Who are the conflict players?

If you choose to manage a conflict situation, it is important that you take the time to get to know the players. Who is involved in the conflict? What interests does each party represent? What are each player’s values personality, feelings and resources? Your chances of success in managing a conflict will be greatly enhanced if you can view the conflict situation through the eyes of the conflicting parties.

What are the sources of the conflict?

Conflicts don’t pop up of thin air. They have causes. Because your approach to resolving a conflict is likely to be determined largely by its causes, you need to determine the sources of the conflict. Research indicates that although conflicts have varying causes, the can generally be separated into three categories: communication differences: structural differences and personal differences.

Communication differences are disagreements arising from semantic difficulties, misunderstanding and noise in the communication channels. People are often quick to assume that most conflicts are caused by lack of communication but as one author has noted, there is usually plenty of communication going on in most conflicts. As we pointed out at the beginning of this chapter many people equate good communication with having others agree with their views. What might at first look like an interpersonal conflict based on poor communication is usually found, upon closer analysis to be disagreement caused by different role requirements, unit goals, personality’s value systems or similar factors? At a source of conflict for managers, poor communication probably gets more attention than it deserves.

Organizations are horizontally and vertically differentiated. This structural differentiation creates problems of integration which frequently cause conflicts. Individuals disagree over goals decision alternatives performance criteria and resource allocations. These conflicts are not caused by poor communication or personal animosities. Rather they are rooted in the structure of the organization itself.

The third conflict source is personal differences. Conflicts can evolve out of individual idiosyncrasies and personal value systems. The bad chemistry between some people makes it hard for them to work together. Factors such as background education experience and training mold each individual into a unique personality with a particular set of values. Thus, people may be perceived as abrasive, untrustworthy or strange. These personal differences can create conflict.

How does a manager stimulate conflict?

What about the other side of conflict management – situations that require mangers to stimulate conflict? The notion of stimulating conflict is often difficult to accept. For almost all of us the term conflict has a negative connotation, and the idea of purposely creating conflict seems to be the antithesis of good management. Few of us enjoy being in conflict situations, yet evidence demonstrates that in some situations an increase in conflict is constructive. Although no clear demarcation separates functional from dysfunctional conflict, and no definitive method is available for assessing the need for more conflict an affirmative answer to one or more of the following questions may suggest a need for conflict stimulation.

1) Are you surrounded by yes people?
2) Are employees afraid to admit ignorance and uncertainties to you?
3) Are decision makers so focused on reaching a compromise that they lose sight of values, long term objectives or the organizations’ welfare?
4) Do managers believe that it is in their best interest to maintain the impression of peace and cooperation in their unit, regardless of the price?
5) Are decisions makers excessively concerned about hurting the feelings of others?
6) Do managers believe that popularity is more important or obtaining organizational rewards than competence and high performance?
7) Do managers put undue emphasis on obtaining consensus for their decisions?
8) Do employees show usually high resistance to change?
9) Is there a lack of new ideas?
We know a lot more about resolving conflict than about stimulating it. That’s only natural, because human beings have been concerned with he subject of conflict reduction for hundreds, may be thousands of years. The death of ideas on conflict stimulation techniques reflects the recent interest in the subject.

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