Conflict Management

By Pruitt, David K. | Law & Order, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Conflict Management


Pruitt, David K., Law & Order


Conflict is normal in all organizations, and becomes negative when left unresolved. The conflict then becomes: disputes, unhealthy competition, sabotage, loss of productivity, low morale and game playing.

Most organizations have methods in place to deal with negative conflict. They may include management intervention, discipline, transfer or perhaps reliance upon Human Resources to deal with it. Many managers deal with conflict by outlawing it. They simply tell their employees that they are not allowed to have conflict. Unfortunately, those methods are not always effective. The answer in obtaining meaningful and lasting results lies in taking a systemic approach to conflict management.

Although managers today are busy, effective conflict management is more important today than ever before precisely because of all of the issues facing managers and organizations.

There are bottom line issues with the management of negative conflict. With more demands than ever being placed on management and workers, the distraction of negative conflict is more harmful than ever before. Organizations cannot afford to lose experienced employees, productivity or healthy internal competition.

It is important to approach the designing of a conflict management system from the position of facilitator and not dictator. Officers are very suspicious and cynical about programs that require trust.

Many of the issues that bring about negative conflict are the same in police departments as those found in retail and manufacturing businesses. Whenever people are thrown together in the workplace and placed under modern day stress, conflict will occur. These conflicts include personality issues, competition for promotions and professional standing, and other people issues.

Another huge source of conflict is rapid change. Society as a whole, and law enforcement in particular, is in a constant state of change. Change results in new demands and standards. And with new standards and demands, insecurity and resistance may occur.

The United States is a global society. People from all over the world are moving here, and the influx of people from other cultures and religions can result in suspicion and misunderstandings. It is important to remember that the police are viewed and experienced very differently in some countries and even in different regions of the United States.

A generation gap is present in every organization. Police departments have a contingent of the old guard and a much larger contingent of the new guard. The new guard is predominately younger and better educated. In general, there is a measurable difference in the value systems of baby-boomers and the 21-year-old recruit officers of today. The old guard feels unappreciated and pushed aside by the new guard. The two groups are often mistrustful and competitive towards each other.

Yet another source of conflict is police culture. Police culture is very power-based and paramilitary in its culture. Officers who become disputants may very likely be marched into a manager's office and simply ordered to resolve their conflict with each other.

Another issue related to police culture is the strong personality many officers exhibit. By the very nature of the job, a strong personality is often a requirement. Officers are required to stand up, often by themselves, to drunks, felons, armed subjects and other unpleasant members of society. The same strong personality that helps them do their jobs can also lead to negative conflict. An officer who is angered or frustrated by a colleague's actions or words is very likely to announce his displeasure in no uncertain terms. If one or both officers lack positive conflict management skills, this can lead to an ongoing dispute.

Conflict Management Practices

In many departments, conflict is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The most prominent formal conflict management system within police departments is the open-door policy. …

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