Workplace Conflict Resolution

Workplace conflicts are studied by various disciplines.

Researchers have reached consensus about three general statements referring to workplace disputes:

Conflicts are widely spread in the workplace as part of social life and they can have both interpersonal and interorganizational characteristics. Parties involved in a conflict have both cooperative and competitive interests. Conflicts can be constructive when dealt with appropriately and destructive under poor or lacking management. Sometimes, however, the actions of the parties involved in the conflict are decisive for its development, regardless of any conflict management.

Generally, workplace conflicts are disputes between employees or between employee and the management, based on social interaction and workplace interdependence. A comprehensive list of the possible direct reasons for workplace conflicts does not exist as disputes can derive from various factors -- from individual characteristics to political or social differences.

According to a study on interpersonal work conflicts by Bergamnn and Volkema, about 62% of the disputes between employees and managers concerned:

goal disagreement repudiation of employee intake unclear assignments unfair performance assessment a co-worker downgrade poor work planning unrealistic workloads power misuse

The research also showed that in a conflict involving employee and manager the employee is more likely to confront his or her supervisor and discuss the issue, while in conflicts between employees the parties would rather avoid each other and not talk about their disagreement.

The study helps draw the conclusion that a conflict should pass several steps in order to reach resolution. First of all, the problem should be named, or an issue should be recognized as troubling. Secondly, the conflict should pass the stage of "blaming" or of pointing at an individual or a group considered responsible for the issue. Finally, at the "claiming" stage a resolution to the conflict is requested and the blamed person is held responsible.

If an employee decides to just avoid his or her co-worker and not discuss the issue, the conflict remains at the "blaming" stage and therefore no actions for its resolution can be implemented. On the other hand, a claim can be rejected, turning the conflict into a dispute.

Generally, the choice of approach for conflicts resolution depends on whether conflicts derive from interests, rights or power.

For example, an interpersonal conflict between co-workers, based on some kind of harassment or disagreement over a task, can be easily resolved by the parties themselves or with the help of a third neutral party, especially when employees are trained to handle such situations through active listening and interpersonal communication skills. Such skills can help avoid an escalation of the conflict and reach a resolution at the stage when the parties involved are closer to the problem. In that case determining the interests of the parties via talks is more likely to lead to an agreed resolution of the conflict.

In interest-based conflicts it is best to directly aim at the sources of the conflict and the necessities of the parties and help them come to an agreed solution.

Disputes that include the involvement of parties outside the workplace - such as trade unions or courts - are usually based on rights and power. Such disputes can refer to gender discrimination claims, for instance. Rights-based conflicts are normally resolved via the existing legislation or regulations contained in union contracts. In power-based disputes one party exercises power to impose or threatens to impose some kind of burden on the other. For example, such conflict can emerge from a trade union threatening with a strike. Such high-pressure disputes are often resolved by a party outside the conflict, such as a judge or an arbitrator. Therefore, the resolution in power-based conflicts is not reached via negotiations, it is usually imposed. Unlike interest-based conflicts where the resolution can be winning for both parties, resolutions of power-based disputes are more likely to end with a "winner," and a "loser."

Procedures in conflicts based on power and rights are known as "remedial voice procedures" because they provide an opportunity for employees to argue already made decisions and correct them in a way they consider fair. Such procedures also take place outside the organization.

The best choice of approach in workplace conflicts resolution is made after consideration of four criteria:

Financial and non-financial costs the resolution brings for the parties. Durability of the solution. The impact of the resolution on the relationships between the parties. Satisfaction with the outcome and fairness of the procedure.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Managing Conflict in Organizations
M. Afzalur Rahim.
Quorum Books, 2001 (3rd edition)
Conflict 101: A Manager's Guide to Resolving Problems So Everyone Can Get Back to Work
Susan H. Shearouse.
American Management Association, 2011
Workplace Dispute Resolution: Directions for the 21st Century
Sandra E. Gleason.
Michigan State University Press, 1997
Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Workplace: Concepts and Techniques for Human Resource Executives and Their Counsel
E. Patrick McDermott; Arthur Eliot Berkeley.
Quorum Books, 1996
Assessing Workplace Conflict Resolution Options
Blackard, Kirk.
Dispute Resolution Journal, Vol. 56, No. 1, February-April 2001
Conflict Resolution Strategies and Organizational Citizenship Behavior: The Moderating Role of Trait Emotional Intelligence
Salami, Samuel O.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 38, No. 1, February 2010
Organizational Response to Conflict: Future Conflict and Work Outcomes
Meyer, Susan.
Social Work Research, Vol. 28, No. 3, September 2004
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace
Kemp-Longmore, Christine.
Diversity Employers, Vol. 30, No. 2, February 2000
Leading the Living Organization: Growth Strategies for Management
Lane Tracy.
Quorum Books, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Managing Internal Conflict and Stress"
The Term "Win-Win" in Conflict Management: A Classic Case of Misuse and Overuse. (Commentary)
McNary, Lisa D.
The Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 40, No. 2, April 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Managing Organizational Behavior
Ronald R. Sims.
Quorum Books, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Conflict and Negotiation at Work"
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