Conflict Management

.. in south East Asia had become the underlying assumption that was never questioned. The lack of dialogue on a topic of such magnitude points to the fact that groupthink arises from a lack of conflict. It was this lack of conflict and diversity of opinion that lead to a faulty foreign policy decision and a subsequent escalation of commitment by President Lyndon B Johnson. In a sample study to prove the effectiveness of conflict in work groups, Groups were formed to solve a problem.

As in the typical experiment, there were experimental and control groups. The experimental group had a planted member who job it was to challenge the majority view; the control groups had no such member. In all cases, the experimental groups came up with better solutions to the problem than did the control groups. However, excess conflict has a diametrically opposite impact on organizational performance (See Appendix A). It hinders team development, promotes aggression, causes indifference and has negative consequences on team spirit. Consider the National Democratic Alliance, Indias ruling party that comprised of 15 coalition members.

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After being elected into government in early 1998, it was toppled over within a year due to a terrific amount of friction between the coalition members. The coalition parliamentarians could not agree on a single issue and this complete lack of coordination lead to the downfall of the government and subsequently to fresh elections. Conflict is inevitable since people from different cultures have to produce results while coordinating with each other in turbulent environments. The creation of mega corporations through mergers and acquisitions has increased the importance of conflict management. It can be studied under two broad approaches; Conflict Stimulation and Conflict resolution. Conflict Stimulation is the process whereby conflict is encouraged within work groups. Listed below are effective strategies for promoting conflict stimulation.

? Openly stating the importance of tranquil, harmonious conflict. For example, departments run by individuals who discourage their subordinates should be replaced by those who encourage conflict. This involves adopting Argyris Model II Behaviour; fewer defensive routines and more dialogue, less discussion. ? Outsiders such as consultants and people from different organizations can be brought in to question practices and beliefs within the organization. They are particularly useful because they dont have any biases or preconceived notions about the organization. ? Organization restructuring is another possibility.

This results in the development of new relationships among people from different departments and is a sure fire way of preventing groupthink ? Management can implement programs that are specifically designed to increase conflict and competition. Examples of such programs may be seen in awarding car salesman prizes for the maximum cars sold their way. This leads them to innovate and innovation is a factor that can lead to positive conflict. This is an effective way of solving conflicts as it encompasses the structural alteration aspect of the corporation as well as obtaining a macro perspective of the organization. Conflict Resolution involves resolving conflicts through varied techniques such as Forcing- this is the quickest form of conflict resolution, thought it does not provide an effective long-term solution. It may be understood further in an employer telling two arguing subordinates to keep quiet. Smoothing- it involves using tact by the peacemaker.

It can be an effective strategy in most cases. However, it does create an impression of favoritism, which has negative consequences in the long term. Consider the following situation The same two arguing employees, X and Y, approach their boss for his opinion on the problem. Their employer chooses Xs argument over Y. This naturally leads Y to believe that their employer is biased towards X.

Majority rule- although voting is an important element of democracy; votes usually lead to suppression of important facts. Once again, the losing party feels that it has been cheated and this leads to cooperation problems in the future. Compromise- this is probably the most widely used technique that provides all parties some sort of benefit. It is most widely seen in labor union conflicts with management. However, a major disadvantage of this system occurs when both/either of the two parties exaggerate their demands in anticipation that they will get more than what they realistically hope for by inflating the initial demand. Consensus- This requires conflicting parties to work together to find the best solution to their problem.

This is the most useful tool thought it often is the most tedious. Voting and horse-trading should not be allowed, while equal airtime for all and a certain level of unanimity must be reached. Confrontation- this involves opposing parties to come face to face and discuss their needs, wants and demands. Its disadvantage lies in parties not stating the central issue and instead skirting around the target problem. This is often seen in husband-wife arguments. Integration- this technique requires the conflicting parties to collaborate in order to resolve the conflict at hand.

Both parties must possess the attitude that although in conflict, a workable arrangement can be reached through compromise. (A model for conflict resolution is listed in Appendix B) CASE STUDY The following case study provides an insight into the dynamics of conflict in international trade. The difficulties arise due to powerful lobby groups and vested interests. Successful cross-cultural trade provides a perfect illustration of the dynamics of conflict management and the following example is an instance where this succeeded. The Otis Elevator Companys entry into the Chinese market is a prime example of how conflicts can be resolved through integration, compromise and positive confrontation.

The Otis Elevator Company wanted to gain access and participate in the Chinese market It would use the cheap, skilled labor to its advantage to have a competitive advantage over its competitors. Chinas primary objectives behind allowing the Otis Elevator Company into its market were to acquire advanced technology, earn valuable foreign exchange and gain management expertise. During negotiations, three major hurdles were encountered. The first hurdle involved Chinas demand to produce advanced products to substitute for imports and save valuable Chineses foreign exchange. Otis on the other hand wanted to initially transfer their more primitive technology since they could meet the demands of the market. Over a period of time, the latest technology could be transferred as they gained experience in the technology. Through compromise, the Chinese drew up a technology transfer schedule that entailed the transfer of the latest technology over a period of time.

Otis compromised on the second Chinese demand- shared management. The contract specified that Otis assent would be necessary for major management decisions within the firm. This reflected Otis willingness to integrate their needs with the Chinese demands. The most difficult issue related to foreign exchange. The Chinese currency, the renminbi (RMB) is non-convertible and the government seldom converted foreign business earnings into foreign exchange.

After much bargaining, Otis and the Chinese government agreed to a solution whereby Otis was not required to buy a fixed amount of products and the Chinese government did not have to guarantee conversion of RMB earnings. This is an excellent example of how conflicts can be successfully navigated and resolved through mutual compromise to produce a symbiotically beneficial agreement. Had their not been conflict between the two parties, it would have been a case of pure exploitation by one party against another. Through conflict management, they innovated to constitute a fresh agreement that would suit both their needs along with turbulence in the environment. I would like to conclude by reiterating the importance of constructive conflict and its management in this day and age. Conflicts are beneficial if they are harmonious and tranquil.

They promote intellectual dialogue and prevent groupthink. In an age where mergers become more common by the day, conflict management holds the key to saving millions of dollars by increasing interdepartmental coordination by reducing friction between employees. Conflicts should be used as opportunities to refine behavioural patterns and constantly innovate in a changing world. We find comfort among those who agree with us. Growth among those who dont. -Frank.

Clark My sentiments precisely. Psychology.