Dealing with Conflict: Strategies for Response

Introduction

Life is comprised of ups and downs whereby sometimes people will always disagree or have misconceptions or miscommunications on certain issues and matters; thus creating conflicts between the disagreeing individuals. Conflicts occur in all areas of life, either in the workplace, at home, in the streets, at joints, and even in relationships. No matter how hard one tries to evade conflicts they crop up without one realizing it.

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Conflicts lead to arguments, quarrels or even physical fights. When people disagree, they are no longer in harmony and hence lead to confusion. To prevent conflict from exploding into something chronic, it needs to be solved or dealt with accordingly by first understanding the source of the conflict (Benjamin, 2007, p.13). Once the source is known than the conflict resolutions and procedures to solve it will be easy to formulate and execute.

This paper focuses on dealing with conflicts effectively by giving the signs of a conflict, the cycle of a conflict, and the necessary response to conflicts. It also tackles the effective management of group conflicts and mainly groupthink, as well as some common solution strategies to the conflicts.

Signs and stages of a conflict

“Identifying the causes of your conflicts is an essential step in successfully resolving them. A doctor spends tie diagnosing the patient’s symptoms before writing a prescription. We must also diagnose what is going on so we can develop the best course of action” (Hart, 1999 p.34). The signs of a conflict are very clear since there is always a rift between the normal situation and the conflicting situation. These signs include expectations being against the reality, expectations not met, unmet needs and requirements, differing styles, unknown people’s agendas, and when work affects health and other aspects of life.

Conflicts must be solved to ensure that there is smooth progression of life. When they are left unresolved, they keep degenerating and may tend to be very expensive to solve in the long run. Conflict resolution needs effective managers who should be able to know the seven stages of the conflict cycle, apply the recording of conflicts, reactions to conflicts and causes of conflicts, know how to deal with self-interests in the conflict, know the five methods of dealing with conflicts, and be able to use past conflicts to solve the present (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003 p.3).

Value of conflicts

Conflicts in the workplace always have their value. Although they create tension, arguments and hurting, they are very important as they allow one to know the personalities of the individuals that are in the workplace. There must be a difference in opinions which helps to know the various options that are required and which can be used in any situation. When work team members come together, they usually have differences in opinions which expose diverse thinking styles, approaches, experience, and knowledge (Benjamin, 2007, p.27). This will be most effective in team bonding and unleashing the potential of the group and ensure better creativity in merging the view.

Conflicts are also responsible to add value and depth analysis in the discussions that the group has. Each member explains and supports his points and elaborates his ideas thus every member is informed and updated on every aspect. Conflicts also ensure a critical examination of views and ideas that make conflicts resolution effective. Indeed, “Diversity can increase a team’s energy level and provide greater creativity through myriad viewpoints” (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003, p.2).

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Though conflicts resolutions are effective, there still lies a great danger when the people working in a team behave in a “groupthink”. Ideally, groupthink will discourage any other member from participating in the discussions or the present members introducing unfavorable ideas in the discussion (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003, p.2). This will discourage members and lead to bad decisions since they are made by few influencing individuals.

To eliminate groupthink, managers must understand that: different perspectives are required to be able to have effective resolutions; conflicts are natural and may be valuable; conflicts can be an ignition of positive ideas, and conflicts arise due to conflict of real differences. “To avoid groupthink team members must be able to constructively disagree with one another” (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003, p.3) and each person’s views should be incorporated in order to be effective in dealing with a conflict. Although it takes time and practice to master a skill especially in dealing with conflict, the final results should be positive and inclusive so as to evade such occurrences in future (Scholtes, Joiner, & Streibel, 2003, p.3).

The cycle of conflicts

Hart (1999, p.51) gives the seven phases of the conflict cycle. These include; anticipation, wait and see, growing, in the open, application, settlement, and reflection. Anticipation involves human expectation of conflicts to occur. Humans know that conflicts are a natural part of life hence they are anxious about the happening. Once the conflicts occur then wait and see is the next phase which makes the individual take time to observe the situation and assess the happening and its intensity. This enables one to resolve the conflict or they will go to the next phase. Growing is where the conflict erupts into a real problem that cannot be brushed aside or ignored; this means that the conflict is in the open. In addition, denial is impossible. This gives time for the management to handle the conflict or just retreat and might involve trial and error of several resolutions to experiment which one works. The application phase of the several resolutions will make the conflict be settled and may lead to amicable agreements or satisfaction of both parties who will make peace and live in harmony (Twerski, 1997, p.74).

Reflection makes the warring parties try and unite and identify the cause of the conflict. They will seek to answer the cause, the behavior of everyone and the procedure of solving the conflict. Activities may be done together so as to ensure that healing and cohesion are attained in the process of reflection.

Response to conflicts

As Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, (2003, p.3) say “in assessing your response to conflict, ask yourself two questions. First how important to you is the opinion, goal, or perspective under discussion? Second how important is it for you to maintain good relationships with the people with whom you are in conflict?” People respond differently to different conflicts. The response depends on the type of conflict, the situation, the experience, behaviors to be adopted and the outcomes expected. The solution will be governed by how important the solution is to the goals and the importance of the relationship of the people in conflict. The common responses that are identified include; avoiding, smoothing, forcing, compromising, and problem-solving.

Avoiding will mean that the issues at hand and leading to the conflict and the people causing the conflict are ignored. Avoidance works on the strategy that assumes that it will be more effective to ignore and avoid the conflict rather than solving it (Mayer, 2009, p.64). This can be applied when the chances of success of the efforts applied are not clear. It can also be applied when the conflict does not in any way affect the output of the work done by the team or individuals. Moreover, avoidance is common in some cultures and is a general norm.

Smoothing involves cooling down the conflict or minimizing it. It tries to keep the relationship of the conflicting parties smooth without strain. Smoothing works on the strategy that conflicts are responsible for ruining the workplace relationships (Scott, 2006, p.45). Persons involved will have to be actively involved so that they can iron out the differences and continue living harmoniously. They have to leave aside personal opinions and believe to forge ahead with the relationship. Smoothing is generally applied when agendas are not important or better still when success of the solutions is not guaranteed.

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These two strategies i.e. avoidance and smoothing are gimmicks for suppressing conflicts. They assume and deny that the conflict exists, downplay the differences, change the topic from the conflicting issue, and ignore the feelings and capitalize on the areas of agreement. This can be just temporary and can cause future eruptions of similar or more complicated conflicts. The management just buries the head in the sand, which might cause other boiling problems and undermine teamwork (Hart, 1999, p.69).

Forcing as a response to conflict is a take over of other people’s ideas. Those individuals who use force want others to adopt their ideas and positions. It focuses more on personal opinion and less on relationships with others. It makes the situation a win loose situation since the weak party is compelled to accept the stand given. This increases the likelihood of a later eruption of the same conflicts. The main rivals will attack each other and use their influence, expertise, experience, and position to woe others to accept their ideas (Scott, 2006 p.78). This is useful when there is need for a fast action required and where the authority and expertise are in favor of one party. It can be effective only when the position or stand that is being forced on others is clearly elaborated and explained, though it can also be lethal since it can make people have resentments or resist the moves and ideas, thus making the relationships sour.

Team members can also compromise to end a conflict. This will involve trying to persuade others to quit their stand for a price or in exchange for another thing. Team members will be asked to state their compromise in order to end the stalemate (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003 p.8). This will be much useful when all the conflicting parties don’t stand a chance to agree on anything. This strategy depends and relies solely on the decisions of the conflicting team members since they can ask for anything so as to leave their stand. Such dreadlocks are hard to solve and ruin most relationships since the compromise has given to opposing members may also cause other related conflicts.

Problem-solving is the final strategy for responding to a conflict. This ensures that the problem is identified, dealt with and eliminated permanently. Ideally, it will be used only when there is enough time and the issues at hand are grave and really important. This strategy needs a lot of resources such as time, energy, trust and creativity and gives a more permanent way of dealing with conflicts and building a long-lasting relationship within the team. Moreover, “becoming aware of your habitual response to conflict opens you to having a choice about how to respond” Scholtes, Joiner, & Streibel, 2003, p.3.

Managing group problems

While dealing with group conflicts there are several important steps to take and consider. These steps include; anticipation and preventing conflicts, connecting the problem and the group, and keep neutral at all times and never over or underreact. In anticipation and preventing arising of conflicts, the team should spend time on self-development through proper interactions such as establishing rules, discussing group norms and behaviors and establishing teamwork through friendship building (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003, p.18).

Being neutral requires the manager to at times not react or not intervene in any way, have private talks with each of the team members or have very little or high intervention, introduce impersonal group time or have low intervention, or have in-group confrontation or at times dismiss the entire group. “No matter how well we try to manage conflict, sometimes disagreements can be highly emotional. Members polarize, legitimate differences of opinion become win-lose struggles and progress is stopped” (Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel, 2003, p.7).

When managing the conflict, there are strategies to use in order to be very effective. The main thing is to establish a common neutral environment that will include; setting a natural place, have an informal setting, make all the participants attend, give the agenda and rules which must be followed to the letter, effectively manage time, and listen and give constructive feedback every time.

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Common problems and solution strategies

Scholtes, Joiner & Streibel (2003 p.14) identify ten common problems in team problems that include; floundering, overbearing, dominant and reluctant participants, unquestionable opinions, rushing to finish agendas, attribution, discounts and plops, wanderlust (digression and tangents) and members who cause feuds. “It’s always a good idea to talk about any team problems, particularly those arising from unspoken issues such as competing loyalties to the team and workgroups” (Scholtes, Joiner, & Streibel, 2003, p.14).

When all these problems are attended to, the team problems will remain solved and the relationship of the group will be mutually guaranteed. Moreover, when such problems are eliminated the focus of energy that is used in atrocities will be effectively utilized in other productive work. This should be the aim of effective managers who should aim at using conflicts to enhance and increase the energy and creativity of the team through constructive means or as a natural resource (Stone, 1999, p.82). They should be a stepping stone to improving and enhancing better communication, solving problems easily, trust and more cooperation. The manager should maintain respect for every individual and face the conflict.

Conclusion

No matter how hard we try to evade them, conflicts are a natural part of our lives. This leaves those faced by the conflict to put aside their differences and agree to disagree and forge ahead in harmony. Conflicts will always be there; the only part that defines the success is the steps one takes to handle or deal with them. Many conflicts are tests of the person’s ability to manage situations; however, every time there should be a positive outcome that comes from the conflict. Dealing with a crisis requires expertise and experience, and above all, cooperation from the warring parties. This will allow permanent amicable solutions to conflicts that will not erupt in future.

References

Benjamin, S. (2007). Perfect Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People: Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Handling Conflict, Confrontations and Challenging Personalities. New York, McGraw-Hill Professional. Web.

Hart, L.B. (1999). The Managers Pocket Guide to Dealing with Conflict. Amherst, Human Resource Development. Web.

Mayer, B. S. (2009). Staying With Conflict: a Strategic Approach to Ongoing Disputes. 1St Ed. San Francisco, CA John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Web.

Scholtes, P. T., Joiner, B. L. & Streibel, B. J. (2003). The Team Handbook. 3rd Edition. Madison, Oriel Incorporated. Web.

Scott, G. G. (2006). A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses: Dealing with Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, and Other Managers from Hell. New York, AMACOM Books. Web.

Stone, F.M. (1999). How to Resolve Conflicts at Work. New York, AMACOM Books. Web.

Twerski, A. J. (1997). Addictive thinking: understanding self-deception. Ed.2. Minnesota, Hazelden Publishing. Web.

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