Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Research Paper

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Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Conflict is an inevitable component of human interrelationships in general as well as in the workplace in particular. In many respects, conflict is necessary and it can be beneficial to the establishment of mutual understandings and relationships within the workplace environment. However, conflicts also represent the distinct potential to undermine work relationships and organizational efficiency where they are not addressed and resolved appropriately.

Successful conflict resolution requires a basic understanding of the potential sources of conflict, the importance of effective communication, and specific awareness of concepts such as validation, negotiation, the role of mediation, and the concept of constructive resolution. In principle, what separates organizations and working groups that manage conflict well from those that do not is not necessarily the relative frequency of conflicts, but rather, the relative effectiveness of the processes used to achieve conflict resolution.

Sources of Conflict

Personality Conflicts

In the workplace, as in almost every other human endeavor, certain individuals have a greater natural affinity for one another than for other individuals. In personal relationships, one often has the relative luxury of selecting one's acquaintances and friends. That is usually not the case in the workplace, because organizational staffing decisions and working groups are formed out of organizational necessity and the specific needs of work groups rather than in accordance with personal preference and choice

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Conflicts over Respective Roles and Responsibilities

Research Paper on Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Assignment

One of the most common specific sources of interpersonal conflict in the workplace is different perceptions among different individuals about their respective work responsibilities and areas of authority (Blair, 2003). More particularly, there are two principal ways that conflicts typically arise in this regard. First, there is potential for conflict anytime employees have different expectations about who is responsible for what because in the absence of clearly defined understanding, it is inevitable that someone will get blamed for an oversight or failure that he or she did not realize was perceived by someone else to be his or her responsibility. When that occurs, the individual who did not consider the oversight or failure to be his or her responsibility understandably reacts defensively to any suggestion to that effect; they may even interpret the suggestion as a deliberately hostile act (Blair, 2003).

Second, there is also potential for conflict anytime employees have different expectations about who retains decision-making authority over specific areas (Blair, 2003). Where lines of authority are not clearly drawn or mutually understood, there is potential for conflict by virtue of the interpretation by one employee of the actions of another as being deliberately disrespectful or of being purposeful attempts to undermine or sabotage one another (Blair, 2003).

Conflicts between Supervisors and Subordinates

Naturally, relationships among and between supervisors and subordinates are subject to many of the same influences and potential sources of conflict as between and among other coworkers. For example, supervisors and coworkers may experience clashes of personalities just as colleagues do. Likewise, coordination of mutual expectation between supervisors and their subordinates is equally important since discrepancies in that regard are frequently the source of disappointment and perceptions of poor performance. However, there are also other aspects of the supervisor-supervisee relationship that often give rise to specific types of conflict that are unique to that dynamic (Daft, 2005).

Conflicts over Diversity Issues

The contemporary American vocational environment is much more diverse than it was in previous generations. Whereas the professional workplace used to be relatively one-dimensional in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and culture of origin, the modern workplace is extremely diverse in those respects. Today, women constitute a large proportion of professional staff; racial and ethnic minorities have finally achieved equality of educational and professional opportunity, and American society is more culturally diverse than ever before. As a measure of society, that is undoubtedly a good thing; however, there is no denying that the coexistence of members of a more diverse society holds greater potential for certain kinds of conflicts that arise in connection with that diversity.

The Importance of Communication

Regardless of the specific nature or source of conflict in the workplace (and elsewhere, for that matter), effective and meaningful communication is one of the most essential mechanisms for resolving conflicts positively (Blair, 2003; Daft, 2005; Wisinski, 1993). Moreover, effective two-way communication is also one of the most important ways of avoiding conflict or at least mitigating its severity when it does occur. By contrast, ineffective communication almost always maximizes the potential for conflict and magnifies the potential harm associated with its consequences (Blair, 2003; Daft, 2005; Wisinski, 1993).

The crucial importance of communication is understandable when one considers the way that conflicts typically emerge in the workplace (Wisinski, 1993). By definition, personality conflicts often manifest themselves in the avoidance of conversation beyond the minimum necessary to accomplish work-related tasks. However, when coworkers restrict their conversation to that degree, there are invariably issues that generate conflict in the so-called grey areas where communication is not absolutely required but where minimal communication leaves much more room for unnecessary error and misunderstanding than less restrictive communication patterns (Blair, 2003; Wisinski, 1993).

Therefore, in many respects, communication is crucial simply because so many different types of conflict are either directly or indirectly attributable to lack of sufficient or sufficiently clear communications to avoid conflict (Blair, 2003; Wisinski, 1993). Communication is equally important after conflicts do emerge because the principal method of resolving conflicts is precisely through interpersonal communications. In that regard, the most important aspect of changes in communication for the purposes of avoiding future conflict arising the same way is not necessarily the content of the specific communication that eventually resolves the conflict. Rather, what is important is that the resolution process outlines changes in the patterns of communication so that the specific causes of communication breakdown responsible can be identified and rectified for the future (Blair, 2003; Wisinski, 1993).

The Importance of Validation

Validation refers to the process of communicating to others that one understands their perspective and their position, irrespective of whether or not one necessarily agrees with it (Krivis, 2006). That is largely because one of the most common sources of conflict and the inability to resolve it effectively is that the respective individuals involved are often too invested in their own point-of-view and in their own arguments to even listen and comprehend what the other person is saying. This interferes with effective resolution in at least three specific ways. First, people are aware on various levels when someone is not listening to their point-of-view; that perception invariably generates additional resistance as well as resentment and intransigence beyond the original substantive basis of the conflict. In fact, the less receptive individuals are to one another's positions, the less of an effort they make to understand one another (Krivis, 2006).

Second, since the key to effective conflict resolution is through communication (Blair, 2003; Daft, 2005; Wisinski, 1993), the less the individuals involved believe that one another genuinely understand their respective concerns, the less likely they will be to resolve their conflicts effectively. Validation is, therefore, essential to conflict resolution precisely because it provides a mechanism for establishing the mutual understanding among the individuals that each understands the other's point-of-view in principle (Krivis, 2006; Wisinski, 1993).

Finally, validation is important because the eventual resolution requires that the respective individuals understand the logical justification and the equity of the various possible solutions (Blair, 2003; Daft, 2005). In general, resolutions are most effective when the respective individuals involved genuinely understand the justification for the solution. Therefore, from the perspective of meaningful and long-lasting healthy work relationships, resolution through mutual validation of respective positions is always preferable to reluctant compliance with resolution of conflicts by the authority of superiors (Russell-Whalling, 2008).

Conflict Resolution Methodologies

There are various specific approaches to conflict resolution in the workplace that have proven successful. One useful approach is called the a-E-I-O-U Model which is an acronym for "Assume others mean well"- "Express your feelings"-Identify what outcome you desire"-"Outcome you expect are communicated to others"-"Understanding in the group is maintained at a mature level" (Wisinski, 1993).

Another useful approach is the N-O-R-M-S Model according to which supervisors or group leaders are involved but in a capacity that emphasizes objectivity (Russell-Whalling, 2008). The acronym stands for "Not biased interpretation"-Observable situations validated by staff"-"Reliability of multiple parties who have the same perception about what caused the conflict"-" Measurable parameters of conflict capable of being identified and measured"-"Specifics that are objective instead of subjective and non-confrontational (Russell-Whalling, 2008).

Finally, with respect to specific conflict resolution methodology, operational negotiation allows team leaders or supervisors to impose a workable solution (if not a genuine resolution to the source of conflict) by virtue of their authority to do so and the needs of all individual team members to contribute to the objectives of the team and of the organization (Blair, 2003). It is a useful mechanism for achieving short-term objectives but it is a less effective solution because it focuses primarily on the need to collaborate effectively despite the existence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Conflict Resolution in the Workplace" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace.  (2010, October 19).  Retrieved April 1, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Conflict Resolution in the Workplace."  19 October 2010.  Web.  1 April 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Conflict Resolution in the Workplace."  October 19, 2010.  Accessed April 1, 2020.