Conflict management is the process of resolving conflicts at a workplace to improve the effectiveness of an organization. Reduction, elimination, or termination of conflicts in a productive way – beyond issuing orders – have become a topical issue for the military leadership in recent years. This paper is aimed at giving a review of conflict management methods and addressing the issue of implementing some of the approaches in the U.S. Army.
Nowadays, there are multiple classifications of conflict management forms and strategies. Proksch (2019) mentions four basic measures of conflict management: separative, issue-related, integrative, and individual-related ones. All of them are used in various types of organizations and can be divided into two groups.
The first group includes separative and issue-related measures. Both of them are called “traditional” or “conflict-circumventing” methods (Proksch, 2019, p. 24). They got such names as they try to change the circumstances of the conflict but not deal with the conflict or participants directly. Separative measures are aimed at separating the conflict participants by dismissing or transferring employees. It is one of the oldest forms of conflict management and seems the most straightforward method in cases when someone’s behavior goes against the company culture. However, often these measures are not enough as they do not solve the conflict but dismiss it.
Issue-related measures involve the situation analysis, which leads to creating standards and regulations to prevent any recurrence of the same conflict. Proksch (2019) notices that “these methods prove successful if a problem is caused by unclear guidelines or boundaries” (p. 25). Nevertheless, they do not deal with the core of the conflict if there are personal issues behind the situation.
The second group of conflict management strategies combines individual-oriented and integrative methods. They are called “complementary approaches” (Proksch, 2019, p.24) as they address the problematic situation and parties involved. It can be done through individual discussions and coaching targeted at separate participants of the conflict. The integrative measures are aimed at both parties that are encouraged to learn how to cooperate. To do this, several techniques such as mediation, team development, supervision and other methods can be used. They not only help to solve conflicts and find a solution but improve communication and teamwork.
The choice of conflict management techniques depends on many factors. Among them are a type of organization, organizational structure, leadership styles and other circumstances that might differ from one institution to another. For the United States Army, that this paper is concerned with, the implementation of conflict management methods depends on its main principles, goals, and existing guidelines.
ADP 6-22 states that one of the methods for resolving conflicts is negotiation. It should be accompanied by a “joint problem-solving approach” (United States Government U.S. Army, 2019, 5-59) and involve building relationships and establishing two-way communication. In addition to that, leaders are also expected to make sure that conflict solving is based on fair standards, commitment to the agreement, and acknowledgement of individual and group interests.
All of the mentioned factors allow to conclude that in alignment with these principles, a leader in the U.S. Army should prefer complementary approaches instead of traditional separative or issue-related methods. It means that a leader is expected to employ different techniques of individual-oriented and integrative nature to resolve conflicts. The most appropriate methods are personal discussion, mediation, coaching, and team development.
To solve a conflict, a leader might prefer to address the issue by talking directly to the parties involved. Personal discussions will allow to understand and assess opinions of all parties involved and consider the following measures. This will also allow to build up trust and develop communication. However, to resolve conflicts more efficiently, this measure alone might be no enough. Therefore, it is recommended to consider combining it with other methods.
First, a leader in the U.S. Army can play the role of mediator in the conflict resolution where participants of the conflict would have an attempt to tackle the issue together. This will allow creating an appropriate setting for a successful negotiation that would lead to making effective decisions. Moreover, the results of mediation could be used in future interactions.
Another technique that might be beneficial for Army leaders in conflict management is being a coach. In this case, the coach provides individual help to participants of the conflict to deal with the problem that occurred. In the long run, it allows improving morale, cooperation and understanding among soldiers. This can be used when conflicts are not acute but undermine the group’s dynamics.
Finally, team development might also be a highly efficient tool both for resolving and preventing conflicts. It can be useful for improving the group’s communication, developing cooperation, and building trust. It makes it a valuable method of making leadership work not only problem-solving but also growth-oriented.
The paper gave a brief overview of conflict management methods, singling out four major approaches. It also provided recommendations on which ways can be beneficial in implementing conflict management in the U.S. Army. It is advised to use individual-oriented and integrative conflict resolving methods: personal discussion, mediation, coaching, and team development.
United States Government U.S. Army (2019). Army doctrine publication ADP 6-22 Army leadership and the profession July 2019. Independently Published.
Proksch, S. (2016). Conflict management. Switzerland: Springer.