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Managing conflict in a world of diversity, political correctness, the economy crisis and unemployment is unavoidable. Conflict in general is often seen and handled negatively because participants don't have the necessary skills to deal with it. As a guideline, conflict is neither productive nor nonproductive and consists of seven different categories (Communication Research Associates, 2005). There are similarities when it comes to dealing with conflict in the private environment and in the business world. Employees may encounter problems with their co-workers or with their employer. However, there are significant challenges that involve employees and employers and conflict on a much higher level.
Solving problems is an ongoing process that sometimes brings immediate results and sometimes an outcome that might be seen at a later time (Goodwin & Griffith, 2006). From the professional perspective, it is crucial to have faith in ourselves and the other individual in regards to solving a problem. A professional seeks a win-win situation and has several results in the back of his/her mind. Preparation is a tool that employees, but also employers should posses when they deal with conflict. That means, both parties know the real issue and have particular goals in mind. There is usually the ultimate goal that one participant has, but when this doesn't work out there is always an alternative goal to resort to. This alternative goal might be the result when two parties fight for limited resources and finally have to share, in order to establish a win-win situation.
It is in the interest of all participants to create a non-hostile environment before starting a problem afflicted conversation. A nondirective approach may decrease defensiveness and emotional outcomes (Goodwin & Griffith, 2006). Another strategy is to solve conflict when it is recognized. The longer one waits the more frustration may develop. As a supervisor, it is sometimes a career killer to ignore a conflict because it can decrease productivity, negatively affect the climate and the reputation of the supervisor and company. Both, employees and employers require objectivity in a problem situation and personal preferences and personalities must be completely taken out of the discussion.
Employees on a supervisor level or employers have particular procedures they apply when they have to deal with a problem employee. For example, exploratory interviews “help to lay the problem on the table and get behind the roots of the problem in a face-to-face conversation (Goodwin & Griffith, 2006, p. 144)”. When the misunderstandings or issues are cleared “there might be no further action necessary (Goodwin & Griffith, 2006, p. 144)”. What follows when the supervisor recognizes a violation, is a corrective interview. In this particular conversation, “a description of the violation, name of the violator, date of violation and corrective interview, as well as written acknowledgement of the employee is documented Goodwin & Griffith, 2006, p. 145-146)” . This is a good example of a formal conflict.
An informal conflict could involve two employees working on a project. It is up to the team to determine the tasks and deadlines and now conflicting opinions occur, as to who does what. It is informal, because there are no formal rules attached and it is up to the individuals to come to an agreement (Communication Research Associates, 2005). This situation is also an example of role conflict because the individuals argue over conflicting role expectations. Another type of conflict and one of the most destructive ones involves ego and judgments. Here, it is about competing with one another and determinining who is the ‘better person'. It usually results in destructive behavior and no resolution (Communication Research Associates, 2005). The easiest confict to solve involves content because it is up to good research and fact finding to determine who was right with the given information. Very often in the business world, we also see conflicts arising over resources, decision making and expectancies. These three types of conflict are solvable, when both parties have faith in their abilities to evaluate the options and consequences that arise with this particular situation. Clearly defined job descriptions help employees and employers evaluate materialistic resources and expectations of one another.
Most of us have barriers which prevent us from recognizing and managing conflict productively. This is true on a private and professional level. Only because our environment changes doesn't necessarily mean our behavior changes. The barriers that prevent us from managing problems may be a habit we had for years and over and over apply it in our daily lives. In order to identify conflict and deal with it positively, we must recognize our barriers and those habits as well as recognize the real issue behind a conflict. One obstacle is to avoid conflict alltoghether. This of course doesn't solve the problem and can make it even worse. Nonassertiveness is similar because the particpant is not willing to speak their own mind which increases frustration (Communication Research Associates, 2005). Often, we find ourselves arguing over an issue we don't own and try to analyze something that is not present over. This behavior is not productive and leads to the wrong strategy. The worst case scenario in a conflict situation is escalation. Herby the participatns become very defensive and egoistic. This may involve 'You-language' and should have, must words. Dirty fighting is another barrier that may prevent a productive outcome of a conflict. Here, passive or aggressive communication is afoot and leads to escalation (Communication Research Associates, 2005). Finally, competing with the conflict partner leads to nowhere but a win-lose situation, which is not the appropriate outcome of a productively solved issue.
Many employment-management issues arise out of manager's decisions and the struggle between producing profit and win the trust and loyalty of the employees. It can be a challenge to balance these two goals because labor's interest lays in “fair and competent management, dignity and a reasonable share in wealth (Nickels & McHugh, 2008p. 322)”. One argument may arise on how to determine competent and fair management. In many organizations, we will find rules and regulations and procedures on how to deal with employees and conflict. But when it comes to shared wealth, it is clear that employees have to show outstanding performance and negotiate salaries and benefits accordingly. Even though it might not seem very difficult to achieve some of the goals, there are certain “issues that affect the relationship between mangers and labor: union activity, executive compensation, pay equity, child care and elder care, drug testing and violence in the workplace (Nickels & McHugh, 2008, p.322)”. In larger companies it is not uncommon to have employees who belong to a union. A union acts in the interest of the employees in “employee-management negotiations concerning job-related issues (Nickels & McHugh, 2008, p.322)”. These issues may include wages, hours of work and time-off policies, job rights, discharge and discipline, benefits and grievance procedures. These conflict situations portray formal conflicts that must be solved assertively in order to avoid strike, lockouts and unemployment. Collective bargaining and mediation are formal examples of how issues between employees and management are handled.
As we see, conflicts arise on all career levels and in the private and professional sector. It takes much practice and a good understanding of conflit resolution techniques to achieve the desired win-win situation. In some instances, win-win situations turn out to be win-lose or even lose-lose situations. It is important for employees to know their job description and role, as well as what the supervisor expects. Managers sit on the other side of the table and their dealing with conflict can be much more difficult. A good manager knows his/her employees, follows their performance, adjusts the salaries appropriately and knows how to deal with conflict and change in an effective manner.