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Managing Conflict for Results

Managing Conflict for Results

Do you have a preference for dealing with conflict? Do you confront conflict head-on when it occurs, for example, or do you absorb the situation, reflect, and then meet with the person with whom you’re at odds? You are probably most comfortable settling conflicts with peers who deal with conflict in the same way you do. But you won’t always have that luxury. Effective managers learn how their own and their peers’ emotional hot buttons, values, and power affect conflict situations. These issues not only influence what conflicts emerge but also how different managers handle those conflicts and how they turn out.

The Look of Conflict

Robert is a facilities manager at a small college. His peers are the academic deans, to whom the faculty members report. When faculty members request work from Robert, however, they behave as though he reports to them. Faculty members sometimes fill out work orders with very specific details, but Robert’s expertise and experience tell him the task is impossible to perform in the way requested. The result is a conflict about how the work should be carried out. This conflict carries a lot of symbolic weight for faculty members, who already feel powerless in a large bureaucracy that, they think, fails to appreciate their contributions. They have little formal power, yet are essential to the organization. Although Robert could use the budget, the organization’s bid process, or supplier selection as a means of dealing with the conflict, that strategy would carry great political cost.

Sometimes managers have to negotiate conflicts because their peers don’t understand the organization’s hierarchy or don’t feel recognized for their contributions. In other words, because a manager’s peers (at the same level in the organization but with different functional responsibilities) feel that the power they have in the organization isn’t commensurate with the importance of their contributions, they do what is necessary to exercise some other kind of power. Each time this happens conflict results.



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