Managing International Conflict Diversity in the Workforce Essay

Pages: 5 (1757 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Business - Management

Managing International Conflict

Diversity in the workforce is one of the most critical issues of concern for modern managers today. To better understand diversity operations in an intercultural setting, the author of the 2009 qualitative research study entitled "Managing conflicts through strength of identity" from Management Revue used a case study format to study intra- and inter-personal constructs of conflict "and the management thereof in a selected [unnamed] international automotive organization in South Africa" (Mayer 2009: 1). The article specifically attempted to explore how identity formation positively and negatively impacted a manager's ability to deal with conflict. However, it unintentionally exemplifies one of the challenges of qualitative research: how to 'code' the data used in the qualitative research process. By not specifically analyzing how race and ethnicity may have affected the responses of the different individuals involved in the study, the results were less useful than they could have been otherwise.

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TOPIC: Essay on Managing International Conflict Diversity in the Workforce Assignment

The article begins with a basic overview of identity theory and conflict theory, as it relates to management and organizational development and how it will inform data-gathering. South Africa was selected as a case study to examine the impact of identity in workplace-related conflicts in international or diverse settings because of the rapid change the nation had undergone in recent years. South Africa as a nation had experienced a shift in its holistic identity, which had clearly impacted the business climate within that nation. "Global trends, international co-operation and intra-national changes result in South African managers' exposure to a high level of diversity derived from multiplicities in cultural origins, racial constructs and differences in identity construct. These major impacts result in managers working in the new South Africa experiencing identity-related conflict" (Mayer 2009: 1). South Africa was once a racially stratified society, lead by a minority white government that enforced a system of apartheid upon its black and Indian populations. After the end of apartheid, as the nation integrated and black Africans assumed the reigns of power, all South Africans were forced to radically re-assess their conceptions of self.

Personal identity, as defined by the study, included "interests, roles, attitudes and value orientations of a person, which need to be integrated and which change in their degree of importance, depending on the context and the situation" (Mayer 2009: 1). Managers and employees thus define their individual identities within a business context in relation to one another as well as on personal basis. They also define themselves in relation to the larger organization as "organizational identity is commonly viewed as the form by which organizational members define themselves as a social group in relation to the external environment, and how they understand themselves to be different from their competitors" (Mayer 2009: 1). When these different identities clash in, conflict can result. An individual's conception of self may be different than how a manger perceives his or her role in the workforce; organizational identity and the demands of the group may conflict with both manager's and employees concepts of self.

The researchers thus had two specific types of data they wished to track: types of identity conceptions, and types of conflict, both productive and unproductive.

Analysis

The research authors took an explicitly conflict-based view of the firm, rather than a functionalist overview, in presenting their data. The conflict-based view underlines they conceptions of organizational identities, which just like individual identities and national identities are constantly being renegotiated. In contrast to a functionalist view of the firm, which views organizations as deploying standard operating procedures in a harmonious fashion, a conflict-based view of the firm conceptualizes organizations as constantly engaged in a struggle over power and scarce resources. "Description, questioning, contestation and defense may, therefore, be regarded as an ongoing argument between the insiders and outsiders of an organization" (Mayer 2009: 3). Conflict is seen as inherent to human nature, and just as conflict has occurred through history, it is also mirrored within organizations. Organizations, just like nations are "embedded in historic, socio-cultural, political and economic contexts and inter-personal interactions (Mayer 2009: 3). But while traditional conflict theory saw such conflicts as inevitable and irreversible, new conflict theories of management attempt to find ways to use conflict in a constructive manner, to create a stronger organization.

In the South African context, the article stated that the managers interviewed confirmed the researcher's initial impressions that identity and conflict were strongly interlinked. The managers were selected from an international organization and "the sample comprised of managers from South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands, England and Zimbabwe," all of whom were asked to reflect upon their perceptions of conflict in a South African environment (Mayer 2009: 7). Interviews were conducted with 45 managers. 37 managers were South African (SA); three were German; four managers were from the Netherlands, Zimbabwe and England (Mayer 2009:7).

The findings were that overall, nonwhite managers reported feeling a particular need to comport themselves with professionalism, and while they did not experience outright discrimination, they often felt as if their competency was questioned, not because of the quality of the actual tasks they performed, but because of who they were perceived as, in terms of their identity. The interview subjects were asked to report what organizational forces positively and negatively impacted their personal and professional senses of identity. However, in recording responses, the authors merely noted if the respondents were non-white or white, rather than recorded their country of origin. The impact that specific ethnic, as opposed to purely racial identity might have upon the individual's experiences was thus not noted.

The format used for the article was qualitative, and the unnamed organization was selected because of the diversity of its workforce. A five-step process was used: Step 1: Familiarization with the subjects and immersion of the researchers in the work environment; Step 2: Discussing particular themes (related to conflict); Step 3: Coding the responses (as to the type of conflict used); Step 4: Elaboration and further interviewing when necessary; Step 5: Interpretation and checking of the results, and reviewing the results by outside authorities (Mayer 2009:8).

Coding is a necessary step of the qualitative research process when a comparative assessment of different responses is required. The researchers specifically coded different types of identity-related conflict to see if identity perceptions weakened or strengthened the identities of the managers involved. Some identity conflicts seemed to solidify the individual's sense of self: "Positive relationships in families and social networks, as well as me reflection of individual identity aspects in the organizational identity concept, led to a strengthened identity in managers which also supported to stay 'professional' and 'keep the face of all people involved'" (Mayer 2009:8). Other aspects of identity which were recorded as better enabling the employees to deal with conflict included self-motivation; strength of mind, leadership, empathy, optimism, truthfulness, direct approaches, a strong locus of control, effective coping skills, and self-consciousness about the limits of his or her individual perception (Mayer 2009:8). Negative forces upon manager's sense of identity included a lack of harmony of the individual's personal philosophy with that of the organization, perceived bullying and gossip, intimidation, race-related discrimination, ineffective management, and a lack of privacy (Mayer 2009:8). Internally, managers reported these types of attacks upon their identity caused them to feel less confident, and in many instances, profound psychological distress.

However, coding the data can also limit the utility of the information that is gathered. There was no record of how the managers perceived their national identity outside of the workplace context or in South Africa. Coding is used to render subjective responses useful for comparison, but given that 'identity' was the core concept under scrutiny in the study.

Although the idea that a strong, positive sense of identity enables an individual to better deal with conflict is important to note, to some degree the methodology deployed by the researchers was frustrating in that it did not give sufficient emphasis and consideration to the unique aspects of racial identity, and how that might have impacted the situation in the South African organization. A South African organization would have seemed to have been a uniquely fruitful place to study how perceived racial and ethnic alliances affect business relationships. While it is not surprising that managers perceived racial discrimination to be a way in which identity had a negative impact upon business relationships, the specific manner that racial discrimination might impact self-esteem, as opposed to more general organizational and philosophical conflicts was not explored. Does racial identity prove to be particularly difficult to deal with in certain types of conflict (personal vs. strictly professional)? Does the individual's personal perception of the degree to which his or her racial or ethnic identity is important impact the way in which the conflict plays out?

There was also not a separation between ethnic and national identity conflicts. While workers of a wide variety of nationalities were studied, researchers did not code responses to as to study if the experiences of an individual from Zimbabwe were profoundly different from those from the Netherlands. Only… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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