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Managing Conflict
Part 1 of 5

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Conflict in our jobs is nothing new. We have been exposed to this po­tential ever since our introduction to the area of production and inven­tory control. The standard organizational triangle shown in figure 1 depicts the conflicting goals within a manufacturing organization. Sales wants a large finished goods inventory and open credit; Manufacturing wants a large raw material inventory and long production runs; and Finance wants no inventory and all sales paid for in advance. Every department has different objectives, and this substantiates the fact that conflict will be an everyday occurrence in our business life. Conflicts will vary in intensity, but there will always be two possible outcomes: constructive and destructive. The common approach to conflict man­agement that we have consistently used is to draw battle lines, apply brute force, and believe "our cause is just." I'd like to demonstrate that there are other ways to deal with these conflict situations that are more effective and certainly more people-oriented. Prior to effectively man­aging a conflict, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the problem and the opportunities that exist. To do so requires analyzing the "con­flict postures" and the "internal characteristics" of a conflict. It is then possible to evaluate the benefits and the disadvantages of a conflict. With this information, it will become apparent why we must manage conflict and how the different techniques apply.

There are four basic postures or positions a conflict can assume. Each of these postures has its own operating characteristics, its own methods, and potential outcomes. The first posture is WIN-LOSE. This situation is comparable to a game of checkers. The situation is guaran­teed to produce heated and mutually destructive competition, which will offer no opportunity for cooperation. Typical operating methods within a WIN-LOSE situation include dominance. Dominance is where an individual uses their positional authority to resolve conflict. It's not cooperative, it generally is not fair, but it does stop the conflict. The second method id referred to as "ignoring influence." In this technique, members involved in the conflict ignore the presence of any influential people involved in the conflict and therefore undermine their attempts to resolve the conflict. The third and most common type of resolution to a WIN-LOSE conflict is the "majority rule." This resolution is sim­ply a vote, and the largest number of people wins their position.

The LOSE-LOSE position or posture is characterized by the atti­tude that half a loaf is better than none at all. The usual method of resolution is compromise. Compromise can resolve a conflict, but if the compromise is associated with an individual's values, it will pro­duce very negative feelings and no support to the compromise solu­tion. If the compromise is firmly associated only with the disagree­ment, then positive feelings will surface and the decision can be sup­ported. However, once again we have found a situation where no op­portunity for cooperation exists because of the competitive atmosphere that surrounds the situation and goal suboptimization.

A conflict posture that is somewhat an anomaly for us is that of the WIN-WIN situation. Obviously, this is the most desirable solution, but many of us have a great deal of difficulty comprehending how a con­flict can have a solution where both conflicting parties benefit. In a WIN-WIN situation, there is obviously much less pressure towards competition and distrust. The opportunity for cooperation and prob­lem-solving is great, with little or no clashing over goals and objec­tives. The methods of operation are consensus decision-making or in-tegrative decision-making, two techniques that will be discussed later in this paper.

The fourth conflict posture is one that requires a great deal of inspec­tion. This is categorized as the WIN-WTN/WIN-LOSE situation. This is the most common conflict posture in organizations and demonstrates the need for strong management. Strong management is needed here be­cause either we can turn this conflict into a WIN-WIN situation where both parties will benefit, or without the aid of management it will be reduced to a WIN-LOSE competitive situation where somebody will win and somebody will lose. What will cause the situation to go one way or the other? Research has indicated that the positive quality of the inter­nal characteristics or the operating methodologies greatly influences the direction of the conflict.

To Be Continued


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