Thursday, December 18, 2008

Conflict Management and Resolution - Developing successful Conflict-Resolution Strategies at home or at work. Business Management Resources.

Conflict-Resolution Strategies


Conflict is a daily reality for everyone. Whether at home or at work, an individual’s needs and values constantly and invariably come into opposition with those of other people. Some conflicts are relatively minor, easy to handle, or capable of being overlooked. Others of greater magnitude, however, require a strategy for successful resolution if they are not to create constant tension or lasting enmity in home or business.

The ability to resolve conflict successfully is probably one of the most important social skills that an individual can possess. Yet there are few formal opportunities in our society to learn it. Like any other human skill, conflict resolution can be taught; like other skills, it consists of a number of important subskills, each separate and yet interdependent. These skills need to be assimilated at both the cognitive and the behavioral levels (i.e., Do I understand how conflict can be resolved? Can I resolve specific conflicts?).

Responses To Conflict Situations
Children develop their own personal strategies for dealing with conflict. Even if these preferred approaches do not resolve conflicts successfully, they continue to be used because of a lack of awareness of alternatives.
Conflict-resolution strategies may be classified into three categories— avoidance, diffusion, and confrontation. The accompanying figure illustrates that avoidance is at one extreme and confrontation is at the other.

Some people attempt to avoid conflict situations altogether or to avoid certain types of conflict. These people tend to repress emotional reactions, look the other way, or leave the situation entirely (for example, quit a job, leave school, get divorced). Either they cannot face up to such situations effectively, or they do not have the skills to negotiate them effectively.
Although avoidance strategies do have survival value in those instances where escape is possible, they usually do not provide the individual with a high level of satisfaction. They tend to leave doubts and fears about meeting the same type of situation in the future, and about such valued traits as courage or persistence.

This tactic is essentially a delaying action. Defusion strategies try to cool off the situation, at least temporarily, or to keep the issues so unclear that attempts at confrontation are improbable. Resolving minor points while avoiding or delaying discussion of the major problem, postponing a confrontation until a more auspicious time, and avoiding clarification of the salient issues underlying the conflict are examples of defusion. Again, as with avoidance strategies, such tactics work when delay is possible, but they typically result in feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety about the future, and concerns about oneself.

The third major strategy involves an actual confrontation of conflicting issues or persons. Confrontation can further be subdivided into power strategies and negotiation strategies. Power strategies include the use of physical force (a punch in the nose, war); bribery (money, favors); and punishment (withholding love, money). Such tactics are often very effective from the point of view of the “successful” party in the conflict: that person wins, the other person loses. Unfortunately, however, for the loser the real conflict may have only just begun. Hostility, anxiety, and actual physical damage are usual byproducts of these win/lose power tactics.
With negotiation strategies, unlike power confrontations, both sides can win. The aim of negotiation is to resolve the conflict with a compromise or a solution that is mutually satisfying to all parties involved in the conflict. Negotiation, then, seems to provide the most positive and the least negative byproducts of all conflict-resolution strategies.

Conflict-Confrontation Strategies

A) Problem Solving
Problem solving is an attempt to find a solution that reconciles or integrates the needs of both parties, who work together to define the problem and to identify mutually satisfactory solutions. In problem solving there is open expression of feelings as well as exchange of task-related information. Alderfer (1977) and Wexley and Yukl (1977) summarize the most critical ingredients in successful problem solving:
1. Definition of the problem should be a joint effort based on shared fact finding rather than on the biased perceptions of the individual groups.
2. Problems should be stated in terms of specifics rather than as abstract principles.
3. Points of initial agreement in the goals and beliefs of both groups should be identified along with the differences.
4. Discussions between the groups should consist of specific, non evaluative comments. Questions should be asked to elicit information, not to belittle the opposition.
5. The groups should work together in developing alternative solutions. If this is not feasible, each group should present a range of acceptable solutions rather than promoting the solution that is best for it while concealing other possibilities.
6. Solutions should be evaluated objectively in terms of quality and acceptability to the two groups. When a solution maximizes joint benefits but favors one party, some way should be found to provide special benefits to the other party to make the solution equitable.
7. All agreements about separate issues should be considered tentative until every issue is dealt with, because issues that are interrelated cannot be settled independently in an optimal manner (Blake & Mouton, 1962, 1964; Walton & McKersie, 1965).

There are two preconditions for successful, integrative problem solving. The first precondition is a minimal level of trust between the two groups. Without trust, each group will fear manipulation and will be unlikely to reveal its true preferences. Second, integrative problem solving takes a lot of time and can succeed only in the absence of pressure for a quick settlement. However, when the organization can benefit from merging the differing perspectives and insights of the two groups in making key decisions, integrative problem solving is especially needed.

B) Organizational Redesign
Redesigning or restructuring the organization can be an effective, intergroup conflict-resolution strategy. This is especially true when the sources of conflict result from the coordination of work among different departments or divisions. Unlike the other strategies discussed so far, however, organizational redesign can be used either to decrease the conflict or to increase it.
One way of redesigning organizations is to reduce task interdependence between groups and to assign each group clear work responsibilities (that is, create self-contained work groups) to reduce conflict. This is most appropriate when the work can be divided easily into distinct projects. Each group is provided with clear project responsibilities and the resources needed to reach its goals. A potential cost of this strategy is duplication and waste of resources, particularly when one group cannot fully utilize equipment or personnel. Innovation and growth also may be restricted to existing project areas (Duncan, 1979), with no group having the incentive or responsibility to create new ideas.

The other way to deal with conflict through organizational redesign is to develop overlapping or joint work responsibilities (for example, integrator roles). This makes the most use of the different perspectives and abilities of the different departments, but it also tends to create conflict. On the other hand, there may be tasks (for example, developing new products) that do not fall clearly into any one department’s responsibilities but require the contributions, expertise, and coordination of several. Assigning new-product development to one department could decrease potential conflict, but at a high cost to the quality of the product. In this case the organization might try to sustain task-based conflict but develop better mechanisms for managing the conflict. For example, providing “integrating teams” can facilitate communication and coordination between the members of interdependent departments (Galbraith, 1974).

For more Information:
Conflict Management Centre
Managing Conflict with Your Boss, peers, and family. The Conflict Resolution Toolbox. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution.



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