Conflict Resolution: Challenging Organizational Change and Growth
Hello and welcome to Conflict Resolution, challenging organizational change in growth brought to you by the CAFE TA Center.
A little bit about this training first. This training includes discussion about the mechanics of conflict, types of conflict, precipitators or causes of conflict, prevention approaches and finally conflict management.
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Welcome back. What is conflict? Conflict occurs between two or more people who disagree on an issue that threatens their respective goals, their values or their needs. How the participants in a disagreement perceive this threat determines to a great extent how heated the conflict will actually become.
Of course, there are many types of conflict, we know that some conflicts are very constructive. They help make change and then others that we're most familiar with are destructive forms of conflict. Let's learn more about this.
You probably think to yourself, how could conflict ever be constructive. How could it be helpful? Well constructive conflict refers to conflict in which the benefits exceed the cause. It generates productive, mutually beneficial and shared decisions. The process becomes as important as the end result, and individuals come together to redefine or strengthen their relationship for the greater good of an organization.
What about destructive conflict? Well, destructive conflict often flows from narrowly defined or rigid goals. It produces negative results. Individuals become less flexible and assume that the opposing party must suffer defeat. Parties succumb to personal attacks, threats and a general tone of hostility. Destructive conflict is exactly what it says, it totally destructs any kind of benefit that could be an outcome to a group of people working together.
So if there's constructive conflict and there's deconstructive conflict. Exactly, how is it that conflict becomes a problem in the first place?
Well, let's look at this diagram. First of all, in a conflict you have an issue. There's generally an issue or some point that people see is a conflict. Then you move over, there's often personal conflict or a personal reaction or belief that one believes that they should protect. That moves into a group conflict where people start picking sides and the group starts deciding, well whose point of view is right and whose point of view is wrong. Then eventually, it becomes an organizational conflict. It involves the organization, its direction and how it makes decisions. Certainly, you can think back to a time when you were involved in a group conflict and even though you weren't talking about that particular issue at that time, often the conflict just seem to leak into everything that the organization tried to do and people were continually taking sides on their beliefs, their values and how they felt about issues.
There are degrees of conflict. The first degree is intrapersonal conflict and then interpersonal conflict, intragroup conflict and escalation. Let's look at each of this.
Intrapersonal conflict takes place within an individual. It may be the result of peer pressure and it cause an individual to say things or behave in a manner with which they do not necessarily agree such as morally. For example, you may have gotten a piece of information about someone that would be considered gossip if you shared it. Maybe a couple of your peers come along and say, "Did you hear anything about Mary?" And sure you heard about Mary but inside of you, you know that you shouldn't be gossiping and you shouldn't share this information and you're in conflict. You're in an intrapersonal conflict trying to decide whether or not you would share this with this people or there's part of you that says do it, do it. They'll like it. There's a part of you that says no, no, this is just not right. That is intrapersonal conflict.
Interpersonal conflict occurs when people are unable to come together in order to accomplish a goal or an objective. The causes might include the lack of a common background, personality issues and differences in lived experience. For example, maybe a group of people are talking about the best way to do outreach. Because of different experiences and different levels of understanding about the population that is served, they may have d difference in ideas about how to go about this. That may cause some interpersonal conflict between one or more members of the group.
Intragroup conflict involves numerous members of the group. The most common symptom of intragroup conflict is a severe lapse in communication. It results in the group being unable to accomplish their goals and objectives. It can also result from external problems such as a lack of or limited resources to help them and support them as they go through decision-making processes.
Finally, escalation. Escalation refers to an increase in the intensity of a conflict and in the severity of tactics used by those involved. It is driven by changes within each of the parties, new patterns or interaction between them, the involvement with new parties in the struggle. When conflict escalates, more people tend to become involve, more people tend to be picking sides and more people tend to be fighting for their own beliefs and values.
Glasl's Nine Stage Model of Conflict Resolution can help us and be very useful as a means for sensitizing people to the mechanisms of conflict escalation. Let's look at this.
The first level, hardening occurs when there's a difference over some issue that interferes with resolution efforts. Groups start to form around certain positions or for or against a certain standpoint.
Next, debates occur. Discussions tend to develop into verbal confrontations. Parties look for more forceful or creative ways of pushing through their standpoints. In order to gain strength, they tend to become increasingly locked into a standoff. Bickering, exaggeration and built up tensions are common. They stand in one place refusing to give or budge.
Then there's actions not words where the parties no longer believe that future talk will resolve anything and they shift their attention to actions. Common interests and the prospect to cooperation is totally lost. Parties see each other as competitors rather than a group of people working towards a common cause.
Image becomes an issue, conflict is no longer about concrete issues but about victory or defeat. I'm on the side that won. Everybody had to listen to us. Defending one's reputation becomes a major concern. Individuals are perceived to have certain characteristics such as unreliability and confidence, bossiness, by virtue of belong to a specific group.
And then there's loss of face, conflict is no longer about those concrete issues but about the values. The value is a winner, the value is a loser. Usually, this is followed by dedicated attempts by the parties to rehabilitate their public reputation of integrity and their moral credibility.
Parties may resort to threats of damaging action in order to force the counterpart into the desired direction. Mutual threats are issued in order to show that they will not retreat. Threats are formulated as an ultimatum and parties cannot retreat without losing that credibility, without losing face.
Now, we've got destructive blows. It's no longer possible to see a solution that includes the counterpart. It's lose, lose. Opposition is seen as an impediment that must be eliminated by targeted attacks. Superiority is sought in order to ensure the ability to block the opposition. Remember several stages ago, we lost sight of the issue and its value within the decision-making process.
At the point of fragmentation, the attacks intensify. Negotiators, representatives and leaders maybe targeted in order to destroy their legitimacy and power. The main objective is now to destroy the existence basis of the adversary and eliminate them from the organization.
Finally, together everyone goes into the hole of demise. You drive to alienate the opposition and it's so strong that even the self-preservation is neglected. All bridges are burned. There is no return. Only remaining concern is to make sure the opposition will fail as well.
At this point of a conflict, it is a true threat to the membership, the people that you serve, public image, mission and organization.
But there is a way to reverse escalation, it requires backtracking through the steps. Addressing issues at every single level and the further you go, the more work it takes to get back to level one. It requires negotiation and compromise, a lack of which caused the conflict to begin with. It's often difficult to go ahead and backtrack through each of this steps knowing that each of the steps led you to where you are today.
Within the organization, organizational conflict is the discord that arises when the goals, interests, or values of different individuals or groups are incompatible with those individuals or groups that block and thwart one another's attempts to achieve their own personal objective.
Justice with other conflict, organizational conflict can be personal, intragroup, intergroup and interorganizational. Let's look a little more closely at each of this.
Interpersonal conflict is a conflict between individuals within the organization itself.
Intragroup conflict is a conflict within an internal group such as a team or department or program maybe even the board of directors. It typically involves more than one person within a group.
Intergroup conflict is a conflict between different groups, teams and department. Different groups are pitted against one another such as the staff pitted against the board of directors.
Interorganizational conflict is conflict that arises across different organizations. This happens often when organizations are competing against one another for something such as funds, members or grants.
Conflict is generally viewed as a bad thing but they're definitely can be some positive outcomes if conflict is managed appropriately.
The impact of personal conflict is both positive and negative. On the positive side, it can teach people better communication skills. It could also extend their comfort zones and build their partnership skills as well. It also shapes the negotiation expertise. All in all, it can make them a better member of an organization. On the negative side, conflict definitely can cause stress. It may lower confidence. It may cause perceptions of judgment and damage to personal relationships.
The impact of organizational conflict is positive and negative. On the positive, the development of a team approach to decision-making often surfaces. There's a strengthening of interorganizational communication as well as a production of new ideas and approaches and possibly a reallocation of leadership. On the negative side, we see the reallocation of leadership again, possibly old leaders are lost. People with experience and new leaders are brought in. This can cause a separation of membership as well as an alienation of a faction of the members. It is possible that they could lose resources or the loss of productivity because of too much focus on the conflict and not enough on the mission and that becomes a mission threat.
And of course, there's public impact as well. On the positive side, there may be more attention to the topic that seems to be the issue around the conflict to begin with. There may become a model of working things out on behalf of a population or a mission that can be used again by this organization or another. It may also bring in new membership. On the negative side, certainly it's an airing of dirty laundry. This can cause bad publicity. There could also be an appearance of the lack of cohesiveness within the organization and its membership. There could also be concerns regarding the capacity of the organization to do the work that they're charged with doing. This may result in people avoiding them.
There can be many and multiple causes of conflict. Some of them are very obvious while others may seem a little bit individual because there may be ulterior motives and things going on underneath the surface of the organization that not everyone is aware of. Some of the internal causes of conflict within an organization could include poor communication, power struggles within the organization, a lack of policy that governs the resolution of conflict and promotes good communication and decision-making skills, poor leadership and unbalanced in representation as well as personalities of the people that make up the group, and then of course, perceived threats which may or may not be real.
There are also external causes of conflict within an organization. Some of these could be gossiping and rumors, funding that may not be complete, resources that are dwindling and not available to teach the organization and build their capacity to resolve conflict effectively, competition with the organization among themselves and other organizations that share a similar mission and vision. Then of course, information or as I like to call it misinformation.
How do we prevent conflict? Well, we need to remember that conflict cannot always be prevented. Of course, we must expect that conflict is going to happen at one time or another, if you have a group of people with a lot of passion and different ideas gathering together. Conflict should be embraced. It takes preparation but it certainly can be managed.
There are steps that you could take as an organization or as a leader to minimize conflict, inclusion, communication, policy, leadership and understanding how to implement de-escalation. We're going to talk about each of these individually now.
Inclusion means that everyone is a player. Discussions are valued over judgments and diverse views are discussed and even embraced. No one opinion or idea is considered better than another.
Good communication is essential. The group agrees to a communication process such as who talks to who, where discussions take place, who speaks for the group and what the channel of information will be. For example, within an organization, is it allowable that the staff can skip the executive director and go directly to the board and talk to them. This has to be written out and understood so that this type of communication is controlled and understood by all parties. Communication skills must be sharpened for everyone. Everyone involved in the organization as well as its membership. This takes training and practice and actually when you think about it, conflict is a great place to practice your communication skills.
Policy is critical in managing conflict. Policy must be developed. It is in writing. It must be agreed upon by all those involved and it has to be provided to everyone so that everyone knows exactly what the policy is that they understand how to implement it. It should drive every process and procedure and should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated as necessary.
Leadership must be capable of leading. They have to have the time to invest in the organization as well as be consistent within their leadership. Leaders should be trained in conflict and learn how to lead instead of managing a group. Of course, a good leader within an organization sets an example of how to manage, deescalate and control conflict.
So exactly, what is your role in preventing an escalation of conflict? You should ask yourself, do you enjoy conflict? Some people do. It just energizes them and gives them more passion for the work that they're doing. Are you afraid of conflict? Are you usually in the middle of your organization's conflict?
Resolving conflict within an organization requires de-escalation. De-escalation is an organization as well as an individual member.
Let's look at how we resolve conflict within an organization. As an organization, you have to be able to acknowledge the issue, define the issue, communicate well, utilize policy and procedure, gather consensus and utilize outside resources whenever necessary. Let's look at each one of these.
In acknowledging the issue, you have to recognize that conflict is occurring. You have to put it out there, kind of like the elephant in the room, you have to be able to say, "You know what, we're having a problem here and we need to talk about it."
And then you have to define the issue, exactly what is the problem and how or why is it a problem? Is it organization? Is it personal? Is it outside of the group? It often helps to process this as a group and to write it down.
Of course, communication is essential. It really helps to communicate best to deal with conflict when you meet face to face. Then process the issues, tear it apart. Look at it. Value everyone's input and listen to all sides without any judgment. Regulate the conversations so that no one group or individual is taking over and make sure that participation is mandatory. Be especially conscientious of those folks that sit back and don't say anything. Often people who do not communicate in the group meeting will communicate outside of that and many things that they say and do could very derogatory to the organization's ability to deescalate the conflict.
Utilize policy. Understand that policy trumps everything especially when it's in writing. Use it as a guide and change it whenever necessary. You can have policy that this is your organization and helping them identify when a conflict becomes critical enough to have to address it as a group. To try to figure out how to deescalate that conflict as well as the policies and procedures kind of the guides and rules that people are going to use when addressing and resolving the conflict itself.
Consensus can only occur after defining and discussing the issue. You need to map it out so that everyone understands exactly what it is that you're talking about. Then there has to be some final discussions. These final discussions should be understood as final, exactly what they are. Once the decision is made and a vote has been done, then the issue should be put to rest. Good leaders, good staff and people who really understand conflict resolution will be able to put it behind them and move forward. If they can't, they will step down.
Let's talk about an example of how this mapping might work. Let's take a problem or an issue and work through it. The problem might be a disagreement about partnering with a new organization within the community. When we look at the impact of this new partnership, it could be that it might increase competition as well as cause a delusion of the mission and vision of the organization. This might result in confusion regarding the differences between the two organizations. What kind of points can we make about this? As we talk about it further and map it, we could see that this may result in the loss of identity for the organization itself. This may jeopardize funding and cause some confusion within the public as well as the membership. Then we would map out what our options might be. One option might be to have an informal partnership to work with them but not share everything, not share activities and other things that may be done for and with the organization. You could have a full partnership where you share with one another. You work together or you could have a partial partnership where the partnership results in something shared, some things understood and then other things kept to the organization itself so that you can maintain your credibility, your identity as well as your competitiveness.
Sometimes, no matter how hard an organizational try, they will need to have an outside resource in order to deescalate or resolve their conflict. When doing this you should seek outside help. It should not be someone within the organization. It should be a neutral person who's not a partner or an organizational affiliate. This individual should be skilled and be very process-driven as well as understand how to resolve conflict itself within and throughout the organization.
Leaders within an organization have an individual responsibility and conflict resolution. They have a responsibility to participate in mapping out, understanding and discussing the conflict. They also have a responsibility to communicate their ideas, their beliefs and what they think should be done. They must remain organizationally directed, in other words this is a nonprofit organization that has a mission that's to fulfill for a target population. This is not about an individual or winning a battle. This is about the mission and the people that you serve. Then individuals have a responsibility to make a decision. They cannot sit in the middle and then stand back after it's all done and start pointing fingers. It's very important that you gather enough information so that you can decide one or the other regarding what is going to be best for the mission of the organization and the people that you serve.
Participation should be mandatory. People need to share their views, their ideas and science is often used as a manipulation technique. For example, if a person does not participate then afterwards when everything is all done, they may declare that they weren't listened to, that they had ideas that they didn't share because they just didn't know how the group would look at it.
When fine tuning communication and resolving conflict, people need to be willing to listen very, very closely to everything that goes on. They should be willing to discuss things and then listen again and then discuss again. This must be done without blaming, shouting or threats. Once communication escalates to blaming, shouting and threats, generally its broken down and resolution will no longer be viable.
As we discussed, it must be organizationally directed. All discussions need to center around the organization and the mission. When they start to veer away from that, good leaders will bring them back and remind them why everyone is there to begin with. You need to look at the target population and think about how you would make a decision that would serve them best. Of course, you always fall back on your by laws and policy. There is no room for personal power struggles when you're trying to resolve conflict. Unfortunately, personal power struggles are often what causes the conflict to begin with. The group has to be willing to make discussions and stays centered on the organization and its mission as well as the people that it serves.
You need to make a decision. You will have to take sides. You need to remember that your vote has value for the people that you serve. You make decisions that are in line with the organization and its population needs. Your own personal values as well as guided by the policies of the organization. Remember, this is not a popularity contest and you should not base your vote on power brokering. In other words, trying to take power away from one leader and offer it to someone else. That is not a decision that is in line with the organization and population needs.
In conclusion, conflict is inevitable. There is also value in conflict. Prevention can deescalate the impact of conflict and organizations have an ultimate responsibility to their mission and the target population first. Resolution is a part of organizational and personal growth and change.
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