Conflict is a process that every one of us has experienced throughout our lifes. There are various definitions of conflicts as described by different authors but generally, conflict is a process whereby one individual’s interests is opposed or negatively affected by the other party (McShane et al. 2010). Workplace and organisational conflicts are usually more complex. Isenhart and Spangle (2000) points out that at the beginning the conflict may start because of improper placement of workers and their responsibilities in a workplace, but it may get worse if they faces unfair rules, ineffective management, unclear responsibilities or too much work assigned.
Organisational conflicts can result in many possible outcomes, the negatives ones such as damaged employee relations, violence, increased tension between bosses and employees but it can have positive outcomes too such as increased employee-cohesiveness and increased motivation. How it will be achieved will be discussed through the elements of conflict and will be listed in greater details.
Ways in which people approach conflict
Avoiding is probably the fastest way of resolving a conflict but at the same time it is not the best way because most of the time the avoider will remain unhappy even after the conflict.
It does not permanently resolve the conflict (McShane et al. 2010) and in my opinion it is just ‘postponing’ the problem to have it solved at a later date. McCollum et al. (2009) states that the person who is avoiding thinks that confronting the conflict will bring more trouble than it is worth. The avoider also decides to not deal with the conflict because he or she might not have the confidence to do so. This seems like the more popular choice amongst the five ways in which people approach conflict based on my experiences because people simply do not want unnecessary trouble or aggravate the problem, especially if it is a minor issue. Avoiding pays no attention in concerns of either self or others (Kotthoff & Spencer-Oatey 2008). This is the least-sought option amongst the five approaches but however, McCollum et al. (2009) suggests that avoiding can be a tactical approach when the other party has more strength and authority over you; and/or the avoiding the conflict will bring little or no devastating consequences.
I deemed this to be the most effective way in resolving organisational conflicts because both parties will benefit if they manage to find a double-win solution to the problem. This is considered to be the most desirable approach to conflict as there are no negative impacts at all. Only positive results will surface. Runde & Flanagan (2009) suggests that there might be a link between avoiding and problem-solving. Because many people tend towards avoidance, they often rush through problem solving and immediately use the first solution that they can think of so as to quickly get over the conflict, without any beneficial solutions. The key in using problem-solving as an approach to resolve conflicts lies in having patience to create multiple potential solutions. Careful reflection and consideration will progress into agreements that are both satisfying and successful (Runde & Flanagan 2009). Therefore when undergoing problem-solving, both parties must not rush to a solution immediately or else the solution may backfire or do not satisfy both parties’ needs.
Three strategies that help people manage conflict Before discussing about the three different strategies that help people to manage conflict, the strategies used are basically divided into three categories and they are interest-based, rights-based and power-based (Jameson 2001). Three different strategies from the three categories will be discussed respectively. Jameson (2001) advises that all resolutions of disputes and conflicts should start with a interest-based strategy, and if it does not resolves the conflict, it is followed by a rights-based strategy and if conflict persists, power-based strategy is then applied.
Jameson (2001) suggests that mediation is a form of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution). Research has shown that interest-based strategies such as mediation had the best long-termed results such as improved relationship between parties, greater commitment to solutions and reduced future conflicts from happening. This is why involved parties in a conflict should use this approach as it reaps the most benefits. Even though there are many theories and various methods underlying mediation, it is generally defined as an intervention by a neutral third party which facilitates the process but allow participants in the conflict to control the outcome (Jameson 2001). Depending on the severity of the conflict, the mediator is to provide useful information in legal issues, help the participants into perspective thinking, provide a guide in finding the most satisfying and realistic settlement, help to improve the working/personal relationship between participants, or engage in some combination of the above methods.
Inquisitorial Intervention (Rights-based)
This describes intervention by a person of a higher authority; in most cases is the manager, who will make a final decision. Managers who adopt this strategy allow employees more or less control over presentation of their arguments before deciding on an appropriate solution (Jameson 2001). Because the third party(manager) listens to every party’s arguments before making a judgment, the manager acts as a ‘judge’ and this usually results in a win-lose situation, unlike Mediation which results in a win-win situation most of the time. Employees are given the opportunity to present their arguments and influence the final decision and this result in higher amount of fairness and satisfaction with outcomes. Employees involved in the conflict usually agree that the outcome decided by the third party is fair, but it could be better if they are able to retain the outcome control.
This is the more realistic popular method amongst power-based strategies because they are efficient (at least in the short run) and it follows a problem-solving procedure that is actually part of the managerial role (Jameson 2001). A powerful third party restructures the work and responsibilities of employees in order to solve problems. For example if employees does not see eye-to-eye with one another and it affects efficiency or quality of work produced, restructuring may simply solve this issue even though parties involved are not satisfied but at least they will not be able to see each other, proving restructuring to be a efficient method in the short run. This method may be efficient if time issues are being involved, such as the organisation needs to achieve a certain target by a certain date.
Influence of culture in conflict resolution styles
The three cultural values dimensions that are popularly discussed are individualism-collectivism, power distance and high-low context (McShane et al. 2010). Low/high context: refers to the amount of information contained in a clearly-expressed message versus implied message (Adair et al. 2004). Low-context culture is direct and negotiations are analytical and fact-based, while high-context culture is indirect and high-context negotiators tend to use an indirect communication method with usually contains implied meanings. An example of a low-context culture would be the United States of America and a high-context culture will be Japan (Adair et al. 2004). Individualism/Collectivism: Individualism refers to a society where the relationships between people are loose and they are expected to look after themselves or their immediate families only. Collectivism which is the opposite, refers to a society that people focus on being harmonious and emphasize on cohesiveness within themselves.
In organisational context, individualism means individuals only care about their own goals and prefer to work alone and collectivism means working harmoniously in a teams and it emphasizes on teamwork. Power distance: McShane et al. (2010) defines power distance as the degree of importance that people place on status and power to control. Basically it means that human inequality may occur in many fields such as status, wealth, power, rules etc. In organisational settings it refers between superiors/managers and employees mainly. In a high power distance working environment, employees tend to just do their work without raising doubts or question their bosses, due to fear in the difference of their power, low power distance means otherwise, where employees and their superiors work hand in hand to resolve issues.
A few decades ago, managers can spend up to twenty percent of their time in resolving conflicts. Nowadays, conflicts are generally much more complex and take up more time to resolve due to technological advances, world’s exponential growth rate and globalization which led to increase contacts between people of many different cultures (Kotthoff & Spencer-Oatey 2008). This suggests that our modern world has an increase of numbers of cultural conflicts and they are usually hard to resolve due to the extreme range of differences in thinking, values, ethics etc between individuals of different cultures. To further elaborate on this point, Brigg (2008) states that most experts in this field now come to an agreement that culture frames the experiences of conflict of people, their reactions and responses to other people in conflict, and the types of strategies they might consider to manage or otherwise address disputes.
Therefore when facing against a cultural conflict issue, one must understand that the other party does not grow up in the same environment as him/her, had not been taught the same teachings and values since young. To put in simpler terms, the definition of what is right and what is correct might not be the same between the two parties. This also explains why it is so difficult in applying conflict resolution styles when it comes to cultural conflicts because it is hard to accept the other party’s “correct” values which may be the “wrong” values of one as both of them have been gorged those values since young in their growing up environment.
Two ways of conflict-handling styles were discussed and avoiding can be a good approach sometimes despite many of its negativity and although problem-solving is the best approach, it cannot be rushed and many potential solutions must be raised in order to finding the best solution. Three strategies from three different categories of conflict resolution styles were discussed and despite the major differences in terms of popularity of usage and way of handling, all the three strategies can produce effective results in organisational settings if they were applied in the correct circumstances. Three cultural values dimensions were discussed and it was also explained that influence of culture in conflict resolution styles remains fundamentally significant and it is currently the most challenging in conflict resolution.