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Conflicts are believed to be an essential part of human interaction (Ghaffar n.d.). Human diversity is one of the underlying causes of conflicts in the workplace. Schools, just as any other organizations, are highly prone to various conflicts. In order to resolve these conflicts a range of management strategies are employed. The primary thrust of the paper is on the examination of the causes, effects and resolution strategies of a particular school conflict using the theoretical background of the credible sources on the school management.
Cause and Effects of Conflict
There are various causes of conflicts at work. Such factors as uncertain economy, job-related stress, rivalry for promotion, finger-pointing at errors, misplaced loyalties, and threats of downsizing all contribute to workplace conflict. According to Collins, , workplace conflicts are generally brought about by the changing landscape in contemporary workplace, which is linked to new challenges for maintaining peace (Collins 2008: 1). In organizations, these causes are: 1) rapid pace of work (i.e. employees are required to produce bigger results in far less time, which creates a lot of stress as well as short-tempers); 2) increased competition; 3) diversity at work (it is harder for people with different perspectives to get along); 3) flattened organizational structures (i.e. less formal communication in the workplace). Yet, as Collins rightfully notes, the most common reason for conflicts at work is the fact that people are different.
The conflict situation that has been indirectly experienced by the author of the assignment was a case of the school conflict. A part of the teaching staff of one high school was reluctant to obey the head teacher in enforcing the decision that banned students’ wearing of yellow ties. The head teacher’s approach to leading the school was rather authoritative, so the teachers of that school, in particular those who opposed the foregoing rule, used to be pressured. The conflict arouse from the new fashion trend among high school students: wearing of yellow ties. While wearing that type of garment did not actually violate the rules of the school, it “spoilt” the appearance of students as believed by the school-level administrators.
Hence, the administration led by the head teacher responded with adopting a new rule that banned the wearing of yellow ties. Later, the meeting was called where the new rule was announced and teachers were asked to assist in enforcing it. At that meeting, teachers were asked what they thought of the rule. It became explicit that only a part of the staff supported the rule, others were indifferent, and still others were strongly opposed to it.
The conflict arose just as the administration started to resent the teachers who did not enforce the rule. Besides, teachers who did enforce the rule resented their colleagues that did not. On the other hand, those members of the staff who were opposed to the rule resented being pressured. It is worth mentioning that many teachers felt unconfident whether they had enough authority and moral right to enforce it. As a result, whether teachers were supportive or unsupportive of the rule, all of them resented the negative outcomes of the inconsistent enforcement as to their credibility and quality of relationships with students. Students, on their turn, sensed the teachers’ lack of commitment, power and agreement and could better resist or neglect the newly introduced rule. The discord turned out to be really counterproductive for the school’s life.
That conflict was a result of incompatible goals (Plunkett & Atner 1989), communication problems (Gray & Stark 1991), lack of participation in decisions (Fisher 1997), detrimental effects of school-level centralization (Ingersoll 1996), and conflicting values and beliefs (Steyn & van Niekerk 2002). The effects of the conflict on team work and individual performance were hampered productivity, inappropriate behaviors, lowered morale, and bigger conflict among the teaching staff (Ghaffar n.d.). The positive effects of the conflict were the identification of certain problems within the school faculty as well as between the school administration and teaching staff; teachers’ raised awareness about differences among them; recognized necessity of changes; and raised maturity of individuals and of the faculty (Ghaff n.d.; Squelch & Lemmer 1994).
The conflict did not appear out of a sudden, but passed through a number of stages as the final tension was growing (Steyn & van Niekerk 2002: 70). Based on the classification by Rue & Byars (1992: 403), the stages of the development, which the conflict went through have been identified in the following way: latent conflict (the major conditions of the conflict had already existed but were not recognized); perceived conflict (the teaching staff and the school administration recognized the cause of that conflict); felt conflict (tension began to build up despite the fact that the real struggle did not start); manifest conflict (the struggle and the confrontation between the parties was under way; the existence of the conflict was apparent); conflict aftermath (the conflict has ended due to suppression; alternative aftermaths could have been conflict resolution or management).
Minimizing and Resolving Conflict
If I were the head teacher of the high school where that conflict took place, I would have made every effort to reduce the conflict. As an educational leader, I believe I could have done a lot. It seems a combination of management techniques would be the best solution. Firstly, I would revise my own behaviour as the school principal and check what in my actions could have triggered the conflict; indeed, there may have been decisions or certain resolutions that caused poor relationship with the teaching staff (Steyn & van Niekerk 2002: 90). Then, I would emphasise confrontation and negotiation: I would bring teachers in dispute in order to discuss the major areas of disagreement. Apparently, I would try to find out their views on resolving the conflict. This technique would involve the facilitation of intergroup communication and promotion of collaboration between the parties. By avoiding the win-lose approach, I would try to recognize the weak points of the enforced rule and emphasise the need to achieve the common goal.
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Evidently, compromise, followed by the institution of an additional rule, would be the best conflict resolution technique. Through compromise everyone would be left with something. As Landau, Landau and Landau write, compromising means partially meeting the demands of other people; it also means “trading off some things of value to gain other things of value” (Landau, Landau and Landau 2001: 37). I believe compromise would be satisfying because it can prevent the damage of the relationship or enforcement of the opinions of one side on the opponents.
In this particular case, compromising would be achieved by the head teacher’s recognition of the hardships of the rule enforcement and of the rights of students and teachers to have the opposite view. While the rule against students’ wearing of yellow ties could be cancelled, the suggestion to implement another rule could be offered for discussion. Stressing the need to achieve the common goals in education, the head teacher should offer the school uniform rule. The students and teachers alike would then have a chance to take part in discussion about what kind of uniform should be worn. Students would be encouraged to select the kind of uniform they would like to wear. Teachers could advise on the suitability of the proposals. When all parties have come to agreement, the uniform would be fixed by the new rule.
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In order to promote positive atmosphere which would minimise the adverse effects of the conflict the manager could change his or her management style and behaviour. Above all, I would try to make the school less centralized, by giving more power to teachers and encouraging their decision-making. Also, I would place more emphasis on collaboration and common goals. Besides, I would change my management style. If I found out I had been too authoritative and acted in the way that could have triggered the conflict, I would alter my management style to a more communicative and self-reflective one. Paying more attention to introspection, self-analysis and adequate treatment of my subordinates, I would act as a relater. This behavioural style according to Darling & Walker (2002: 232) involves high level of responsiveness, using empathy and employing understanding when solving interpersonal problems. Acting as a relater would help to ensure stability in the team and minimise the risk of conflict through caring about relationships with other people.
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In summary, this paper has discussed the causes and effects of the conflict between the teaching staff and the school administration of one high school. It identified the management strategies that could have reduced and resolved the conflict. In addition, it explored how the positive atmosphere could be promoted at work in order to minimise the negative effects of the conflict.