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Conflict management in an organization

What do we refer to when we talk about conflict management in an organization?

Although the first things that come to mind in this regard evoke negative feelings, the conflict in companies and the workplace can be managed positively and give rise to new growth opportunities. The new approaches to conflict management in working groups confirm this: we can effectively manage divergence and derive useful enrichment for personal development. But what are we specifically referring to?

Let's see why conflict management is so important in the corporate environment and how this skill can be developed by management and workgroups. Conflict management and mediation: techniques and advice. From reactions to a conflict to exercises to do, here is what you need to know to deal with differences in work.

The conflict: a definition

Before discussing conflict management and mediation in professional circles, let's try to define conflict and see what changes have been made in the perception of the phenomenon.

We can define conflict as a divergence in which each of the actors involved wants to impose its own point of view without making concessions to the other.

In the conception of the conflict to which we are accustomed, there is always a mechanism of power that foresees the victory of one's needs over the other. However, modern approaches to conflict management in psychology teach us that conflicts can turn into valuable opportunities through effective communication.

Let's see how we can classify the conflict and what its possible causes are.

Causes of conflict

Conflicts, in any context, are very frequent in daily life: for this reason, it is necessary to identify and resolve them by pursuing a positive approach.

The concept of conflict within organizations has changed greatly over time, going from a negative to a positive conception. In fact, the corporate organizational model that spread in the 1960s envisaged a routine performance of work activities and negatively considered the occurrence of conflicts.

With the changes of the following years and the progressive change of the organizational structures, the conflict has been considered an opportunity for comparison and clarification and the ability to manage conflict situations like an important managerial competence.

There can be different and types of conflict:

- Intrapersonal conflicts, i.e., conflicts within itself;

- Interpersonal conflicts that are, conflicts outside the self;

- Intergroup conflicts, which occur in case of a clash between groups of different belonging;

- Intragroup conflicts, which arise in the event of problems between subjects belonging to the same group.

Several causes can trigger these conflicts. Among these, we can identify, for example:

- Technical-organizational conflict, which has to do with the structure and procedures to be followed in the company. It occurs when a clear, precise role, tasks, and objectives are not assigned to a specific subject.

- Relationship conflicts, which are related to the way you relate to the people you work with and can be caused, for example, by a diversity of views and opinions on a personal level, by incorrect communication and emotional impact.

Reactions to a conflict

Now that we have seen more about the anatomy of conflict, let's talk about conflict management and mediation in the workplace, seeing the possible reactions and solutions to conflict.

As we said earlier, in our conception of conflict, there is always a part that wins and one that loses. Well, to transform conflict into the opportunity, it is necessary to free oneself from this assumption, following a very different model.

This model can be, for example, the lossless model developed by Gordon for effective conflict management. The model is divided into six phases:

1. Identify the conflict and actively listen to the other's words to understand their needs;

2. It allows the different solutions to the conflict to emerge, for example through brainstorming;

3. Evaluate the solutions that emerged together with the other;

4. Choose the most acceptable solution for both. It is necessary to choose a win-win solution, where there is no loser;

5. Implement the decision by planning times, roles and objectives;

6. Review the decision made and, if it does not bring the desired results, renegotiates it.

This process is very useful in organizations, from private companies to the Public Administration, because it stimulates dialogue, active listening, and problem-solving at the basis of conflict management.

Conflict management in business

Interpersonal conflicts are inevitable in our work dynamic, which is why they must be managed properly. Knowing how to manage conflicts is a key skill of the manager. And why not think about the change rather than changing the bandage?

Office life is not a long quiet river. We have all experienced situations that are complicated to manage: a disagreement with colleagues, criticism from other collaborators, counterproductive postures (unwillingness, jealousy, blockages). There are many reasons for the annoyance that can lead to conflict.

Conflict is the meeting of feelings or opposing interests: quarrels, disagreements, between people or entities in very varied contexts: conflicts of interest, conflicts of powers, conflicts of values, personal conflicts. These different business conflicts bring only negative waves and energies charged with emotions such as anger, frustration, fear, sadness, resentment, disgust. Sometimes, they can even come to materialize by aggressive postures, even violence.

In some situations, problems are not expressed or listened to by managers, and many of them are in avoidance, practice ostrich politics, or focus on their goals for fear of not knowing how to control the conflict. Nobody complains, which gives the illusion that all is well and that the conflict is a thing of the past.

But this, if it is not managed as quickly as possible with transparency and supervision, it can only have negative consequences first of all on the individual (loss of confidence, performance, dynamics, occupational diseases, burn-out), then on the organization (drop in productivity, poor external image).

Knowing the different stages of this mechanism is essential because it allows you to take a step back to manage the situation better:

1. The phase of disagreement: frustrations and unexpressed feelings, incomprehension of words and gestures

2. The phase of tensions: feelings under control, sterile discussion (opposition of opinions without any search for common ground)

3. The phase of blocking: avoidance of person in question

4. The Cold War: a succession of conflicts without eruption

5. Open war: Seeking the defeat of the other

In our experience, this escalation of the conflict is generally the consequence of one or more of these three situations:

Poor internal organization

- Lack of clear procedures, the precise definition of positions and/or SMART objectives, validated by Top Management

- No transparency on the company's vision

- Repetitive tasks at work: boredom, bore-out

- Interdependence of departments 

- Lack of KPI's and results monitoring

Lack of human and material resources

- A poor match between the objectives set and the resources made available

- Low investment in production tools (hardware, software, etc.)

Lack of internal communication and valuation of individuals

- Lack of valuation of employees, their individual, and collective performances.

- Poor organization of top-down and up-stream communication.

- Low involvement of employees in structuring decisions

- Lack of managerial neutrality

Managing labor disputes is quite an art.

Interpersonal conflicts are inevitable in our work dynamic, which is why they must be managed properly. Knowing how to manage conflicts is a key skill of the manager. He must be able to bring out points of view, reconcile opposing opinions, and use his emotions and those of others to preserve the link (emotional intelligence).

The solution is simple, and you just need to communicate in a constructive and controlled way, saying what clearly bothers us without being hurtful. Trying to come up with solutions instead of sticking around, but unfortunately, it's also complicated.

Recourse to a mediator, a neutral person, can be considered in the most conflictual situations, in particular when the link is broken and the two collaborators no longer speak to each other, can no longer work together. The latter's role then consists of not passing judgment and helping the two parties find the appropriate solution. Getting the people in conflict to find their way out of the conflict on their own usually prevents one or the other from feeling like they are losing out in mediation.

To conclude, the conflict often shatters an abscess, and the earlier one intervenes, the more one can supervise it to make it take constructive forms. These disagreements can turn into a positive force for the company since they push managers to improve the means of work.

Conflict is certainly a problem, but it is up to us to make it an opportunityConflict management, the objective is not to let tensions persist and to act quickly!

Author: Vicki Lezama

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