Managing conflict within the workplace is a challenge that most managers face every day. Whether the conflict is perceived or felt, handling the conflict correctly is necessary in order to maintain a successful and comfortable work environment. At my company, Target, we deal with conflict on several different levels. There is team member versus team member conflict, team member versus management and customer versus the company conflict. Each situation is handled differently. To determine if my company handles conflict the same way I do, I will look at each situation separately.
Controlling conflict correctly, no matter what the situation, is necessary in order for the company to be successful. "Instead of working on tangible company problems, people in conflict often divert time and energy into their conflicts" (DuBrin, 2000, p. 207), this is what happens when team members have conflict with other team members. Dealing with problems among team members can be challenging because the situation must be handled quickly and efficiently. Allowing team members to argue or fight with other team members lowers morale and decreases productivity. Conflict usually arises due to work-flow interdependencies; team members working together disagree over procedures.
Team members will argue over who is to perform which tasks and when they will complete their assignments. Management must step in to settle the arguments so that the conflict can be resolved and work can continue. In this situation, the authoritative command approach works best. Management intervenes to solve the problem. There is no discussion or compromise.
The horizontal conflict between team members can also be resolved by compromise. This is used in situations when a decision must be made quickly and will not affect the store's business. This type of approach is generally not used often at Target because it can show weakness. Once the team members know that a manager will back down, they will try to use it against him.
Several managers at my store have used the compromise approach too often and have lost control over their team members. While most conflict situations are valid, sometimes a team member can cause conflict simply because they are having a bad day and need to vent frustration. When this type of conflict arises, the avoidance approach works best. Listening to the team member and allowing them to vent their frustrations will prevent the conflict from escalating. When a team member has a conflict with management, the situation is handled differently. We use the hierarchical referral approach.
The team member is referred to the executive who supervisors the manager. Allowing the team member to meet with the executive privately allows free flowing communication without the threat of reprimand. Once the conflict is manifested, the executive and the team member will discuss the problem and reach a resolution. We generally use the collaborating approach to solve conflict between team members and managers. This approach works well because both parties can agree to a solution and prevent future conflict. Communication between team members and managers can prevent conflict from occurring.
Managers need to inform team members of their responsibilities and daily expectations. If the lines of communication are open, conflict can be handled before it fully develops. While eliminating conflict can be impossible, managers must be able to handle the situations quickly and efficiently. At Target, we have been successful with our conflict management. We, the managers, use these approaches of conflict management and are consistent with our decisions. Consistency is important when dealing with team members because we cannot be biased with our decision.
What is right for one team member is right for another. Only the situations change, generally the conflicts remain the same. Allowing team members to argue and disagree with each other can be harmful to our business. Once management identifies the conflict, it must be handled quickly to avoid further disruptions. "The customer is always right", an old saying that some customers take literally.
At Target, we have policies that we must enforce. Some of these policies are not popular with our customers and this causes conflicts. We handle conflict with our customers differently than with our team members. We treat our customers with respect and appreciation.
Every aspect of our job revolves around the customer's shopping experience. We strive to create a pleasant atmosphere that will entice the customer to return often. However, we cannot please every customer. When a conflict arises with a customer, it is usually over prices or our return policy. Every team member in the store is empowered to make decisions to satisfy our customers. Sometimes however, the customer is not satisfied with the team member's responses to their complaints.
At this time, management is called in to help. While we must follow company policies, we do have some authority to override policy in certain circumstances. In these cases, we use the accommodating approach to conflict management. We take care of the customer's complaint within reason and the conflict is resolved.
If we are not able to override the policy, the conflict cannot be resolved. We can suggest alternative solutions, but the problem is still present. In these situations, the customer leaves the store angry. Creating dissatisfied customers is not the goal of our company. Every possible resolution is tried before we allow a customer to leave the store angry. Customers can also have conflict with team members.
Usually this type of conflict arises because of a team member's lack of knowledge. Customers come in our store with questions about products and expect our team members to have the answers. While we train our team members to be knowledgeable about the products we sell, not every team member will know everything. The customer will become upset because their questions have not been answered. Dealing with this type of conflict requires a delicate touch.
It is important to explain to the customer that although our team members are knowledgeable, they cannot be held responsible for knowing everything about every product. At this time, we try to accommodate the customer and find the answer to their question. Dealing with this type of conflict can be very time consuming. Allowing the customer to vent their frustration can calm the customer down and resolve the conflict. According to the assessment in the OB Skills Workbook (p. 356), my management style is accommodating.
This matches the style that is used at my store. While we use many different approaches to managing conflict, we use the accommodating approach more often. Whether we are dealing with team members or customers, the conflict must be resolved in a manner that will benefit the company and the parties involved. By using the accommodating approach, we reach a peaceful conclusion and can continue with our jobs. According to our text, Organizational Behavior (Schermerhorn, 2002, p. 134), "Accommodation, or smoothing as it is sometimes called, involves playing down differences among the conflicting parties and highlighting similarities and areas of agreement. This peaceful coexistence ignores the real essence of a given conflict and often creates frustration and resentment".
As with any type of conflict management, accommodating should not be used exclusively. The situation will determine the type of approach used. Once managers are able to determine the type of conflict, they can begin to resolve it. Conflict will always be present.
It is human nature. The ability to resolve conflict is a skill that must be learned and perfected. Once a manager acquires the ability to resolve conflicts, he / she will be successful.
DuBrin, A.J. (2000) The complete idiot's guide to leadership.
Indianapolis, In: Alpha Books, p. 207 Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2002) Organizational behavior 7th ed.