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Managing Conflict
The ability to manage conflict is undoubtedly one of the most important interpersonal skills a manager needs. Over the years, three differing views have evolved regarding conflict in organizations. One view argues that conflict must be avoided, that it indicates a malfunctioning within the organization. We call this the traditional view of conflict.

A second view, the human relations view of conflict, argues that conflict is a natural and inevitable outcome in any organization and that it need not be negative, but rather, has the potential to be a positive force in contributing to an organization's performance.

The third and most recent perspective proposes not only that conflict can be a positive force in an organization, but also that some conflict is absolutely necessary for an organization to perform effectively. We label this third approach the interactionist view of conflict.

You can download excellent presentation slides on Management Skills and Personal Development HERE.

Developing Effective Conflict Resolution Skills

If conflict is dysfunctional, what can a manager do? In this article, we'll review conflict resolution skills. Essentially, you need to understand the situation that has created the conflict, and to be aware of your options.

Evaluate the Conflict Players. If you choose to manage a conflict situation, it's important that you take the time to get to know the players. Who's involved in the conflict? What interests does each party represent? What are each player's values, personality, feelings, and resources? Your chances of success in managing a conflict will be greatly enhanced if you can view the conflict situation through the eyes of the conflicting parties.

Assess the Source of the Conflict. Conflicts don't just magically appear out of thin air. They have causes. Because your approach to resolving a conflict is likely to be determined largely by its causes, you need to determine the source of the conflict. Research indicates that while conflicts have varying causes, they can generally be separated into three categories: communication differences, structural differences, and personal differences.

Communication differences are disagreements arising from semantic difficulties, misunderstandings, and noise in the communication channels. People are often quick to assume that most conflicts are caused by lack of communication, but, as one author has noted, there's usually plenty of communication going on in most conflicts.

Organizations are horizontally and vertically differentiated. This structural differentiation creates problems of integration. The frequent result is conflicts. Individuals disagree over goals, decision alternatives, performance criteria, and resource allocations. These conflicts aren't due to poor communication or personal differences. Rather, they're rooted in the structure of the organization itself.

The third conflict source is personal differences. Conflicts can evolve out of individual idiosyncrasies and personal value systems. The chemistry between some people makes it hard for them to work together. Factors such as background, education, experience, and training mold each individual into a unique personality with a particular set of values. The result is people who may be perceived by others as abrasive, untrustworthy, or strange. These personal differences can create conflict.

Know Your Options. What resolution tools or techniques can a manager call on to reduce conflict when it's too high? Managers essentially can draw upon five conflict resolution options: avoidance, accommodation, forcing, compromise, and collaboration. Each has particular strengths and weaknesses, and no one option is ideal for every situation. You should consider each one a "tool" in your conflict management "tool chest." Although you might be better at using some tools than others, the skilled manager knows what each tool can do and when each is likely to be most effective.

As we noted earlier, not every conflict requires an assertive action. Sometimes avoidance?just withdrawing from or suppressing the conflict?is the best solution. When is avoidance a desirable strategy? It's most appropriate when the conflict is trivial, when emotions are running high and time is needed for the conflicting parties to cool down, or when the potential disruption from a more assertive action outweighs the benefits of resolution.

The goal of accommodation is to maintain harmonious relationships by placing another's needs and concerns above your own. You might, for example, yield to another person's position on an issue. This option is most viable when the issue under dispute isn't that important to you or when you want to "build up credits" for later issues.

In forcing, you attempt to satisfy your own needs at the expense of the other party. In organizations, this is most often illustrated by a manager using his or her formal authority to resolve a dispute. Forcing works well when you need a quick resolution on important issues where unpopular actions must be taken, and when commitment by others to your solution isn't crucial.

You can download excellent presentation slides on Management Skills and Personal Development HERE.

A compromise requires each party to give up something of value. Typically this is the approach taken by management and labor in negotiating a new labor contract. Compromise can be an optimum strategy when conflicting parties are about equal in power, when it's desirable to achieve a temporary solution to a complex issue, or when time pressures demand an expedient solution.

Finally, collaboration is the ultimate win-win solution. All parties to the conflict seek to satisfy their interests. It's typically characterized by open and honest discussion among the parties, active listening to understand differences, and careful deliberation over a full range of alternatives to find a solution that's advantageous to all. When is collaboration the best conflict option? When time pressures are minimal, when all parties seriously want a win-win solution, and when the issue is too important to be compromised.

Source of Reference:
Stephen Robbins and David Decenzo, Fundamentals of Management, Prentice Hall. You can obtain this fine book here