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Skills Workshop: MGT6003

Session 4 & 5: Nature of workplace conflict, Conflict Management methods


1.1 Views on Conflict
“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional”, Max Lucado, theologian
“Conflicts exist whenever people are in disagreement and opposition. Conflict is inevitable because people
don’t see things in exactly the same way”, Achua and Lussier, 2010, pp190.

1.2 Common responses to conflict

 Most of us react with more or less shock to open conflicts in the workplace.
 Managers are often unprepared for it when it happens.
Whereby conflict is not well handled.
 One common response is to smooth things over.
 This situation/approach may be considered as a lost opportunity.
 Addressing the conflict could have resulted in improved relationships and eventually better work

1.3 Causes of conflict

Personality clashes, Different values, Differences in observation / perceptions
Conflicting objectives, Competition for scarce resources, Inter - dependence of people / departments,
Different role expectations, Status etc.

1.4 Other Causes of conflict

Conflicts often arise as the result of a number of organisational weaknesses.
The weakness could be:
1. a character flaw of an employee,
2. poorly communicated directions,
3. a lack of resources or
4. erroneous assumptions about the best way to handle a process or procedure.
Rather than simply looking to end conflicts as they arrive, managers should rather determine why a conflict
arises and search for ways to resolve it.

1.5 Consequences of Conflicts

 The most obvious disadvantage of conflict is the strain on personnel emotions.
 Employees with low morale are likely not to work harder, not to stay with the company or to be less
 When employees feel they are being bullied, taken advantage of or victims of favouritism, they may
start looking for another job and/or perform poorly.
 Conflicts between departments can disrupt your production, sales and result in lost business.

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Skills Workshop: MGT6003

1.6 Common Conflict Responses

Avoidance (submissive response) : Waiting for the problem to go away.
Poor me (submissive/assertive response) : Complaining
Anger(assertive/aggressive response) : Emotional outbursts
Revenge (aggressive response) : Disturbing the person who has disturbed you
: Sabotaging their performance or reputation.
Activity: Open discussion on the relevance of each of the above conflict responses in the workplace.

1.7 Benefits of Conflicts

1. Conflicts lead the way to Resolution (when managed)
 Engaging in effective conflict management can lead to the resolution of problems that naturally
arise when people with different goals, opinions and attitudes work together.
 Acknowledging differences and engaging in constructive communication.
2. Conflicts allow for Constructive Change
 When Co-workers air their differences and set the stage for positive change to occur.
3. Potentially New Insights are generated
 The best ideas often rise from the ashes of conflict.
4. Conflicts Enhance Commitment
 People are much more likely to buy-in to the outcome of decisions that are made if they were
involved in the decision-making process.
5. Conflicts Improve Productivity
 By getting involved in efforts to resolve conflict, members of a work group can actually become
more productive.
 Rather than spending time dwelling on the fact that disagreement exists, taking action to deal with
conflict can get co-workers focused on taking actions that lead to greater productivity.
6. Conflicts lead to Accomplishment of Goals
 Eventual agreements result in a more unified team that progresses towards goal accomplishment.

1.8 Other Benefits of managing conflict

1. Learning to take control of one’s own behaviour.
2. Improving workplace communication, Reduces instances of aggression, Gaining skills in teamwork and
3. Results in managing rather than avoiding conflict.
4. Learning effective techniques for intervention.
5. Allows to change oneself to change others.
6. Helps separate personal relationships from business issues.
7. Learning to recognize anger.

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Skills Workshop: MGT6003

Case Study - Anger Management

How to Deal with Your Own Anger?
When you become angry (an emotion that most people experience several times during each working day),
experts suggest you should:
Acknowledge the anger. “If we acknowledge and validate the anger, it is much less harmful”, says Weisinger.
Anger that is ‘stuffed’ tends to come out in other, even less productive ways like snipping, gossiping, or
conspiring behind the victim’s back.
Manage the symptoms. As you become enraged, your pulse soars, along with your blood pressure and
respiration rate. These are unhealthy symptoms when you’re stationary, but not when you’re more active.
Being active helps you focus and mentally travel a safe distance from the anger’s source. “Doing something
helps you regain a sense of being in control”, says Weisinger. “I clean up my office and pay my bills. This
allows me to channel the anger into productive action”
Be pragmatic. “Are you so angry that you’re going to quit your job? If not, then consider other actions you can
take to feel better about things” says Weisinger. “What’s your best course of action to deal with the
problem? Then use problem-solving skills to generate your most effective response”.
Confide in a friend. Call a trustworthy friend with good judgment to help you work through your anger. “The
wrong friend will merely stir you up, inciting you to rash courses of action”, says Goldberg. “They may also tell
others in the company about the conflict, which often gets back to that person. ”
End Case

Source: Bierck. H, 2004, Face-to-Face communications for Clarity and Impact, Harvard Business Publishing

Group Discussion: Refer to Case Study

Critically analyse the effectiveness of prescriptions in the Case in relation to your own experience.
Hint: Consider anger management for self.


4.1 The Psychological Contract
The psychological contract refers to the mostly unwritten, often implicit expectations of parties in a
relationship. For example, your staff may have expectations on monetary compensation based on the time
and efforts they contribute on the job. They may feel the need to express this expectation.
According to Achua and Lussier, 2010, the psychological contract at work can be severed for two main reasons:
1. We may fail to make explicit our own expectations while failing to inquire into the expectations of our
superiors or subordinates.
2. We may further assume that our boss and subordinates have the same expectations that we hold.
3. We are at peace so long others meet our expectations and in conflict when they don’t.
4. Achua and Lussier, 2010 propose a matrix based on two dimensions, namely: concern for others’
needs and concern for your own needs.
5. The matrix gives rise to five management styles to address conflict.
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Skills Workshop: MGT6003

Conflict Management Styles

1. Avoiding Conflict Style
 This style can be used if parties in conflict are known to be highly emotional and it is better to delay
the matter.
 This style tries to passively ignore the conflict rather than attempting to resolve it.
 There is deliberate mental withdrawal and even physical leaving.
 The conflict is not resolved.
+ves: This style may preserve relationships that could potentially be hurt during the conflict
resolution process, especially if the protagonists are highly emotional.
-ves: Avoiding problems does not eliminate them. They can simply get worse, making the
confrontation more difficult. Cropanzano et al, 2007

2. Accommodating Conflict Style

 This style can be resorted to if the importance of the relationship outweighs other considerations.
 There is an attempt to resolve the conflict by passively giving in. The manager are unassertive, but
cooperative, trying to please everyone.
+ves: Relationships are maintained through doing things the other party’s way.
-ves: An overuse of this style may end up with people taking advantage of the ‘accommodator’.

3. Forcing Conflict Style

The manager tries to resolve the conflict by using aggressive behaviour (e.g. use of authority, threat and

4. Negotiating Conflict Style

This style is appropriate when parties have equal power and the issues are complex and critical. (and time is
short). This is a compromising ‘give and take’ transitional style.
+ves: The conflict can be resolved quickly and relationships are maintained.
-ves: This style can lead to counterproductive bargaining.

5. Collaborating Conflict Style

 The conflict is resolved jointly with a solution agreed by both parties.
 Collaboration is based on open and honest communication.
 Results in a true win-win situation.
 This style offers the most benefit to the individual, and the organisation.

Operationalising the collaborative conflict management style model

(The following are adapted from Achua and Lussier, 2010)
Effective leaders encourage conflict resolution styles that maintain relationships. The collaborative conflict
management style model provides a step-wise approach in

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Skills Workshop: MGT6003

a) initiating conflict resolution (by the initiator – one of the two parties).
The initiator is the party in conflict who chooses to confront the other party to resolve the conflict.
The BCF model describes the conflict in terms of Behaviour, Consequences and Feelings.
For example, a manager to a subordinate:
 “When you do not obey my orders (Behaviour),
 Find it difficult to impose my authority on others (Consequences) and
 I feel frustrated and humiliated (Feelings)”.
The BCF statement should be descriptive, not evaluative (no judgement).
Step 1: Plan a BCF statement that keeps ownership of the problem, i.e. avoid distributing blame and
right/wrong judgements. Try to put yourself in the other’s place.
Step 2: Present your BCF statement and seek agreement on the conflict. If the other party does not
acknowledge the problem, persist.
Step 3: Propose alternative conflict resolutions.
Ask for, and/or give alternative conflict resolutions. If agreement happens, fine for both of you. If not,
appeal to common goals and sell the benefits for both.
Step 4: Make an arrangement for change.
Come to an agreed, if necessary, written agreement on actions you will both take to resolve the conflict.

b) responding to conflict resolution (the other party).

Now, in the position of the responder, the initiator has confronted you. The role of the responder is to
collaboratively take responsibility for successful conflict resolution.
The steps are:
Step 1: Listen to and paraphrase the complaint using the BCF Model.(paraphrasing refers to the process.
The receiver restating the message in his/her own words while keeping the meaning. Accurate
paraphrasing means communication has been successful (encoding - decoding).
Step 2: Agree with the whole or some aspect of the complaint.
Step 3: Ask for and/or give alternative conflict resolutions.
Step 4: Make an arrangement for change.
The above occurs when there is agreement. However, if the parties cannot resolve the dispute alone, a
Mediator is brought in.

c) mediating conflict resolution (third party resolution if successful).

The mediator is usually a professional from outside the organisation, a neutral party who seeks to help
resolve the conflict. Depending on initial perceptions and state of relationships, the mediator may meet
each party alone in turn and then call for a joint meeting when the parties are willing to. The style of the
mediator is collaborative. He/She is more bent on issues than on people (separating the people from the
The Mediator may ask questions for clarification and leads the meeting as a Chairperson
Step 1: Have each party state his/her complaint in turn using the BCF Model.

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Skills Workshop: MGT6003

Step 2: Agree on the conflict issues.

Step 3: Propose alternative conflict resolutions.
Step 4: Make an arrangement for change.
Step 5: Follow-up to ensure the conflict is resolved durably.
 The Mediator, if successful, develops a problem statement and ‘resolution’ agreeable to both parties.
However, if the Mediator and the parties fails to resolve the conflict, an Arbitrator may be resorted
to. While the Mediator’s proposal does not bind parties (they may refuse to consider the mediator’s
statement), the Arbitrator’s judgement is binding on both parties. The Arbitrator is generally agreed
upon by the parties and normally comes from the legal profession.
 Strictly speaking, an arbitration is not a collaborative style since parties perceive they have won/lost.

d) Arbitration (if further unsuccessful)

e) However, if the mediator and the parties fails to resolve the conflict, an arbitrator may be resorted to.
While the mediator’s proposal does not bind parties (they may refuse to consider the mediator’s
statement), the arbitrator’s judgement is binding on both parties. The arbitrator is generally agreed
upon by the parties and normally comes from the legal profession.
Strictly speaking, an arbitration is not a collaborative style since parties perceive they have

Conflict Resolution Skills

Billy & Stupak (1994) propose four specific strategies for win/win mediations:
1. Separate the people from the problem. The participants then come to view themselves as working together
to solve a problem.
2. Focus on interests, not position.
3. Look at the options.
4. Establish that a single opinion without dialogue is unsatisfactory.

For this procedure to succeed:

the parties must be willing to separate personal issues from task issues and they must also be willing to listen
to each other’s views and to focus on common organisation interest rather than individual interests (not “my
way”, but “a better way” with mutual benefits).

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