The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conflict in part as: “a difference that prevents agreement: disagreement between ideas, feelings, etc.” For as long as man has been on earth, whenever a number are together for a prolonged period conflicts will surface. It is a human ailment that cannot be merely wished away. This also applies to businesses; people work together for about 8 hours every day and eventually conflicts do arise between them (Eunson, 2007). Then it is important for managers to be conversant with conflict management. Conflict management is more critical in a group dynamic where the group has to work fluidly to achieve a particular goal. Conflict management is an established practice of identifying conflict or sources of conflict and solving them in the fairest and sensible way (Eunson, 2007).
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When conflicts arise, it leads to disputes that lead to more severe results such as abuse, court cases, threats, etc. Not all conflicts lead to disputes, but all disputes are due to conflicts (Eunson, 2007). Some conflicts hide below the surface and are not easily noticed which can result in stressed relationships that affect workflow. It is, therefore, crucial for managers to be able to identify types and sources of conflict so as to prevent it or to handle it better when it arises (Koester, 2006). Conflicts can be put into four main categories:
These are conflicts that arise from a clash of ideas, values and interests between employees (Alessandra, 2006). This type of conflicts is the most evident in most workplaces. In any workplace there are people with different cultures, ethnicity and gender; these are all sources of conflict (Koester, 2006). This type of conflict can be readily observed through gossip, rumors, and office politics. When employees bring stresses from their personal lives into the workplace, it becomes a huge source of conflict. Values such as work ethic are huge stressors; when a particular employee is seen to be lazy or unwilling to work as hard as others, it breeds conflict (Alessandra, 2006). Factors such as racism and religious ideologies can be significant sources of conflict.
These are conflicts that arise between employees and their superiors. Most common in this type of conflicts are conflicts that relate to hierarchy and from differing interests (Koester, 2006). Different management styles among departments are sources of conflict. Another source of conflict is a lack of respect to superiors. When a superior is treats juniors in an unprofessional manner or juniors feel the superior is unsuited for their position respect is lost which lead to conflict (Alessandra, 2006). When superiors seem to favor certain individuals over others conflicts arise.
These are conflicts arising from changes in either the command structure, organization of the business and such. When people work together for long enough they become attached, and they are transferred to other departments conflicts may arise (Koester, 2006). When new regulations are introduced conflicts may arise, this is because people tend to be resistant to change.
These are conflicts that are caused by reasons not directly associated with the business. Conflicts may be caused by economic pressure, competition, market changes (Alessandra, 2006). When a company is facing stiff competition a lot of pressure is placed on employees and managers to perform better which may lead to conflicts. Politicians and special interest groups put undue pressure on companies that may lead to conflicts.
Contrary to popular belief conflicts in the workplace are not always bad (Eunson, 2007). Managers should always strive to minimize conflict in the workplace, but employees should not be made to feel that they should avoid conflict at all costs. There are positive and negative effects of conflict.
The negative conflict has a tendency to spiral into dangerous territories if left unchecked (Masters & Albright, 2002). Managers should always be prepared to resolve it as soon as it becomes apparent. Negative consequences of conflict are like reduced performance, low morale, HR issues, lawsuits and even sabotage (Koester, 2006). If left unchecked conflict may lead to animosity between co-workers that might turn violent if the aggrieved party feels the issue is not being addressed appropriately.
As stated above not all conflict is bad, freedom of expression can be very beneficial (Alessandra, 2006). People need to feel that they can express differing opinions without being castigated. A certain amount of conflict is crucial for group success. Positive consequences of conflict are like better group cohesion, feeling of inclusion, ease in pointing out mistakes (Masters & Albright, 2002). Conflict reduces the possibility of group thinking and conformity. Group thinking is particularly dangerous since new and better ideas are not revealed since people want to conform to the standard idea. Group thinking can lead to stagnation or even collapse of a project (Alessandra, 2006). Persons who do not conform are seen as evil, and a lot of pressure is put on them to align to the group mentality.
The best way to solve most conflicts is with communications; getting the parties to reveal the cause of the conflict which can then be resolved (Masters & Albright, 2002). People have varying habits, and temperaments and a manager must be able to handle each situation and person appropriately so as to come to an amicable solution. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) provides five approaches managers can use to solve conflicts (Thomas & Kilmann, 1974).
Conflicts are a part and will always be a part of any workforce. How a manager handles the conflict will determine whether the group flourishes or breaks down (Alessandra, 2006). Managers should always build and maintain secure communication channels between their juniors and themselves. Communication is the first step to guaranteeing that conflicts do not have negative consequences on the group (Eunson, 2007).
Conflict can destroy a group dynamic and have disastrous results, however, conflicts can also guarantee that the best idea in implemented (Koester, 2006). Managers have to be able to strike a balance on the level of conflict that is acceptable for the sake of the group.
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