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Generally speaking, conflict occurs with the self, other human beings, the environment, or the supernatural. Conflict arises because parties in interaction possess mutually incompatible goals, a mismatch of social values and structures. None of us in living memory can deny the existence of a conflict. We are constantly surrounded by it, often experience it, and many times may have been submerged by it.
However, while conflict by definition denotes disagreement, discord, and other negative connotations, we realize that managing conflict judiciously and with panache means it is profitable to have a conflict. Conflict, with a positive connotation, sets off, as it were, a chemical reaction that achieves positive results. Examples of positivity from conflict abound around us, e.g., advancement in agricultural, industrial processes, and sundry advancements; the comforts of life we enjoy today are positive management of a variety of “conflict” situations that existed.
In the circumstances above, managing conflict is a two-edged sword; the negative aspect would be converted as an opportunity to proceed positively. The positive connotation of conflict allows us to progress toward the goal of advancement.
Management of Conflict – a Relational Approach
There are 2 workable solutions to the problem of conflict management:
- Resolve the conflict and harness it for productivity. (Convert a problem into an opportunity) At the workplace, productivity converts to profitability – always.
- Sweep it under the carpet and hope things will work out. (Expect it to vanish!) Managing conflict is onerous but needs to be done, nevertheless.
Experience, proven, and tested confirms that the 2nd option is no option. To manage the conflict is to resolve it and move on. This is the only workable option before us.
Here, we proceed with conflicts wherever they arise, especially in the workplace. To begin the process of conflict management, it is of paramount importance to know the following:
- The causes of conflict.
- How best to manage conflict in its inherent context.
Reasons for Conflict
For effective conflict management, a prerequisite is knowing what normally causes conflicts. The causes may be one or several of the following:
This, by far, is the most common occurrence that gives rise to conflicts in the workplace. Today’s workplace comprises people from various strata of life – it is not homogenous. Having employees of different nationalities could further complicate the situation because of local idioms and the usage of the language employed in the workplace. If it is a pure and simple misunderstanding between people, empathy from the one managing the conflict will save the day for all concerned.
2. Poor communication
This is quite often the reason due to various circumstances in the lives of even well-meaning people. Here, once again, the language used in the workplace is the root cause of conflict. An innocuous expression, written or spoken, may give rise to conflict because of an inadequate or mistaken understanding of the phrase or expression. The managing conflict here is tricky since all people in a workplace do not operate from standard depths of knowledge of the language used; foreign employees may present yet another aspect to this conflict.
3. An emotional outburst
This is dangerous since it involves the inner depths of the affected person. Managing conflict in these circumstances is extremely challenging and requires patience, perseverance, and persistence to untangle this situation. Deftness and diplomatic acumen will be challenged since this situation need not be linear and may involve hurt egos, factual or perceived.
4. Lack of planning
This may be a problem of the individual employee or, sometimes, a lacuna in the overall corporate planning at the workplace. If the perceived or actual lack of planning arises from the side of the corporate entity, this would need to be studied thoroughly by the authorities concerned. Managing the conflict, in this instance, would call for a critical investigation into the merits and/or demerits before setting forth a workable conflict management process.
5. Frustration, stress, or burnout
This is a fairly rampant occurrence in the hurly-burly of life today. No area in life these days, including the workplace, is exempt from being assaulted by stress, frustration, or burnout. Unreasonable and seemingly impossible demands relating to current lifestyles may need to be reviewed with understanding and empathy. Workplace deadlines perceived as impossible by employees make conflict management an arduous task. Deadlines at the workplace are normally set by management, taking into account the prevailing business environment and desired profitability norms. To manage the conflict effectively, an incisive analysis of the deadlines would need to be done to the extent possible.
A Panacea for Managing Conflict
Managing conflict is an art powerfully encompassed by an important word – Rapport.
Rapport is the foundational element of relationships and the best path to secure relevant information from even difficult people.
The acronym below shines a beacon for the process of conflict management.
- H = Honesty – always tell the truth.
- E = Empathy – imagine yourself in that position.
- A = Autonomy – respect the rights of the other in this situation.
- R = Reflection – feedback on the essence of what is being said.
Successful conflict management needs a “listening” ear and an emphatic heart to elucidate further. The Conflict Manager is, as it were, a neutral broker and cannot take sides; if done, a bias is created in favor of one or the other.
Indispensable Roadmap for Managing Conflict
1. Clarify the conflict situation
The strategy for clarifying the situation may differ from person to person. But there is no reason to “short circuit” the need to understand impartially and clarify the situation with all parties to the conflict. Preconceived bias for or against is a strict NO-NO. Set definite ground rules. Each party to the conflict needs to treat the other with respect, and agreement to listen denotes a sincere effort to understand the others’ viewpoint. Each states the problem and their perceived solution. Personal targeting is strictly not permissible. Each participant restates their viewpoint in a summarized format to emphasize that all participants are clear about what is being said. A final summation from the Conflict Manager is important. Brainstorming a solution would be the next step. Discuss positively and without rancor the various options on hand.
2. Establish a common ground:
Having clarified the conflict situation in-depth and with understanding, the common ground needs to be worked out with the parties to the conflict. In building common ground, processes and established practices at the workplace may need to be re-examined to ascertain if they need “tweaking.” This is important since this common ground needs to be in the interests of all concerned – individuals and the corporate entity.
3. Discuss ways and means to agree to uphold common ground
Having agreed to a common ground, it follows that ways and means need to be discussed and finalized so that the source of the conflict having been managed, matters now stand streamlined.
4. Determine barriers to the establishment of common ground
In any given situation, there could arise a possibility that there may be some “insurmountable” barriers to the establishment of common ground. Exceptionally, this could happen; generally, such a situation should not arise since an incisive analysis had been carried out earlier in the context of the corporate entity. As a follow-up to the process, the concerned parties agree to this as the best way to manage the conflict situation.
5. Acknowledge the solution and fix individual responsibilities:
It is of utmost importance that each of the parties to the conflict individually and severally acknowledges the common ground and agrees to their responsibility in the matter. The matter having been resolved, as a matter of gracefulness, an enduring option would be for all participants to shake hands, apologize, and thank one another for their participation.
Human conflict in the workplace is an intrinsic part of the human genome. Managing Conflict in the workplace is the only way to go forward. Conflicts not managed effectively drain productivity and, consequently, the profits of the corporate entity. This is an untenable situation in today’s corporate environment and creates an unhealthy human relationships climate. A comprehensive Roadmap for conflict management is available, and the panacea for conflict management hinges on a single word, “Rapport.”
“The hungrier you are for information, the harder it will be to get that out of someone. But give the person a choice about what they say; give them some autonomy, and you begin to build the rapport that may lead to a better conversation,” says Laurence
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