Working Environment’ Relationship: Conflict Management

Abstract

Conflicts in the work environment fall into two broad categories, namely destructive and constructive conflicts. Destructive conflicts involve personality clashes when people fail to have the same opinion. Constructive conflicts occur when people view differently any decisions and ideas that relate to a given job or set of tasks. Conflicting ideas become productive in the event that works team members have the willingness to engage in a brainstorming session. Personality clashes initiate with disputes regarding certain business practices, which then skyrocket into mutual loathing. In some scenarios, two people in the work team may not like each other right from the beginning due to diversity differences and/or other personality differences.

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The challenges reduce the capacity of work team members to work optimally towards the attainment of organisational goals. This paper proposes an improvement to conflict management skills such as collaboration, compromising, seeking mediations, reconciliation, and arbitrations. As the paper concludes, such progress in communication skills is a possible way of handling any interpersonal conflicts within the work team in the job environment.

Introduction

Conflicts in any work environment are inevitable. In a work situation, poor communication constitutes a source of disagreement, which leads to destructive work environment conflicts. Improving communication is one of the mechanisms for building positive relationships in work settings. However, due to the inevitability nature of conflicts, possession of the ability to mitigate them through conflict management is important to facilitate a good relationship with co-workers. There are many ways of dealing with conflicts in work environments, such as collaboration, compromise, competing, avoidance, and accommodation.

However, any strategy that emphasises leaving a conflict unaddressed is inappropriate (Bagshaw 2004). Although organisational leaders have the mandates to regulate the interaction between workers to ensure that incidences of conflict do not arise, my work team members have the responsibility of building good relationships and looking for ways of resolving any emerging differences amongst themselves. From this premise, this paper deploys the concepts of conflict management and communication skills to prescribe how my work team members may help in improving relationships in work environments.

Discussion

Sources of the Problem

Before discussing the relevant theories and their applicability in the resolution of work environment conflicts, it is important to identify the sources of the problem. Conflicts refer to ‘issues that generate frequent expressions of emotions, frustration, and anger’ (Bacal 1998, p.8). An effective mechanism of handling conflicts in a work environment starts with the identification of the cause of conflicts. Conflicts occur in the event of personality clashes (Singleton 2011). For my work team, disagreements can also occur when people interfere with other people’s lines of duty.

Our organisation brings together people from different cultural, professional, racial, age, and other demographic backgrounds. Where people are segregated along with these diversity differences, cultural conflicts arise. Several studies such as the works of Bacal (1998), Canary, Cupach, and Serpe (2001), Singleton (2011), and Zia and Syed (2013) identify poor or inadequate communication, which gives rise to misunderstanding as a major cause of workplace conflicts. Other sources of the problem include failure of collaboration and limited organisational resources, which lead to competition and conflicting needs. Poor performance in tasks that are allocated to team members also leads to conflicts, especially when some tasks require higher efforts or when poorly completed tasks are re-allocated to work team members who have completed their tasks in time and within the expected quality levels.

Improving Conflict Management

Thomas-Kilmann developed an important model for conflict management. The model presents five main styles for handling conflicts in work environments. They include ‘accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing, and compromising’ (Canary, Cupach & Serpe 2001, p.83). Accommodation involves the decision by individuals to cooperate, in the highest possible degree, with parties with whom they are in conflicts. Under this approach, individuals work against their desired goals and/or outcomes. The strategy works well when individuals in conflicts have a better solution to a given problem compared to other people with whom they are in clashes (Zia & Syed 2013).

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It aids in building strong ties between two or more people in conflict. Alternatively, one may choose to ignore or avoid the need to resolve a given conflict. The style works well when the effective solution is costly, when people perceive that they have minimal probabilities for winning, or when an issue in conflict is trivial. However, Bagshaw (2004) and Bacal (1998) assert that it is not an effective long-term strategy for conflict resolution.

The collaboration includes partnering to chase a goal that is pursued by another person. During the collaboration, the effort is made to accommodate all people’s ideas for synthesis in the attempt to develop a single superior idea for resolution of the conflict. Such an idea also needs to incorporate points of parity and disparity between the collaborating individuals (Bagshaw 2004). This strategy facilitates breaking away from the win-lose strategy to explore the win-win strategy.

Collaboration requires an enormously high ability to trust other people in the development of superior ideas. It also opposes the competing technique whose objective upholds the win-lose approach to conflict management (Gramberg 2005, p.107). Competing approaches work well in times of the need to make rushed decisions. In the case of compromising, people in conflict aim at achieving a lose-lose situation. The approach best suits incidences in which people in conflict explore goals and objectives, which have no probability of achieving any convergence.

Upon establishing the issues that attract conflicts amongst work team members, the focus shifts to establishing strategies of healing the wounds that are attributed to the conflicts. Gramberg (2005) identifies reconciliation, arbitration, and mediation as important techniques of handling work environment conflicts. Reconciliation involves an admission of wrongdoing followed by forgiveness. Mediation involves bringing two parties in conflict together through a third party by re-visiting the series of events or disputes that led to the conflict. Suggesting codes of behaviour or reactions that should have prevented the conflicts follow. In each case, the parties in conflicts identify their own mistakes and put effort to ensure they will not repeat the same mistakes in their future work environment interactions (Gramberg 2005). Arbitration through a third nonpartisan party, which might include court, becomes important where conflicts have encountered personal injuries.

Conflict management theory is important in deriving options for handling conflicts within our work environment. Collaboration and accommodation are important strategies for the current problem that is faced by our work team, where people engage in excessive arguments before arriving at an agreeable decision. However, this strategy exposes some team members’ ideas to prejudice, yet they may contribute towards the optimal decisions for the best interest of the organisation. Hence, mediation by people who are more experienced in the issue under conflict becomes important in ensuring that all team members attain a win-win situation. Conflict management theory enables team members to understand their problems by identifying the possible sources of conflicts and ways of handling them.

Improving Communication Skills

Resolution of conflicts ensures that people develop the capacity to create an effective and accommodative work environment for all work team members. This strategy requires the embracement of effective communication (Bacal, 1998). Good communication strategies have multiple benefits ranging from enhancing workforce motivations to the creation of additional customers and retention of the existing clientele (Canary, Cupach & Serpe 2001).

Communicating both adequately and effectively is crucial for the elimination of work environment conflicts. Guttmann (2009) confirms that the availability of adequate and unambiguous information helps people to collectively support each other and do what is within their capacity to ensure that an organisation succeeds in the direction set by leaders and managers. The goal of an effective communication programme entails fostering a change of work team behaviour and perception towards other members to curtail personality clashes (Tekleab, Quigley & Tesluk 2009).

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Theories of effective communication can help resolve problems that are faced by my work team. Effective communication entails the announcement of strategies of success through a translation of the essential business objectives and goals into terms that work team members can understand easily (Canary, Cupach & Serpe 2001). This strategy aids in the harmonisation of the team members’ destructive attitudes or alteration of work processes in an effort to support the organisation’s success by eliminating clash of ideas. The process of achieving this outcome involves the execution of various job elements. Indeed, in our work team, when communication fails, misunderstanding arises. Such a situation attracts the failure of members to execute tasks as desired by managers and leaders.

Challenges in Resolution of the Problem

Improving communication skills and conflict management proficiency sounds like a sufficient mechanism of handling the conflict that my team encounters. However, various issues may hinder the application of the two concepts in resolving the problems. Firstly, in practice, workers are not able to handle misunderstandings with their peers in an effective way before such misunderstandings have translated into personality clashes (Tekleab, Quigley & Tesluk 2009).

A possible theoretical solution to this hindrance entails the stepping in of the management department to look for mechanisms of handling conflicts. One of such mechanisms encompasses the adoption of disciplinary measures for individuals within the work teams when they engage in unproductive conflicts. Secondly, although work team members may not have the capacity to identify and deal with conflicts before they escalate into misunderstandings, the HR can help in the mediation processes and/or in coaching work team members on the effective strategies of dealing with conflicts. However, people in a particular conflict may be the unwilling participants in the mediations.

The theoretical mediation solution calls for intra-communication and inter-communication before the adoption of any disciplinary action. Hence, the HR manager must possess good inter-personal and intra-personal communication skills. Guttmann (2009, p.37) supports this approach by claiming, ‘These skills are deployed to help in harnessing employee personal and social skills that are necessary for conflict resolution.’ The first solution is not preferred since it may create perceptions of managerial preferences to some members’ points of view. This strategy may apply conflicts within the work environment. Collaborating and compromising are the most appropriate methods to ensure that no member ends up in the losing end. However, members may not be the optimal solutions since the organisation may lose at the expense of satisfying the team members’ egos.

Conclusion

Improving conflict management is one of the surest ways of reducing conflicts in the work environment. Implementation of the conflict resolution strategies in our work team helped it reduce the occurrence of disagreements while at the same time providing the means of handling conflicts after their occurrence. Therefore, adopting the principles of conflict management helped resolve the problems to the extent of availing both reactive and proactive approaches to work team conflict management.

In organisational settings, the emergence of conflicts is hard to prevent. With this reality, the main challenge encompasses how to resolve work environment conflicts. In an effort to reduce incidences of defiant behaviours, effective management of conflicts among work team members calls for the implementation of strategies of fostering effective interpersonal communication. An alternative solution entails setting rules and procedures of punishing members in case of breach of the established rules and regulations that define the codes of ethics and organisational culture.

For success in conflict resolution, parties in conflict must be ready to compromise, reconcile, collaborate, and allow mediation. This strategy calls for people to sacrifice their personalities and egos. Unfortunately, this move encompasses one of my major personality weaknesses. I believe my ideas are always well thought and should always top in the work teams’ list of the best ideas. While this observation may be a strength that may give room for the flourishing of constructive conflicts with my work team members, this exercise has taught me that I should also embrace other people’s ideas positively in a bid to reduce the chances of engaging in work environment conflicts.

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References

Bacal, R 1998, Conflict Prevention in the Workplace: Using Cooperative Communication, Bacal & Associates, Winnipeg. Web.

Bagshaw, M 2004, IRS Managing Conflict in the Workplace, LexisNexis, London. Web.

Canary, D, Cupach, R & Serpe, R 2001, ‘A Competence-Based Approach to Examining Interpersonal Conflict’, Communication Research, vol. 28 no. 1, pp. 79-104. Web.

Gramberg, B 2005, Managing Workplace Conflict: Alternative Dispute Resolution in Australia, Federation Press, Annandale, N.S. W. Web.

Guttmann, H 2009, ‘Conflict Management as a Core Competency for HR Professionals’, People and Strategy, vol. 32 no.1, pp. 32-39. Web.

Singleton, R, Toombs, L, Taneja, S, Larkin, C & Pryor, M 2011, ‘Workplace Conflicts: Strategic Leadership Imperative’, International Journal of Business and Public Administration, vol. 8 no. 1, pp. 149-163. Web.

Tekleab, A, Quigley, N & Tesluk, P 2009. ‘A longitudinal study of team conflict, conflict management, cohesion, and team effectiveness’, Group and Organisation Management, vol. 34 no. 2, pp. 170-183. Web.

Zia, Y & Syed, P 2013, ‘An Exploratory into the Causes of Conflict Management Style on Outcome in Competitive Workplace’, Journal of Managerial Sciences, vol. 7 no. 2, pp. 299-318. Web.

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