No matter what the workplace setting is, as long as at least two staff members have to collaborate, conflicts are unavoidable. The severity and intensity of workplace confrontations may vary, yet disagreements will inevitably occur, forcing employees to spend time managing their relationships along with workplace tasks. Therefore, for the team to remain productive, the involvement of a manager in the handling of a conflict and the search for a solution is essential. By combining active listening with the emotional support of the participants and the idea of using conflict as a learning instrument, a manager can minimize the adverse impact of conflicts in the workplace and, instead, encourage staff members to develop new communication skills and use critical analysis to address workplace issues.
This paper will assess the nature of a conflict in the workplace and the strategies typically used to handle it. Thus, the tool that has the greatest effect and power can be identified. As a result, the chance to minimize conflicts and help people to use them as a tool for learning will emerge. Specifically, the framework of the relationship-oriented approach toward conflict management as the means of examining the key cultural issues will be considered.
Theory of Conflict and Key Concepts
Types of Conflict
To be able to resolve a problem, one needs to name it. In academia, the phenomenon of conflict is typically categorized according to the factor that causes it (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, typically, when managing a disagreement in the workplace, a manager will have to tackle either a value-based conflict, a task-based one, or a relationship-based one (Moliner et al., 2017). As their titles imply, the conflict theories in question view the problem from the moral, task-oriented, or relationship-based one (Moliner et al., 2017). Despite the fact that all types of conflicts mentioned above may occur in the organizational setting, relationship-based disagreements typically prevail (Moliner et al., 2017). By considering the nature and effects of the specified type of conflict, one can introduce an improved model for handling it in the corporate context.
Analyzing the relationship-based conflict will require considering the specifics of the organizational environment and behavior in the target setting. As a rule, a relationship-based conflict occurs in the setting where staff members who have a poor understanding of proper professional communication have conflicting viewpoints or are under the constant pressure of an unmanageable workload (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, relationship-based conflict should be considered a more nuanced and intricate issue to address, especially in a highly diverse workplace environment.
Remarkably, while relationship-based conflict is a separate type of workplace confrontation, it often serves as the prerequisite to task conflict. Due to the rise in the extent of disagreement within a team, different perspectives on task management may entail the introduction of a personal perspective and the resulting shift toward personal attacks as the means of controlling the confrontation (Moliner et al., 2017). In situations where tension rates are already high, task conflicts occur nearly simultaneously with relationship conflicts, which makes it particularly difficult to address the situation (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, using the strategies for mitigating task-based conflicts may result in a drop in the rates of relationship conflicts in the workplace.
However, it should be noted that the suggested way of curbing the rates of relationship-based confrontation in the organizational setting is only a temporary solution. Since task-based conflicts serve mostly as triggers for launching a more severe relationship conflict, it would be a legitimate assumption that, without task-related issues, employees will eventually locate another valve to release the tension within the team. Therefore, other methods of mitigating and controlling relationship-based conflicts in the workplace must be suggested.
Addressing the proposed approach toward identifying, evaluating, and managing conflict in the workplace, one could argue that the framework offered above, namely, the three types of confrontations observed in the workplace, could be regarded as oversimplifying the complexity of the relationship dynamics in the organizational setting. Indeed, considering the increasingly diverse workplace context, one would expect a greater range of sources of disagreement to be included in the categorization, such as the differences fueled by personal incompatibilities, as well as conflicts of beliefs, mismatches in the needs of team members, and other sources of confrontations.
Indeed, other approaches toward classifying conflicts also exist and are viewed as legitimate. For example, Moliner et al. (2017) suggest that the issues such as work style conflicts, conflicts arising as a result of the incompatibilities of leadership styles, and the confrontations caused by injustice in the workplace, primarily discrimination (Moliner et al., 2017). The described approach places a much heavier emphasis on the social factors defining the relationships between the participants, therefore, allowing for a better focus on the analysis of employees’ internal needs, including the need for belonging and self-actualization in a hostile environment, as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests (Moliner et al., 2017).
The proposed way of considering conflicts in the workplace could be seen as beneficial to the one provided above due to a greater focus on social constraints. However, the framework implying splitting the origins of disagreements into task-, relationship-, and value-related ones appears to be more comprehensive since it can include other categories as well. For instance, discrimination-related issues may fall under value-oriented conflicts (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, the use of the previously established framework based on three types of conflicts is preferable when approaching g workplace issues to form a manager’s perspective.
Theories of Conflict
The assumptions above are largely supported by the existing theoretical frameworks. Stemming from the Conflict Theory offered by Karl Marx, who posited that systemic social inequalities lead to the development of confrontations, the modern workplace conflict theory allows locating the source of a disagreement and introduces strategies that managers can use to address the observed issues and promote cooperation among staff members, thus, guiding them to the reconciliation of their differences (Moliner et al., 2017).
Although the proposed approach is rooted in Marx’s assumption regarding social inequalities, it also offers a more nuanced look at the relationships between the conflicting parties, providing an incisive assessment of social injustices and personal biases (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, applying the modern theory of conflict to the workplace setting is likely to help in addressing long-term issues brewing within an organizational environment.
Consequences of a Conflict
The outcomes of a workplace conflict range in their severity depending on the scale and intensity of the disagreement. If the discord within the team is resolved within a reasonably short amount of time, it has only temporary and rather minor effects on the speed and quality of production (Moliner et al., 2017). However, in case a long-term conflict erupts, a company faces a major crisis due to the massive disruptions in staff performance and the efficacy of information management, as well as poor collaboration among employees (Moliner et al., 2017).
The difference in the effects that each type of conflict causes in the organizational setting is also worth noticing. As explained above, task-related conflicts typically last comparatively short, which means that their effects on the general performance of the organization, as well as a staff member individually, are barely visible in the grand scheme of achieving corporate goals. However, other types of conflicts, specifically moral and relationship-based ones, leave a much more lasting impact on the performance of staff members.
For instance, the animosity and personal confrontations observed within a team are likely to lead to the failure to transfer information, meet and delegate responsibilities, and perform general tasks in the workplace setting due to misunderstandings, disagreements, and disruptions arising from the conflict occurring between staff members (Moliner et al., 2017). Moreover, cross-disciplinary collaboration becomes impossible in an environment where conflicts and confrontations thrive (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, the long-term effects of relationship-based conflicts include a drop in staff members’ performance, motivation, engagement rates, and willingness to collaborate (Moliner et al., 2017). For this reason, relationship-based conflicts are to be the center of conflict management strategies within the corporate setting.
What Managers Can Do
As far as the solution to conflicts in the workplace is concerned, managers play an instrumental role in handling and preventing confrontations between staff members, as well as addressing the outcomes of a workplace conflict. Several studies claim that organizational conflicts are inevitable, which means that containing them is not only unnatural but also unhealthy and potentially dangerous for the relationships within an organization (Moliner et al., 2017). Therefore, conflicts should be considered as a learning opportunity for staff members to explore. Within the proposed solutions, managers are supposed to act as mediators between the conflicting parties, playing the role of peacemakers and encouraging the participants to reconcile (Moliner et al., 2017).
Moreover, as a manager, one may apply a variety of strategies that will help team members regain control over the internal and at least some of the external factors that modify their organizational behavior and encourage them to disagree. Namely, a manager should play the role of a mediator, hinting at the possibilities that staff members can explore when facing difficulties in reaching a compromise. For this purpose, the focus on collaboration and compromise with the underlying task of overcoming cultural differences and recognizing the agency of individual team members should be seen as a solution.
Another approach that a manager can take when handling a workplace conflict is to point the attention of its participants to workplace tasks, therefore, insisting that the employees should prioritize their roles in the organization and the responsibilities that are assigned to them. While being significantly less productive than the first method since, unlike the latter, it does not address the core issue of workplace confrontation, the proposed strategy based on the avoidance approach could work for a short period of time. In the meantime, a valid strategy for mitigating the conflict must be designed.
Moreover, a manager should conduct an in-depth, meticulous, and detailed needs analysis within the workplace. Specifically, the needs of staff members, particularly some of the unresolved concerns and the sources of possible internal discontent, must be identified in the process as the main goal of the analysis. Afterward, a manager will have to strive to satisfy these needs in order to create an environment in which employees will feel comfortable and content.
Finally, changing the perspective of staff members and guiding them toward the concept of collaboration and the need to make a personal change, accepting new ideas and values, should become one of the strategies for a manager to adders a conflict in the workplace. The specified strategy of conflict solving in the workplace provides an option of a learning curve for the team, helping them to analyze the root causes of the disagreement, consider the opposing opinion, and, therefore, enrich their knowledge range.
Whatever strategy a manager might choose, the necessity to balance the needs of employees and those of the company remains in place. Specifically, as a manager, one must ensure staff members that their concerns are heard. As a result, an opportunity to improve the staff’s workplace performance and encourage them to develop professionally will be open to a manager. Moreover, staff members will be able to approach potential conflicts critically and objectively, thus, minimizing the threat of a misunderstanding and creating a healthier workplace setting.
In order to respond to workplace conflicts, managers must be fully aware of key external and internal factors shaping employees’ performance, including culture-related factors, and promote attitudes based on compromise, a goal-oriented approach, and cooperation. The specified approach becomes available once the focus on the needs of staff members is placed and a thorough analysis of the key cultural characteristics of the target workplace environment is established. Overall, it is vital for a manager to keep promoting corporate values to staff members so that the essential principles of organizational behavior and etiquette could become ingrained into their very perception of workplace relationships.
The specified goal can be achieved with the help of several tools, including the emphasis on ethics in the workplace and the increase in staff members’ motivation and their further transformation. However, as a short-term means of relieving the tension, the emphasis on workplace tasks and the avoidance of the issue could be advised while a manager assesses the cultural background of the conflict participants and selects an appropriate conflict management technique. Overall, by focusing on cooperation within a team, cultural competence in a diverse environment, and active emotional support of staff members, one can alleviate the effects of workplace confrontations extensively. Thus, significantly healthier workplace relationships and attitudes can be built successfully.
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