Conflict arises when individuals opine in dissimilar ways or have varied interests, attitudes and even perceptions. Misunderstandings among individuals and ego clashes also result in conflict. Conflict can arise any time at any place when individuals are not willing to adjust with each other and are unyielding on their views. Management has to deal with conflict in the workplace every day, and the important thing is to handle it sensibly, fairly and efficiently.
Conflict management is the process for handling disputes and disagreements between two or multiple parties, i.e., team members, departments, projects, organisations, clients, managers, subordinates. The goal is to minimise the negative factors influencing the conflict and encourage all participants to come to an agreement. Let's discuss conflict management techniques and consider when to use them in managing conflicts:
FORCING/DIRECTING: This is a win-lose approach where one person forces a solution on the other parties, also known as competing. A manager is acting in a very assertive way to achieve goals without seeking to cooperate with other employees and it may be at the expense of those other employees. Forcing/Directing is a useful strategy when the outcome is extremely important and an immediate decision needs to be taken. It is efficient and effective when you need to take a stand. In that case, one must sometimes use power to win. However, when used too often, forcing can escalate the conflict, breed resentment among others and damage relationships.
SMOOTHING/ACCOMMODATING: This a temporary way to resolve conflict in which the areas of agreement are emphasised over the areas of differences, so the real issues stays buried. This is an example of lose-lose conflict management technique because neither side wins. Accommodating is a good strategy when you find yourself in conflict over a fairly unimportant issue and you would like to resolve the conflict without straining your relationship with the other party. Accommodating is the right strategy when an issue is not as important to you as it is to the other person, when you realise you are wrong, the time is not right to resolve the issue and you would prefer to simply build credit for the future etc. The downside is that your ideas do not get sufficient attention and may be neglected, causing you to feel resentful. Moreover, you may lose credibility and influence if accommodation becomes a pattern.
COMPROMISING/RECONCILING: Compromise is achieved when each of the parties involved in the conflict gives up smoothing to reach a solution. This is an example of lose-lose conflict resolution technique because neither side gets what it wanted. When dealing with moderately important issues, compromising can often lead to quick solutions. However, compromise does not completely satisfy either party. It works when people of relatively equal power are equally committed to achieve goals which are moderately important.
COLLABORATING/PROBLEM SOLVING: Collaboration and problem solving are the best ways to resolve conflict. One of the key actions performed with this technique is a fact-finding mission. This is the conflict management approach managers use most often and is an example of a win-win conflict resolution technique. The premise is that teamwork and cooperation help all parties to achieve their goals while also maintaining the relationships. Collaboration is the way to achieve the best outcome on important issues as well as build good relationships since it takes into account all of the parties' underlying interests. Collaboration works best when the parties trust each other, people involved are willing to change their thinking as more information is found and new options are suggested etc. The downside is that the process requires a lot of time and energy. If time is precious, compete or compromise might be a better solution.
WITHDRAWING/AVOIDING: An example of withdrawal/avoidance is when one of the parties gets up, leaves and refuses to discuss the conflict. This is an example of lose-lose conflict management technique because no solution is ever reached. And this is also considered to be the worst conflict resolution technique.
Withdrawal/Avoiding is an appropriate strategy where there is a clear advantage to waiting to resolve the conflict. Avoiding is appropriate when the conflict is small and relationships are at stake, when you are in bad mode and need time to cool off, when you have no power and you see no chance of getting your concerns met, when you are too emotionally involved and others around you can solve the conflict more successfully. However, if either the issue or the relationship between the parties is important, avoidance is a poor strategy because important decisions may be made by default and postponing resolution of the issue may make matters worse.
Finally, in any situation, conflict should be dealt with as soon as it arises. Ground rules, established policies and other procedures can help mitigate conflict before it arises. When one has successfully resolved a conflict, it will result in increased productivity and better, more positive working relationships in the workplace. Conflicts must be avoided at workplaces so that employees do not carry tensions back home and are able to give their best to benefit themselves as well as the organisation.
Md Harun-Or-Rashid is a Finance Specialist.