Type of conflict
The type of conflict in this case study is interest-based conflict. Interest-based conflicts are created when there is a competition between two or more individuals over apparent incompatible needs. This type of conflict comes about when one or more of the parties involved think that in order for his or her needs to be met, the needs of the other parties have to be foregone. Interest-based conflicts are usually illustrated in positional terms. A number of interests and intentions inspire and encourage positions in negotiation and have to be dealt with for optimal resolution. Interest-based conflicts can crop up over substantive issues (for instance financial resources, physical resources and time); technical issues (for instance the manner in which a dispute should be resolved); and psychological issues (for instance discernment of trust, justice, need for participation in important decision making processes and respect). The resolution of an interest-based dispute requires the assistance of the parties involved to identify and articulate their individual interests in order to allow a mutual tackling of the interests (Oetzel and Ting-Toomey 361).
Interest-based conflict is resolved most appropriately by optimizing the assimilation of the parties’ individual interests, positive objectives and preferred practical outcomes. Besides the interest-based conflict, the conflict in this case study can also be classified as relationship-based conflict to some extent. Relationship-based conflicts crop up due to the existence of strong negative feelings, misperceptions or prejudice, poor communication or miscommunication, or incessant unconstructive behaviours. Relationship problems usually stimulate disagreements and bring about an unnecessary growing spiral of critical conflicts. One effective strategy of resolving relationship-based conflicts is to encourage the safe and impartial expression of viewpoints and feelings for recognition (Oetzel and Ting-Toomey 361).
Players in the conflict
There are two major players in the Seatcor conflict: Joe Gibbons and Amanda Stewart. Joe Gibbons seems to be the major cause of the conflict due to the negative feelings he harbours towards Amanda Stewart who is a new, young and highly qualified female employee. Joe feels threatened by the competency of Amanda and therefore employs all sorts of strategies to frustrate her. Amanda on other hand feels unsupported and excluded from the plans of the department in which she works with Joe Gibbons (Ivancevich, Konopaske and Matteson 380).
Major issues in the conflict
There are several issues involved in the conflict. First, Joe Gibbons feels threatened by Amanda Stewart’s qualifications and proficiency. Gibbons is not used to working with highly competent workers. The hiring of the highly competent Amanda broke this trend and is a possible reason for Gibbon’s negative attitudes towards her. Second, Gibbons is about to retire and he argues that when he does he would like his position to be given over to a man. Amanda is a female and the most likely candidate for Gibbon’s position because she works directly under him. Gibbons can therefore be said to be gender prejudiced. Third, due to the negative feeling Gibbons has towards Amanda, he tries to frustrate her by encouraging other employees to break the company’s rules at the distress of Amanda. In addition, Gibbons includes other junior employees in his plans and totally excludes Amanda. This is frustrating to Amanda because she would have to live with any decisions that are made by Gibbons once he leaves the company (Ivancevich, Konopaske and Matteson 380).
Appropriate conflict resolution strategy
Mediation is one of the alternative dispute resolution methods that are used when negotiation fails. Mediation is a consensual dispute resolution approach in which a specially qualified neutral third party assists the disputants to recognize the problems, elucidate the opinions and search for alternatives for a communally acceptable result. As a general rule, neutral third parties do not propose their own judgment concerning the probable court results or the advantages of the case. Rather, they provide the chance to develop the agreement debate beyond the legal concerns in the disagreement and concentrate on creating innovative solutions, which highlight the parties’ realistic issues (Doherty and Guyler 335). In the case of Gibbons and Amanda, mediation would work better than negotiation due to the apparent stubbornness of Gibbons. A neutral third party would be required to listen to the parties involved in the conflict and to help them find a lasting solution to the conflict. Mediation has several advantages over negotiation and other alternative dispute resolution methods. The parties involved in the dispute may opt for mediation as a less costly option of resolving disputes. The legal channel may last for several months and even years depending on the nature of the case but mediation normally results in a solution within hours or few days. This translates into less money for parties using the mediation process (Lynch 213).
Mediation provides a high level of confidentiality as opposed to other methods such as the legal process which is public in nature. As a result, no outside parties other than the concerned parties themselves can know about the conflict at hand. Dauer argues that, “in fact, confidentiality in mediation has such importance that in most cases the legal system cannot force a mediator to testify in court as to the content or progress of mediation,” (67). A third advantage of mediation is that it offers numerous and flexible alternatives for resolving a conflict and for the authority the parties concerned have over the solutions. On the other hand, a conflict solved through a legal process will result in a solution that is forced upon the parties by the judge or the jury. The outcome most likely will not leave either of the parties to the conflict completely content. Often in mediation, the solutions proposed by the parties are unique and ones that a judge or jury is not able to offer. Therefore, mediation has high probabilities of producing mutually agreeable outcomes or win/win for both parties. As a result, the parties are highly likely to comply with the solution because it was reached at on a mutual basis.
A fourth advantage of mediation is that the mediation process consists of a mutual undertaking. Contrary to negotiations (in which the parties are usually entrenched in their opinions), parties to a mediation normally opt for mediation because they are willing to work toward a solution to their conflict (Deutsch, Coleman and Marcus 350). The simple fact that parties are ready to mediate in majority of the situations implies that they are willing to accommodate the other party’s views. Thus, both parties are more likely to cooperate rather than compete against each other. The parties therefore are able to listen to each other’s needs and viewpoints and to solve the inherent issues affecting them and causing the dispute. This has the added advantage of restoring the relations the parties had prior to the dispute (Doherty and Guyler 15). Lastly, the mediation process occurs through the assistance of a mediator who is a neutral third party. A good mediator is skilled at conflict resolution and at working with difficult scenarios. A competent mediator is therefore likely to focus as much on the emotional elements as well as the relationship elements of the case as he is to work on the technical matters of the conflict. The mediator, as a neutral, offers no legal solution, but directs the concerned parties through the process of finding a lasting solution. He or she may or may not propose optional solutions to the disagreement but cannot enforce them. Doherty and Guyler state that, “whether he offers advice or not, the trained mediator helps the parties think “outside of the box” for possible solutions to the dispute, thus enabling the parties to find the avenue to dispute resolution that suits them best,” (16).
Implementation of the conflict resolution strategy
Mediation occurs in the presence of a neutral third party. The assistance of a third party in conflict resolution is common and usually used when the conflicting parties are unable to come to an agreement through negotiation. By and large, the obligation of third parties is to assist people to work through a disagreement in a prudent manner and in conforming to a specific set of principles or standards, but not essentially without taking sides or having one’s own interests at risk also. Mediation in conflict resolution is characterized by four distinct steps. The first step is to find a neutral third party who does not view his job as an attempt to support one of the parties or groups’ interests at the expense of the other. In this case, a neutral third party should be one who does not work in the company since an employee or manager is likely to side with one of the parties depending on whom he favours more. The second step is process orientation in which the third party should execute a process that will help the concerned parties to talk openly about the concerns that are of importance to each of them. However, the neutral party in conjunction with the parties involved in the conflict should not concentrate on the problems alone but also on the potential solutions (Aureli 334).
The third step is problem-solving in which the third party assists the parties in conflict to come up with potential solutions to their conflict. In most cases, but not always, this translates into employing an integrative or interest-based strategy. The neutral third party however does not have the authority to impose a solution on the parties concerned. Nevertheless, at times the third parties may be forced to utilize coercion to insist on an agreement between the concerned parties when the need arises. The last step is a focus on the client in which the objective of the third party is to achieve a solution that the parties in conflict will agree to. Typically this means concentrating on the clients’ relations, communication, feelings, needs and the decision-making process (Aureli 335). The mediation strategy will help Gibbons and Amanda not only to solve the problems they have at work but also to restore their broken relationship.
Aureli, Filippo, and Frans Waal. Natural Conflict Resolution. California: University of California Press, 2000.
Dauer, Edward. Alternative Dispute Resolution: Law and Practice. London: Juris Publishing, 2004.
Deutsch, Morton, Peter Coleman, and Eric Marcus. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2006.
Doherty, Nora, and Marcelas Guyler. The Essential Guide to Workplace Mediation and Conflict Resolution. New York: Kogan Page Publishers, 2008.
Ivancevich, John, Robert Konopaske, and Tom Matteson. Organizational Behaviour and Management. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2005.
Lynch, Jennifer. “ADR and Beyond: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management.” Negotiation Journal 17.3 (2001): 213.
Oetzel, John, and Stella Ting-Toomey. The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Communication: Integrating Theory, Research, and Practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2006.