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Conflicts are ever present elements of people’s daily routines. The personal and organizational life in the twenty-first century is filled with stresses and tensions (O’Rourke, 2010). Conflicts arise when individuals are pressured to enhance their productivity, push deadlines, increase workloads, and cope with the growing burden of family and household chores. Conflicts result from failure to achieve a reasonable and mutually advantageous agreement; at times, conflicts expose the problems and deficiencies inherent in the most important organizational and interpersonal processes. The situation is particularly difficult in groups since the diversity of personal and professional backgrounds within one group undermines the stability of relationships and traditional hierarchies. In this sense, effective conflict management is vital to the success of the major personal and organizational initiatives. Conflicts can be extremely counterproductive, but conflict management can create stronger business and personal relationships, foster personal growth and self-development, and move the parties to achieving a common decision in the most problematic situations.
Conflict and Conflict Management Styles
Conflict and conflict management are recurrent themes in organizational and social research. Conflict management has become a buzzword in most social disciplines. Globalization removes geographical borders and draws individuals with diverse backgrounds to work cooperatively on complex tasks. In these situations, conflicts become a routine element of the organizational and private life. Early definitions of conflict encompassed a variety of factors and phenomena (Thomas, 1992). Today, conflict can be defined as something that happens “any time we disagree to the point that we cannot go forward” (O’Rourke, 2010, p.80). Conflict arises when more than one person is involved; consequentially, conflict is the type of endeavor that necessitates the input of all parties/ participants (O’Rourke, 2010). Individuals use different conflict management styles, the most common including collaborating, compromising, and accommodating.
Collaboration (or problem-solving) is the conflict management style used by highly cooperative and assertive individuals to satisfy the needs of all parties (O’Rourke, 2010; Barki & Hartwick, 2001). In collaborative conflict management style, conflict is not a zero-sum game (Barki & Hartwick, 2001). Rather, all parties have equal chances to meet their needs and resolve their concerns. Collaboration works through an open and honest dialogue, willingness to assume responsibility for each other’s actions, and consideration of all parties’ interests and beliefs.
Accommodation is another conflict management style characterized by high levels of cooperation but low assertiveness (O’Rourke, 2010). Unlike collaboration, accommodation presents conflict as a zero sum situation; therefore, individuals who use accommodation to resolve interpersonal conflicts must be prepared to sacrifice their desires and needs for the sake of achieving a common goal (Barki & Hartwick, 2001). Accommodation comes into play when individuals willingly give up their claims, deny their needs, and seek harmony in their relations with others. Accommodation is used by those who want to cooperate but do not want to assert their needs. They are more likely to surrender their wishes for the benefit of general peace and agreement.
The compromising style of conflict management is located somewhere in the middle of the conflict management continuum, with moderate levels of cooperation and assertiveness (The Foundation Coalition, 2005). Compromising reflects “moderate concerns for one’s own interests and a moderate concern for the other party’s interests” (Cai & Fink, 2002, p.69). Compromising is based on several essential skills, including negotiation, ability to find a middle ground, and willingness to make concessions (The Foundation Coalition, 2005). Compromising requires that all parties of the conflict give and take to find a mutually satisfying decision.
Compromising: My Conflict Management Style
Compromising is the conflict management style I use most frequently. I tend to associate compromising with the principles of fairness and honesty. I prefer compromising since it reflects moderate concerns for the needs of all parties (Cai & Fink, 2002). Fairness is achieved by dividing scarce resources equitably (Cai & Fink, 2002). I realize that, in many situations, compromising leaves parties moderately dissatisfied: they may realize that alternative solutions could meet their interests more satisfactorily. However, in situations when only temporarily solution is needed and parties want to save their energy and time, compromising is the best way to manage conflicts. Compromising creates an atmosphere of fairness and justice and reduces the risks of further conflicts and disagreements. More often than not, through compromising, we can achieve a golden middle; however, compromising can benefit all parties only when they have a strong commitment for management and resolution (The Foundation Coalition, 2005).
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There are situations when I cannot deal with conflicts effectively. This is particularly the case of inter-cultural conflicts among individuals with diverse ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Personal values greatly affect individual approaches to conflict management. From my experience, Asians (especially the Chinese) tend to avoid conflicts as they naturally seek harmony and rely on the principles of collectivism and collaboration (Morris et al., 1998). By contrast, Americans are inclined to compete for limited resources, seek to assert themselves in the competitive environment, and try to convince other parties of their preferred resolutions (Morris et al., 1998). Stereotypes aside, the use of different conflict management styles can make conflict management and resolution extremely complicated. It would be fair to say that choosing the most appropriate style is an essential prerequisite of successful conflict management. Simultaneously, all parties of the conflict must remember that no conflict management style is without weaknesses.
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Conflict Management Styles: Advantages and Disadvantages
Collaboration, accommodation, and compromise have their advantages and drawbacks. To begin with, collaboration allows satisfying the needs of all parties of the conflict (Barki & Hartwick, 2001). Collaboration is a conflict management style that facilitates achieving a win-win agreement (Barki & Hartwick, 2001). However, collaboration requires time and energy; and all parties must be equally committed to conflict management and resolution. Collaborative individuals may be weaker than their assertive colleagues. Basically, collaboration is appropriate when the relationship between parties is prioritized. In accommodation, parties work cooperatively to find a reasonable balance between their and others’ interests; more frequently, accommodation allows achieving group harmony and can become an instrument of conflict avoidance (O’Rourke, 2010). Yet, accommodation is always about giving up something to achieve something else. In accommodation creative solutions are rare; accommodation can even lead to resentment and frustration among parties. Sometimes, accommodating parties have to sacrifice their power to achieve and sustain group harmony (O’Rourke, 2010). In this sense, the “moderate” character of compromising is one of its basic strengths. Compromise creates a win-win situation; but some researchers claim that “compromising is arising from one of two sources – either lazy problem solving involving a half-hearted attempt to satisfy the parties’ interests, or simple yielding by both parties” (Lewicki, Saunders & Barry, 2006, p.24). Compromises fail to expose the hidden issues and leave them unresolved. Compromises may leave parties dissatisfied with the outcome (Kuhn & Poole, 2000). Despite the growing body of literature, many individuals and organizations simply avoid conflicts and conflict resolution. Surprisingly or not, in certain conditions avoidance can become an effective approach to conflict management and resolution.
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Avoidance and Conflict Management
Avoidance is directly related to conflict management, as it is one of the basic instruments of managing and resolving interpersonal conflicts. Avoidance is useful and culturally valued in collectivist cultures; individuals in these cultures are group-oriented and value the quality of their interpersonal relationships (Tjosvold & Sun, 2002). It is at least incorrect to say that avoidance implies indifference to other parties’ concerns (Barki & Hartwick, 2001). Although avoiding individuals may have the fear of dealing with conflict directly, in certain conditions, avoidance is the only way to manage conflict effectively. Avoidance is appropriate when the issue is unimportant, when parties want to buy additional time or when power misbalances affect the quality of cooperation and decision-making (The Foundation Coalition, 2005). Like other conflict management styles, avoidance requires special knowledge and skills, such as the sense of timing and the ability to withdraw (The Foundation Coalition, 2005). Whatever the style, conflict management always creates stronger business and personal relationships, fosters personal growth and self-development, and moves parties to achieve a common decision in the most problematic situations.
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Conflicts are routine elements of the organizational and private life. Conflict is what happens when parties disagree to the point that they cannot move forward. Conflict management always creates stronger business and personal relationships, fosters personal growth and self-development, and moves parties to achieve a common decision in the most problematic situations. Here, parties can choose among several conflict management styles. Collaboration (or problem-solving) is the conflict management style used by highly cooperative and assertive individuals to satisfy the needs of all parties. Accommodation comes into play when individuals willingly give up their claims, deny their needs, and seek harmony in their relations with others. Compromising requires that all parties of the conflict both give and take in order to find a mutually satisfying decision. Regardless of the style, conflict management has the potential to advance organizations and individuals in the movement to the desired goal.