Conflicts are unavoidable phenomena in the workplace. However, supervisors should handle them appropriately to avoid the likelihood of negative impacts on the parties that are involved and/or the organization. Conflicts that are not countered on time can cause employee absenteeism, work inefficiency, low production, and provision of poor services to clients. They can also affect teamwork undesirably. Conflict management requires quality leadership, problem-solving, and proper decision-making skills. Knowledge about the control of encounters within the organization creates a healthy working environment. This paper critically examines the supervisory role of leaders in management of conflicts by providing an insight into the key resolution strategies in the workplace.
Conflicts in the Workplace
It is the role of supervisors to execute strategic conflict resolution measures to keep the working environment favorable for both the organization and employees (Certo, 2010). Various strategies guide organizational leaders to handle conflicts. At the outset, this paper describes various levels of conflicts that are experienced in the workplace. They fall into four major categories namely intrapersonal, interpersonal, structural, and strategic.
Managing Intrapersonal Conflicts
According to Certo (2010), intrapersonal conflicts are events that occur when an individual is not able to make a choice of values, attitudes, and goals among other factors. This scenario assumes three possible forms. To manage intrapersonal conflicts, supervisors need to evaluate the possible causes of disagreements in their organizations. This situation can arise from various organizational activities such as job promotions, rewarding of employees, and/or working under pressure. There is a need for leaders to consider the desires of their employees with an open mind. This strategy enables them to rectify actions that contribute to conflicts (Certo, 2010).
Managing Interpersonal Conflicts
Interpersonal conflicts involve more than one party. For instance, supervisors can be involved in interpersonal conflicts with their managers, employees, nobles, or even their clients. They can also take place amongst employees. In this case, the management will have to get involved. Supervisors need to understand the causes of interpersonal conflicts to apply appropriate strategies to resolve them. Approaches that are executed in this case include avoiding, compromising, forced solutions, and resolving (Coimbra, Doucet, & Bansal, 2013).
The compromising strategy is a method of resolving conflicts that causes one party to either concede defeat or share the item of interest (Coimbra et al., 2013). Both parties experience some degree of frustration. However, a level of understanding is reached as a resolution to the interpersonal conflict. Supervisors should use this strategy carefully to ensure that both parties gain a mutual understanding of the final decision. In this case, the parties are not forced to accept disagreeable choices.
Conflicts are usually unfriendly. As a result, some people opt to avoid situations that lead to disagreements. The assumption in this strategy is that conflict is bad and avoiding it makes a serene life. However, proper judgment is crucial when avoiding conflicts since some of them can be beneficial to the organization (Coimbra et al., 2013). The opposing side can have important viewpoints to share; hence, an individual can end up gaining useful information. Supervisors need to take account of the viewpoints of employees regardless of their race, sex, and age. The feeling that the supervisor discriminates against them can result in interpersonal conflicts.
Certo (2010) posits that resolution of conflicts can also be accomplished through implementation of forced decisions, especially in cases where discussions seem to waste time. In such situations, the arbitrator makes a final decision on the outcome. The strategy can also be applied in cases where a team that does not seem to reach consensus is forced to reach a solution through voting.
Resolving is the most direct and sometimes the toughest way to manage a conflict. It involves confrontation tactics in an attempt to solve the prevailing problem. The supervisor needs to listen to both parties with a view of identifying the causes of disagreements in a way that benefits both parties. The conflicting teams are encouraged to examine their own feelings and think about feasible solutions. The strategy adopts a win-lose solution-seeking tactic. In this case, one side wins and the other party must lose (Certo, 2010).
Managing Structural Conflicts
Structural conflicts usually occur amongst the line and staff personnel, especially when the production and marketing departments are at odds. They are common in cases where various groups of the organization share resources such as the services of a word-processing or maintenance departments. Each group needs its jobs to be handled first. However, the possibility of serving the groups simultaneously is minimal. Since the supervisors do not establish the structure of the organization, they have limited impact on the sources of structural conflicts. As a result, the supervisor should not consider such issues from a personal point of view (Way, Jimmieson, & Bordia, 2014).
Managing Strategic Conflict
Way et al. (2014) define strategic conflict as a planned activity that causes differences amongst targeted parties with a view of accomplishing a certain goal. For instance, a manager can tell two employees that they are both running for a retiring supervisor’s job. The plan is to initiate competition by motivating the employees to deliver exceptional work.
Initiating Conflict Resolution
Conflict management is a process in which supervisors need to follow in a bid to create a suitable work environment. Supervisors should resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively. They should act as soon as possible once the problem is noted to avoid its escalation. Supervisors should focus on the behaviors of employees that can change alongside their personalities. Once the problem has been stated, the supervisor should gauge the other party with reference to the response.
Are Conflicts Healthy or Unhealthy?
Conflicts in the workplace can be either beneficial or detrimental. Encounters that occur in an organization can add value if they induce positive actions. For instance, interpersonal conflicts amongst some employees can increase competition. These situations can result in increased production (Way et al., 2014). When it occurs amongst top-level managers, conflict can increase competency as each one of them tries to implement their unique ideas. Such encounters are termed as healthy since the organization benefits from the competition of ideas that arises.
However, a conflict can be unhealthy when it discourages employees from good performance. Differences that influence the morale of employees negatively have significant effects on the organizational levels. Conflicts that add value to the organization should be encouraged. However, those that bring adverse effects should be resolved and discouraged. Therefore, supervisors need to gauge the degree to which conflicts affect their organizations with a view of determining possible outcomes and apt decisions on the best strategies to handle them effectively (Certo, 2010).
The Role of a Supervisor in Conflict Management
Unfolding conflicts in an organization require supervisors to respond in ways that create a room for formulation of apt solutions regardless of the attitudes of the conflicting parties. Their primary role is to understand the prevailing problem (Way et al., 2014). The knowledge about the origin of the conflict is paramount to formulation of amicable solutions. Therefore, listening skills play a vital role in enabling the supervisors to understand the root of the problem. They should buffer the emotions of the conflicting persons whilst avoiding blame statements. Secondly, the supervisor should focus on the problem, but not the individual. Therefore, pre-conceived attitudes towards the conflicting parties should be avoided (Way et al., 2014). In addition, managers should be patient since formulation of solutions requires adequate time for analyzing the problem keenly. Quick decisions can result in adverse effects on the organization and employees. Furthermore, they should maintain open communication throughout the organizational structure. The purpose of conflict resolution is to create agreeable terms for both parties. Supervisors should allow the disagreeing parties to express their viewpoints concerning the issue and feel considered in the decision-making process. This situation creates a room for amicable debates that finally solve the differences. Finally yet importantly, supervisors should act decisively. After gathering adequate information about the problem and reviewing the causal circumstances, implementation of a feasible decision should start immediately to prevent more problems from arising (Way et al., 2014).
In the wake of modern institutions, the workplace has been characterized by increased freedom of expression and individualism; hence, conflicts are increasingly becoming inevitable. Supervisors should always be prepared to deal with different forms of conflicts, which can arise due to a range of disagreements amongst employees.
Certo, S. (2010). Supervision: Concepts and Skill-Building. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Coimbra, R., Doucet, J., & Bansal, V. (2013). Conflict Resolution. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Way, K., Jimmieson, N., & Bordia, P. (2014). Supervisor conflict management, justice, and strain: multilevel relationships. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29(8), 1044-63.