Leadership Approach to Conflicts at the Workplace

Introduction to the Problem

Conflict management in workplaces is critical, but the concept lacks the best strategies that leaders can employ. Disputes in the workplace are a common occurrence and can either be positive or cause adverse effects depending on the approach that they attract. The failure to appropriately resolve a conflicting matter can be detrimental to the productivity of an organization. Unresolved conflict may result in high employee turnover, dysfunctional teams, employee dissatisfaction. Lazarus (2014) discusses that poor conflict management can cause physical and psychological harm, emotional stress, and hostility.

Leaders have a role of ensuring that their followers understand the best way to interact with other employees and voice their issues (Saeed, Almas, Anis-ul-Haq, & Niazi, 2014). The approach that a leader employs to tackle conflicts is crucial to generating positive outcomes. A leader must proactively address both the emotional and the rational issues in a conflict. Workplace conflicts are diverse; thus, a single leadership approach cannot be deployed across all conflicts. The method that a leader uses to address conflict affects the outcome of the resolution process.

History

Attempts to manage and resolve conflicts emerged from the post-World War II society (Lipsky & Avgar, 2010). The attempts focused on conflict management in the political climate. Conflict resolution has, however diverged its application from the power based conflict theory. The growth of the factory system created a conducive environment for growth in significance of organizational conflict. Capitalist ideologies of the time focused more on the economic positioning of labor, with less focus on the social wellbeing of employees. A conflict of interest emerged between factory owners and workers on issues like rights and freedom, wages and allowances.

An important development in the past of organizational conflict is the transitioning from a subjective form of labor to the kind that employee oriented labor structuring. However, the development did not take place under minimal challenges. With the steady influx of migrants, organizing and managing employee became a major problem. Migrants introduced traditional ways of life that did not match up with organizational cultures in the factory system. Factory owners opted to use of subcontractors (who had family ties with employees) to manage the workers. To improve employee output, workers were paid upon individual task completion, serving as a form of incentive.

Culture-based conflicts were not exclusive to the factory system. More than that, the hierarchical form of management assumed entities led to disagreements. To resolve this, owners of companies assumed a managerial form of leadership. The primary objective of managerial ideologies was to foster effectiveness in the organization through authority and obedience approaches. Deployment of managerial approach is not a sure way to develop performance in the workplace. The existing gap called for control strategies. 

Causes

            The absence of the best approaches to effectively deal with dissent in the workplace arises from various issues. The association of conflict with only negative outcomes is one such issue. The concentration on avoiding or eliminating disputes limits the development of appropriate techniques that can allow a leader to manage them (Overton & Lowry, 2013).  The creation of the best approaches requires that individuals view dissent as a necessary element for innovation stimulation and the growth of its staff. Conflicts will always be present and cannot be avoided, but managed through having conflict competence.

In addition, the lack of understanding of the concept of conflict results in the improper selection of the method to tackle them in the workplace.  According to Omisore and Abiodun (2014), because of the pervasive nature of dissent, there is an uncertainty of how to cope with the issue. The recognition of the source of a dispute is the first step towards effective resolution.  The conflicts can arise from miscommunication, personality differences, unclear expectations, and organizational changes among others. Moreover, the early identification of the dissent is critical to curbing it before it escalates. Additionally, the leader must discern whether the dispute is destructive or constructive to devise the best approach to managing (Omisore & Abiodun, 2014).

Deficiency of understanding of the importance of operating as a team also contributes to the challenge of generating appropriate conflict resolution methods.  When a leader does not see the need for teamwork, he or she would rather avoid conflicts than managing them. Conversely, a leader who appreciates that an organization can achieve more when they combine their efforts will seek to devise methods that will ensure teams remain productive. The leaders of effective teams support constructive conflicts (Van der Haar, Koeslag-Kreunen, Euwe, & Segers, 2017).

Effects

            The failure to appropriately address conflict in the workplace can cause adverse consequences. The utilization of improper approaches leads to poor resolution of the disputes. If disagreements are not corrected in time, they may escalate to levels that are unmanageable. The conflicts contribute to employee dissatisfaction and loss in morale that affects productivity and the company’s performance (Henry, 2009). The most immediate solution that managers tend to seek in such a situation is a separation of conflicting parties. Apparently, such approaches proof manifestation of a conflict in the efficient management of staff.

            Furthermore, when conflicts get out of hand, it can lead to bullying or workplace violence among the staff. The issue can cause absenteeism or employee loss that significantly costs the company. The employee turnover means that an organization has to hire and train another person to take the vacant position that adds to expenses. Apart from this, the disgruntled individuals can sabotage the company due to the lack of proper addressing of the dispute. The act can interfere with the operations of an organization, and the process of getting back on track will be costly.

            Moreover, conflicts can spill out and affect customers. The client might decide to leave or pursue litigations that are both destructive to the organization’s image. Additionally, when consumers exit, the sales, and profits are impacted. Finally, disputes can have adverse effects on the well-being of the employees. Lazarus (2014) notes that in situations where conflict is avoided rather than being dealt with, people can experience mental health problems and psychological effects. These negative attributes not only affect the company’s productivity, but the life of the individual.

Symptoms

            A leader can know whether or not the institution is using the right conflict resolution approach through looking out for signs. The first signal of poor management of disputes is high employee turnover in the organization (Henry, 2009). When individuals are not comfortable voicing their issues, or are suppressed, they become dissatisfied with their work that forces them to leave the company. If an employee opts to continue working in the organization, he or she may exhibit suppression of motivation to perform towards organizational goals.

            Another symptom is the deterioration of teamwork cohesiveness. A team that was previously working well, but suddenly cannot function together demonstrates that there are things that have not been addressed. Hence, a leader can know that they need a different approach to deal with the challenge. Additionally, employees shying away from airing their ideas or concerns can illustrate that the conflict management techniques are not resolving disputes. Other signs can be numerous and frequent cases of harassment, violence or bullying among the staff.

Stakeholders

            The development of the right strategies for managing conflicts requires the understanding of all the stakeholders. The identification of those that have a connection or interest in the organization aids in setting rules of engagement that can help prevent unnecessary disagreements. Additionally, the knowledge regarding their power and their role in the organization can assist in generating the best conflict resolution approaches for the different groups. Furthermore, the identification aid in understanding the protocols to follow when resolving disagreements.

            The primary stakeholder is the employee who gets involved in the daily activities of the organization. Employees together with the managers from internal stakeholders. They demand appropriate dispute resolution methods since the frequent interactions and the need to perform can easily generate conflicts. Parties who are affected directly by wrangles within the company are among the key stakeholders. The suppliers, community and customers also form part of the conflict management resolution stakeholders. 

Desired Result

            The goal is that through the problem-solving process, solutions to conflicts can be identified. The problem of leaders employing inappropriate techniques for conflict resolution has been shown to cause adverse effects. From the discussion, an organization can gain a lot by learning to differentiate dysfunctional and constructive disputes to take advantage of the latter. The presentation of the best approaches is thus crucial to help leaders efficiently manage conflicts.

The aim is to brainstorm on the various alternative solutions.  The analysis of these dissent resolution strategies will generate the most appropriate ones. Lazarus (2014) indicates that is critical to train and retrain leaders on the best methods of dealing with disputes. Since conflict will always occur and is necessary for creativity, the best way of managing it is through having managers who understand the right techniques to use.

Possible Solutions

Businesses and organizations in the 21st century are operating in a dynamic environment that require them to identify means of improving performance and competitiveness. Due to the increased availability of resources and financial capabilities, companies often find themselves operating at the same level making it difficult to sustain competitive advantage. Subsequently, the workforce remains a key source of competitive advantage. The skills and knowledge within the organization cannot be easily replicated in another. Furthermore, the workforce is regarded as the most important asset of any organization (Szu-Fang, 2013). It is important for firms to try their best to retain workers who contribute effectively to the success of the company. Conflicts that build up in the workplace can be detrimental to these efforts. Leaders in an organization possess power and authority that can be employed to prevent as well as settle conflicts that might compromise employee productivity and organizational performance. Kazimoto (2013) alludes that conflict can be employed as a measure of competitiveness because it entails disagreement due to differences of interests or ideas among the people in the organization. It is up to the leaders to make this internal competition useful for the organization rather than a risk, which can jeopardize performance. Conflict is relatively inevitable due to the disparities that exist among different stakeholders, including the leaders within an organization. Discord on the goals, interests, and values among people and groups in the organization lead to frustrations as each party tries to achieve their objectives (Pache & Santos, 2010). Furthermore, researchers have shown that conflicts are an ever-present aspect of human relations. In this light, it is essential for organizations to change their approaches to ensure their effectiveness in management and avoidance of conflicts. Most of these ventures require appropriate leadership approaches to warrant that they are efficient and sustainable. Fundamentally, the leaders should engage through a solution criteria to warrant that the suitable solutions are employed. The following are the key solutions to workplace conflict that leaders can engage and sustain in an organization.

Understanding human nature

There is a rising body of evidence that leaders need to comprehend the fundamental aspects that influence how people respond to events and circumstances that change how they engage in the workplace. Sensemaking within an organization is the responsibility of people who make decisions, and this can influence how workers respond to environmental clues. In this light, understanding human nature is a fundamental aspect of conflict resolution for leaders within a business or an organization (Ehrhart, 2012). Human nature alludes to the human condition outside the organized society. It is the liberty one has in his or power of the will for the preservation of their nature. According to Kazimoto (2013), conflicts are embedded in our perception in all aspects of life. Consequently, we cannot avoid conflicts not only in the workplace, but also in our homes and societies. The effects of conflicts in the organization are not only detrimental to its performance and existence, but also has an impact on personal lives of the people involved. The conceptualization of conflict in the human nature context is neither good, wrong, nor right. Suggestively, it is the affected persons to attach value to the differences that exist between them. The results of a conflict are determined by the feelings, beliefs, and values of these individuals.

The conflict can be due to interpersonal or intergroup discord. In this context, interpersonal conflicts are experienced between overseer and subordinates or two workers in the similar level of the hierarchy. The situation occurs due to competition and parties knowing about the incompatibility of their interests on an issue considered important by one of the parties. Fundamentally, the decisions people make and the choices they take are not often calm, assured, or agreed. The phenomenon can be attributed to human nature because people think and act differently (Ulen, 2010). From this perspective, it is observed that internal conflicts are a burden that organizations have to bear. Nevertheless, through effective leadership engagement, conflicts can be a crucial part of how organizations develop and individuals co-exist with others.

Human nature is inevitable when understanding social relationships that exist within an organization.  Accommodating human needs conflict control requires identifying the cause of conflict and the environmental aspects that promote the conflict, which leads to organizational change. Rather, leaders need to view conflict as a problem that should be resolved instead of a situation which requires behaviors to be controlled (Kazimoto, 2013). Knowing the limitations of the people involved in a conflict is important to establish a means of overcoming the conflict by reaching to one’s potential. The workplace conflict can be addressed from two perspectives (Henman, 2011). The first is when individuals’ ideas, decisions or acts that directly relate to their responsibilities are in opposition and the second when two persons do not get along. The clash of personalities can be difficult to manage due to the strong emotional aspects that are focused on negative perceptions about another individual. According to Prieto-remón, Cobo-benita, and Ortiz-marcos (2015), conflicts are often as a result of disagreements due to incompatible goals, ideas, or emotions among the stakeholders. Despite the category of conflict, employees involved in unhealthy relationships in the workplace engage in harmful interactions, which become their focus and fuel conflicts.

When leaders identify a personalized conflict, it is critical to engage strategies that redirect the attention and energy of the individuals involved in the relevant job and set clear expectations on appropriate behaviors and consequences if the participants do not act as recommended. Fundamentally, the leaders should engage at the earlier stages of the conflict before it escalates to harmful engagements. According to Kazimoto (2013), personalized conflicts often worsen with time as the participants out blame on each other, find problems in others, and find reasons to support their negative attitude towards each other. Also, alliances can be formed where groups team up to frustrate an individual or another group. Considering that the aim of any organization is to make profits the cost incurred in conflict mitigation can be immense. In this light, understanding human nature is imperative to reducing the financial impact of conflict management. Additionally, human nature is the key aspect that fuel conflicts and make them last for long. Problem solving initiatives that prevent the conflict are appropriate in reducing costs. Nevertheless, arbitration initiatives facilitate diverse measures and allow leaders to limit adverse effects of conflict by observing the people involved and the symptoms they portray.

Leadership styles

People in leadership play a role in defining and communicating a company’s long-term vision and mission while the responsibility of conflict resolution entails handling the situations at hand. From this perceptive, the leadership styles can have a significant impact on how conflicts are resolved. Nevertheless, leaders who articulate what they want to accomplish, offer support to subordinates, engage in problem-solving ventures, exploit new opportunities, demand excellence, conduct themselves ethically, and act as role models are effective in building teams and this facilitates conflict management (Hallinger & Heck, 2010). Suggestively, leadership should facilitate and encourage cooperation and teamwork while at the same time offering the required support for workers to perform adequately. Some leadership styles lack these elements and make it difficult to contain conflicts.

Autocratic leadership makes it difficult for self-determination and autonomy and forces the workforce to accept their ideas. Subsequently, they compromise their subordinates’ sense of control and participation in the decision-making process. The leaders exhibit full control, leaving no room for ideas from the subordinates. Although this approach can be effective in limiting conflicts in some situations, it is detrimental to the leader-subordinate relationship. Subsequently, it leads to conflicts between the leadership and subordinates jeopardizing employee productivity and organizational performance (Vaccaro, Jansen, van den Bosch, & Volberda, 2012).

Bureaucratic leaders have a high emphasize on the procedures by ensuring that rules, policies, and authority is followed. Resultantly, the organization or teams follow standardized behaviors that limit conflicting interests. Nevertheless, bureaucratic leaders focus on the need to control through documentation, making the workforce instruments that contribute to the bureaucracy. In bureaucratic leadership, followers only do what is expected and nothing more. Consequently, other factors that contribute to conflicts in the workplace, such as boredom, stress, and work overload. Democratic leadership is a participative approach that allows the employees to engage in the management process. Although this approach might be considered desirable for minimizing conflicts, it entails intense competition among the workers and managers increasing the risks of conflicts. When workers are allowed to engage in the management process, there are times managers might feel that they are losing control resulting in conflicts. Additionally, when one’s opinion is not incorporated in the decisions made, they might feel rejected, and they develop hatred on their colleagues or their superiors.  Nevertheless, democratic leadership facilitates communication channels that people can use to identify and resolve the differences between them. The Laisez-Faire leadership style alludes to the approach where leaders lack any motivation to engage in managerial responsibilities. In this light, they do not show any initiative to structure the workforce or show concern for the well-being of their employees (Kazimoto, 2013). They also lack communication structures to inform on their expectations from the workforce or any means of holding employees accountable. From this perspective, employees are left with the freedom to solve critical issues on their own. Obviously, this is not the best approach for conflict management in the workplace. Organizations should prevent the emergence of such leaders to ensure that there is increased engagement in workforce issues through appropriate leadership styles.

A leadership position should facilitate resolution of conflicts that are deemed to be distractions in the workforce or team members, decrease productivity, and compromise motivation. Some conflicts are natural and necessary, and they do not need leadership interventions. For instance, disagreements that are constructive and might lead to innovative solutions to issues facing the company should be facilitated through meaningful communications and clarification for the need of cooperation. Leadership is a key factor that determines the future change and visions of the organization (Szu-Fang, 2013). Engaging the workforce in strategies that might cause changes in the organization can contribute to minimized conflicts within the organization. For instance, the expansion of the workforce where new employees are hired should be appropriately communicated to prepare them for the change. Subsequently, the conflict that might emerge due to misunderstandings among the old and new workers can be limited. These approaches should be coupled with motivation and incentives to cooperate for the success of the organization. Although the emphasis on leaders is ambassadors of good relationships within the organizations, there are some who provoke conflict among the workers with the perspective that it will help to achieve maximum effectiveness. Despite this, it is clear that avoiding conflicts is an appropriate means of engaging in problem-solving as a team rather on competitive grounds. The lack of leaders to handle conflicts respectfully, constructively and timely undermines their credibility in leadership as well as the success of the organization. Suggestively, leaders across all organizations and industries should realize that conflict management is an issue they should prioritize on using their influence and power in the organization.

Leaders play a fundamental role in developing and implementing organizational policies. Additionally, they have a moral obligation to ensure that the company acts in compliance to the legal structure of the host country. On the same note, there different industrial rules that should be followed by the organization. For instance, the working environment should be conducive to facilitate productivity. The organization should ensure that the workers operate is a setting that has no psychological torture from other workers or stress that could trigger violence and conflicts. Conflicts that escalate to injuries or other losses should be addressed appropriately. From this context, the court can be engaged to settle the dispute. The leaders should ensure that they understand the law and how it is applied as well as the consequences of breaking the laws. Handling issues within the organization is more desirable than in court or through other external parties. Such approaches can damage the reputation of the organization while at the same time they are expensive and time wasting.

Having insights into the causes of conflicts in the organization

Appropriate conflict management and prevention requires leaders to identify and understand the risk factors that cause these conflicts. Conflicts become a part of doing business in any situation where people interact. Suggestively, there are numerous causes of conflicts, making a normal issue in the workplace. The 21st-century business environment is characterized by increased diversity in the workplace, including ethnicity, religions, gender, and ideological differences. It is through conflicts that these differences are often realized. The differences emerging from initiatives and creativity are constructive for those involved unless they escalate to anger and humiliation that can harm the participants or limit the success of the organization. As noted earlier, conflicts can be interpersonal or intergroup. In this light, all businesses or organizations, regardless of size or industry are likely to experience interpersonal and organizational conflicts. Kazimoto (2013) alludes that workers in a learning organization experience situations that permit them to direct opinions and make their opinions known leading to undertakings that limit conflicts.

The grounds of conflict within a business can be alleged as negative conflicts that can be contained and fixed or manipulated into a constructive force that is beneficial for the organization. Furthermore, the organizational performance is reliant on the employee productivity, which is determined by how people communicate and contribute to better decisions. In this light, the following are the key causes of conflict that leaders should focus on for effective management.

Differing values. The diversification of the workforce leads to a composition of people have a different perspective on the world around them. Additionally, employees often pose different beliefs, values, goals, skills, and knowledge. Consequently, the workers might have strong attachments to ideologies that they are not enthusiastic to compromise. When these ideologies conflict with those of co-workers or superiors, conflicts are created (Kaimenyi, 2014). For instance, if a supervisor is opposed to workforce diversity, they might have challenges accepting other employees who are different from them. In this light, leaders have to try and encourage tolerance and cooperation among people with differing values. Additionally, this should be coupled by appropriate communication channels that facilitate reporting of abuse or opinions that might cause conflicts among the workers.

Opposing interests. Some employees are focused on pursuing their personal goals that they disregard those of the organization and the well-being of the others. Consequently, there is strife among colleagues who find that these individuals are not cooperative or do not perform their responsibilities. In this context, leaders are required to establish appropriate channels that promote career development. For instance, offering scholarships as rewards for good perform ace, having promotions, and having performance reviews to determine the contribution of each employee to the success of the organization.

Personality conflicts. There is no doubt that there are no two people who are exactly alike. Resultantly, personality clashes are a major source of conflicts in the organization (Kazimoto, 2013). Leaders should understand that personality crashes are unavoidable and they are also potential victims of such conflicts. Conflicts occur when people in the organization cannot calm their ego, and they lack respect for each other. Leaders should advocate for healthy relationships, communication, sharing, and respect across all levels of the organization.

Poor communication. It is evident that most of the measures discussed for addressing conflicts in the workplace indicate there is a need to have an effective communication system. Inadequate communication leads to misunderstandings and subsequent conflicts among the people. For instance, when managers use ineffective approaches to communicating instructions, they are frustrated when the employees fail to comply appropriately (Hayase, 2009). The conflict, in this case, is a result of wrong information being conveyed, or the information not reaching the recipients. Leaders are required to ensure that information flows appropriately throughout the organization. Such a strategy can be achieved by delegating responsibilities that also increase accountability.

Personal problems. Employees facing difficulties outside the workplace are likely to express the stress and frustrations among their colleagues leading to conflicts. Others might withdraw from their responsibilities, leaving others with a workload and annoyed with the ignorant behavior. Such matters can be handled by leaders having close relationships with the works not only about the occupation but also on personal matters. The organizations should also have strategies to help such employees such as therapy sessions, medical care, or financial support. Additionally, leaders should encourage communication among the workers to allow them to contribute to helping each other and building strong family-like relationships.

Due to the different causes of conflicts within the organization, it is desirable for leaders to consider flexible approaches for solving issues. The decision to solve a conflict is often limited by the underlying facts and information available. Upon understanding the cause of a problem and the parties involved, choosing the internment for resolving the issue should be strategic and entail focusing on the implications the selected approach might have. For instance leaders should determine how issues of privacy and confidentiality might imply in the process of resolving the problem. The use of strategies such as arbitration that highly flexible is more desirable compared to mediations that limit the course of action to the mediators.

The best approach: Understanding the causes of conflict

The intent of this analysis was to find the most suitable approach for leaders to employ in addressing conflicts in the workplace. Organizations are always seeking effective ways of handling conflicts in the workplace.  Researchers show that leadership is the epitome of conflict management in the organization. From the review above, it is evident that understanding the causes of the conflicts in the workplace is vital for conflict management. The approach can be used in preventing and resolving conflicts because the key factors to be addressed are known. Nevertheless, this requires leaders to be proactive in the workplace and engage in self-development to research the causes of conflicts and human nature and how they can be managed through their leadership styles. In this context, various stakeholders can be involved for the conflicting parties to come to terms. Furthermore, all stakeholders in an organization are focused on achieving high performance and productivity. It is desirable when people operate peacefully as a team with maximum productivity. A participative approach alludes to the contribution of the conflicting parties and the leaders in the organization in coming up with an appropriate solution. Third parties can be involved when dealing with situations such as conflicts emerging due to personal problems. Conflicts should be solved by addressing the issues presented by both parties without discrimination. Nevertheless, leaders should work to prevent conflicts that are detrimental rather than try and solve them.

Using the proposed approach will allow conflicts to be identified early enough for it to be effective. Additionally, early detection of these ill feelings allows the leaders to transform the negative energies into constructive ones that can be beneficial to the conflicting parties and the organization. The team leaders and organizational managers must warrant that there is clear communication of roles and tasks of each employee. Additionally, the leaders should engage appropriately to ensure that workers perform according to expectations. The approach includes ensuring effective monitoring and communication systems that allow the workers to report issues emerging in the workplace without skepticism or discrimination. On the same note, the workers should be de-motivated to interfere with each other’s work. Rather, they should be supportive and offer guidance without ill motives that might jeopardize the ideas of others. Good leadership is fundamental for conflict resolution, and this is achieved if leaders participate in the workplace to identify the causes of the conflicts that emerge in the workforce. The leaders should acknowledge that conflicts are detrimental to the organization and communicate the consequences to the employees. Creating awareness of such matters can limit the causes of conflicts among the workers. The solution criterial that focus on determining the cost, confidentiality and privacy, flexibility, and enforceability is instrumental in deciding the most appropriate line of action

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