The importance of a harmonious functioning of a company is caused by finding the right formula that would allow it to act as an effective mechanism. While previously conflicts within organizations were viewed as highly negative phenomena, today, they are recognized as situations that can provide positive changes. This paper aims to provide my reflection on conflict management perspectives in terms of the literature and my experience, focusing on such issues as positive outcomes of workplace conflicts, group conflicts, remote work, workplace bullying, psychological contract, and managing unconsciousness bias.
While conflicts are inevitable in organizational contexts, the ways they can be approached are especially important for companies’ overall well-being and employee satisfaction. Of the existing conflict resolution strategies, such as avoiding, forcing, accommodating, and others, collaboration seems to be the most effective one (Raines, 2019). It focuses directly on the problem solution, incorporating decision quality and fairness to make sure that the positions of all involved parties are taken into account. The evidence shows that the likely outcome of the collaboration is a problem solution (Tjosvold, 2008). As for my experience, it is consistent with the literature since I have personally observed that cooperation helps in clarifying the views of conflicting sides and better understanding how to mitigate tension. It is especially pertinent to multicultural organizations, where the employees face varying cultural values, which prioritize respect and acceptance of others. In turn, the awareness of cultural values in the workplace stimulates the adoption of cooperation as a conflict mitigation strategy.
I believe that while reflecting on the nature of a conflict, it is essential to mention conflict-positive organizations that consider conflicts as an opportunity to improve constantly. Tjosvold (2008) states that the ability to use open-mindedness in discussing conflicts is key to its resolution and meaningful changes in an organization. Conflict management knowledge seems to be critical to reconsider the potential of conflicts. Instead of perceiving them as a battle, in which one has to win and the other has to fail, it is better to view them as a way to discover the existing problems and try to manage them. In this case, managers and employees would be less likely to merely avoid and accommodate conflicts because of the understanding that their actions are counter-productive.
However, the evidence also shows that the positive impact of conflicts is quite limited by circumstances, conflict management, and negative factors (De Dreu, 2008). I agree with this author that in some cases, it is extremely difficult to adjust the way companies approach conflicts since they are accustomed to avoid associated risks. Nevertheless, I am confident that mutual decision-making and problem-solving can bring positive results. To ensure that organizations would benefit from cooperation in conflict resolution, it is important to conduct the initial organizational research, identify a company’s strengths and weaknesses, and explain to managers and employees that are new approach is promising. Accordingly, I would attempt to integrate collaboration as the preferred strategy to experiment with improving how people approach conflicts. At the same time, I understand that avoiding, accommodating, and other strategies can also be useful, depending on the situation.
The relationships between an employer and an employee are based on the so-called concept of a psychological contract, which can be defined as mutual expectations and obligations of both. The psychological contract is a dynamic entity, and it alters as the needs and expectations of the parties change (Nadin and Williams, 2012). One of the key issues on the part of an employer is that he or she should have sufficient experience in formulating expectations related to the requirements of a company, certain department, and an employee’s position. In addition, the skills that allow understanding and accurately assessing everything related to the employee’s needs and expectations are critical. Nadin and Williams (2012) rationally note that from the perspective of employers, they are responsible for reaffirming their authority and strengthening understanding in a company. Indeed, the attention to the concerns of employees can significantly enhance the psychological contract’s positive impact on the relationships between the employer and the employee.
The prevention of psychological contract violation is probably one of the most important issues. Considering that it tends to change and depend on people’s expectations and obligations, the readiness to re-negotiate the psychological contract is the basis for avoiding its violation (McDermott et al., 2013). When employers and employees are willing to discuss it periodically as they clearly understand what is needed, it becomes easier to manage these expectations. For example, new managers and employees can bring their own values, and without discussing them in terms of the psychological contracts, the likeliness of conflicts increases. Consequently, openness and trust should compose the foundation of workplace communication.
In my practice, I had observed the situation when the psychological contract was followed properly, and it was adjusted depending on the changing needs of both the company and its employees. In particular, it strengthened team interaction and communication in the workplace. The main issue is that both the employee and the leader were involved in a common cause, the process and the result of which is important for both of them. They effectively interacted with each other, cooperated, and it brought them, first of all, emotional satisfaction, as well as work-related satisfaction. A high level of positive feelings and emotions associated with such a joint activity allowed both involved parties to feel that their work is valued. Effective organizational interaction was accompanied by good informal relationships, often turning into friendly ones. Nevertheless, friendship is not an issue that should be necessarily achieved by means of the psychological contract. In fact, even if informal communication is not the goal, the work-related satisfaction of employees indicates good relationships.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, many organizations allowed their employees to work remotely for safety reasons. On the one hand, its benefits include less time spent to arrive at work and a more comfortable working environment (PwC says start when you like, leave when you like, 2021). On the other hand, it also presents such disadvantages as the need to focus on self-discipline, resolve emerging group conflicts, and maintain relationships. According to Tietze and Nadin (2011), the transition to home-based work from the office is associated with a more transactional approach to work. When I started working from home, I felt an increased enthusiasm about completing the tasks more effectively. I agree with the authors’ statement that work from home provides an “opportunity to better fit work around their lives rather than fitting their lives around their work” (Tietze and Nadin, 2011, p. 330). When an employee feels that his or her work does not take too much time, they become more likely to experience both job and life satisfaction.
In terms of the social identity theory, various groups are formed in organizations, which can be based either on rational reasons or even hair color. Group conflicts often lead to a high level of inside competition in companies, reducing their productivity and even leading to firm selling, as it was in the case of Lehman Brothers (Raines, 2019). The question that emerges is how remote work caused by COVID-19 impacts employees and group conflicts. From my point of view, remote work largely depends on the psychological characteristics of an employee. For example, it is more comfortable for introverts, who usually need a minimum of communication, while extroverts, as more outgoing people, can suffer from a lack of direct contact with colleagues. As a result, it is possible to anticipate the increase of group conflicts, which would depend on the approach of employees towards the amount of work-related communication.
The age of employees can be another factor determining the appearance and management of group conflicts. In accordance with the theory of generations, remote work seems to more convenient for the younger generation, but, at the same time, it is vital how comfortable this work is for them, how clearly tasks are set, and an algorithm for solving them is given. For the older generation, the problem-solving algorithm is not such important since the decisive factor is computer skills and the ability to work in Internet networks. In addition, Belbin’s team roles should be taken into account to understand how employees would interact with each other and anticipate the conflicts that may occur in certain organizations.
A conflict within a group often arises if the leader changes or a new person joins the company. As my practice shows, all groups set their own unspoken rules of conduct, and each participant chooses his or her place. When any change occurs, it disturbs the order and causes group conflict situations. Change initiatives can also involve job redesign that can be perceived as threatening the autonomy of some group members (Nadin, Waterson, and Parker, 2001). Another example is the redesign of the equipment, when some employees may be comfortable with it, but others express resistance to changes. The conflicts between groups usually lead to negative consequences, such as leaving the company or at least changing positions. Compared to personal workplace conflicts that have a higher degree of productivity, inter-group conflicts are mostly destructive. It can probably be explained by the need for structural changes to resolve such conflicts, as well as formulating and accepting a common vision for the future.
The behaviors of leaders can serve as another reason for conflicts, likewise in the case of Priti Patel, a British politician working as Home Secretary. An investigation began by Alex Allen, an independent advisor to Ministers’ interests, who found that Priti Patel was “annoyed” by the lack of responsiveness of senior officials in her ministry and used bullying towards civil servants. In this regard, as established by the investigation, Patel repeatedly swore and shouted at officials, which is consistent with the definition of bullying at work (Grierson, 2020). This is the violation of the ministerial code of conduct, which was faced, however, with minimal disciplinary procedures. It would be better if some more significant measures would be applied to prevent similar cases in the future.
When it comes to my experience, I can remember an example of a useful inter-group conflict simulation. An example of a conflict that is useful for a company can be the so-called positional conflict, when in the structure of an organization for divisions opposing, competing goals were deliberately formed, resulting in an objective confrontation. This positional conflict enabled the management to more objectively assess the actions of the groups since they are looking for more perfect arguments for their solvency in the confrontation and are developing new technologies. In other words, such a conflict created constructive tension that was beneficial to the organization. Cooperation as a solution is possible only if it is a valued common goal and if it is supported by a psychological contract and social norms (Raines, 2019).
Although much was done by trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and social movements to achieve equality in the workplace, cultural, ethnic, and other minority groups still face bullying, harassment, and other forms of inappropriate behaviors. For example, one can note the allegations of African-American students against the Cardiff University about being racially profiled (Adey, 2021). Another example refers to the Acas discussion paper on workplace bullying, in which the definition, conditions, and handling methods remain unclear (Weiss and Morgan, 2016). It seems that the main problem is not only to make the workplaces safer and equal but understand the reasons and expressions of bullying, thus logically moving to coping techniques.
In my practice, I have observed a number of cases where HR managers practiced inappropriate behaviors towards applicants and employees. Being the frontline workers of any company, they are expected to translate the organizational culture by sharing a company’s vision and mission so that applicants can fit their expectations and the offer. However, the group interviews that are often used by HR managers showed me that they could be the persons who support bullying. For example, I noted regular and unjustified claims along with vague criticism. The successes previously achieved by applicants were completely ignored. All new ideas were blocked, and even if HR managers asked questions, they did not give enough time to answer properly.
Workplace bullying is an extremely complicated and large-scale problem indeed. As a result, a person’s career can collapse, and everything can end even in self-damaging behaviors, including depression and further negative outcomes. I would like to emphasize that bullying is critical not only for the employees but also for the employers since the productivity of the employee is greatly reduced due to constant illnesses and absence from work. The productivity of an employee under the conditions of psychological pressure is minimal (Raines, 2019). If the applicants with whom I visited the interviews with HR managers tried to object, it immediately provoked aggression on their part.
In case when an HR manager practices bullying, one needs to report this situation to others managers or directly to the company’s leader. By conducting a critical conversation, the essence of the problem should be explained, without accusations, just stating the facts. In turn, it is necessary for the leader to clearly show that such behaviors in the company are unacceptable, it is completely contrary to corporate values, and if this repeats, the next stage will be dismissal. Companies are to understand that they need to dismiss a person if positive changes do not happen.
The process of globalization that comprised all spheres of life around the world today makes it important to be aware of diversity in the workplace. By becoming participants in any kind of intercultural communication, people interact with the representatives of other cultures that are different from each other (Chen et al., 2018). Differences in languages, national cuisine, dress, social norms, and attitude to work performed often make these contacts conflictual. However, I believe that the main reasons for the problems of cross-cultural communication lie beyond the obvious differences. In particular, differences in perception of the world and in a different attitude towards the world and other people lead to conflicts. The main obstacle hindering the successful solution of this problem is that people perceive another culture in relation to their own, which means that their observations and conclusions are limited by personal frameworks.
For example, western and eastern cultures are distinguished by individualism and collectivism, respectively. In their study, Chen et al. (2018) focused on the role of cooperation in terms of organization-level collectivism and individualism and found that American and Chinese managers can successfully manage conflicts, focusing on low power distance notion. Moreover, American managers developed trust in Chinese employees, who valued collectivism (Chen et al., 2018). In other words, this is representative of the fact that the interest in the viewpoints of employees with different cultural backgrounds is a key to effective management and integrated solutions. Indeed, the application of the cross-cultural approach to managing conflicts in such organizations is likely to be useful for better understanding what exactly is needed to employees and how to match their needs with organizational goals.
Reflecting on the literature for this week, I can state that unconscious bias training is probably one of the most effective means of preventing aggression and violence at workplaces. It can be characterized as social and psychological training in a specially organized form of communication, contributing to the development of employees’ personality, as well as the formation of their communicative competence. Zychowicz (2021) emphasizes that the system of training sessions sets the task, first of all, to acquire the skills of proper communication and interaction with others, so that each of the employees would clearly understand unacceptable behaviors. In my future career, I plan to apply social and psychological training to help employees in reflecting on their life experiences related to communication and relationships, making a choice in favor of constructive methods of interaction.
To conclude, conflict management is critical to ensure that organizations constantly develop and remain successful despite various communication, cultural, and social challenges. Although an organization needs a harmonious integration of all activities, it cannot remain static and satisfied with the existing situation. On the contrary, management should be proactive to plan for innovation and respond appropriately to changes in the internal and external environments. The establishment of a proper psychological contract, anti-bullying training, and cross-cultural communication awareness are the strategies that can be applied by managers and leaders to reduce conflicts and resolve them effectively, so that both employers and employees would benefit from cooperative decisions.
Adey, L. (2021) ‘Is Uni Racist? Black and ethnic minority students allege mishandling of racism complaints’, BBC. Web.
Chen, N. et al. (2018) ‘Transforming cross-cultural conflict into collaboration: the integration of western and eastern values’, Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, 25(1), pp. 70-95.
De Dreu, C. K. (2008) ‘The virtue and vice of workplace conflict: food for (pessimistic) thought’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29(1), pp. 5-18.
Grierson, J. (2020) ‘Priti Patel bullying inquiry: why was it held and what did it find?, The Guardian. Web.
McDermott, A. M. et al. (2013) ‘Promoting effective psychological contracts through leadership: the missing link between HR strategy and performance’, Human Resource Management, 52(2), pp. 289-310.
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Nadin, S. J., Waterson, P. E. and Parker, S. K. (2001) ‘Participation in job redesign: an evaluation of the use of a sociotechnical tool and its impact’, Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Service Industries, 11(1), pp. 53-69.
PwC says start when you like, leave when you like (2021) BBC News. Web.
Raines, S. S. (2019) Conflict management for managers: resolving workplace, client, and policy disputes. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Tietze, S. and Nadin, S. (2011) ‘The psychological contract and the transition from office‐based to home‐based work’, Human Resource Management Journal, 21(3), pp. 318-334.
Tjosvold, D. (2008) ‘The conflict‐positive organization: it depends upon us’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29(1), pp. 19-28.
Weiss, O. and Morgan, B. (2016) ‘Acas paper suggests fresh approach to tackling workplace bullying’. CiPD News Item.
Zychowicz , N. (2021) ‘Should businesses scrap unconscious bias training?’, People Management. Web.