Conflict management is an important area of business that entrepreneur should have the knowledge about in order to cope with the numerous conflicts he may be facing in his organization. Managing conflict is an important managerial skill, which the entrepreneur must acquire.
By conflict, we mean a perceived difference between two or more parties that result in mutual opposition.
Conflict usually considered as a negative factor, it can have constructive, as well as destructive consequences. Some of the destructive prospects are well known. For instance, conflict can cause individuals or groups to become hostile, withhold information and resources, and interfere with each other’s efforts. It can delay projects, drive up costs, and cause-valued employees to leave.
On the constructive side, conflict can highlight problems and the need for solutions. It can also promote change as parties work to resolve problems. In addition, conflict can enhance morale and cohesion as group members’ deal with areas of concern and innovation by encouraging new ideas.
Consequently, some conflict in an organization is important, but too much can have a detrimental effect on organizational performance. Accordingly, entrepreneurs need to understand the causes of conflict, know how to reduce or resolve conflict, and also be able to stimulate it in a positive way when appropriate.
The Various Causes of Conflict
There are causes of conflict, which the entrepreneurs must beware of, and the same time works toward avoiding them.
These causes are:
- Scarce Resource: Possibilities for conflict expand when there are limited resources, such as office space, equipment, training, human resources, operating funds, and pay allocations. For example, if two groups require the same facilities, each may feel that its needs are more important and neither may be willing to compromise.
- Poorly Designed Reward Systems: Reward systems can unwittingly lead to destructive conflict when they reward competition in situations that require cooperation for success.
- Communication Failures: Breakdowns in communication due to distortions or lack of communication often lead to conflicts.
- Individual Differences: Differences in personality, experience, and values make frequent conflict likely.
- Goal Incompatibility: Out of necessity organization members frequently pursue goals that are somewhat different from one another, setting the stage for potential conflicts.
- Task Interdependence: Two types of task interdependence are particularly prone to conflict. One is sequential interdependence, in which one individual or work unit heavily depend on another. For example, waiters are generally more reliant on cooks than the reverse because waiters must depend on cooks to furnish good meals in a timely manner. The second form of task interdependence is reciprocal interdependence, in which individuals or work units are mutually interdependent. For instance, purchasing agents want engineers to provide detailed generic specifications so that they can negotiate lower costs from suppliers. At the same time, engineers need to obtain materials of the proper quality on a timely basis, so that they may find it more convenient to specify a brand name.
Methods of Conflict Resolution
To reduce or resolve conflict, entrepreneurs can use a number of different approaches. Such efforts are typically aimed at minimizing the destructive (negative) impact of conflict.
Changing Situational Factors
One the ways to reduce conflict is to change the factors in the situation that are causing the problem. For instance, an entrepreneur might increase the resources available, reorganize to reduce interdependence, redesign reward systems, or take steps to improve communication systems. Unfortunately, this method may not always be feasible or may be extremely expensive.
Appeal to Super-ordinate Goals
In the situations causing excessive conflict are difficult to change, managers are sometimes able to refocus the individuals or groups on super-ordinate goals, major common goals that require the support and effort of all parties.
Examples are ensuring the survival of the organization and beating the highly visible competition. The success of appeals to superordinate goals depends heavily on identifying goals that are sufficiently important to all parties.
Use of an Interpersonal Conflict-Handling Mode
Apart from situation changes and appeals to super-ordinate goals, interpersonal modes are another means of handling conflict. Entrepreneurs have five major interpersonal modes that they can use to attempt to resolve conflict in which they are involved in.
- Accommodation: This focuses on solving conflicts by allowing the desires of the other party to prevail. Basically, the entrepreneurs voluntarily let the other party have his or her way rather than continue the conflict.
- Avoidance: This involves ignoring or suppressing a conflict in the hope that it will either go away or not become too disruptive.
- Collaboration: It strives to resolve conflicts by devising solutions that allow both parties to achieve their desired outcomes. In order words, the solution is such that both parties win at last their major issues. Collaboration frequently involves considerable creativity in developing solutions that suit the needs of both priorities in the conflict.
- Competition: This involves attempting to win a conflict at the other party’s expense. In other words, one party wins and the other losses.
- Compromise: This aims to solve conflict issues by having each party give up some desired outcomes in order to get other desired outcomes. Compromise often involved bargaining by the conflicting parties and generally requires a situation that offers both parties the chance to be in a better position or at least in no worse position after the conflict is resolved. With compromise, each person wins some major issues and loses others.
Although collaboration is often an advantageous way to handle conflict because both sides are likely to be satisfied, circumstances frequently call for the use of the other approaches as well. There are summary situations in which each of the conflict handling modes might apply.
- On issues vital to company welfare when you know you are right.
- Against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.
- When quick, decisive action is vital e.g., emergency
- On important issues where unpopular actions need implementation e.g., cost cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline.
- To merge insights from people with different perspectives.
- To gain commitment by incorporating concerns into a consensus.
- To work through feelings which have interfered with a relationship.
- To find an integrative solution when both sets of concern are too important to be compromised.
- When your objective is to learn.
- To arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure.
- As a backup when collaboration or competition is unsuccessful.
- When goals are important but now worth the effort or potential disruption of more assertive models.
- When opponents with equal power are committed to mutually exclusive goals. To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.
- To let people cool down and regain perspective.
- When gathering information supersedes immediate decision.
- When others can resolve the conflict more effectively.
- When issues are seen tangential or symptomatic of other issues.
- When an issue is trivial, or more important issues are pressing.
- When you perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns.
- When potential disruption outweighs the benefits of resolution.
- To build social credits for later issues.
- To minimize loss when you are outmatched and losing.
- When harmony and stability are especially important
- To allow subordinates to develop by learning from mistakes.
- When you find you are wrong – to allow a better position to be heard, to learn, and to show your reasonableness.
- When issues are more important to others than yourself – to satisfy others and maintain cooperation.
Methods of Conflict Stimulation
Since too little conflict can lead to apathy, lethargy, and low performance, entrepreneurs sometimes need to stimulate conflict. Obviously, conflict stimulation should be initiated in as positive a way as possible – and with caution, to prevent the conflict from reaching a destructive level that outweighs its advantages.
There are several prime means of increasing constructive conflict:
- Still, another means is encouraging internal competition.
- Avoiding individuals with more diverse backgrounds to a group.
- Another is communicating information that will prompt organization members to engage in constructive dialogue about the potential need for change.
Of course, in stimulating conflict, entrepreneurs must have mechanisms in place to monitor the situation and maintain control.