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Jun 7, 2007

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Conflict Resolution at Work

Conflict Resolution at Work

No two humans come out of the same mold and differences
in ideas and opinions are bound to arise. Differences lead to
Conflicts. When well-handled, conflicts are in effect good for
the organization as they often lead to creative ideas and
changes for the better. Conflicts become counterproductive
when they give rise to enmity, hostility, tension, confusion
and sabotage among the workers. If supervisors and managers
themselves are parties to the conflicts, they may make poor
decisions and judgments based on personal reasons rather than
professional considerations.

Story:

The Eagle and the Beetle

Conflict Resolution at Work
(Illus by Milo Winter)

An Eagle was chasing a hare, which was running for dear life and
was at her wits' end to know where to turn for help. Presently
she espied a Beetle, and begged it to aid her. So when the Eagle
came up the Beetle warned her not to touch the hare, which was
under its protection. But the Eagle never noticed the Beetle
because it was so small, seized the hare and ate her up. The
Beetle never forgot this, and used to keep an eye on the Eagle's
nest, and whenever the Eagle laid an egg it climbed up and
rolled it out of the nest and broke it.

At last the Eagle got so worried over the loss of her eggs that she
went up to Jupiter, who is the special protector of Eagles, and
begged him to give her a safe place to nest in; so he let her lay
her eggs in his lap. But the Beetle noticed this and made a ball of
dirt the size of an Eagle's egg, and flew up and deposited it in
Jupiter's lap. When Jupiter saw the dirt, he stood up to shake it
out of his robe, and, forgetting about the eggs, he shook them
out too, and they were broken just as before.

Ever since then, they say, Eagles never lay their eggs at the
season when Beetles are about.

Moral:

Even the weakest may find means to avenge a wrong

Quotable Quotes:

“The successful person has unusual skill at dealing with
conflict and ensuring the best outcome for all.”
... Sun Tzu

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The
human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”
... William Ellery Channing

“He never wants anything but what's right and fair; only
when you come to settle what's right and fair, it's
everything that he wants and nothing that you want.
And that's his idea of a compromise.” ... Thomas Hughes

“Avoid fight or flight, talk through differences.”

... Stephen Covey

“Decisions of the kind the executive has to make are not
made well by acclamation. They are made well only if
based on the clash of conflicting views ... The first rule
in decision-making is that one does not make a decision
unless there is disagreement.” ... Peter F. Drucker

“When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”
... William Wrigley

[browse collection of quotes and quotations]

Lessons in life:

What would you have done if you were Jupiter? Wouldn't you
agree that a bulk of an executive or manager's time is spent in
resolving people problems? Entertaining disputes, differences,
criticisms, unhappiness raised by workers against co-workers?
Ideally, organizations would have liked a Collaborative and
Cooperative office environment. Some employers go to the
extent of including such criteria in their staff's appraisal,
although others might subtly work this into their definition of
a team player.

Everything happens for a reason. It is important to understand
the cause of the conflict in order to adequately resolve it. Some
of the usual causes of conflict situations in office are:-

1. Logistics support

This can range from lack of stationery supplies to slow
machines to sharing of workstations. These are not difficult
issues and can be easily managed.

2. Staffing needs

Staff wages and office rent are often the leading cost
components of any business. Today's staff are expected to
multi-task, work long hours and handle increased work
volumes. In a stressful workplace like this, any unintended but
offensive remark may trigger violent reactions from the other
party.

3. Work distribution

Given a job, who would you assign it to – a worker who is
efficient and delivers on time, or a worker who is the exact
opposite? Bosses are often faced with a dilemma on who to
delegate a job to. We know that overloading an efficient worker
may eventually lead to his burnout. In spite of this, we
continue to assign more work to our good workers and risk
their unhappiness.

4. Rewards and incentives

This is another major source of conflict. Employees often
compare the rewards they receive and inevitably think that
they have put in more efforts than the colleagues next to them
and deserve better rewards.

5. Rivalry and competition

Empowerment is a good thing but authority has to be clearly
defined. Try having two deputy CEOs perform overlapping
functions and you will soon find both stabbing at each other's
backs.

6. Personality clashes

With increasing reliance on foreign talents, and employees
coming from diverse backgrounds and cultures, conflicts are
unavoidable.

Approaches to Conflict Resolution

A. Ignore and forget

Many choose to be non-confrontational. When faced with an
unpleasant situation, they would rather ignore and pretend that
they were not part of it. In situations caused by
misunderstandings or sudden flare of temper, withdrawing
rather than confronting may be a wise approach. However,
where one party is always aggressive and unreasonable,
walking away is perceived by people as lacking courage and
dignity. This is avoiding a problem, not resolving it.

B. Be assertive

The other end of the spectrum is to be assertive and insist on
your stand. This may sometimes work when the need to take
charge of the situation far outweighs the need for good human
relations. Hence, in many industrial strikes where workers
demand higher pay and better benefits, you may find the
management taking aggressive steps like issuing threats and
ultimatums. If the management turns soft, it is likely to see
repeats of the demands and may eventually be at the mercy
of the workers. Where relationships are important, let the
parties know your position on the matter with clear
statements like “I know ...”, “I want ...”, “I feel ...”, “I would
like ...” Said calmly and in a matter-of-fact tone, the other
party would understand your position and mull over his
possibilities.

C. Win-win

In a conflict situation, viewing each other as enemies will
always lead to heightened emotions like anger. We should look
at it as a problem that has surfaced, hear each other's needs,
and work together as partners, instead of adversaries, to arrive
at a win-win outcome. In a classic example by Stephen Covey,
if two persons are fighting over an orange, a win-win situation
is not to divide it and give each person half the orange. It may
be that one of them wants to drink the orange juice whereas
the other wants the rind to bake his cake. If the needs had been
discussed, both can have exactly what they want, i.e., all the
rind and all the juice.

D. Creative solutions

Think of conflicts as presenting a challenge, an opportunity for
you to do something creative and think out of the box. To give
an example, a staff may insist in having his workstation
relocated and the boss denies his request, citing space
constraints. If the boss had probed, he would learn that the
staff is unhappy because the workstation faces a washroom.
What both parties should do is to put on their thinking caps.
Perhaps they could realign the door of the workstation to face
another direction, or shift the position of the desk and chair.

E. Active listening

When a customer comes to you with complaints and seems
extremely emotional about an issue, the job of a good
customer relations officer is to listen and defuse the tension.
The mistake that many officers make is to take on a defensive
stance and launch into textbook statements of how glorious
the company's track records are. This only infuriates a
customer who is not bothered about the history, but has no
qualms in making the company a history. Listen and
understand their emotions. The louder they shout, the more
they want to be heard, so acknowledge their problem and
empathize with them. At the appropriate part of the
conversation, let them know a little about your position or
the company's policies. Try not to propose a solution, but
lead the customer to suggest a solution and state what he
wants. Take positive steps and always keep the customer
informed about what happens next.

Related Articles:

Bosses who want their way
Autocrats, dictators, and dominant bosses
Customer service – accept blame, own the problem
Learn the Art of Saying NO
Cope with Work Stress
Boss's pet and Favoritism

Books worth reading:

Confronting a coworker or friend about a sticky situation is
never easy but authors Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila
Heen have made it possible for you in their book Difficult
Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. Read
their tips on handling these difficult conversations without
hurting anyone and grow your confidence in communication
skills and techniques.

For a change, parents with young children who are often at
each other's necks may want to check out this bestseller book
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children
Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and
Elaine Mazlish. Sibling rivalry may arise from jealousy and the
book outlines solutions to avoid conflict and to defuse such
explosive situations as comparing, assigning roles, or taking sides.

© Business Fables and Management Lessons

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