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Conflict & Cooperation in the Workplace

02 Aug 2016Career

Globalization has brought about major changes in our world today The market has opened itself up to the world and people who were once isolated are now being brought together by the changing business environment Consequently, the existing workforce in business organizations is characterized by diversity With the blending of different personalities, character, and culture under one business organization, managers are facing more workplace- connected conflict issues  

Conflict is defined by Conrad as communicative interactions among people who are interdependent and who perceive that their interests are incompatible, inconsistent, or in tensionTies old and van de Vliert defined conflict as incompatible activities which occur within cooperative as well as competitive contexts. (Greg Walker) On the other hand, Folger, Poole, and Stultman defined conflict as the interaction of interdependent people who perceive incompatible goals and interference from each other in achieving those goals. (Greg Walker) Though there are different definitions of the term, two

points are clear: a) that conflict is part of every human interaction and b) that it is inevitable

Two Types of Conflict

Historically, conflicts in workplaces have always been viewed as undesirable and which managers should avoid. (Michael A. Esquivel) Managers have always seen conflicts as problems in workplaces that affect, or hinder, the growth of the business organization Also, managers have always perceived employees who are involved in conflicts as problem employees who only cause trouble to the company I believe otherwise In fact, if properly handled by managers, conflicts can even serve as a catalyst for change in the company If approached from the proper perspective, conflicts serve to encourage people to sit down and try to think of ways to improve the policies in the company.

There are two types of conflicts: a) substantive conflict, and b) personalized conflict Substantive conflict deals with decisions, issues, ideas and actions in the workplace There is substantive conflict in the workplace when the parties fail to come to an agreement about a specific issue in the workplace. The bottom line here is that the issues are the source of the conflict A concrete example is the case of a manager who is in conflict with his staff on the schedule of their rest periods The employees usually follow a 6–day-work schedule or 48 hours of work per week Their scheduled rest day is on Sundays Some of the employees requested that their rest day is changed from Sunday to Monday The Manager immediately refused to argue that Monday is the busiest day of the week Instead of both parties approaching the conflict from the perspective of who must win in the conflict and whose will it is that should be followed, both parties must sit down and discuss the matter with the open mind After the dialogue, both parties will realize that: a) some of the employees in the company prefer to have their rest period on Mondays due to religious reasons; b) that only some employees want to have their rest periods on Mondays; and c) there is still sufficient number personnel that can adequately handle the workload on Mondays This is a situation when a conflict became the driving force to have some changes in the policy of the business organization

The second type of conflict is the Personalized Conflict Personalized conflicts deal with personality clashes in the company. To put it in simpler terms, there is personalized conflict when both parties do not like each other Most often, these conflicts are not settled since the same is based on emotions, such as anger, and perceptions about the other person’s personality and character Applying the same example, in case the employees fail to report for work on Mondays, it might happen that the manager will question his continued absence despite the specific policy mandating all employees to be present on Mondays The employees, who desire to have their rest days on Mondays will feel that the manager is very unreasonable If both parties will not have a dialogue to settle this matter then the manager will think that the employees only want to avoid working on Mondays because it is the busiest day of the week He will even argue that it is possible for other employees to ask that their rest periods be changed also to Mondays to avoid the working on Mondays The employees, on the other hand, will feel that the manager is violating their right to the free exercise of religion.

Approaches to Settle Conflicts

There are several strategies that parties may adopt to settle the conflict between them The first strategy is the unilateral approach The unilateral approach is characterized by the initiative of one party to settle their dispute The parties may send communications or memoranda to the other party to try to understand the conflict between them and to find a mutually acceptable solution In Bilateral Approach, both parties to the dispute take the initiative for the parties to meet and discuss the issues between them Regardless of whether the Unilateral and Bilateral Approach is applied the bottom line is that both parties must avoid focusing on personalities during the dialogue Instead, both parties must focus only on the particular issues In our example, the issue is clear whether the employees should be allowed to take their rest day on Mondays on religious grounds If ever the employees are granted this privilege are there sufficient personnel to handle the demands of the clients?  If the answer to this question is yes then the conflict should be settled      

The Third Party approach is different because this involves the participation of someone other than a party to the dispute Examples of the Third Party Approach are mediation, conciliation, and arbitration In this approach, the participation of the third party could be limited to encouraging both parties to meet and discuss the issue or it could be that the third party is given the opportunity to decide the dispute and determine which party is correct and which is not.

There are no absolute rule or matchups that will determine which particular strategy is best for any kind of conflict It always depends on the particular circumstances of both parties What is important is that both parties to the dispute must have an open mind and should always consider the possibility of the settlement to the dispute However, it is generally considered that Unilateral and Bilateral approaches are applicable only when the conflict is still in its inception If the dispute is said to be worse and both parties are no longer on speaking terms then the intervention of third parties become essential.

Conflicts are part and parcel of human existence It cannot be avoided nor can it be prevented This does not mean, however, that we should take for granted conflicts in the business organization The settlement of the conflict is very important in every organization especially with the emphasis nowadays on team interaction in the business organization What is important is that the managers and the employees understand and acknowledge that they already exist There is no single formula for conflict resolution Human personality is so dynamic and complex that it is not possible to conclude that there is a formula for conflict resolution  Each conflict must be carefully analyzed taking into consideration the particular facts and circumstances of the case and the particular stage of the conflict.

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