By Sachdeepak Arora
Organisation leaders deal with many conflicts and are responsible for their effective management. Conflicts are inevitable; awareness of the potential approaches to conflict resolution and understanding when to use what technique, and its outcomes, can provide organisation leaders with the required skills to effectively manage conflicts.
Conflicts have causes, results, and effects. Conflicting situations include elements of interdependence, emotions, perceptions, and behaviours.
Conflicts can also be constructive and healthy and can lead to increased involvement in the organisation and cohesiveness among team members. Conflicts can bring out underlying issues and risks. Team members learn a lot when confronted with conflicting situations. Deconstructive conflicts occur when a solution has not been found, and the problem remains for a more extended period. Energy gets redirected from more important activities or issues, the morale is lowered, and teams are polarized. Destructive conflict may create negative tensions among team members and may lead to irrational personality clashes, and adversely impact the organisation’s goals.
The primary sources of conflicts are disagreement on goals, priorities, complicated reporting relationships, and interpersonal issues. Unreasonable work allocation, conflicting assignments, resource constraints, lack of understanding of diverse cultures in diverse teams are some other sources of conflicts.
Though the satisfactory resolution of interpersonal conflict is essential, it is the prevention that should be the greater focus.
Effectively manage conflicts
The challenge for organisations is to try to maintain the right balance and intensity of conflicts. Before resorting to any resolution technique, understand the dynamics of conflict, facts, methods, goals, and values. Actively listen to conflicting parties, acknowledge, be sensitive, and remain emotionally engaged. Redefine, if required. Break the conflict into manageable, logical parts, and use appropriate resolution techniques for each part.
The effective management of conflicts will require one or the combination of the following techniques. The choice of technique/s will depend on the situation and the desired outcome.
The trivial issues which have almost no impact on organization goals can be ignored; these problems will go away with time. Many small issues get resolved on their own. They only need to be kept on the watch list.
Some conflicts yield positive outcomes like the learnings for the team members, new ideas generation, increased team involvement, and surfacing and resolution of hidden issues. At times these conflicts result in better solutions and healthy
In order to adequately manage such conflicts, create opportunities, and encourage constructive discussions on different ideas; recognize better solutions, enhanced performance, and ideas. Also, create an atmosphere of mutual trust. Intervene, in case the conflict is becoming dysfunctional.
In case the goals in hand are a must to be achieved, and leadership wants to create an obligation for a trade-off later, stakes are low, and liability is limited. The situation demands that any solution is adequate to achieve the goals. Harmony and goodwill need to be created, and if not accommodated, chances of management losing are high. The conflicting party may be accommodated . By accommodating, the conflicts may not get resolved, but the impact is reduced.
Many conflicts result in deadlock, and both parties need to win. In a situation where time is critical, and management wants to maintain the relationship among the involved parties, stakes are moderate, and there are chances of management losing if there is no compromise. A useful approach could be ‘give and take,’ where one party sacrifices one’s own interest to accommodate other parties. Here the conflicts are not resolved, but the impact is reduced.
When stakes are high, and the management is not prepared. Maintaining neutrality at this stage will be of help, and delaying helps an organisation’s management win. Isolate the conflicting teams for the time being and set hopes that a favourable solution is being worked out. Gain time.
When both parties need to win, there is enough time, trust is present, and the organisation wants to create a collective power base; the conflicts must be confronted. Confronting is the best approach for long-term engagement and requires open and direct communication. Confronting a conflict requires addressing the root cause of conflict and approach to eliminate the source of conflict.
Follow organisation policy
In case some members of the organisation have issues in accepting organisation policies and directions, the recommended approach is to insist on compliance with the organization’s directions. However, a conflict management process needs to be in place in the organization.
There are critical issues which must be resolved ASAP for the smooth functioning of the organisation. In case the leadership is front-ending, the situation has limited influence on at least one of the conflicting parties, an escalation as per organisation process should be carried out without much delay.
When stakes are high, the relationship among parties is not essential, a quick decision must be made, and the organisation leadership is powerful enough to force its decision. The decision can be forced that may need replacing or removing the party, which is adversely impacting the organisation at an appropriate time.
In case it is evident that an organisation’s management cannot win and stakes are medium or low, ‘avoidance’ can be used to manage conflict. Avoidance can only delay the situation and will not resolve it. The reasons to temporarily withdraw should be well-understood across the stakeholders, and subsequent follow up may be required.
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