Full version Workplace Confict And Resolution

Workplace Confict And Resolution

This print version free essay Workplace Confict And Resolution.

Category: Social Issues

Autor: reviewessays 18 March 2011

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Conflict is what has allowed us and our society to grow and become stronger. On a large scale it has brought peace and harmony. On a smaller level it allows one to understand oneself and seek out happiness. However, in today’s workforce, conflict and competitiveness can be either very destructive or very productive. As one develops an understanding of the inter-workings of their job one develops professional relationships with fellow employees and therefore learns to work together towards a common goal. However a common occurrence as a part of this professional relationship is conflict. Conflict can allow companies or agencies to see their weaknesses and where they are the least effective. Being able to resolve these conflicts leads to a more profitable company, happier and more productive employees, and creates a more effective work environment. Conflict however can be damaging if not resolved quickly.

Types of Workplace Conflict

Conflict in the workplace of one form or another can occur at any time. There are many types of conflict that can arise between two or more employees resulting in a work life that can become very difficult, stressful and unhealthy for a company’s employees and very costly for the company if the conflict is not taken care of appropriately.

According to Wilf H. Ratzburg, conflict is caused by incompatibility between actual or desired outcomes, a perceived disagreement, or incompatible

attitudes, motives, values, expectations, or activities (Ratzburg, “Conflict Defined”). The three general causes of conflict are communication, organizational, and personal.

Communication is probably the biggest area for conflict as words can be understood several different ways. Often times “it is not what is said, but how it is said.” One must also take into consideration noise, as a form of distorted signals and misunderstandings (Ratzburg, “Causes of Conflict”).

Organizational conflict occurs mainly when groups are interdependent upon one another. Conflict escalates if these groups are forced to share resources. Other conflicts can arise due to task specialization, reward systems, authority relationships, and group size (Ratzburg, “Causes of Conflict”).

Of course when working together another type of conflict can arise due to personality. These types of conflict are based mainly on morals and value systems but also include the involved parties’ personality types (Ratzburg, “Causes of Conflict”).

Wilf H. Ratzburg states that conflict can be seen in a positive perspective when the conflict:

• opens up an issue in a confronting manner

• develops clarification of an issue

• improves problem-solving quality

• increases involvement

• provides more spontaneity in communication

• initiates growth

• strengthens a relationship when creatively resolved

• helps increase productivity

(Ratzburg, “Types of Conflict”)

Groups tend to be the most effective when they are involved in cognitive conflict. According to conflict theorist, this occurs when the team focuses their debate on the issues at hand. Since each team member brings different opinions and experiences to the table they can examine each issue in detail. By focusing their attention on underlying problems concerning a particular issue they increases the team’s understanding and cohesion, therefore increasing the team’s effectiveness (Ratzburg, “Cognitive Conflict”).

However, conflict can cause real damage to a group or company. According to Wilf H. Ratzburg, conflict becomes destructive if it does any of the following:

• diverts energy from real task

• destroys morale

• polarizes individuals and groups

• deepens differences

• obstructs cooperative action

• produces irresponsible behavior

• creates suspicion and distrust

• decreases productivity

(Ratzburg, “Types of Conflict”)

The ugly side of conflict, otherwise known as affective conflict “provokes hostility, distrust, cynicism, and apathy among team members (Ratzburg, “Affective Conflict”). Affective conflict is caused by anger and personal resentment. It is detrimental to the team because such cynicism causes the group to avert their attention away from the team’s goals. This also causes less commitment to the team as the cohesiveness of the group declines. This damages the team’s effectiveness. It also can incline the individual to not participate as a member of a team in the future (Ratzburg, “Affective Conflict”).

Consequences from Unmanaged Workplace Conflict

At some point in a company’s life, it will pay the price for mismanaged conflict. “…poorly managed conflict leads to lawsuits, lost productivity, turnover, incorrect decisions, low morale, and unhealthy working environments” (McCormick & Heilmann, 1999, Business Journal). The cost of conflict can be very high especially if the conflict could have been avoided or managed effectively and efficiently but was not taken care of due to managers and supervisors not having appropriate training to be able to manage the conflict. Davis states to Yager that "Unmanaged conflict and its ugly side-effects are perhaps the largest reducible cost in organizations today, and probably the least recognized." Davis estimates that "65 percent of performance problems result

from strained relationships and unresolved problems between employees -- not from deficits in individual employee skill or personal drive” (Yager, 2000,

Enterprise/Salt Lake City, pg. 11, para. 4/5).

Strategies for Resolving Conflict

Effective strategies for conflict resolution and knowing when to use them is a skill needed by all supervisors and managers (Ramsey, 2003). If conflicts in the workplace seem to arise frequently, involve several employees and are blown out of proportion, there may be an underlying problem such as a work environment that is not healthy rather than the employees themselves causing the conflicts. Issues such as too much work related anxiety, too much opposition, impractical expectations or pending deadlines may be the cause of the conflict. It could be worthwhile to back off of certain deadlines, reduce overtime and work toward lowering tension to reduce or remove the conflict. If this does not seem to solve the issues or there are deeper problems caused by personality clashes, conflict due to immature or inappropriate attitude toward routine work demands or “less-than-perfect” (Ramsey, 2003) conduct of co-workers, then the supervisor needs to use other work tested methods for dealing with on-the-job conflicts (Ramsey, 2003).

Conflict Resolution

There are several ways that companies resolve conflicts in the workplace. Mediation, arbitration, and litigation are some of the ways that a company has in

trying to resolve workplace conflict. However, all three of these processes can become costly for companies to go through if outside mediators or attorneys have to be hired. Mediation is the process where an impartial third party, which would be your mediator, controls the negotiation of a certain dispute. Litigation is an applied process that is used when two parties can not come to an understanding of a dispute. This process can be lengthy and can go on from a month to years or

even decades. Each party’s representing counsel during this process argues back and fourth about certain factors being argued. Arbitration is used to hear and determine both sides’ disputes. An impartial and competent judge is required for this process. If a resolution does not come out of this then the parties either go back into litigation or even to trial.

Some of the other types of conflict resolution that a company may use that does not require them to have to hire outside help includes informal arbitration, avoidance and coercion. These three types of conflict resolution are described by Cohen (1999) in the article When Managers Mediate…Stuck in the Middle with You:

Informal arbitration is a process where management seeks meaningful contribution from both parties involved and makes a decision based upon that information as to what he or she may feel is fair for both sides. This approach has certain shortcomings due to the tendency of management to “split the difference” rather than make a weighted decision toward one side or the other. This type of decision style can very likely be viewed by

the employees as unfair which may cause the employee to feel like they do not need to change their behavior since they expect that every decision

made by the manager will have the same unfair outcome every time (Cohen, 1999).

The avoidance technique, on the other hand, takes up very little time on the part of management. Employees are usually encouraged to just try to work things out between themselves with no guidance from management.

The manager tries not to become involved in the conflict in any way and usually distances himself to avoid having to become involved if at all possible. The avoidance approach may only work well in minor conflict situations and more often than not it does not work at all. It allows conflicts to worsen because the employees at conflict with one another may not know how to even begin to resolve their issues or not be willing to try to resolve the conflict, causing any further situations or upcoming relationships to be affected (Cohen, 1999).

The coercion approach to conflict resolution uses power to compel the employees to resolve their conflict and is used by management when unacceptable behavior or attitudes are displayed. This type of approach most usually does not work due to the lack of procedural or substantive justice involved. Recurrence of the dispute is likely since the underlying issues are not addressed (Cohen, 1999).

The mediation process is a popular type of conflict resolution utilized by companies to resolve certain types of conflict in the workplace. “Mediation is an agreed, voluntary and non-binding process by which a neutral and independent

third party helps the parties reach an acceptable resolution to their dispute” (Couzins & Ord, 2005, Personnel Today, p12, para. 3-4). In other words, the mediation process is just that, a process of steps involved in identifying what the conflict is and then hopefully being able to solve the conflict in a manner that is suitable and equitable for both parties. Some companies prefer to mediate through their Human Resource manager rather that through a legal process due to higher costs and higher risks. The HR manager may choose to let the employee’s self-mediate and facilitate as a neutral mediator between two employees to oversee that the conflict gets resolved in an effective manner that is agreeable to both parties. Mediation is a strategy built upon the theory that most people prefer a human approach in resolving conflict (Yager, 2000). “Unlike other internal or external processes, mediation works because the parties themselves provide the answers. No-one judges, decides or resolves the dispute, other than the parties. It is, after all, their dispute, and therefore a 'solution' will only work if they agree to it” (Couzins & Ord, 2005, Personnel Today, p12, para. 3-4). “Self-mediation, according to its proponents, can be 90 percent effective. Few situations are so rigid that they cannot be resolved if the parties are willing to approach the situation in a mature manner” (Yager, 2000, Enterprise/Salt Lake City, pg. 11, para. 4/5). “When the mediation is successful, both parties usually feel like they won, and their relationship is often enhanced” (McCormick & Heilmann, 1999, Business Journal, pg.11, para 7).

Depending upon what the details of a particular conflict is and between whom the conflict exists (i.e. an employee in a management position and his or her subordinate employee), the employer may choose to go outside of the company and hire a professional mediator rather than mediate through the company human resource department. Companies choose to hire a professional mediator to evaluate the situation and go through the steps of the mediation process to work out the conflict between the parties because it takes pressure off of the Human Resource Manager when the conflict is between a supervisor and an employee. According to an article published in HR Briefing by Aspen Publishers, one reason why the company may decide it is best to hire an outside mediator is to alleviate any expectations of the supervisor that the Human Resource Manager should choose his or her side just because they are both a part of the company’s management team and also because the employee may see the HR Manager as an ally of the supervisor and therefore as part of the problem and not of the solution (Leone, 1999, HR Briefing, Aspen Publishers, para. 2).

Leone (1999) stated that in order for a company “to avoid the appearance of favoring one employee over the other, HR managers might consider establishing a conflict-resolution program and make it part of their employee orientation program to let new hires know it exists up front” (Leone, 1999, HR Briefing, Aspen Publishers, para. 3). When a company lets their employees know up front that they participate in a specific conflict resolution, it creates more sense of security for the employees especially when the conflict involves a supervisor and an employee.

HR Manager Mediation

Conflict in a boss/employee relationship most often happens due to a “power imbalance” between the two employees even though this type of relationship is automatically one where one party has authority over the other (Leone, 1999, HR Briefing, Aspen Publishers). “Power relates to what people feel they need and the options they have for meeting those needs” (Leone, 1999, HR Briefing, Aspen Publishers, para 6). Leone (1999) describes the breakdown of the relationship between supervisor and employee and what the HR manager acting as a mediator can do to help resolve the conflict:

Sometimes the power imbalance breaks down for different reasons and most times both parties tend to develop a defensive nature toward the other person as a show of self-determination. The goal of the HR manager acting as mediator in these types of manager/employee conflicts should be to challenge both parties to alter their behavior toward one another since it is human nature to blame the other person for the conflict, and then ultimately switching to a role to encourage them to continue to communicate and listen to one another. It takes a commitment from both the supervisor and the employee to want to change their behavior and be successful in a goal to work together. This must be a committed and continuing process by both parties long after the HR manager/mediator’s involvement has ended and the behavior changes will not happen overnight (para. 6-10).


Conflict in the workplace can happen at any time for a number of reasons. How the conflict is handled and resolved determines whether the outcome will be beneficial or detrimental. For a favorable outcome to take place, managers and HR personnel should be skilled or trained in various types of work related conflict resolution procedure. The mediation process is the most popular approach to resolving conflict, however, a company’s personnel needs to be trained in its process for it to be valuable and fair. The other types of procedures have their place in the resolution process as well, but one also needs a clear understanding of each of them in order for any of the resolution procedures to be effective.


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