This week we began a discussion on how to face conflicts in an attempt to manage them more effectively. Today, we continue our examination by first acknowledging a significant component: that practically every conflict begins with someone or something violating an individual’s rights, boundaries, or comfort zone. While the primary ingredients in any conflict are the individuals involved, conflicts tend to spring from the same litany of sources for all people (Cowan, 2003). To begin pinpointing the source of a conflict, a closer analysis can help determine the stage of the conflict – whether it is in the latent; perceived; felt; or open stage.
To help us comprehend the nature of a conflict more clearly, we will analyze one case study of a situation that developed between two organizations we will identify as Company S and Company B. This examination is meant to help us assess what options are available to leaders to help avoid similar conflicts.
Our case study begins with Company S, a small company that sought payment for services rendered to a big company, Company B. In analyzing the situation, we discovered that the small firm, Company S, submitted an invoice for remittance to the big one, Company B, for providing services that required the small firm’s specialized set of skills. However, rather than paying the full amount, Company B rendered payment that represented only a fraction of the sum due. By engaging in this kind of conduct, especially without reaching out to Company S to offer an explanation, Company B’s actions naturally resulted in the creation of a difficult conflict. This action transmitted a clear message; one that revealed a kind of leadership from Company B that had no issue engaging freely in unethical conduct. In short, rather than honor the smaller company’s rates and terms of services, Company B chose to employ a strategy that communicated a form of workplace bullying by refusing to adhere to the terms and conditions laid out by the smaller firm.
Analyzing a situation like this, a perceptive, strong leader would recognize that the strategic actions of the larger firm revealed a reckless form of leadership; one that displayed a willingness to risk creating conflict in order to achieve short term solutions. Effective leaders also comprehend that this form of conduct, revealed from Company B’s leadership, also jeopardizes the possibility of developing a good working relationship with Company S. Furthermore, a smart leader understands that Company B’s actions also put the firm in jeopardy by risking long term consequences that could ultimately tarnish the firm’s reputation from any negative attention or publicity that could ensue from the exposure of unethical practices.
Had the leaders from the big organization at Company B, engaged in more ethical strategic management practices, rather than pursuing the kind of conduct hagglers exhibit in an attempt to receive lower rates, like sheep merchants at a flea market, they could have avoided this conflict altogether. Leaders of large powerful firms that use small firms or independent contractors as mere pawns to achieve organizational goals, are most certain to create conflicts and also face risking a serious breach of trust from their shareholders by deliberately choosing to engage in methods of ethical misconduct.
In his book, Taking Charge of Organizational Conflicts, Cowan’s (2003) research also revealed that relationships and organizations suffer when conflicts are not resolved. Plus, they also have a profound affect on those in the organization directly involved as well as those who are not. The truth is, everyone connected with a conflict, including the innocent bystanders, can be affected at some kind of personal level (Cowan, 2003).
Once leaders are able to address the conflict, steps to resolution can begin by identifying some of the following elements: (a) the parties involved, (b) the issues disputed, (c) the positions of the parties, and (d) the parameters of the bargaining zone. If leaders do not address these components, unresolved conflicts and disruptions can lead to disastrous consequences, especially if the tension continues to build and both sides resort to whatever method available to release aggression and seek justice for having their rights violated.
Although the psychological climate for negotiation can seem bleak, individuals and leaders of organizations that are faced with conflicts, will require strong leadership skills to work through them. The leaders who achieve the most successful results are those that are open to active listening, gather all the information available from the players involved, and engage in practices of transparency and accountability, to help them reach their goals.
That’s a wrap for our discussion today. Until next time … do your best to find ethical solutions when conflicts arise and stay organized!
“You can’t solve problems until you understand the other side.” – Jeffrey Manber
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Cowan, D. (2003). Taking charge of organizational conflict (2nd ed.). Fawnskin, CA: Personhood Press.