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Conflict management




A. define what "conflict" is;

B. identify what styles characterise certain people in terms of conflict resolution; What are the characteristics of these styles; 
C. aquire some methods to handle these conflicts.

Time needed to review this content: 30 MIN

Many researchers think, that the word ’conflict’ derives from the Latin ’armed confrontation’ but today it means more than just that. In business context conflicts may even have positive impacts if we can handle them well. One proper definition in these terms is: 
’Contrariety detected between the goals of two or more parties’ (Smith and Mackie, 2004).
In corporate life, the conflicts significantly determine the company’s performance:  the employee morale, efficiency, frequency of lawsuits, etc. However, conflicts do not only inhibit development, but the good type and well-managed organizational conflict may also be the condition of development.

The steps of making a well performing group are the following:

Evolution – Storming – Development of Norms – Operation

In this process however, the emergence of conflicts is essential during evolution and storming, so that the group learns to handle those first, since this is the only way for them to reach the operational phase resulting in good performance.

The business benefits from conflicts, so the entrepreneur should aim to manage the conflicts instead of solving or eliminating them. Conflict management does not mean conflict resolution.
Conflict management reduces negative consequences to a minimum, and it supports the positive effects of conflict, aiming to promote the learning/development processes within the group.
There is a link between the corporate conflicts and its level of performance, and this link is NOT that the lower the level of conflict, the higher the performance. 

If there are no conflicts within the corporation, it rather means that there is no intention for development within the organisation.  In the organisations committed to development, the members of the group are more likely to have different visions about the way of development or the means used, which can all create situations of conflict, but this is a natural concomitant of development.

Therefore, the manager or entrepreneur’s knowledge of conflict mechanism and means of its management, is an important skill. 
From functional point of view therefore, optimum levels of conflict are optimal. In this case, we can enjoy the potential benefits of conflict:
• Identification of the important issues for others;
• The solution of fundamental problems;
• The support of group development;
• The conflict between the groups (conflict within the group) can increase the internal cohesion of the groups (within the group as well);
• Promoting necessary changes in the organization;
• Learning about ourselves and others;
• Avoiding ‘group thinking’ – promoting creativity.

Of course, by using conflict management we need to maintain the optimal level in order to reduce or keep the possible drawbacks within the limits.
• Decreasing efficiency;
• Dissatisfaction;
• Aggression;
• Anxiety;
• Wasted time;
• Wasted energy;
• Decreased efficiency;
• Fluctuation.

As leaders, it is important to recognize and identify the causes of conflict, to handle it in the right way. According to their root causes, conflicts include: 
• Factual conflicts – based on different knowledge and information, we judge a situation differently. Usually after discussing the facts and information and bringing them to common understanding, the conflict is resolved.
• Conflict of interest – the conflict is caused by the decision if the parties made along their own interests.  This is a common cause of conflict in companies functioning at multi-level hierarchy.
• Relationship conflict – the conflict stems from the relationship between the parties. This is usually due to prejudices, poor communication or a previous offence. Typically, it may result in the situation where whatever one colleague does, the other is not satisfied and vice versa. 
• Value conflict – the differences between the parties’ personality traits, values or beliefs lead to conflicts. Adopting a common platform for these is typically very difficult.

Conflict is not a pleasant experience be it constructive (facilitating, focusing on problem-solving), or destructive (subversive, harmful, undermining self-confidence), therefore the parties also want to manage it. However, the parties may choose different modalities of management strategy. Thomas K.W. and Kilmann R.H. published a possible categorization of resolving the problem back in 1974, and it is still used today. The authors categorized the orientation of the parties' solution along two dimensions and this became the basis for determining five styles.
The analyzed two dimensions are as follows:
• The extent to which the individuals are able to enforce their will and interests in a dispute, that is , how assertive they are,
• The extent to which the individuals are able to consider the other parties’ will, that is, how open they are to the other party, how cooperative they are.

The specific style determines the individual’s behaviour, if we know the style, which the other person is comfortable with, conflicts become easier to handle, and the leaders will find it easier to encourage style changes and subtleties.  Thus the five styles are:
1. Competitive, assertive (The shark) - The individual wants to heavily promote their own interests at the expense of the other party and uses whatever way of influence they can to get a winning position. The parties do not cooperate during conflict management; they see conflict as a battle where human relationships do not matter. These people like open confrontations, where intimidation is often used. Their behaviour is selfish; their successes offer them security, pride and personal fulfilment. It is typical in asymmetric relationships, where the loser is usually less powerful.
2. Adaptable, submissive, permissive (The teddy bear) – The opposite of competition. Anyone who chooses this, will give up on their own interests, desires in favour of the partner, and focuses on the human relations. They would rather give up their own goals and adapts to the other for the sake of the relationship. Behind this strategy oftel lies wise insight and placability and the acceptance of the other’s opinion. Its use in some cases may result in ostracism and exclusion.
3.  Avoiding, evasive, preventive (The turtle) – These people use this strategy based on an analysis of the situation, the classification of the relationship, and after an assessment of the chances of victory. It is mainly used when someone has little information and is confident that over time obtains more. They do not want to be involved in conflicts, and do not It does not attach any great importance to achievement of targets or to human relations. To ensure quietness, this person moves back, avoids threatening situations, and has no time or energy to deal with the problem.
4. Problem solving, collaborative (The owl) - The opposite of avoidance. The parties not only accept their own interest, but those of the other person as well and seek a solution that is fully suitable for both parties. The parties are committed to the mutually agreed solution. During the search for solution, there is an opportunity to get to know each other better, during the exploration of needs, the relationship may deepen, and it is possible to discover the other’s previously unknown values. Here, the achievement of goals and the human relationships are considered to be of equal importance. They often have open discussions with the result that their own and the other party’s needs are met too. Conflict is seen as an issue to be resolved. They seek to reduce the tensions, which takes a lot of time and energy.
5. Compromise seeking, negotiator (The fox) – This is a common practice between equal partners, it provides time and opportunity to search for the right solutions, it does not destroy the relationship. The goal is to find some kind of mutually acceptable solution, which is partially suitable for both parties. Once the parties have realized, that none of them can achieve the fulfilment of only their own criteria, they will seek a middle-way solution to more or less meet their goals.  During their discussion, they negotiate, and both parties seek to renounce equally. They both win and lose some, too.
All five can occur with anyone, the difference is only the proportions.  The emergence of a strategy does not label anyone; these can only be assessed in a specific context, in the light of a specific situation. 

As managers, or even a party in a conflict, it is important to know the parties (and ourselves), to know the strategies they use in certain situations. Then, we should separate the problem from the person, focus on the problem not the person, adopt a helicopter perspective, and looking at the problem from above try to find a solution together.

One possible scenario for the process:
1. Get to know the parties (and ourselves);
2. Handle their emotions;
3. Allow time for the parties to let the steam out;
4. Listen actively, ask questions, pay attention, hear what they say;
5. See when they agree and when they don’t;
6. Focus on the problem, not the person;
7. Determine the measures for both parties;
8. Thank them for cooperating in the solution;
9. Check the results, and document the incident.
If you know, that conflicts are an integral part of the organisations, it may be ideal to have a ‘manual’ for such situations, which is continuously updated, so that conflict management becomes a routine like manufacturing or customer service.

Four Tips for Managing Conflict
In this video there are 4 more tips on how to become better conflict solvers.

In this video there is an example of what happens when the same problem-solving styles meet.


10 tips to help in conflict management:
1. The negative emotions should be shared with those involved only in person or by phone.
2. Start the conversation by saying: ‘I understand’.
3. Take notes when you feel threatened by someone's words.
4. Practise to be able to ask the other party questions to improve the situation even when you are angry.
5. Try repeating word for word what the other party said, when you feel that they are heated by too much emotion or you do not agree with them at all.
6. Take responsibility for your emotions to avoid blaming other.
7. Learn to listen to both sides in a situation where you have to be a mediator..
8. Take steps to develop emotional self-control even in situations of strong conflict.
9. If possible, wait a few days for the management of a conflict in which intense emotions are released.
10. Make your decision to politely communicate even at a time when you are angry or frustrated.


Conflicts are part of our everyday life, and on certain levels it is useful too: it facilitates learning, development and better problem solving. In this section we had the chance to learn about the factors that lead to conflict, the possible solutions and the conflict management styles we could encounter in practice. An important message of this section is that we should not try to eliminate conflicts from the organization; instead, we should learn how to handle them.




Explore the main courses of conflict in your organization.
You and your colleagues should do a conflict resolution styles test!
Available in several languages on the Internet, this one is in English:
Organize a meeting, where you calmly discuss the ways to ideally handle specific conflict situations in your organization!


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