Conflict Resolution at Workplace: Knowledge and Skills

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Introduction

The role of human resources manager is, among others, to ensure that there is a favorable working condition in an organization. In doing so, he should ensure that there are minimal or no conflicts among employees and management in the organization, an agenda that can be achieved through efficient conflict resolution procedures. However, conflicts are inevitable since a difference in opinions is always common. Moreover, not all executives will agree with the laid down procedure but once they are convinced tactically, they will tend to adopt the system and procedure and ensure that it works for the company. Conflicts will always occur at the workplace and at times the rate of happening may be alarming; but the measures taken make all the difference. Dealing with a conflict procedurally will make the organization dedicate the time and energy used in conflict resolution to effective and productive issues. Managers should understand that any conflict is a recipe to a disaster especially if not handled professionally.

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It is the responsibility of all executives in the workplace to make the workplace habitable and that any differences are attended to since they may blow into interpersonal conflicts. It therefore calls for the executives to be involved in the differences so as to maintain the value and positive culture of the company. Indeed, the executives need to be equipped with proper mediation and intervention skills. Ignoring the conflict and wishing or hoping it will go away should never be the strategy for effective conflict management; however, total commitment and involvement of each member will go a long way in resolving the conflict. Collective responsibility is required from all the staff and workers; thus an inclusion of all opinions should be positively linked to derive an effective solution.

This paper addresses how managers and executives, especially the human resource managers should try to handle conflicts at the workplace, specifically the new procedure which will be effective in handling workplace conflicts. In addition, it gives a rationale behind the procedure to convince the other managers that the new procedure will be helpful and practical, as well as giving the action plan to implement the policy across the organization.

Overview

Regardless of the strategy that the management seeks to use (either open-door philosophy or chain of command), the workers should be actively involved so as to own the process. This will make them effective since the decisions are not imposed on them; rather, the workers are made part of such decisions. Personal interests and agendas of the organization’s executives should be put aside in a bid to convince conflicting members about the dedication of the management to a better workplace with fewer conflicts. Since the number of the workmen is huge, it means that conflicts must be resolved in time and amicably to avoid spreading to the entire population or introducing new conflicts (Donohue & Kolt, 1994, p.34).

Experience in resolving conflict is also a factor for effective resolutions. Handling many conflicts with proper procedure also makes the process smooth and easy. The manager should always be neutral and avoid being partisan or imposing decisions or opinions on the subjects. Moreover, they should avoid allocating conflicting duties to other workers for this can worsen the conflicts.

Values

Conflicts are valuable; despite their effects on anxiety, tension, arguments and breaking relationships they can be used to identify the personalities of the individuals that are conflicting. They are useful in identifying various options that can be put forward in any situation in addition to identifying the various thinking styles, approaches, experience, and knowledge. This creates conducive work environment that allows bonding and maximizing the potential of the work force and fosters creativity from their different views.

Conflicts add value and depth in the discussions during the negotiations. Every person explains, elaborates and supports his ideas, which means that everyone is informed and updated on every aspect. There is critical examination of views and ideas that make conflicts resolution effective. This ensures that future problems may be prevented once the ideas are incorporated in the solutions.

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Issues such as groupthink especially when dealing with a large number of employees like in this company should be checked. Groupthink will discourage any other member from participating in the discussions or the present members introducing unfavorable ideas in the discussion. This will discourage members from personal opinions since they are made by few influential individuals. Indeed, each person’s views should be considered so as to be effective in conflict resolution (Donohue & Kolt, 1994, p.57).

Rules to resolve a conflict

Hocker & Wilmot (2001, p.51) identify six general rules to resolve a conflict that managers need to always keep in mind and practice when faced with a conflict. Firstly, they should not give in too easily; this means that no matter the amount of intimidation, they should not give in to the pressures of the opposing opponent. They should never submit but defend the objective that is merited by the company. This should include evading use of emotions, fear, or hostility. They should always be consistent and remain focused in the cause to quell and solve the conflict.

Secondly, they should avoid a win lose condition especially when there are high stakes. When one is faced with a situation of important goals and an important conflicting relationship the aim should focus on an amicable solution. The best neutral solution must be given in order to retain both the goals and the relationship. Moreover, it should be mutual and not compromise any of the conflicting ideas (Hocker & Wilmot, 2001, p.47).

Thirdly, they should seek to maintain vital business relationships. This option comes when the company’s length of business relationship is more important than the objective. The management must take in to account long-term and short term objectives which are relevant in the case and consider the one to give the first priority. Any relationship is important for business but there are those that the business stands to loose more if they are allowed to be affected by conflicts.

Fourthly; fold or give in when there are time limits. This rule gives an option for double standards. The management has to evaluate the time, energy and resources used in resolving the conflict and juxtapose with the resources it is loosing. If they outweigh then conceding defeat would be more reasonable to save the resources. A common ground therefore must be set for future relationships. Valuable time should not be wasted in establishing the correct sides but rededicated to redeem the image of the fallen relationship.

The fifth rule is to negotiate skillfully. Negotiations will enable everyone to have debates and give out opinions that will aid in the dispute resolution. Good negotiators make effective decisions since all parties have their take in what is under dispute. Managers should be flexible and not partisan when leading negotiations since they will be required to remain vocal throughout a negotiation and broker a solution to the warring parties.

The sixth rule is more general to any issue. The manager should always try keeping things light and simplified. This means having an open mind and friendly atmosphere. Simplifying things is a more constructive strategy since it psychologically releases tension in the process of resolving conflicts. The issues should also be handled with confidentiality and sensitivity especially while dealing with matters of integrity and believes. The rules should help find good relationships while still attaining the company’s objectives and goals.

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The method of solving conflicts

The effective steps to follow in resolving a conflict are; separate people from the problem, give attention to the interests of the people and not positions, find out or invent other new options that give mutual gain, and insist on a criterion that is objective (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1991, p.17), which are explained below.

Separating people from the problem signifies how to keep people without misunderstanding, anger or taking things personally. Everyone should never forget that even negotiators are human and can make errors; they are subject to emotions, values, different backgrounds, and views. This should give room for respect, friendship and understanding in the relationship so as to make it smooth and successful. Negotiators also have different interests which are the substance in the relationship; however, they should be able to separate them both so as to tackle the problem at hand.

Fisher, Ury & Patton (1991, p.18) issues the dangers of arguing over the position since they give unwise arguments. This is so because when one gives his position then he/she has to defend it. This also exposes one’s ego, and gives one no chance of changing his positions and accepting liabilities for the position. Arguing over position is also inefficient and endangers other ongoing relationship. This becomes worse when there are numerous parties involved. The management should avoid being nice in any way in the process of negotiating conflicts.

Insisting on using objective criteria aims at not focusing on the results to be obtained but rather face the problem first. Many negotiators focus on a win-win situation even when they have not analyzed the situation, which means they are not objective. Decisions based on this are costly since whatever the conflicting parties are willing to compromise upon may be different. In fact, the objective should aim at winning the situations and achieving a strategy of dealing with employees’ differences (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1991, p.67).

In conflict resolution negotiations, common problems in solving conflicts include floundering, overbearing, dominance or reluctant participants, unquestionable opinions, rushing to finish agendas, attribution, discounts and plops, wanderlust (digression and tangents), and feuding participants. These behaviors, if eliminated from the negotiating table will allow the atmosphere to be right for a lasting solution.

Questions people ask about getting to yes

These queries may be grouped into; issues of fairness and principled negotiations, those dealing with people, about tactics and power. The questions to ask in fairness and principle negotiation include; whether positional bargaining will make sense, and the different believe in standards of fairness. When dealing with people one may ask; the actions to be taken when the people are the problem, the steps taken to negotiate with radical groups of people, the adjustments required when dealing with different personality (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1991, p.67).

When dealing with tactics one may ask the questions on the decisions to make, as well as about when, where and how to meet for the decision making process, how to invent options and make commitments and how to experiment ideas with minimal risks. Finally on power, questions may be asked on the effectiveness of the skills applied during negotiations and how to enhance the negotiating power.

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The conflicts cycle

There are seven phases of the cycle of a conflict which include anticipation, wait and see, growing, in the open, application, settlement, and reflection. Anticipation describes the individual’s expectation of occurrence of conflicts. People understand that conflicts are a natural part of life that’s why they are anxious of them occurring at any time. This ushers in the next stage which is; wait and see, a phase that leaves the individual take time to observe the situation and assess the occurrence and the magnitude of the conflict.

Ones the individual assesses the conflict he has to choose whether to solve the conflict or allow it to overflow to the next phase. Growing is where the conflict erupts to a real problem which cannot be ignored, the conflict is in the open and its effects can be felt. This gives time for the management to handle the conflict or continue ignoring it. The application phase will enable the management to try other solutions. Moreover, settlement may involve trial and error methods of several resolutions to experiment with the best option.

The reflection phase enables the management to unite and identify the cause of the conflict. Reflecting will help in healing the wounds and forming a bond of cohesion after solving the conflict (Hocker & Wilmot, 2001, p.119). It seeks to answer the cause, the behavior of everyone and the procedure of solving the conflict. Moreover, the individuals can be involved in common activities to help strengthen the bonds. Indeed, after reflection there will always be emergence of another conflict and that is why it is a cycle.

The procedure

Managers have different approaches to the same conflict. That’s why executives of the company differ in the mode to use, whether open door philosophy or chain of command. The approach depends on a number of factors such as; the type of conflict, the situation, the experience, behaviors to be adopted and the outcomes expected. The final decision will be based on how important is the solution to the goals and objectives of the institutions. The available options include avoiding, smoothing, forcing, compromising, and problem solving (Hocker & Wilmot, 2001, p.144).

Avoiding will allow the issues at hand to be ignored and left to pass on unattended. Also, the issues leading to the conflict and the conflicting individuals are ignored. Those executives who choose avoidance assume that it will be more effective to ignore and avoid the conflict instead of solving it. The executives will chose it once they identify that the chances of success of the efforts applied cannot be defined. This means they cannot link problem solving to any value. It will also be applied when the conflicts do not in any way affect the output of the work done by the team or individuals.

Other executives may opt for smoothing. This is suppressing the conflict or minimizing it. It aims at keeping the relationship of the individuals smooth without strain. Smoothing is used by executives especially when conflicts can ruin the workplace relationships (Donohue & Kolt, 1994, p.89). The individuals have to participate actively in order to iron out the differences and continue working in harmony. They are asked to set aside personal differences and opinions and forge ahead with their work. Smoothing is an option when agendas are not important or where success of the solutions is not guaranteed. The individuals conflicting have to understand every aspect so that all the differences are agreed on to create a stable relationship.

Avoidance and smoothing are generally techniques and procedures of suppressing conflicts. In effect, the conflicts still lie rooming and hovering. These procedures assume and ignore that conflicts exist; therefore they down play the differences, shift the agenda and topic from the conflicting issue, ignore the feelings and capitalize on the areas of agreement. These methods are temporal and if they are not attended to will lead to future eruptions of similar or more complicated conflicts.

Forcing is another procedure to solve conflict is a take over of other people’s ideas. The executives will impose the ideas on the workers and make them adopt their ideas and opinions. They are more interested on personal opinion and rather than what other workers feel or want. They will end up winning and leave the worker to loose his stand even if the worker is right he/she is compelled to accept the stand given without question or protests. This procedure gives very high likelihood of later eruption of the same conflicts or revolts due to the same. What the executives do is to attack the worker and use their influence, expertise, experience and position to woe others to accept their ideas.

Forcing is useful when there is need for a fast action required and where the authority and expertise are used in favor of the executive. This will be effective only when the position or stand that is being forced on others is clearly elaborated and explained by the executives. Force can be lethal since workers will always keep resentments or resist the moves and ideas, making the workplace a disaster; it can cause strikes, go-slows or revolts.

Compromise is also another procedure where all workers reach a mutual agreement to end a conflict. This will involve trying to persuade others to quit their stand for a price or in exchange of another thing. This means that the workers will be persuaded to retreat for a price or favor and will have to state their favor or price which is the compromise in order to end the stalemate. Compromising is useful when all the individuals don’t stand a chance to agree on anything. This strategy depends and relies sorely on the decisions of the conflicting members since they can ask for anything so as to leave their stand. Such dreadlocks are hard to solve and ruin most workplaces because the compromise given to opposing members may make others to demand for more once they realize they had a lower deal (Hocker & Wilmot, 2001, p.125).

Problem solving is also another procedure to resolve a conflict. It seeks to identify, deal with and eliminate the conflict permanently. This technique is often used when there is enough time and resources and the issues at hand are of grave importance. This strategy needs a lot of resources such as time, energy, trust and creativity on both the executives and the workers. This gives a more permanent way of dealing with conflicts and building a long lasting relationship between the team. Indeed, this is the best method to apply when dealing with conflicts since the workplace environment needs permanent solutions. However, as stated earlier, resources used should never be compromised if the problem is not economically worth. Successful resolutions of conflicts at the workplace will always bring benefits such as increased understanding, more group cohesion and improved self knowledge.

The resolution process

The resolution process takes effect when the executives agree on the procedure to follow. It will take the initiative of the Director of Human Resources to convince them that it is worth the effort to use this means once he has weighed the magnitude and intensity of the problem. He has to weigh his options correctly to ensure he effectively solves human resource issues and balance the economic aspects in the company. Moreover, the circumstances revolving around the conflict will give the idea on which procedure is most effective.

The first step to the process is to set the scene; this will include setting up a meeting with the complainants. This tries to explain that the problem is mutual and should be solved through negotiation and discussion. The Director of Human Resources should use active listening skills so as to conceptualize the grievances and positions of the workers. An adult assertive tone should be used instead of a submissive aggressive tone (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1991, p.141).

The second step is to get the required information; this means that the director will understand interests, needs and concerns, and collect the views and give assurance at various points, as well as focus on the objective of solving the conflict and leave personal issues. Rules to this step include listening with empathy, visualize the conflict from another perspective clearly and concisely, being flexible and clarify the feelings of everyone.

The third step is agreeing to the problem; this does not mean literally agreeing to the problem but acknowledging it and agreeing to solve it. Once the same perception of the problem is reached it will be easy for the managers to understand everything. Finding an acceptable mutual solution is also part of agreeing to the problem.

The fourth step involves brainstorming possible solutions which involves a session of open forum where all ideas are considered. The input of every member is important since it can bring a lasting solution to the conflict.

The fifth and final step involves negotiating a solution. Having established the problems and finding a list of the possible solutions making a mutually abiding decision is next. This calls for the Director of Human Resources to be calm, patient and respectful. Indeed, the best negotiation will witness a win-win situation so that satisfaction is attained.

Effective solving of conflicts requires a lot of dedication and time thus everyone should be patient and understanding during the process (Hocker & Wilmot, 2001, p.147). No matter what type of interpersonal conflicts people have in the workplace i.e. people-focused vs. issues focused, informational deficiencies, personal differences, role incompatibility or environmental stress, all are subject to be solved to ensure a smooth and productive workplace.

The search for an effective solution maybe undermined by a defensive climate which can be identified by evaluation (criticizing and judging others), control (imposing decisions on others), strategy (hidden agendas), neutrality (indifference and no commitment), superiority (dominance), certainty (rigidity). The best supportive environment is where there is description, problem orientation, spontaneity, empathy, equality, and professionalism.

Conclusion

Conflicts are a natural part of life and no matter where individuals are they keep on coming. Managers are faced with an up-hill task to tackle the various conflicts but when they are taken care of, such conflicts can be constructive and lead to cementing the workplace relations. Everyone must be prepared psychologically and physically to deal with them at all times and be dedicated to the mutual solution to the interpersonal conflict. Total involvement of all individuals is needed to be able to make lasting and clear decisions which will save the company from losing man hours. Mutual agreements also help the save situations since all people are content with the decision. Executives should not stall the process with their superiority complex but they should respect the views of the majority. Respect among the workers is also very crucial in the amicable solutions agreed at the workplace.

References

Donohue, W.A. & Kolt, R. (1994). Managing interpersonal conflict. Ed.3. California, SAGE. Web.

Fisher, R., Ury, W. & Patton, B. (1991). Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. Ed.2. New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Web.

Hocker, J. L. & Wilmot, W. W. (2001). Interpersonal conflict. Ed.2. New York, Wm. C. Brown. Web.

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