Conflict management

Conflict can arise from time to time even in best managed teams. Conflict and disagreement are unavoidable in a team where the members are able to take positions which can become rigid and fixed. Managers are more likely to prevent the development of conflict if they avoid creating win-lose situations between team members, make clear what is expected of team members, involve the team members in decision-making processes, and develop and encourage a sense of trust within the team Often the human response to conflict is to ignore it, to buy off one of the protagonists, and/or to work out a solution and then impose it. All these options have their advantages and disadvantages. According to Barnes,(3) in order to tackle the problem it must be seen rationally.

Managing conflict or negotiating an agreement obviously depends upon the type of conflict (see Hill (19 for further details of negotiation management). There are two kinds of conflict—integrative and distributive. In integrative conflict both parties are in some degree of agreement right from the beginning (a win-win situation). In this case they agree to negotiate and agree on the current state of affairs; this is followed by a definition of the problem which leads to the generation of solutions which are implemented and periodically reviewed. The distributive conflict is a win-lose situation, so that each party will make demands but will have to make concessions to resolve the conflict and obtain a satisfactory outcome. A good negotiator will make concessions of little value in themselves but of great importance to the other party, so that each leaves the negotiating table with feelings of success and satisfaction. (!°> The stages of such a negotiation include an agreement to negotiate followed by a general discussion, an exchange of proposals, and a final bargain, with a review of the situation at a later date. A good negotiator must prepare the case thoroughly, be aware of its strengths and weaknesses, be comfortable with the best alternative to the preferred outcome, and not make concessions without obtaining something in return.

Managers must be aware of their own management styles prior to dealing with different types of conflict. Information (pre-existing data or new information obtained from logical analysis, surveys, existing services, or recognized authorities) can and should be used in resolving conflicts. Distributive conflict creates more problems for managers, who should be trained in dealing with conflicts of this kind. In this type of conflict there is less likely to be any trust or clarity, and the manager must strive to obtain both of these. Managing conflict through negotiation may involve the use of an arbitrator.

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