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Simple Approach to Conflict Management

Professional Development MBA-525-MBOL6
Stuart Hart 8/18/2013

Over the last few weeks I have learned a lot about various areas of business and being a professional in the work environment. Some areas that were eye openers for me were the various outlooks on leadership, business ethics, styles of communication, and views on career planning but my biggest take away from this class will be conflict management. I work in the field of college athletics but I have a varied professional work background that I pull from in my current endeavors. One area that I find interesting is the dynamic of working in a field that has this many personality types. In the field of coaching, most coaches are leaders with varied styles of leadership. In my role within our athletic department I serve as strength and conditioning coach which means I interact with roughly fifty coaches, our entire administrative staff, and support staff which include our athletic trainers, business managers, sports information personnel, as well as student workers. Due to the highly competitive field and a charged work environment one of my biggest challenges on a daily basis is balancing the needs of others, the resources available and the reality of our work environment. Through this class I have learned some very effective tools to manage conflict in a more strategic way and I would like to share those with you. In my role I would be considered a member of the support staff for athletic department but my area of expertise directly affects approximately fifty (50) coaches, three hundred and seventy five (375) athletes that are members of about nineteen (19) different varsity teams. Understanding who your customers are is very important and in the context of our institution and our athletic department the culture of having an individual with my skill set is not a part of the culture of Division II athletics nor has it been an option available within Saint Leo University. So in the beginning there was the hurdle of having to educate student-athletes, coaches, and the majority of the support staff as to the role the strength and conditioning coach plays with the department. This has been an ongoing process but the first strategy to dealing with conflict is to be aware of your current environment. When I joined the athletic department I implemented a change that most of our coaches were resistant to, and when implementing change

within organizations this often leads to conflicts that hinder the change process. (Razza & Standing , 2011) Because I had done my research in regards to the departments views on training, and their current practices I was prepared to deal with the conflict but didnt know exactly how much resistance I would run into. I was able to get a pulse on the department from our Athletic Director as well as speaking to various coaches, but really I got most of my input from our student-athletes. This information gave me the tools necessary to chart a course that would change the direction of the department as well as make a shift in the views of key players as it pertains to the current systems in place. Rule #1 Be aware of your circumstances and environment. Because of the legwork that I did prior to implementing any sweeping changes, and also figuring out who the key players would be in regards to making positive progress the next step in the process of managing potential conflicts was to be proactive. By this I mean I knew in advance where I would meet the most resistance. I knew which coaches wouldnt buy into releasing their athletes to a new person on the staff, I also was aware that there would be some push back from our athletic training staff. It was also evident to me that there would be some resistance from our student-athletes especially upperclassmen that were already indoctrinated into a culture of doing the bare minimum, and not necessarily being accustomed to being pushed to their limits. This was an interesting situation to be in and any change effort occurring in an environment where multiple cultures coexist with diverse objectives could result in signicant conicts (Razza & Standing , 2011) This was evident because when working within teams you could tell which were ready to buy into the new processes, and you could tell which teams had the buy in from the coaching staff. From a coaching standpoint it is very difficult to enact change within any team if the head coach of the team doesnt buy in so that raises conflict between the team and me as the strength coach. The other area where there is conflict is the differences in opinions in regards to how training regimens should be organized or implemented. As stated before being proactive in dealing with some of these concerns can help move forward and in

hindsight it did. Some proactive measures that I took was sitting down with the coaching staff and getting an understanding of their expectations and trying to gain their trust and buy in through compromise. Rule #2: Be proactive in regards to heading off potential conflict if issues arise. I mentioned compromise when being proactive in heading off conflicts because the usual reason for conflicts is a resistance to change and parties involved are not willing to set aside differences to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. In order to come to an agreement in a course of action compromise is necessary. As Pace states compromise occurs when conflicting parties each give up something in order to reach an agreement. (Pace, 2006)There were many occasions over the last few years where through meetings and discussion with coaching staff, athletes, and our administrators I had to change my stance on issues as it pertains to my vision of strength and conditioning. By me being willing to change my stance this helped me get the support of all parties involved in most cases or at least made them willing to bend their views of me and the service I was providing. Before one can truly compromise though you must force yourself to see and understand all sides of the argument. This takes patience, persistence and an ability to be objective in your approach. Some issues contributing to the conflict in the beginning were teams not feeling that services were not equitable between teams and the misperception that I had a one size fits all approach to training. Once these issues were brought to my attention I made it a point to be proactive and address these concerns by providing examples of how training modalities would be different between teams and that all teams would have access to the same services regardless of the impact on my own personal time. In order to truly get this point across I had to send email correspondence throughout the entire department with detailed explanations of services offered. In addition to that I set up a one on one meeting with those that had the perception they would be slighted, and offered my sincere intention to make sure all needs would be met. In this particular case it made sense be accommodating which as this report states this will put your concerns as a low priority and make high priority the concerns of the other interesting parties. (Hoban) By putting the priorities of

the coaching staff, and sometimes other support staff it made their buy in possible and they in turn provided less resistance to certain new initiatives being introduced. Rule #3: Try to gain an understanding of the other sides point of view. Rule #4: Initiate and try to keep open lines of communication. There were some instances where even though I may have tried some of the aforementioned methods of dealing with conflict there was still no progress made. In those situations I was forced to use a technique that should really be the last in your arsenal of tools. Sometimes it is best to find or use others to help in your discussions; there are times where personalities just do not leave opportunity to find common ground. In cases like this I found myself using other coaches that had great relationships with members of our personnel that I could not get to change their stance. There were quite a few cases where I utilized the student-athletes to make the point that what we were doing was in the best interest of the program and that if given the opportunity for all to participate it could translate into more productive training sessions for the team. In very rare cases I had to seek the advice and counsel of the Athletic Director, and there were times I am sure he used his influence to get some of his coaches to change their stance on utilizing my services. It is not necessarily how I would have liked to gain the buy in from the coach because this can lead to resentment on the part of the coach if being forced. As Pace states, you cant have teamwork without collaborations and you cant have collaboration without respect and trust. (Pace, 2006) My experience when using this particular method of conflict resolution, if it was forced by their superior the relationship was never a positive one, when the coach was influenced by someone that had experience using my services and they gained their desired goal then the coach was able to at least consider the possibility they might have the same results. Rule #5: Seek outside help.

I would be lying if I said that over the course of my time here at Saint Leo University that all my relationships have been fruitful and without further conflict. I would also be being very misleading if I stated that these tips will work all the time but for the most part I can find examples over the course of my time here at Saint Leo that these methods have worked in a large majority of the confrontational situations I have been a part of. Conflict is a part of athletics, it is between coaching staff, it happens between coaches and our administration, between coaches and players and even amongst the members of teams themselves. In athletics someone is always trying to gain an upper hand, and could probably best be said, someone is always trying to win. I knew what my goals were walking into this situation and I charted a course to bring those goals to fruition, in order to implement the type of change that I have been able to accomplish over the course of 5 years required a steadfast, nose to the grind stone, never taking your eyes off the prize approach. I had to do what was in the best interest of the group regardless of the short term implications to my personal agenda. There was a coalition amongst athletes that the services I provided were in the best interest of the department as a whole and this coalition was comprised of athletes, coaches, and administrators alike. It took time, and there is still ongoing conflict but the last tip I would say that I have used is to be in constant assessment of your current situation. I am always meeting with coaches, other support staff, individual athletes, and teams as a whole and even our administrators. The reason for this is because I need consistent information and communication to make sure that everyone is satisfied with the work being provided, and if there are any areas which can be improved upon. Conflict brings with it the opportunity to improve, learn and grow, if handled correctly. Take these few suggestions as tools in your toolbox and add to them over time based on your experiences. Rule #6: Consistent assessment of relationships is key.

Works Cited
Hoban, D. (n.d.). Conservation Technology Information Center. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from Conservation Technology Information Center: Pace, D. J. (2006). The Workplace - Interpersonal Strengths & Leadership. New York: McGraw Hill. Razza, S., & Standing , C. (2011). A Systemic Model for Managing and Evaluating Conflicts in Organizational Change. Systemic Practice And Action Research, pp. 187-210.