Conflict in the work environment is inevitable. When two or more people have to work together and combine ideas, the doorway of conflict is ever open. The goal is to learn how to use conflict as a tool that can benefit the whole, rather than destroy it and the idea of concern. A team must have a common goal of success (Temme and Katzel, 1995). Several strategies have proven to be beneficial tools when resolving these destructive conflicts.
Conflict is defined as a disagreement or disharmony that occurs in groups when differences regarding ideas, methods, and members (Wisinski, 1993), are expressed. These differences, however, do not have to result in a negative outcome. Used properly, the group can become closer and more aware of each other’s differences. With respect for one another, the group can combine ideas and be more successful in the end.
Administration is ultimately responsible for recognizing a conflict, instilling conflict resolution strategies, and for making sure these strategies are executed successfully. In order for a school administration for example, to achieve this goal, it needs to be aware of the types of conflict: constructive and deconstructive. Constructive conflict is beneficial to teams. This style focuses on the issue while continuing to keep respect for other teammates. Teammates will exhibit flexibility, supportiveness, and cooperation among each other. Commitment to success for the team is apparent. Deconstructive conflict, on the other hand, exhibits selfish behaviors of personal attacks, insults, and defensiveness. No flexibility is present within the team, and competition between the teammates is high. Avoidance of conflict is obvious (UOP, 2004)
Many outside influences may cause or add to conflict. Limited resources (UOP, 2004) can cause stress between coworkers. If a teacher is worried about the lack of resources for his or her students, for example, he or she may demonstrate a high level of stress. This, in return, may influence any slight friction shared with other faculty. Differences in goals and objectives (UOP, 2004) cause tension between staff as well. For example, one teacher’s focus may be on sports and recreational equipment, while another is more dedicated to academics and updated texts. This difference of goals for the students may cause extra tension and conflict between staff.
Miscommunication (UOP, 2004) may cause conflict between staff. Two teachers with the same goal may not explain their points clearly to one another. If messages are not clear, confrontation and conflict will more-than-likely be the outcome. Teachers who share different attitudes, values, and perceptions (UOP, 2004) open the door for conflict. Similar to teachers with differing goals, attitudes, goals, and perceptions that differ cause immense stress for the entire faculty and staff. Lastly, personality clashes (UOP, 2004) are probably the most common issue between a group, and possibly the most easily to overcome. If dealt with on a mature, adult mentality, personality differences should not influence one’s work environment or the group’s goals. Lack of training, lack of accountability, and favoritism by administration (First Line, 2007) can also cause conflict. Teachers and school other faculty need to keep the most important aspect of their work (the children) in focus. As adults, they are responsible for their own actions and behaviors.
The ability to recognize the type of conflict allows administration to direct the conflict accordingly with the goal of a positive outcome, rather than spiraling into destruction. After recognizing the type of conflict, management (or administration) can choose from three different resolution methods: the “4 R’s” method, the A E I O U method, and the Negotiation method.
First, the “4 R’s” method (UOP, 2004) stands for: Reason- The leader is responsible for finding out if the feelings concerning the conflict are expressed differently within the team. One must also pinpoint any personal situations present between the staff. Finally, the leader must clarify if the team is aware of her stand; Reaction- The leader is responsible to rate how the group is reacting to one another. One should determine if the conflict is constructive or destructive. Once determined, the leader is to decide if the conflict can be transformed into constructive conflict, if destructive originally; Results-Leaders now should explain the consequences of this conflict. The entire team, including the leader, needs to determine whether the conflict is serious enough to affect the goal or outcome; Resolution- Finally, the entire team is to discuss all possible methods that will assist in achieving a successful resolution, and which one is best. The “4 R’s” method takes teams through a resolution process, step-by-step. This style assists in the evaluation of the situation, and gives assistance in redirecting the conflict to a positive outcome.
Second, the A E I O U model (Wisinski, 1993) stands for: A- Assume others “mean well; E- Express one’s feelings; I- Identify what you would like to happen; O- Outcomes you expect are made clear to the group” (UOP, 2004); U- Understanding by the group is on a mature level. This model communicates one’s concerns to the group clearly. Suggestions of alternative methods are expressed to the group in a non-confrontational manner. By keeping a calm attitude, the administration is telling the group that it wants the group to be successful.
Thirdly, the Negotiation method (UOP, 2004) focuses on a compromising attitude. Separating each person from the problem allows each teammate to focus on the group’s interest rather than their personal positions. This technique creates opportunity for a variety of possible solutions to be reached. The leader is responsible to express the importance of an objective outlook when choosing a solution. Through the negotiating technique, everyone knows the problem, and the goal, and everyone is willing put his personal feelings aside to reach that mutual goal (Krivis, 2006).
Another type of strategy known as the NORMS method helps the administrator, or leader, stay objective while dealing with a conflict in the work environment. NORMS stands for (Huber, 2007): N-Not biased or personal interpretation; O-Observable, situation is seen and touched or experienced by staff; R-Reliable, two or more people agree on what took place; M-Measurable, parameters of conflict can be distinguished and measured; S-Specifics are not subjective, but objective and non-confrontational. By following the NORMS, one can observe the situation with an objective outlook. Therefore, he or she can assist the team with the conflict with the proper focus of bringing the team together and resolving the conflict as well as benefiting from the experience.
Each method promotes a friendly environment that welcomes different ideas. The differences can ultimately benefit the whole group as well as the project or situation at hand. Temme and Katzel state, “For a teambuilding effort to work… management must be sincere in its resolve to see to see the teambuilding process through.” (Calling a team a team, 1995).
As an administrator, or leader, one is responsible to direct the team towards cohesion and compatibility. This goal can be achieved during a conflict by representing each team member equally, recognizing the problem, listening to each concern with an equal level of importance and respect. In order to reach an agreement and collaborative goal, each teammate, or employee, is to respect others for his or her different opinions and objectives, but keep an open mind as well. Conflicts can be beneficial to a team, as it brings new ideas and outlooks to the table. Clear communication and an open mind can turn a conflict into a benefit rather than a burden.