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Conflict Resolution Strategies

With the advent of organizations using teamwork to solve problems, it has become important to develop conflict resolution tactics. Effective tactics developed, though described in different ways in different organizations, are, avoidance, accommodation, compromise, competition, and collaboration (Thompson et al. 41-4).

Before using an approach, it is important to remember that a certain level of conflict is critical to the success of the team. Conflict offers a chance for ideas to be exchanged and optimal solutions to be developed. According to K. A. Jehn, he states that, “Groups with an absence of task conflict may miss new ways to enhance their performance, while very high levels of task conflict may interfere with task completion.” (5) With this knowledge, it is important to identify when conflict is becoming destructive instead of creative. Conflict is destructive when; negativism develops, or a team member becomes hardened within a position, or the group becomes divided into sub-groups, or group productivity is decreased (Thompson et al. ). Avoidance is the lone solution in conflict resolution that may overlook the best idea for a group, so it is important to understand when conflict becomes destructive. In avoiding conflict there must be consensus between members that the group is at an impasse. Three reasons that justify the use of avoidance are; time constraints, emotional issues, and timing (41-4).

When teams are brought together, they are often given time requirements that need to be factored in achieving their goals. Conflict is good when the topic continues to be discussed in greater detail, but becomes an issue when the amount of time expended becomes excessive. Time allotments should be determined before discussing conflicting topics. To solve this problem, assign a person from the group to take note of the amount of time that has expired. This person will notify the group at the expiration of time. At this time, the group should vote action to be taken.

Often, when people work with topics that they are familiar with, they become emotionally attached to one way of thinking. Discussions related to the topic can be difficult since personal feelings are involved. In a team setting, your own feelings may prevent you from being impartial to new ideas. If you, or a person in the group, are unable to control your emotions about a topic, you need to let other members of the group solve the problem (4). Emotions often get in the way and do not allow for new ideas to be presented. Members of the team should be honest with each other and identify situations that are emotional. Your avoidance in this instance will allow the group to move forward while exploring solutions.

When new ideas are presented to a group they might be difficult to understand when first presented. If time is given to the presenter to explain more thoroughly, the idea might turn out to be better than when first presented. Sometimes we are totally unprepared or taken by surprise by an idea (4). Having time to think the idea through will allow you time to explore the idea. The extra time allows you the opportunity to think of ways to expand the initial thought for a better end result.

When selecting a conflict strategy, we must keep in mind that the process will eventually promote positive changes within the team. Take for example, the accommodating resolution style, which is used to purposely elevate the other person, making him/her feel better about the situation. According to Bruce A. Blitman the accommodating style is, “unassertive and cooperative the opposite of the competing personality” (1). The accommodating approach can be utilized to help build confidence, and rapport with a team member with whom we are having a conflict. Perhaps, this strategy may be seeing with a degree of submissiveness, because we respond to others view with empathy, and value their perspective by showing sensitivity. In the book “Tools for Teams Building Effective Teams in the Workplace”, Leigh Thompson outlined three instances when the accommodating style can be used; when you are sure you made a mistake, the issue is more important to the opponent, and preserving the relationship is more significant than the issue (4). Based on the theory developed by David Antonioni, he suggests that “outgoing, social individuals are drawn to use the accommodating resolution approach as their default style. Because they posses strong interaction skills, and manage situations with trust and flexibility, during the negotiation phase.” (7)

Although, the accommodating style embraces conflicts in a passive way, we need to be prudent in the manner in which we utilized it. We can not accept other’s view, when we know we are right and the other person is either wrong or unethical. If we allow the unethical behavior of the other person with who we are dealing with, to continue it will critically affect the future relationship of the team.

In situations, where both parties have equal power and are committed to a special goal, a more appropriate strategy would be to compromise. The compromising style will facilitate the achievement of a temporary agreement during difficult issue or may even allow a more practical solution.

According to David Antonioni, “The compromising style is more challenging than any of the other styles because it consists of a blend between mutual problem solving, and yielding. In compromising, both parties give up something in order to reach a mutual acceptable solution, but it does mean splitting the difference and exchanging concessions” (8). This strategy can be regarded as a bargaining tool necessary due to deadlines or other constraints.

However, the general results are not usually the best. We often choose the compromising approach as a last resort, in particular, when the other methods have failed and we are looking for neutral ground. As a last resort, this only encourages a “Band aid” sort of fix that does not satisfy either side, and it may lead to this conflict resurrecting itself.

Before opting to get into a compromise style, decide in your own mind, which needs, or wants are negotiable, and which are not. Remember this method works best when both parties are right about something, but basically have different values or opinions.

Another method or strategy to resolve conflict within a work team is the use of competition. Competition, as the name implies, is a direct challenge between two members of a team or two opposing sides within the team. Employing the use of this strategy must be given careful consideration, since chances are that feelings will be bruised and cooperation within the team will diminish significantly if this technique is used.

With that being said, the question becomes “Why would anyone go this route, or even think about using this method?” The answers are relatively simple and straightforward. Using competition to resolve conflict within a team cuts right to the heart of the matter, and thereby reduces the amount of time spent discussing and negotiating the topic. Another reason would be that you know, without a doubt, what you are saying is 100% correct and that there are no gray shaded areas. Or perhaps you have encountered opposition that simply wants to run right over you and you find yourself needing to defend yourself and your rights (Thompson et al. 4).

There are some economic benefits to using this method in spite of the potential drawbacks. The Academy of Management Journal study found that managers spend 0% of their time dealing with conflict (Hessel A). Apply 0% to a manger’s salary in today’s workplace, multiplied by the number of work teams that may be operational at any given moment, and the cost savings could be staggering. According to Warren P. Naylor, System Safety Manager for BAE Systems in Rockville, Maryland, “Schedules for programs have become increasingly more aggressive, contracts have become increasingly more restrictive and start dates are continually pushed back without corresponding relief on the back end, resulting in extremely compressed schedules.” (Ingebretsen ).

As mentioned earlier the use of this strategy needs careful consideration due to the negative consequences that may result. One of the most prolific results is the increase in stress levels that individuals on the team may encounter. In a study published in the International Journal of Conflict Management, it was noted that “recent research suggests that personality can impact stress in two ways. First, personality may predispose an individual to use particular coping methods mechanisms in the face of stressors. Second, in addition to shaping one’s response to stress, personality may impact the stressors themselves.” (Currall et al. )

Therefore, one could imply that the impact and implication to the use of competition as a strategy to resolve conflict can have both positive effects, both in the short term and in long term. While the short term effects may be desirable to keep the team on track in meeting a scheduled commitment date, and thus reducing the overall costs by minimizing the amount of time and resources needed to resolve a conflict. The long term implications are that individual members of a team find themselves in situations that carry increased stress and can harbor long term ill feelings toward not just the members of their team, but can also permeate and fester within the overall organization.

The final strategy for resolving conflict is the use of collaboration. As the name implies collaboration is the skillful art of negotiating. As with the other strategies previously described, there are times when the use of this strategy may be better suited to resolving conflict. Some of the reasons for attempting this approach may be to have shared responsibility in the final decision of the team. This can be especially true when a team is chartered to correct a process within an organization that could eventually lead to downsizing within the organization. Another reason for seeking collaboration would be if the team’s charter were to retool the overall organization resulting in individual fiefdoms being consolidated to further meet the organization’s need for improved efficiencies to compete in today’s marketplace. Collaboration also mitigates the negative effects of hard feelings and direct conflict within a team. By obtaining the consensus of all involved, the team can continue to move forward in a positive manner.

So, how does one go about negotiating with both individual and within the team? According to CORE R.O.I., Inc, they list the following as essential contributors to reaching consensus and agreement within the team and with individuals

“Involve everyone in the discussion and decision-making process.

Listen and pay attention to what others have to say.

Be cautions of early, quick, easy agreements.

Avoid compromising.

Avoid competing, arguing and trying to ‘win.’

Don’t ‘give in’ just to ‘go along.’

Use different opinions to enhance the decision’s quality.

Avoid voting.

Take action to reduce tension.

Work on the most important or controversial considerations.

Use a blend of information, logic, emotion and intuition.” (Thompson et al. CD-ROM)

However, this approach also carries with it some negative aspects. When collaboration is used, it requires more time to skillfully negotiate through a sticking point. If the team is working to a short deadline or suspense, the time to negotiate and reach common consensus will undoubtedly place it at great risk of failing to meet its objectives. As was previously highlighted during the pro’s of using competition as a strategy to resolve conflict, this additional time also means additional costs and resources will be required.

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