CONFLICT RESOLUTION THEORY: A VIEW OF THE HOME ORGANIZATION
Although there is an immense amount of interest in conflict management theory, research continues to find new ideas and methods. Areas of study include decision-making, approaches to conflict, and finding equilibrium in a dynamic system conflict. Leadership, change, and politics are discussed as components of conflict. Understanding conflict through the use of type and temperament is also demonstrated. The similarities between managing and parenting are discussed. The intent of this paper is to demonstrate how conflict resolution theory can be applied to the home organization.
The sales manager was complaining to his secretary about one of his men: "Harry has such a bad memory; it's a wonder he remembers to breathe. I asked him to pick up a newspaper on his way back from lunch, but I'm not even sure he'll remember his way back to the office."
Just then, Harry burst in the door, brimming with excitement and exclaimed: "Guess what, boss! At lunch, I ran into old man Jones who hasn't given us an order in seven years. Before he left, I talked him into a multi-million-dollar contract!"
The sales manager sighed and looked at his secretary, "What did I tell you? He forgot the newspaper!" (Strand)
Here is a perfect example of a vertical conflict. Vertical conflict is when higher and lower groups of authority are at odds with one another. This is very true in the above case. Since the management cannot see beyond its own expectations, the lower worker becomes discouraged and flustered (Daft, 1998).
How one approaches and what one thinks about conflict, especially among ones peers plays an important role in our gains or losses as a group, or company. This type of conflict, as in interdepartmental affairs, is a horizontal conflict (Daft, 1998).
Approaches to conflict
Many times the resolution can actually become a burden. One works hard, however, there are doubts and debates, and often one’s solutions create more problems (Daft, 1998).
McAlpine (1998) notes that all successful men rise to power through the aid of others, therefore, when conflicts arise, how they are handled presently will also affect the future. Justice and compassion must be balanced. A leader must be capable of original thought. Many times when there is conflict, a new or different resolution is the best answer.
With a disciplined plan of action and the right techniques, both groups focus and will not have misplaced secondary concerns and conflicts.
The synergistic decision making process uses the following format which leads to resolution. First, one must consider the rational, asking the right questions to try to come to the right decision. Then, one must consider the interpersonal, which includes relationships and feelings (Covey, 1997).
In synergistic decision-making, what follows are three simple and basic premises, and yet if deleted, the process may be flawed. The first step is to analyze the situation, sorting out facts from assumptions and then challenging any notions that may be incorrect (Covey, 1997).
The second step, is to form a set of objectives. The simple questions, "What is our objective?" or "What am I to accomplish from this?" always need to be asked to help one define one’s goals. The third step of synergistic decision-making is to check for alternative courses of action. This many times is simply a list of pros and cons, brainstorming, or creative thinking sessions (Covey, 1997).
Dana (2001) calls these alternative courses of action “both-gain.” A both-gain assumption allows a non-adversarial search for common ground to serve the common good. This is step four of Dana’s approach to resolving conflict. The step is simply to make a deal, nevertheless, it should be a “win-win” deal, where both parties benefit.
Conflict is beneficial when it encourages one to produce more, worked harder, or to be the best one can be. The secret is the same as with any other aspect of life; balance and moderation (Covey, 1997).
In the home organization
In the home, the leadership must come from the top (the parents) if the home organization is to succeed or if a conflict is to be resolved. However, the top management must be responsive to the needs of their employees (the children) if any change is to be enacted. If not, there will be dominion resulting in rebellion: passive or active (Dobson, 1992).
The parent must be an effective manager as well as a leader. Parent as manager plans, mediates, and runs an effective organization. In this aspect, the parent becomes a leader, demonstrating through words and deeds the qualities of leadership. These qualities are responsibility, integrity, and self-discipline. The parents also show leadership when making unpopular decisions, or when disciplining their employees. Too many parents want to be friends with their children and are afraid of conflict, so they do not demonstrate leadership. In the final analysis, they have lost their child’s friendship, for they have lost their respect (Dobson, 1992).
Morgan (1986, p. 272) observes that, “as human beings who are able to make choices, we have in principle the ability to shape and influence the future, at least to some degree”. He notes that a manager should view himself or herself as someone whose job it is to change the energy fields. Rather than someone who is just there to present information on how others perhaps may solve a problem.
“Facing up to the inevitable is perhaps the hardest task that a person engaging in business will need to overcome.” (McAlpine, 1998, p. 29)
McAlpine (1998) refers to Machiavellian’s point that princes will always be of “ordinary assiduity” and will always be able to maintain their position by adapting to unseen circumstances. They must do so by, “Listening very carefully to the words that people do not say, for it is often in the words that they hide, that the truth lies (McAlpine, 1998, p.45).
“…Often these people who were perfectly suited to their former private state cannot make the change to their new corporate state” (McAlpine, 1998, p.50).
“Your mind must be always alert to change and the only way that this can be so is for you to be well-informed. Many people can predict change, but few can bring themselves to make dramatic changes when these changes are necessary” (McAlpine, 1998, p.56).
This is how “energy” works. Thinking, brainstorming, finding alternative answers are all about energy, change, and managing conflict. The wise leader will allow such energy and not stifle it. In other words, to have true change, the energy must be allowed to flow (Morgan, 1989).
“That the characteristics of the four temperaments are this consistent over time is no accident, but seems to reflect a fundamental pattern in the warp and woof of the fabric of human nature. Indeed, I would argue that the four types are most likely derived from the interweaving of the two most basic human actions, how we communicate with each other, and how we use tools to accomplish our goals.
Clearly, what sets human beings apart from the other animals are two advantages we have over them— words and tools. And what sets us apart from each other is the way we use words and tools. The great majority of us are predominantly concrete in our word usage, the rest predominantly abstract. And about half of us are utilitarian in our choice and use of tools, the other half cooperative (Keirsey, 1998, p.26).
Keirsey (1998, p.20) explains that, “there are two sides to personality, one of which is temperament and the other character. Temperament is a configuration of inclinations, while character is a configuration of habits.”
Therefore, understanding the inclinations or temperament of an employee or child would help the one who is responsible for mediating the conflict. Perception of one’s own temperament and how one leads would also create an understanding of what tools and word usage are necessary for conflict resolution.
In conclusion, knowledge of temperament, character, and intelligence leads to the necessary understanding of oneself and those with whom we have relationships, whether it is business, social, or personal.
The manager recognizes that conflict and power plays can serve both positive and negative functions; hence the main concern is to manage conflict in ways that will benefit the overall organization or, more selfishly, in ways that will promote his or her own interests within the organization (Morgan, 1986).
The benefits and drawbacks of being a power broker and conflict manager come from the perspective and goals of both the organization and the individual. For example, if the person has the same goals as the organization, there will be no conflict of interest. Yet, if the two goals are not compatible, the person as Morgan (1989) states, “will promote his or her own interests within the organization.” This will at some point lead to the individual becoming a restraining force within the organization instead of being a building force for the organization.
This applies directly to a value system or religion. Marriage is perhaps the hardest task an adult will face and without mutual values, it is nearly impossible. (Burr, Yorgason, & Baker, 1982) In the home, a conflict of interest will also be apparent, especially when it concerns gender roles. If the couple has separate individual goals and these goals are not compatible with the goals they have set for the home, there will be conflict and gender-related politics (Harley, 1994).
Most divorces and separations have resulted as one individual or both have selfishly pursued their own interests over the benefit and well being of the home organization. (Harley, 1994) Each partner must come to terms with their own goals and expectations of themselves. Then they must work together to set mutual goals and expectations of each other. Boundaries should be clear and environmental factors given consideration (Burr, Yorgason, & Baker, 1982).
As adults engaged in a cause greater than themselves (value system) they should have a clear understanding of the family’s vision and what their role is in fulfilling the mission of their home. Just because their parents had used traditional domination, does not mean it should be used now. If both partners have the same vision, it will be more difficult for one partner to be selfish, to manipulate, or to have unreasonable expectations of the other (Covey, 1997).
Borisoff & Victor (1989) note that to maintain equilibrium in a dynamic system conflict must be managed. Conflict resolution seems to improve as certain types of behaviors are promoted. These are summarized as follows:
Focus on the problem, not on personalities.
Build on areas of agreement. Most groups have at least some positions or goals that are not mutually exclusive.
Attempt to achieve consensus.
Avoid provoking further conflict.
Do not over react to the comments of others. Extreme statements on either side tend to destroy consensus and produce a “boomerang effect.”
Consider compromise. This is often the best way to go from a win-lose to a win-win situation (Borisoff & Victor, 1989).
The first precept is very important to home management. As the employees cannot be terminated and as the members of this system rely on each other with respect to their conduct and interactions within other systems, it is of paramount importance that each member feels safe, wanted, and needed in the home organization. Therefore, the highest respect should be afforded to each member, and the owners need to tailor their style of leadership to find an assertive way to manage conflict (Dobson, 1992).
The second precept, to build on areas of agreement, is easily settled, if the home has developed a powerful mission and has set goals to accomplish their objectives. Then, when there are areas of conflict, it simply can be asked, “What are our objectives? This in itself will build on areas of consensus, as the member will realize that the conflict was opposing the long-term mission of the organization (Covey, 1997)
The third precept, attempt to achieve consensus, has its place among many systems, but is not always applicable to home management. There are times a leader, manager, or parent will simply have to make a decision that those under him or her do not agree with. It is the high cost of leadership, but is what distinguishes the good leaders from the bad. When the consensus is correct, it is used, but when it does not fulfill the objectives of the system, the leader must respond (Dobson, 1992).
Avoid provoking further conflict is the forth precept and is as the third precept, applicable to certain situations.
Dana notes (2001, p.41) that “few people and fewer organizations have discovered the remarkable benefits of interest-based negotiation, which is a non-adversarial process. Unfortunately, most people think that being non-adversarial is being weak.
They imagine that it involves caving in, giving up, conceding to the opponent. Far from it. Participating in non-adversarial dialogue is in our own enlightened self-interest—it’s the best way to get our own needs met in ongoing interdependent relationships.”
The fifth precept of avoiding extreme behaviors is relevant to any situation, especially to the relationships among the home system. In any relationship where there is respect, honor, and trust, extreme statements diminish that trust (Dobson, 1992).
Dana’s (2001) essential process of mediation includes this precept. No walk-aways, no power plays, no rights contests: dialogue that is directly between disputants and about the issue to be resolved. The dialogue is limited by the cardinal rules and must be sustained long enough to find a solution.
The sixth precept, consider compromise, is in line with the old saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat. There is usually more than one way to solve a problem, or resolve a dispute. The partners must work together to keep conflict at a manageable level so the home system can progress toward its mission (Covey, 1997).
In using this technique, one will not find himself in the same situation as the sales manager who had his priorities mixed-up, or as the coach in the following; whose perspective was lost in the conflict of the moment.
"Our daughter Wendy was at bat for her softball league when her coach gave these instructions: "As soon as you get on first, prepare for the next batter to bunt. There won't be a signal so be ready."
The pitcher threw the ball, and Wendy hit a home run. As she crossed the plate to win the game, her coach yelled, "Well, you sure blew that play!” (Faust).
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