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Conflict Resolution Strategies in the Workforce
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. When two or more people have to work together and combine ideas, the door to conflict is always open. The goal is to learn to use conflict as a tool that can benefit the whole, rather than destroying it and the idea of concern. A team must have a common goal of success (Temme and Katzel, 1995). Several strategies have proved to be useful tools for resolving these destructive conflicts.
Conflict is defined as disagreement or disharmony that occurs in groups when differences regarding ideas, methods, and members are expressed (Wisinski, 1993). However, these differences should not lead to a negative outcome. Used correctly, the group can become closer and more aware of each other’s differences. In mutual respect, the group can pool ideas and ultimately be more successful.
Administration is ultimately responsible for acknowledging a conflict, instilling conflict resolution strategies, and ensuring that these strategies are successfully executed. For example, for a school administration to achieve this, it needs to be aware of the types of conflict: constructive and deconstructive. Constructive conflict is beneficial to teams. This style focuses on the problem while still maintaining respect for other teammates. Teammates will show flexibility, support and cooperation with each other. The team’s commitment to success is evident. Deconstructive conflict, on the other hand, exhibits selfish behaviors of personal attacks, name-calling, and defense. No flexibility is present within the team and competition between teammates is high. Conflict prevention is obvious (UOP, 2004)
Many external influences can cause or exacerbate the conflict. Limited resources (UOP, 2004) can cause stress among colleagues. If a teacher is concerned about a lack of resources for her students, for example, she may be demonstrating a high level of stress. This, in turn, can influence any minor frictions shared with other faculty. Differences in goals and objectives (UOP, 2004) also cause tension among staff. For example, one teacher’s focus may be on sports and recreational equipment, while another is more focused on academics and up-to-date textbooks. This difference in goals for students can cause further tension and conflict among staff.
Communication problems (UOP, 2004) can cause conflicts between staff. Two teachers with the same goal may not clearly explain their points to each other. If the messages are not clear, the result will most likely be confrontation and conflict. Teachers who share different attitudes, values and perceptions (UOP, 2004) open the door to conflict. Similar to teachers having different goals, differing attitudes, goals and perceptions cause immense stress for the entire faculty and staff. Finally, personality conflicts (UOP, 2004) are probably the most common problem within a group and perhaps the easiest to overcome. When approached with a mature adult mindset, personality differences should not affect the work environment or group goals. Lack of training, lack of accountability and favoritism on the part of the administration (First Line, 2007) can also cause conflicts. Teachers and other teachers in the school need to keep the most important aspect of their work (the children) in focus. As adults, they are responsible for their own actions and behaviors.
The ability to recognize the type of conflict allows the administration to steer the conflict accordingly with the goal of a positive outcome, rather than hurtling towards destruction. After recognizing the type of conflict, management (or administration) can choose between three different resolution methods: the “4 R” method, the AEIOU method and the negotiation method.
First, the “4 Rs” method (UOP, 2004) stands for: Reason- The leader is responsible for finding out if feelings about conflict are expressed differently within the team. It is also necessary to identify any personal situations present among the staff. Finally, the leader must clarify whether the team is aware of her location; Reaction: The leader is responsible for assessing how the group is reacting to each other. It should be determined whether the conflict is constructive or destructive. Once determined, the leader must decide whether the conflict can be transformed into a constructive conflict, if originally destructive; Results-Leaders should now explain the consequences of this conflict. The entire team, including the leader, must determine if the conflict is serious enough to affect the goal or outcome; Resolution – Finally, the whole team must discuss all possible methods that will help achieve a successful resolution and which one is the best. The 4 Rs guide teams through a step-by-step resolution process. This style helps in assessing the situation and provides assistance in redirecting the conflict towards a positive outcome.
Secondly, the AEIOU model (Wisinski, 1993) stands for: A- Assume that others “have good intentions; E- Express your feelings; I- Identify what you would like to happen; O- The results you expect are clear to the group” (UOP, 2004); U- Understanding by the group is at a mature level. This template communicates your concerns clearly to the group. Suggestions of alternative methods are expressed to the group in a non-confrontational way. By maintaining a calm demeanor, management is telling the group that they want the group to be successful.
Thirdly, the negotiation method (UOP, 2004) focuses on a compromising attitude. Separating each person from the problem allows each teammate to focus on the interest of the group rather than their own personal positions. This technique creates the opportunity to reach a variety of possible solutions. The leader has a responsibility to express the importance of an objective view in choosing a solution. Through the negotiation technique, everyone knows the problem and the goal, and everyone is willing to put aside their personal feelings to achieve that common goal (Krivis, 2006).
Another type of strategy known as the NORMS method helps the administrator, or leader, remain objective while dealing with conflict in the workplace. NORMS stands for (Huber, 2007): N-Non-biased or personal interpretation; O-Observable, the situation is seen and touched or experienced by the staff; R- Reliable, two or more people agree on what happened; M-Measurable, conflict parameters can be distinguished and measured; S specifications are not subjective, but objective and non-conflict. By following the STANDARDS, one can observe the situation with an objective perspective. Thus, he or she can assist the team in the conflict with the proper focus of bringing the team together and resolving the conflict, as well as benefit from the experience.
Each method fosters a friendly environment that welcomes different ideas. Differences can ultimately benefit the entire group as well as the project or situation at hand. Temme and Katzel say, “For a team building effort to work…management must be sincere in their determination to see through and deliver on the team building process.” (Call a team a team, 1995).
As an administrator, or leader, you are responsible for directing the team towards cohesion and compatibility. This goal can be achieved during a conflict by representing each team member fairly, acknowledging the problem, listening to every concern with equal level of importance and respect. To achieve an agreement and collaborative goal, each teammate, or employee, must respect others for their differing opinions and goals, but must also keep an open mind. Conflicts can be beneficial for a team, as they bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. Clear communication and an open mind can turn a conflict into an asset rather than a burden.
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