Conflict resolution is a process in which the issues causing the conflict are resolved. This methodology, in contrast to the structural units, puts the focus on resolving the issue as opposed to simply stopping the conflict. There are two methods utilized to resolve conflicts: one is the consensus method, and the other is the integrative method. Both of these techniques are very effective, and their usage depends on the type of conflict situation and the possible alternatives that the participants are dealing with.
The consensus method is applicable in a judgment situation where a final solution is necessary, high in quality, and not opposed by the participants. The judgment situation implies that there is no absolute correct answer. In the consensus method we are seeking a solution that can at least be supported by all participants and not be opposed. The attitudes of the participants using consensus decision-making should be that there is no polarization of sides. All people will have an open mind and simply be looking for a quality decision. The focus should be on defeating the problem, not arguing over the specific methodology. To arrive at consensus, the participants should avoid voting or trading off on the different possible solutions. Consensus is as it implies—the consensus opinion of all the participants must be positive and supporting the solution that resolves the conflict.
There is a number of training aids to develop skills in consensus decision-making. Most of these focus on finding solutions to potential problems where none of the participants are very expert in the area. This tends to focus people toward open communication, developing a good definition of the problem, and leading them in a search for possible answers. It is interesting to note that training aids generally let the individuals determine a solution on their own, then participate as a group member to develop group alternatives, and finally select the best unopposed solution to the problem. Generally speaking, the group decision is of higher quality than any of the individual decisions. It should be noted, however, that occasionally there would be an individual decision that is superior to the group's decision. This should be downplayed in consensus decision-making because it is necessary to have the group supporting the decision.
The other technique for decision-making and conflict resolution is referred to as the integrative method. This method is applicable when the conflict revolves around the means of accomplishing the end rather than the end itself. The techniques focuses on sequencing a decision-making process through a series of steps, where two or more parties are polarized around a few solution strategies. In this environment, typically the characteristics focus on "my way versus your way," with little effective communication and very poor perception of the people. The steps to follow in working your way through the integrative process are
1. State the objective of each group.
2. Are they compatible? If they are, combine the objectives to establish commonality between the two groups.
3. Explore mutual methods to achieve this common, compatible objective.
4. Hold evaluation of the methods until all methods have been proposed. All too often, we stifle the creativity of the participants by critically evaluating potential solutions early. By holding off all evaluation, it is possible for everybody to propose ideas without opening himself or herself up to other people's criticism.
5. Looking at all the possible methods that have been proposed, use consensus decision-making to arrive at a strategy that can be supported by all the participants.
Many of the items presented appear to be very commonplace management techniques. However, we must ask ourselves just how effectively we have used these. And the second question to ask ourselves is, is it not possible to utilize the new techniques that have been mentioned? As with any skill, expertise can be developed, but it must be practical. You should begin identifying the conflicts occurring in your company, work on the internal characteristics of these conflicts, and see if you can direct them to a WIN-WIN situation.