Conflict management | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi


Conflict management

IT was an interesting experience to deliver a few sessions on conflict management to the district level leadership of an organization where everyone was convinced that conflicts are a real hindrance in the progress but most of them were a little inflexible to modify their existing organizational culture.

It is a proven fact that conflicts significantly cost organizations both in terms of financial losses and excessive engagements of leadership for resolution of conflicts.

According to studies, the cost of conflicts for the US has been estimated at 350 billion US dollars, for the UK around 66 billion US dollars and 232 billion US dollars for Japan.

In terms of time spent for conflict resolution, studies suggest that managers spent almost one quarter of their official time in resolving and mitigating conflicts while senior management may spend up to 80% of their time in addressing conflicts.

Besides direct monetary cost, conflict leads to several workplace issues such as loss of productivity, absenteeism, withdrawal of people, arbitration and healthcare.

Probably the most important element in conflict management is the awareness about causes of conflict.

There is an array of reasons from misunderstandings to conflicting goals which result in conflicts in an organization.

We all can conveniently comprehend misinterpretations, miscalculations and personal differences.

Lack of role clarification and jurisdictional ambiguities are technical aspects which need specific interventions from the management to avoid day to day conflicts in organizations.

Threats to status and status inconsistencies are psychodynamic in nature thus vary from one individual to another.

Communication problems have to be addressed by the individual through continuous focus on different modes and means of modern-day communication landscape.

Lack of performance standards and conflicting goals indicate organizational inability to mobilize available resources and channelize human potential to achieve organizational objectives.

It is a proven fact that any organization without SMART objectives cannot realise success.

Only measureable and time bound attainable objectives can facilitate organizational members to direct their efforts towards the destination.

Ambiguous objective will allow people to remain in their comfort zone, which is quite natural; therefore organizations need to spend reasonable time to crystalize their objectives for convenient comprehension of all organizational members and appropriate performance appraisals along with historical analysis: otherwise people will conveniently hide behind their purposely articulated paradigms.

There are numerous myths surrounding conflicts in organizational settings e.g. ‘harmony is normal while conflict is abnormal’, but in reality conflict is an inevitable and normal part of enduring human relationships.

Probably it is the conflict which exposes inner feelings of people about their environment and people surrounding them, which can result in building new bonds and strengthening existing connections, if managed appropriately.

Another myth about conflict is that ‘conflict should never be escalated’, but in reality sometimes productive management requires that the conflict be made larger so it can be fully addressed.

Managing conflict should be orderly and polite is also a myth, in reality overly nice communication during conflicts can result in insincere exchange.

Productive conflict management is often disorderly, chaotic, and confusing because during conflict usually uncertainty prevails and often situations demand wholehearted endeavour to cope with any emerging condition.

Potential opposition or incompatibility is the first step in the conflict process in the presence of some conditions that create opportunities for conflict to develop, such as, communication gap, work design (content),work structure (groups of co-workers, their qualifications & abilities etc.) and personal variables e.g. authoritarianism& dogmatism etc.

Cognition and personalisation is the second stage in the evolution of conflict, which is considered as the felt level when individuals become emotionally involved and parties experience anxiety, tension or hostility, here parties decide what the conflict is about and emotions play a major role in shaping perceptions.

Stage three in the evolution of conflict is analysing intentions. Intensions are decisions to act in each way, intentions intervene between people’s perception and emotions and their explicit behaviour.

These intentions lead to future course of actions after perceiving and personalising the conflict.

Behaviour forms stage four in conflict evolution when conflict is visibly evident.

Specific behaviour towards the conflict are exhibited, statements are made, actions are taken, and reactions are recorded to register personal opinion about the conflict.

These behaviours at this stage are usually open attempts to implement each party’s intentions.

There is always an outcome of a conflict either positive or negative.

In case of functional outcome there is an improvement in the performance while dysfunctional outcome hinders group’s performance.

Conflict is constructive when it improves the quality of decisions, stimulates creativity & innovations, and encourages interest & curiosity among group members.

Conflict is dysfunctional when breeds dissatisfaction, and can potentially lead to the destruction of the group.

We join organizations by our own choice irrespective of formal sector employment, informal sector engagement, development sector commitment, voluntary sector initiative or political binding.

No one teams under coercion, but still we witness harsh behaviours, daily frictions, and individual incompatibilities, because, we live in a human society and it is just normal to have prejudices, perceptions, offences, beliefs, and political, cultural & economic backgrounds which actually trigger conflicts.

There are different approaches to handle conflicts in both personal and professional lives.

Probably the most challenging approach is termed as ‘competing’ (I win, you lose) or sometimes referred as ‘forcing’ is an approach when conflict has vital implications for organisational operations, then leaders/managers take decisive actions in a swift manner to save interest of entire organisation including those who are part of a conflict.

However, in any case, it certainly seems imposing and may be considered unpopular measure.

In my opinion, all other approaches certainly have a potential to inculcate cohesiveness in organizations if implemented prudently.

Conflicts do arise among people when everyone is determined to lead his/her organisation to achieve set objective but through different arrangements.

In such situations ‘collaborating’ (I win, you win) or ‘problem solving’ approach can serve the best.

An avoiding (no winners, no losers) on minor deviation to accommodate human errors is probably a good approach.

Accommodating (I lose, you win) others during the conflict is essentially a daunting task when apparently one is an intruding side.

Still there are examples of selflessness and accommodating faults of others on the workplace, but such instances are quite rare.

When collective objectives take precedence, then conflicting parties do give up something for combined benefit, it is called ‘compromising’ (you bend, I bend)or ‘resolution’, it is probably the most suitable approach for the long-term benefit of conflicting parties and their organizations.

—The writer is Associate Professor Management Sciences, Head, Centre of Islamic Finance, COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus.


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