grudges.

This style need not have an arbitrator as it is possible that one of the parties itself may go into a submissive mode and accept the views of the other party but whatever be the means of arriving at a solution it does leave one of the party dissatisfied and emotionally disturbed.

This style is usually adopted when the conflict is in between talented employees and also when the conflict is on emotional issues rather than work related ones.

c) Forcing Style:

This style involves use of force or threat to get the conflict resolved and creates LOSE-LOSE situation. The force and threat can either come from any of the parties who are in conflict or from the person or group responsible for managing the conflict.

It creates a sense of insecurities and unrest in the mind of the people since their issues and feelings are not addressed and results into resentment and under the surface tensions as the problem is neither analysed nor accorded any attention, creating a threat perception in the mind of the parties involved.

This style is adopted when there is not enough time to resolve the conflict or the management or one of the parties want to prevent the dominant faction to take undue advantage of the situation.

d) Compromising Style:

This style encourages Give and Take stance where each party in conflict may

get some of its demands or views accepted in exchange to accepting some of the views of the other party. This style results into a feeling of WIN-WIN situation but is actually is a LOSE-LOSE situation, since the compromising stance more often than nor results into a sub-optimal situation which may not be in the best interest of the organisation.

The risk in such a compromise is that the compromise may include some more issues than only the issues of conflict and which may give rise to some more problematic situations.

But this style is acceptable when it is evident that a clear WIN-WIN situation cannot be arrived at. It is also adopted when conflict is coming in the way of some very important agreement, any delay in which may have far reaching consequences for an organisation.

e) Collaborative Style:

This style encourages getting all the issues out in open and then analysing them with an open mind to arrive at a logical and the best solution, resulting into a WIN-WIN situation. Although most effective in achieving Conflict Resolution, it is the most difficult style to adopt since the parties in conflict do not easily agree to some to the table, to discuss problems openly and objectively.

Secondly they also apprehend that during the analysis the view point of the other party may appear to be more logical and may be accepted which may result into a loss of face and status for them and hence they resist coming forward to resolve the conflict.

This style is adopted when both the parties in conflict feel they do not have any common ground to arrive at a resolution i.e. there is disagreement on every issue. This style is also adopted when there is a need to arrive at the right decision after careful analysis especially when any wrong conclusion could result into disastrous consequences for the organisation.

Collaborative style of Conflict Management is the best Style to resolve Conflict which calls for ending the conflict. Conflict resolution is the best way to create a WIN-WIN situation since it involves taking the facts into account, analysing them and then arriving at the best solution.

(ii) Conflict Resolution:

It is the 'way forward' in resolving a difficult situation, that not only sees the logical end of a simmering problem but also does it in a manner that leaves no room for resentments, anger, avoidance, distraction still bubbling away under the surface, because they haven't been dealt with.

It is important to know the right way to attempt resolution of a conflict as any wrong action or conclusion can aggravate the situation rather than alleviating it which can have adverse consequences.

Conflict Resolution is a process which moves from one step to another and the next step can only be taken if the preceding step has been completed. Some of the steps of a successful Conflict resolution approach are as under:

l The First and Foremost Step for Conflict Resolution is the acceptance of the existence of a conflict by both the involved parties.

l The second important step is the cognizance of the adverse effects of the conflict and a desire to resolve the same.

l The next step is that both the parties agree to come to a common platform to discuss the conflict in open, with or without the help of a mediator.

l The next important step, for both the parties, is to agree to abide by the decision arrived at after completion of the conflict resolution process and an assurance by them that they shall fully support and work to implement the final decision.

Only after the above steps have been agreed to the conflict resolution process must move forward and the person handling the conflict resolution process has to ensure that the issue and not the people remain in focus so that the discussions do not result into attack and defence scenario creating digressions from the main problem under consideration.

Further steps of conflict resolution are:

1) Both the parties putting across the problem and facts on table.

2) Communicating and explaining the exact nature of conflict.

3) Explaining their viewpoint and the main reason for disagreement.

4) Taking note of all the points on which there is agreement.

5) Discussing the points of disagreement and hearing out the other party’s point of views with an open mind trying to view the issue from the other party’s perspective.

6) Participating in problem analysis to look at various alternative solutions possible and discussing threadbare the pros and cons of each solution.

7) After thorough analysis of all the solutions arriving at the best solution.

8) Chalking out an action plan to implement the solution arrived at.

9) Agreeing to review the decision after a fixed time period to review its effectiveness and decide course correction if called for.

10) After concluding the discussions ensuring that all the affected people are communicated the decision and elicit support from them to implement the solution effectively.

The very nature of the process of conflict resolution reduces the chances of building up acrimonious relationships as all the viewpoints have been heard and the decisions have been arrived at after all round participation of all the members involved.

Conflict is a never ending phenomenon as it will be prevalent even in the solution arrived at since there will be trade-offs even in that solution. So we shall never have a situation when there is no conflict & all we can wish for is that we understand their nature and accept that they are omnipresent.




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Aug 06, 2020

Wonderful site for knowledge enhancement.

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