Conflict is something inevitable in workplace. A number of issues come up when two or more people start working together. Different personalities, differences in aims and objectives, differing approaches to work activities and so on, push people to disagreement with each other. However, regardless of what the causes of discord are, dealing with it is one of the important managerial responsibilities. This article will focus on some techniques which can be used by managers to deal with workplace conflict.
Definition of conflict
‘Conflict is disagreement between two or more or organisational members or teams’ (Stoner, 1986, cited in Attner and Plunkett, 1994, p. 482). It is not always bad or negative. It may sometimes lead to innovative ideas and better results.
7 techniques to deal with conflict
According to Attner and Plunkett (1994), there are seven techniques which managers can use to deal with workplace disagreements. Managers do not need to use all of them together; rather they should use one or a combination of few depending on the nature of disagreement. The seven techniques are as follows:
Sometimes we all need to apply avoidance to some extent. If the conflict is of minor nature, managers can easily avoid it so that it settles itself with the passage of time. However, this technique should not be applied if the conflict is at level of high intensity.
Smoothing occurs when a manager acknowledges conflict, but does not give much importance to it. It does work when the level of disagreement is low. However, if there are some real issues causing the discord, applying this technique may not work.
When smoothing does not work, compromise may be useful. Compromise brings parties involved in conflict to a middle ground. It requires everyone to give up some of their demands to get something in order to come to an amicable solution.
Collaboration refers to mutual problem solving. Both parties need to be engaged in open communication to understand the causes of disagreement and develop some strategies to deal with them. This communication and acceptance of different thoughts will lead to a mutual agreement by both parties.
Sometimes managers need to say ‘enough’. If the managers do not confront both parties, disagreement may drag on resulting in poor organisational results. However, managers need to ensure that confrontation does not become counterproductive.
Appeals to superordinate objectives
According to Attner and Plunkett (1994, p.487), ‘a superordinate objective is a goal that overshadows each party’s individual interest’. Sometimes, managers need to show a better objective to both parties in conflict which will force them to fold their conflict and get involved in achieving the better objective.
Decisions by a third party
Sometimes, managers need to refer the conflict to a third party for settlement. The third party can be another manager, or someone from a different department, or someone has some kind of authority in the organisation.
In a nutshell, managers have a number of options to deal with conflict. However, they need to understand the causes and level of conflict so that an appropriate technique can be employed to resolve it.
The article publication date: 11 November 2016
Further reading/ References
Attner, R. & Plunkett, W. (1994) Introduction to Management. 5th edition, USA: International Thomson Publishing
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Author: M Rahman
M Rahman writes extensively online with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He is a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University and London South Bank University.