Webster’s defines conflict as: To come into collision; be in mutual opposition (274). If you wanted to choose an organization to study conflict in, you would have to look no further than the military. The military has no single approach to conflict management. There are too many individual personalities within a multitude of internal systems to be able to singularize the conflict. It is often the case that the conflict you are having was caused by a system put into place by someone outside your organization. It could be as simple as the cause and effect syndrome.
For example, if the 335th Forward Support Battalion (FSB) commander put a policy in place, that his battalion would perform mandatory proficiency training on processing Department of the Army Form 2406 on Mondays; this would cause his leaders to close the shops in order to conduct this training. While on the other hand, the 1-5th Infantry Battalion commander put in place a policy that his battalion would perform equipment maintenance on Mondays. His battalions’ leaders would have a conflict because if they had equipment that needed to be turned in, they would not be able to do so. The FSB’s shops would be closed due to their training.
Inadvertently, these two battalion commanders have caused a system conflict. This type of conflict happens quite often in the military because these commanders are very goal oriented; but fail to take into account the conflicts that may arise from the system that he just emplaced. It would now fall on the battalions’ Executive Officer to negotiate a win-win solution to this conflict in a very rapid manner. Without a win-win solution, there would be a visible conflict that would eventually become apparent to the hierarchy and a solution may be imposed that might not be favorable to both parties involved. The driving force for the resolution of this conflict would be not allowing the conflict to reach the “boss”.
I work in the Division staff which often task or gives directives to the Division’s Main Support Command’s (MSC’s). These task or directives often cause great pain in the MSC’s. This is a perfect example of a win-lose conflict. The MSC’s can submit a declination of tasking, but they often are directed to do the tasking anyway. In essence, these tasks are coming straight from the General himself and cannot be simply dismissed. At this point it has become an authoritative command to do the tasking. An example of this situation would be a battalion that has been over tasked beyond its physical means. This battalion has been tasked to supply more personnel than it physically possesses. The problem may be that all the other battalions are in the same boat. The battalion has to adapt and be creative in order to meet to end goal.
The most common approach that I have seen used is the appeal to our common goal of successfully completing the mission. I have had to work with many individuals whom I just could not come to a mutual understanding with. This conflict may have been caused by a personal difference, a different view of how to perform the mission, or even how to utilize our forces. In the end, we have to realize that to continue with this conflict means jeopardizing your common goal of accomplishing the mission. This may result in a lose-lose conflict where both party’s had to compromise their positions in order to secure success.
Collaboration, authoritative, accommodation, and compromise are conflict management styles that I have used and seen used on an almost daily basis. It really depends on the person and whom that person has the conflict with. It may be that the individuals themselves do not have a conflict, but that a system has been emplaced that is causing their conflict.
Avoidance is a management style that I do not see a lot of. When it does rear its nasty head, it is at the lower levels of the organization. It is usually there because the individual thinks that it is not a serious problem and his time would be better utilized doing something more productive. This chain of thought usually leads him to a path of discord because the conflict will snow ball into a larger problem that has become visible to his superiors.
The two conflict management styles that I myself am prone to are competing and collaborating. I am very aggressive in my views and will dominate by force if I need to. I am also very attune to recognizing that there is a problem or a conflict may arise because of circumstances of an issue. I am not locked into the two styles though. They are just my natural trends. I am very quick to analyze a situation or individual to determine what course I will take to get the maximum effectiveness from. The end goal is the objective. How I get there can be adjusted according to situational awareness.
Smith, S. Stephenson, et al, ed. Webster Comprehensive Dictionary International Edition. Chicago: Ferguson, 1987.