Conflict & Negotiation – a healthy aspect and art of business

Any conflict, be it personal or organizational; can play a productive role in the life of an individual or business, depending on how it is handled/managed. Conflicts can be healthy if they are managed well but the wrong handling of conflict can cause great turmoil in relationships, work and environment – and this indeed affects many in one way or another.

As Abraham Lincoln said, behind the cloud the sun is still shining – and indeed conflicts can appear as clouds, but that does not mean that existence of sun is diminished.

What is conflict?

Robert Kreitner (in his book Organisational Behaviour) advocates that “Conflict is a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party.”

He describes several antecedents that contribute towards conflict; difference of personalities, values, competition for limited resources, unclear policies, job boundaries, unreasonable expectations/deadlines, unresolved or suppressed conflict. It can be reasoned also that managers can effectively manage the conflict by knowing its antecedents.

Is conflict useful?

Conflict is largely unavoidable and is almost certain in life, but it can be either functional or dysfunctional. Due to individual, cultural, and systemic differences, a situation can often be perceived differently. Differences are not necessarily bad and the conflict resulting should not be assumed as something negative. Conflict can be functional, if it serves for positive purposes; but if it affects negatively, then it may be dysfunctional. Its functionality or dysfunction can depend on the way it is handled. A conflicting situation can be used or become a stepping-stone for further development or can be a disaster.

Negotiation – the key to conflict resolution

Conflict should be managed carefully through negotiations, establishing norms and being objective. Often when conflict reaches unresolvable level, the parties involved either break-apart or pursue lawsuits against each other. To avoid law suits, organisations may use arbitration, mediators or consultants to help deal with the conflict.

Types of negotiations

There are two types of negotiations; distributive and integrative. Distributive is the way in which one party gains at the expense of the other. Alternatively, the negotiations resulting in solutions that are beneficial for both parties are considered integrative negotiations. Either way, there can be ethical pitfalls such as telling half-truths, hiding key facts or engaging in other potentially unethical actions.

Conflict management techniques

Frequently, a conflicting situation could have been minimised if the necessary measures were developed and adopted beforehand. Many organisations do so and develop their own values, norms and acceptable behaviours. They communicate them clearly to their employees and ensure practices, which help to minimise many personal and individual conflicts.

Functional conflict can be practiced within an organisation through programmed conflict. Such conflict encourages difference of opinion without protecting management’s personal feelings. Examples of such simulating conflict activities can be defined as devil’s advocate and dialectic methods.

Kreitner suggests 5 alternative ways (see diagram below) to manage conflict, which are scaled on concern for self and others.

  • Integrating is high on concerns for self and others. This way demonstrates particular strength as it deals with underlying issues rather than just the symptoms.
  • Obliging is high on concern for others but low on concerns for self, where one party ignores their interest but satisfies the other party’s interest.
  • Dominating is high on concern for self and low on concern for others, where one party enforces its decision on the other.
  • Avoiding is low on concern for self and others as well, and can be passive withdrawal from the conflict.
  • Compromising, a medium level concern for self and others. This approach can be defined as a give and take approach where either party agrees to give up some of their standpoint and partially accept another perspective

Third part intervention can also play an important role in resolving the conflict. Often parties involved in conflict are resistant to the offer made by the other party and become less flexible. However, involving a third party brings a neutral standpoint to deal with conflict and help avoid expensive lawsuits, while reaching solutions that serves best the interests of parties involved.

Conclusion

As much as conflict is unwelcomed, there is equal possibility that one might be faced with it. Therefore, while dealing with conflict, one must look at the positive aspects of it and handle it effectively. Handling it ineffectively can raise further serious problems, however handling it well is an art that leads to productive outcomes. Thus, in today’s world where change is constant and the world is a global village; conflict is likely or even certain to arise. One must not perceive conflict as unhealthy but rather manage it well to have an ultimately positive outcome.

Simon Peter Nadeem – PhD Candidate, University of Derby

Simon is an ambitious, emerging researcher in the era of Circular Economy, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and Business.