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Managing Conflict
Part 4 of 5


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The second structural approach is similar to the higher-level involve­ment except that a separating unit is installed rather than utilizing an executive. This is referred to as separating units. A new organizational structure is created, with the newly created unit having the responsibility to coordinate decision-making and information flow between the con­flicting groups. This is depicted in figure 3. This organization must be seen as having a balanced view of the issue, relative technical expertise, and power. The advantage of this type of conflict resolution is that it does not require the executive's time as the higher-level involvement does. Additionally, this is a very effective way to separate the two groups.

The structural approaches, however, do have some drawbacks. Or­ganizational changes are expensive and may not be totally supported by the rest of the organization. The use of third-party judgments, as in the new organizational structure, may minimize the battle, but they certainly do not create alliances. Additionally, the judgments may be suspect as a result of questioning the competence, motives, or under­standing of the third parties in this new organization. Structural changes may actually increase the sense of victory versus defeat if the interven­tion methodology is not balanced. Once again, the structural approach is simply minimizing or stopping the conflict—it is not resolving it.

The other approach to conflict resolution is the process approach. The emphasis in this type of approach is to change the dynamics, or internal characteristics, of the conflict rather than substituting third-party judgments. The competitive orientation will remain, despite an organizational change, if the dynamics are not addressed. Conflict man­agement is required to transform competitive orientations into coop­eration, to recognize WIN-WIN situations when they exist, to reduce suspicion, to open channels of communication, and to determine solu­tions. Concentrating management efforts on the following dynamics can do this most effectively.

Perhaps the most important dynamic that management must focus on in conflict resolution is to open the communication channels. It is necessary to provide neutral sites for meetings. A potentially competi­tive situation can escalate if one of the conflicting parties refuses to enter the other's territory. Isolation will prevent information flow, and suspicion and animosity will develop. Neutral ground permits contact between the groups without potential conflict. In controlling and open­ing communications channels, it will be necessary for the meetings to have a structured agenda. The agenda should identify and prioritize issues. This agenda should ask questions to promote information-shar­ing and the leader should make a visible list of agreements. Identifying all the proposed solutions prior to agreement will prevent any potential solutions from being left out. If the agenda is not followed, the discus­sion will jump from issue to issue, and competition will increase. As a result, problem size and definition will escalate, and angry feelings will grow, which will result in reduced problem-solving capability.

The second dynamic that management of conflict must control is how the opponents perceive the goals. Competitive opponents often will view success as defeating the other person. It is necessary for the leader to identify WIN-WIN and WIN-LOSE situations. The leader must stress that problem-solving is the goal and not punishment. It may even be necessary for the leader to introduce alternative solutions in order for the conflicting participants to save face. Emphasis must be made that there are organizational goals, and that all parties will share a common fate. The common fate is what would happen if the conflict­ing parties fail to reach a solution. There is a common high-level goal; the business must succeed. There must be a reward structure to support these goals, and if there is not, one must be created. Management of the conflict must indicate that a reward does exist and is contingent on arriving at solutions that optimize the outcome for the organization.

The third critical dynamic is how the conflicting par­ties interpret one another. As a leader, it will be necessary to encourage the opponents to step into one another's shoes. A competitive environment causes us to judge others by ourselves, thus creating a mirror image. If we are suspi­cious, we automatically assume that the others are suspi­cious. This mirror image can be shattered if you, as the leader, can get the participants to discuss the situation. Because there are so many differences among the people involved in the conflict situation, it will be necessary for the leader to crystallize the similarities and play down or dismiss the differences. Competitive conflicts can produce animosity as a result of mistrust and ambiguity. If the groups are shown where everybody stands by recognizing their similarities and building upon them, there will be less chance for misconceptions. Conflict will still exist, but it will not be competitive and therefore not so deadly.

To Be Continued


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