Barriers to Conflict Management in the Workplace

Abstract

This paper aims at discussing major challenges to conflict management in the work place. Throughout, the paper will discuss the topic of conflict management in the work environment as we seek a solution to the problem presented. Because conflicts are common in the work place, this paper will recommend numerous ways of avoiding and resolving conflicts. Generally, this paper aims at enlighten different organization (private and public) about conflicts in the workplace and how they can be managed.

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Introduction

In the work place, if conflicts are properly managed, this is a positive move towards the right direction. Conflict management enables changes, competitiveness, and collaboration in the workplace (Kramer, 1998). However, if conflicts are not solved, this can create division, poor motivation, and even cause chaos in the work environment. Indeed, unmanaged conflicts can be source of more problems at the work place (Marick and Albright, 2008). Therefore, organizations leaders must adapt and learn ways of resolving conflict effectively to avoid more problems at the work environment.

In order to create a friendly work environment, managers should manage conflicts effectively (Wall and Callister, 1995). This calls for proper understanding of all aspects involved in conflict management. Leaders must indentify causes of conflicts and explore them critically (Fernandez, 2002). For managers, being able to resolve conflicts in the place of work really portrays leadership qualities. Unfortunately, resolving conflicts is not as easy as it may sound. There are many challenges involved in process of solving or managing conflicts in the work place. In this paper, we shall explore the barriers to conflict management in the work place.

Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

As mentioned, executives and manager need to understand the major causes of conflicts in order to develop strategies of resolving work related conflicts. Before focusing on barriers of conflicts management, it is important that managers should understand and know the causes of conflicts in the workplace. Every leader including managers and executives at some point has to deal with conflicts in the work environment. Dealing with any given conflict depends on the way a manager tries to resolve the conflict. This also determines whether the conflict will be resolved successfully or not. The most critical point is to understand the main causes of conflicts (Fernandez, 2002).

One major cause of conflict at the work place is different work methods. According to Fernandez (2002), organizations have set goals and employees work towards achieving the set objectives. However, when meeting the goals of the organizations, employees use different approaches. This is the cause of conflicts. Since different employees will use different methods, at one point they will collide. It is important to work as a team because combination of different approaches offers the best solution.

The second cause of conflicts is because employees work to meet different goals (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). In any organization, employees work in different units or departments that work towards meeting different goals. The objectives of one department may affect others and therefore affecting the overall output. For instance, if there is a breach of security, the security department is responsible but this will affect the entire organization. There is need to develop communication network and create proper communication channels for effective communication in the work place (Lee, 2008).

Thirdly, difference in personalities among employees in the work place can also cause conflicts. People have different personalities as a result of different socialization. Some people may dislike others just by mere looks. Others may react rudely or react in a strange way to a situation, which others may see as simple (Wall and Callister, 1995). When such people work in the same environment, conflicts are most likely to occur. This in turns affects productivity in a very big way. Because of this, good managers must understand employees’ personalities so that they can avoid conflicts before they happen.

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Another common cause of conflicts in the work place is stress. Since employees in the organization sometimes work under pressure, stress may buildup causing a conflict. Different individuals cannot be able to tolerate the same level of stress. Others are impatient and cannot be able to handle certain amount of pressure (Lee, 2008). Stress cause conflict as different people react differently to relieve work-related stress. Leaders should be able to create an environment that can build manageable stress.

Lastly, the way employees perceive issues at the work place may also cause work related stress (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). Employees are likely to have different opinions regarding different issues. As they work towards meeting the goals of the organization, employees may differ in terms of opinions. This can result to a conflict as others may see their views as being strong. Others may disregards opinion of others. It is important that leaders should always establish equilibrium to resolve such conflicts (Lee, 2008).

How different organizations deal with conflicts

Before looking at the barriers to conflict management, it is important to highlight numerous efforts made by organization to resolve conflicts. This will help in understanding the barriers of conflict management. Most companies try to resolve conflict to avoid more complications. The most common methods used in managing conflicts in many organizations include negotiation, mediation, communication, and incrementalism (Marick and Albright, 2008).

These four techniques represent the most common ways of managing conflicts in organizations. Unfortunately, as much as different organizations try to resolve conflicts, there are many challenges that may arise during conflict resolution (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). The following discussion will elaborate the major barriers to conflict management in the place work.

Barriers to conflict management at the workplace

As organizations try to develop ways of solving conflicts at the work place and the management works tirelessly to have a friendly work environment, there are challenges, which arise during the process of conflict resolution and therefore blocking the process of conflict resolution. By highlighting on the barriers to conflict resolution at the work place, this paper will help many organizations to recognize the major challenges and therefore help in seeking a permanent solution to this problem.

Among the major barriers of conflict management include issues such as inadequate planning, incorrect assumption, failure to communicate effectively, lack of proper focus on the underlying issues, failure to acknowledge others, misunderstanding the loss, reactive devaluation, prejudice and judgmental overconfidence, cultural issues, non-assertiveness, escalation and predetermined outcomes (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). Here, I will discuss these issues without any given order.

As leaders try to mediate and resolve conflicts, there is need to determine what should be done before the actual mediation. However, at some point, the involved parties may fail to plan adequately. This means that, mediators and involved parties do not determine what needs to be done in advance (Marick and Albright, 2008). This will in turn result in a situation where an appropriate solution is not reached. There is need to develop a strategy beforehand since conflict resolution is a long and emotional process (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001).

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Incorrect assumption is another barrier to resolving conflict in the work place. In many situations, a conflict in the work place may cause employees to questions the motives of fellow colleagues who are involved. Often, such assumptions are negative and therefore hard to deal with (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). The first impression is quite hard to change. As leaders try to intervene and look for a solution, they always make the final decision based on the information available at that particular time. Once an assumption has been established, it is very difficult to change as others may question your motives in the underlying interest (Wall and Callister, 1995).

Another major factor that can cause mediation at the work place not to succeed is failure to communicate and listen to others (Lee, 2008). This results to an ineffective communication. Bodtker and Jameson (2001) points out that, during the process of mediation, the involved parties need to express feelings, anger, range and so on. On the other hand, the other party needs to apologize while the opponents need to offer an apology. In this process, the involved parties may fail to communicate effectively. Others may not listen well or even share their opinions honestly. This is a major barrier to resolving work related conflict. There is need for the involved parties to understand that communication is a “two-part process” (Wall and Callister, 1995). For better outcome, all involved parties must have a candid communication to resolve issues effectively.

According to Alper, Tjosvold and Law (2000), a pre-determined outcome is also another major factor blocking conflict resolution in the workplace. Employees at the work place see conflict as a barrier to change rather than a vehicle to change (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). This is so because employees believe that they are aware of what changes are needed. For social change, employees should see conflicts as an opportunity to see other people’s point of view. Once people have such perceptions, conflicts takes longer to resolve resulting to more damages to the organization. Managers and subordinates should look at conflicts as vehicles to change.

Failing to focus fully on underlying interests, causes a major barrier to conflict management at the work place (Wall and Callister, 1995). Too often, managers, employees, and mediators miss an opportunity to look at the major values, which frequently affect the process of negotiation. For instance, if an employee is seriously injured while doing work, a conflict may arise between the employees and managers or the company. To manage the conflict effectively, employees need to have their grief addressed by a neutral body (Wall and Callister, 1995). This is important because the management may make unfair judgment, one that favors them as much as it partially addresses the issue. There is need to focus on solving the underlying interests.

Marick and Albright (2008) say that reactive devaluation also may hinder conflict management in the work place. In a situation where employees have a dispute, the management will intervene to solve the conflict. In the process, it is obvious that if one party of employees makes suggestions; such suggestions will not be given consideration. However, if the management makes the same suggestion, it will be given more consideration. Because of the fact that involved parties will not be given much consideration, it is imperative for both parties to talk to the management about their opinion regarding the situation. This will prepare mediators especially managers or executives to make an informed decision and hence resolve the conflict effectively.

Culture is also another barrier to conflict management in the work place. Employees at different organization may not have originated from the same cultural background. In other situations, there are employees working in a multicultural society. Working in a multi-cultural society may result to conflicts because of misunderstandings that arise due to cultural differences.

This is a barrier to conflict resolution. For instance, a manager from the US working in India cannot resolve conflicts effectively because of cultural issues. This may come about when employees of Indian origin have a conflict. As much as the manager may try to solve a conflict, the manager may not understand other cultural factors. Issues of Caste may be the cause of conflict. To the mediators, they may overlook this issue because of different socialization. This can be a barrier to conflict management.

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Another factor that can be a barrier to resolving conflict at the work place is failing to acknowledge others. Failure to acknowledge others means that, an employee does not give the opponent respect and dignity. During the time when employees are resolving conflicts, others disregard their opponents and they “press them too hard” (Wall and Callister, 1995). Just like a cornered tiger, the opponent has no place to go. This will make the situation much worse and cannot help in managing conflicts. Collaborative negotiators can be able to resolves issues easier.

Misunderstanding the loss or ignoring conflicts is also another major barrier in conflicts management in the work place (Kramer, 1998). In a situation where employees differ in one way or the other, a conflict is likely to emerge. However, the biggest risk comes when such employees decide to postpone their issues. Kramer (1998) says that good mediators should always bring the involved parties together to resolve the conflict no matter how small it may be.

In addition to this, non-assertiveness can also be a major challenge to conflict management (Joesting, 1998). Being passive during the process of conflict resolution is a problem. Some people are just silent during negotiation and do not want to speak out about the problems (Joesting, 1998). It is necessary to be open and active in the process of negotiations.

Lastly yet very important, escalation is another major factor that is a barrier to conflict management. Escalation is a situation where people became very aggressive and defensive too (Joesting, 1998). During negotiations, being aggressive may not be helpful; it is not necessary. By reacting aggressively, the other party will also want to hit back. This worsens the situation. Aggressive behavior is a major challenge to conflict management n the work place (Joesting, 1998).

Recommendations

Conflict among coworkers is very hard to eradicate completely. Executives and managers should always intervene in resolving conflicts in the work environment to maintain good reputation of any given company. The following discussion will recommend ways of overcoming barriers to conflict management in the workplace.

Foremost, all employees should respect one another regardless of one’s position, whether a manager or a subordinate (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). Managers should respect subordinates and vice versa. Respecting or acknowledging one another will help in developing good relationships between co-workers and therefore it means that employees will resolve conflicts in an organized manner. Secondly, it is also important to work on issues of communication. In any organization, communication should be kept open and honest; this will help in resolving conflicts (Marick and Albright, 2008). In case there is a conflict, mediators and involved parties should be ready to listen to one other.

According to Alper, Tjosvold and Law (2000), there is a greet need to plan early and adequately. Planning adequately helps in solving the conflicts. By planning early, mediators get an opportunity to listen to the underlying issues. This will help in making an informed decision when resolving conflicts. Another solution that can be adopted to overcome barriers to conflict management is developing teamwork (Marick and Albright, 2008). At the work place, employees should work as a team. Working as team will facilitate in resolving conflicts as the involved parties will work towards common goals and therefore they will put there differences aside.

On the other hand, organization management should be fully aware of effects of unmanaged conflicts at the workplace. It is imperative to be aware of the consequences involved. This is because managing conflicts in the work place is very importance for the development of organization and for the benefit of employees as well. Unmanaged conflicts are source of more problems in the work place (Alper, Tjosvold and Law, 2000).

Managed Conflicts Unmanaged Conflicts
Builds teamwork Damages relationships between colleagues
Encourages communication Leads to defensive behavior
It is win-win situation to involved parties and organization Blame game among employees
Builds focus and attention towards meeting organization goals It is the source of lacking morale
Creates a friendly work environment Creates a chaotic and hostile work environment
Increases productivity Waste of time, resources and lowers productivity

Conclusion

In conclusion, dealing with conflicts in the workplace is the most important thing, which executives and managers have to do. According to Marick and Albright (2008), leaders should learn how to manage conflicts because effective conflict management is the first step towards good leadership. Unmanaged conflicts have severe effects to the organization and employees (Fernandez, 2002). Often, unresolved conflicts causes poor morale among the employees, creates a chaotic and hostile work environment, damages relationships between colleagues, and wastes company’s resources and time. As leaders, managers and executives must understand the causes of conflicts in the work environment so that they can develop better strategies to resolve conflicts.

In summary, the major barriers to conflict management in the work place include poor communication, failure to acknowledge others, failure to listen to others, pre-determined outcomes, cultural issues, lack of proper focus on the underlying issues, misunderstanding the loss, reactive devaluation, prejudice, and judgmental overconfidence (Alper, Tjosvold, and Law, 2000). In order to overcome these issues, executives and managers should always intervene in solving conflicts. In any organization, employees should work as team, respect one another, and plan adequately. Lastly yet importantly, organizations should develop and adapt better communication channels as effective communication can overcome barriers to conflict management in the workplace (Lee, 2008).

Reference List

Alper, S., Tjosvold, D., & Law, K. S. (2000). Conflict management, efficacy, and performance in organizational teams. Personnel Psychology, 53 (1) 625-642.

Bodtker, A. M., & Jameson, J. K. (2001). Emotion in conflict formation and its transformation: Application to organizational conflict management. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 3(1) 259-275.

Fernandez, K. (2002). Conflict Resolution Head Start Bulletin. Web.

Joesting, L.A. (1998). Communicate! A Workbook for Interpersonal Communication. Carolina: UNCG University Speaking Center.

Kramer, S. H. (1998). Alternative dispute resolution in the work place. Houston: Law Journal Press.

Lee, H. (2008). Communication network approaches to conflict management at the workplace and job satisfaction. Michigan: ProQuest.

Marick, F. & Albright, R. (2008). The complete guide to conflict resolution in the workplace. New York: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assnl.

Wall, J. A., & Callister, R. R. (1995). Conflict and its management. Journal of Management, 21 (1) 515-558.

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