Conflict Resolution: Managing disagreements in the workplace

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Conflict is a fact of life.

Closer to home we witnessed a prolonged high profile conflict in the former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy, that eventually led to the formation of Democratic Congress.

Conflict occurs every day in thousands of businesses and organisations worldwide hence conflict management is a vital component in any mangers arsenal.

Organisational leaders are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to thrive.

If turf wars, disagreements and differences of opinion escalate into interpersonal conflict, you must intervene immediately.

Not intervening is not an option if you value your organisation and your positive culture.

In conflict situations, your mediation skill and interventions are critical.

Webster’s Dictionary defines conflict as a “battle, contest of opposing forces, discord, antagonism existing between primitive desires, instincts and moral, religious or ethical ideals”.

Conflicts usually occur between two or more people or organisations when they disagree because their needs, wants, goals or values are diverse.

Poor communication, bruised egos, anger are really pre-cursors to conflict.

The truth is that conflict is a natural and normal part of the business as well as personal life.

However, it escalates in direct proportion to the presence of four factors: perceived scarcity of resources, limited opportunities, need for power and desire.

Conflict is an inevitable result of social interaction between people.

This can be in a personal or business environment, due to different values, perceptions and goals, as well as different access to financial or other resources.

Conflict can also originate from past rivalries and personality differences.

The key is not to shun or avoid conflict but rather to accept it and seek to understand it as part and parcel of human interaction in the business environment.

Whether conflicts are serious or slight, the key is to employ resolution processes with a huge focus on greater communication.

No conflict resolution initiative guarantees that conflicts will be fully solved, but unlike “win-lose” processes such as litigation or shooting from the hip, communication-based conflict resolution processes tend to improve the relations between the parties, which can prevent or minimise future conflicts.

If conflict is managed constructively it can lead to clearer objectives and increased organisational effectiveness but if left unchecked it can become a disruptive force capable of affecting profitability.

The first and most important fact for leaders and managers to get is that every individual uses a very specific style in their response to conflict.

So the understanding of these different styles and the situational context is fundamental to modern day management.

For the most part conflict management literature agrees that the different conflict styles can be categorised as, the collaborator, the accommodator, the competitor, the compromiser and the avoider.

The collaborator is especially good at teamwork and cooperating and strives to help everyone achieve their goals while maintaining healthy relationships.

The strategic objective of the collaborator is to work through differences, leading to creative solutions that will ultimately benefit all parties.

In this style, everyone has a voice, goals of each party are clearly heard, and relationships are preserved and most likely strengthened.

Collaborators are primarily solution oriented.

The accommodator seeks to preserve the relationship at the expense of dealing with the problem itself.

In this scenario the individual will always work towards a common purpose and is more concerned about keeping the peace.

This style can be useful in situations where an issue is not as important to one member as it is to another, when winning is impossible, or when what the parties have in common is more important than their respective differences.

The competitor is opposite of the accommodator.

The competitor desires to win the fight at all costs, even at the expense of the relationship.

The strategic objective of the competitor is an understanding of the importance of goals and that the use of power is important to achieve successful outcomes.

What occasions might arise where the competitor style may yield best results you may ask.

Well, this style can be useful in situations where quick decisions are necessary, when the competitor is absolutely sure he is right or when it is important to take a position to defend a person’s right.

The compromiser tries and addresses some of the needs expressed by all parties.

This style has all the trappings of a “win-win” situation where entities see winning something and losing a little as acceptable.

It is important to employ this style when time can be saved through immediate settlements, when people of equal status are equally committed to goals, and when these goals are reasonably important, but not critical.

The avoider style is the most fascinating and perhaps the least likely to be thought of as a style at all.

This avoider withdraws, sidesteps or postpones conflict, preferring to put issues off for later discussion.

Avoidance works well when conflict is brewing and the issues are not entirely valid, or the facts are incorrect or malicious, as is often the case when rumors are spread.

This style is also useful when conflict is small but important relationships are at stake or more information is still forth-coming.

When it’s all said and done, the truth of the matter is that every one of us uses a particular style in dealing with conflict.

Even when presented with other options in dealing with conflict, the tendency is to lapse back into a single style.

The key to handling conflict is the ability to learn the appropriate response to choose in each position.

Ultimately mediating a conflict is challenging, but as a manager or supervisor, the role of mediator comes with your territory.

Your willingness to appropriately intervene sets the stage for your own success.

You craft a work environment that enables the success of the people who work there. I believe anyone can learn to do it. In Conflict mediation as with everything else it’s really a case of “practice makes perfect.”

Matela Lechesa is a freelance writer based in Maseru

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