Mastering Conflict and Negotiation Techniques
This report discusses the key theories, models, ideas and applications of handling conflicts and negotiations, primarily in the workplace, and traces how certain qualities help in developing managing capabilities in the professional space or in any teams. Based on the three diagnostic tools — Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Questionnaire, The Big 5 test and the Belbin Team Inventory tool — this report identifies key strengths and weaknesses in the author’s personality to deal with conflicts and negotiations and assesses improvement areas. The results of the tests are mapped to the literature review in order to arrive at the understanding of strengths and weaknesses.
Conflict has been extensively studied in numerous organisational research. Rahim (1992) defines conflict as the interaction between social entities that arises from incompatibility or disagreements between them. According to De Dreu, Harinck, & Van Vianen (1999), conflict is the process that starts when the values, beliefs or interests of one individual or group faces opposition from that of another individual or group. There are many such definitions that arrive at the same point through different routes. Robbins (1978) offered one of the simplest definitions of conflict as any opposition or antagonism between two or more parties. No matter how it is defined, the underlying aspect of dissonance is constant in all approaches.
Shargh, Soufi & Dadashi (2013) observed that conflict may occur in any social situation if there is a lack of agreement on some issues or if there is antagonistic emotions between persons or groups. The organisational situation is no different. Disagreements are so common between individuals and teams that some researchers call conflict an unavoidable element of organisational life (Jones & George, 2003; Kolb & Putnam, 1992). It is only but natural for conflicts to exist in the organisational space because conflict is potentially present in all human interactions (Boateng, 2014) and organisations are not devoid of human interactions. And precisely because conflicts are inevitable, conflict resolutions must be in place too for organizations to operate effectively. Caudron (1998) held that unmanaged conflicts turned complex over time and damaged relationships, along with employee morale, productivity and organisational values. However, well-managed conflicts help organisations perform better (Shargh, Soufi & Dadashi, 2013). It is this management of conflicts that is an area of increased interest today in organisational studies.
However, contrary to modern theories and outlook on conflicts, the classical theorists looked at conflict as an avoidable and undesirable outcome centuries back. The classical organisation theorists like Frederick Taylor, Max Weber, Henry Fayol, etc. considered conflict detrimental to organisational efficiency and it should hence, be minimised (Rahim, 2010). These theories were based on the belief that harmony and absence of conflict were healthy pre-conditions for effective organisations. But these theories of conflict and human relations soon began to change around the mid-20th century when modern social theorists looked at conflict in positive light. Whyte (1967) clearly observed that conflict is healthy and natural in an organisation as it generates ideas, innovation and must therefore, exist. Every organisation must design a system that can identify conflicts and manage them.
There is also a third theory of conflict which holds that conflict is a positive force that enables groups and organisations to function effectively (Robbins, 1994). This perspective is the interactions approach to conflict.
Carlopio & Andrewartha (2011) attribute the sources of conflict to the shortcomings of personality — personal/perception differences, role confusion/incompatibility, poor information processing, resource scarcity stress and other environmental stress factors. On the other hand, De Dreu & Gelfand (2008) mentioned three broad sources of organisational conflict namely: resource crunch and conflicts of interest, identity and value conflicts, and conflicts of understanding. Jaffe (2008) simplifies the sources of conflict to individual tension/frustration and division of labour when different people are given different roles in the workplace. Researchers have different ways of looking at the sources of conflict, but all these can be summed up into what Chapman (2015) presented in his management course. He said conflict arises from:
- Imbalanced control and resource/task distribution
- Physical distance between employees, leading to communication gap
- Lack of clarity in power positions, authority, hierarchy
- Time constraints
There have also been much discussed about the types of conflict. Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn (2003) mentioned that conflict types can be vertical conflict (top-down), horizontal conflict (same level), line-staff conflict, role conflicts, workflow interdependency conflicts, etc. Bacal (2004) categorised conflict into two broad types: functional and dysfunctional. Functional conflicts occur when two or more entities disagree on the best way to achieve a goal, instead of focusing on individual interests. These types of conflict enhance organisational performance. Dysfunctional conflicts come in the way of organisational goals and should hence be managed.
Coming to the question of managing conflicts, it is worth discussing who manages conflicts in organisations and how it should be managed.
Conflict management encompasses activities targeted towards reducing conflicts in a tactful way (Boateng, 2014). And the mantle of responsibility for conflict management rests primarily with the managers. The role of a manager includes ‘management’ by default — be it conflict or anything else to the benefit of the organisation he/she works for. Sometimes managers may even act as an arbitrator or third party to resolve conflicts, mentioned Shargh, Soufi & Dadashi (2013). According to Rahim (1992), managers are increasingly eager to learn about workplace conflicts and their management because that seems a critical skill for them to succeed in today’s companies. And as conflicts can be counter-productive, managers must know how to best deal with them (Oni-Ojo, Iyiola & Osibanjo, 2014).
Some research identifies three main ways of managing conflicts (Boateng, 2014; Burgess, 2004):
- Win-Lose: This involves exercising unilateral power on weaker parties and imposing decisions to close conflicts. This conflict management usually has unproductive organisational outcomes.
- Lose-Lose: This involves compromise by all conflicting parties and resolving the conflict through arbitration of impartial third parties.
- Win-Win: This involves inclusive, consensual and integrative conflict resolution where everyone is happy at the end.
One of the best and most effective strategies behind conflict management, according to Kleef, et. al. (2006), is negotiation. Negotiation happens when the conflicting parties begin to discuss constructively and accept their differences of interest. Rubin & Brown (1975) defines negotiation as a process where the conflicting entities decide what to give and take in an exchange. The primary aspects of negotiation, according to Oni-Ojo, Iyiola & Osibanjo (2014), are perceived conflict, interdependence, discussion/interaction and agreement. Two important concepts were noted by Burgess (2004). The latter held that for negotiation to work, there must be ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement) and BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). These are nothing but possibilities in terms of either compromise (where ZOPA works) or better alternatives (where BATNA works).
Debra & Campbell (2005) identified the key styles in negotiation or conflict management as:
- Compromise, and
These five approaches also form the basis of the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI) that is used in this report to assess conflict management capabilities and negotiation readiness. The TKI is a self-scoring assessment that helps one know about their conflict-handling status (Thomas & Kilmann, 2015). There are similar self-assessment tools like the Big 5 and the Belbin Inventory which help to understand one’s managing capabilities better and will be used in this report for self-assessment.
Generally, there are two stances that one can take in a conflict situation — either to be assertive (serving self-interest) or to be cooperative (including others’ interests). And these two positions can be further catered to by these five modes that Thomas-Kilmann mentioned. One can:
- choose to avoid the conflict situation completely (avoidance),
- submit to others’ interests and sacrifice his/her own (acceptance),
- impose his/her own interest on others, exploiting his/her position of authority (competition),
- try to reach acceptable solutions that partially fulfils their interests (compromise)
- or, work with others to find the best possible solution where interests of all parties can be realised (cooperation).
From the literature review, it is understood that most of the TKI modes — acceptance, cooperation and compromise — fall into the win-win negotiation style, as suggested by Burgess (2004) and Boateng (2014). And while avoidance is a lose-lose proposition, competition is a win-lose style. My TKI assessment, which is attached to this report, suggests that I am a problem-solving and cooperative person as my scores are highest in the Collaborate and Compromise categories. Although by this test, I sometimes appear conflict-avoiding, I think these are mostly when there is lack of enough time to deal with the problem or the conflict is trivial or when I know others can manage it more efficiently.
Another effective diagnostic tool to help evaluate managing capabilities of conflict and negotiation is the Belbin Team Inventory (BTI). This tool is based on the notion that there are different team roles depending on the specific team objectives — roles can be functional, personal skill-based, organisational, etc. Belbin proposed that teams which comprised mixed bag of team roles performed better than those heavier on certain specific roles (Prichard & Stanton, 1999).
My team role characteristics as per the BTI test undertaken focus on nine different roles, in order of their percentages as follow:
- Team player
The Chairman has a strong, coordinating role that intends to keep the team together. Even the Explorer is one who would communicate well to solve problems and keep harmony in teams. These resonate with the high scores on the Collaborate mode in the TKI test. High percentages as Analyst, Team Player and Innovator are also in alignment with the TKI characteristics of collaboration, practical problem-solving capabilities. Low percentages as Drivers who is ambitious and energetic suggest less of authoritative characteristics and more of conflict-avoiding and agreeable personality. This again, aligns with considerable high scores on the Avoidance scale of TKI.
The Big 5 personality model is a theoretical framework designed to understand the five most important personality traits of humans in social and interpersonal interactions (Rentfrow, 2009). These five dimensions are:
- Extraversion (one’s degree of sociability and networking abilities)
- Agreeableness (one’s degree of amicability and kindness)
- Conscientiousness (one’s degree of organised behaviour and ethics)
- Emotional Stability (one’s degree of calmness)
- Intellect (one’s degree of creativity and innovativeness)
Our personalities are a combination of all these, but with varying degrees of each dimension. The Big 5 personality diagnosis that I undertook reveals that I am highly conscientious, agreeable and an extravert person. This means I have high self-control, sociability factor, cooperativeness, compassion, good networking skills and ability to be successful in a well-planned manner. These results tie well to the TKI and BTI test results of high collaboration, and Chairman/Explorer/Team Player roles.
Combining the outcomes of my self-assessment from the three diagnoses, it appears that I am generally a friendly, accommodating person who would rather compromise on his interests than impose his own on others, exercising his power position. Lower scores on the Compete category of the TKI tool echo similar traits as emerged in the Big 5 test. Both indicate that I am more agreeable than forceful on others. Therefore, I am generally in a better position to manage conflicts and negotiate successfully. Although I have moderate scores of 65% in the openness to experience dimension of Big 5, which I definitely need to work upon, I am friendly (high extraversion), sensitive (high agreeableness) and positive (less neuroticism). In team roles, I am the one who would tend to bind the team together in an integrated approach of the Chairman, Explorer or Team Player, according to BTI. However, in organisational conflicts and negotiations, sometimes it demands one to be assertive and competitive when there is a quick and critical decision to be taken. So, I must also learn to be assertive if the situation so demands.
Conflicts are inevitable, as the literature suggests. Therefore, the idea is to use conflicts functionally, to the advantage of the individual and the organisation. Understanding these strengths and weaknesses through the diagnoses would thus help in developing management capabilities and ensuring a win-win situation in conflicts and negotiations.
- Bacal, R. (2004). Organizational conflict: The good, the bad and the ugly. The Journal of Quality and Participation, Vol.27(2), pp:21-22.
- Boateng, Irene A. (2014). Conflict Resolution in Organizations – An Analysis, European Journal of Business and Innovation Research, Vol.2,No.6, pp:1-8.
- Burgess, Heidi (2004). “Negotiation Theory.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from: http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/negotiation-theory
- Carlopio, J. and Andrewartha, G. (2011). Developing Management Skills (5th edition). Pearson Australia, ISBN: 9781442548527
- Caudron, S. (1998). Keeping team conflict alive. American Society for Training and Development, Vol.52(9), pp:48-52.
- Chapman, Geoff (2015). People (Work,) and Organisations, Topic 3A: Working With Others: Conflict and Negotiation [Course material PowerPoint]
- De Dreu, C. K. W., Harinck, F., & Van Vianen, A. E. M. (1999). Confiict and performance in groups and organizations. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International Review of Industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 14, pp. 376-405). Chichester, UK: Wiley.
- Debra, L. Nelson and Campbell, James (2005). Solving costly organizational conflicts. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss Publishers.
- Jaffee, D. (2008). Conflict at work throughout the history of organisations. In De Dreu, K. & Gelfand, M. (Eds.). The psychology of conflict and conflict management in organisations (p 55-80). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Jones, G.R., & George, J.M. (2003). Contemporary management. (3rd edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Kleef, G. A. Van; De Dreu, C. K. W.; Pietroni, D.; and Manstead, A. S. R. (2006). Power and emotion in negotiation: Power moderates the interpersonal effects of anger and happiness on concession making, European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 36, Issue: 4, pp: 557-581.
- Kolb, Deborah M. and Putnam, Linda L. (1992). The multiple faces of conflict in organizations, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 13, Issue 3, pp: 311-324.
- Oni-Ojo, Barrister Ebe; Iyiola, O. O. and Osibanjo, A. O. (2014). Managing Workplace Conflicts in Business Environment: The Role of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), European Journal of Business and Management, Vol. 6, No.36, ISSN (online): 2222-2839.
- Prichard, Jane S. and Stanton, Neville A. (1999). Testing Belbin’s team role theory of effective groups, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 18, Issue: 8, pp: 652-665.
- Rahim, M. A. (1992). Managing conflict in organizations (2nd edition). Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Rahim, M. A. (2010). Managing Conflict in Organizations (4th edition). Transaction Publishers, ISBN: 1412844258
- Rentfrow, J. (2009). The Big 5 Model of Personality. Psych Central. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/11/10/the-big-5-model-of-personality/
- Robbins, S. P. (1978). Conflict management and conflict resolution are not synonymous terms. California Management Review. Vol.21(2), pp: 67-75.
- Robbins, Stephen P. (1994). Management, Prentice Hall, ISBN: 9780130619204
- Rubin, J. and Brown, B. (1975). The Social Psychology of Bargaining and Negotiation, Academy Press, Inc., New York.
- Schermerhorn, J. R.; Hunt, J. G. and Osborn, R. N. (2003). Organizational Behavior (8th edition), Chapter 18: Conflict and Negotiation, Prepared by Michael K. McCuddy, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Shargh, Fatemeh Shoa; Soufi, Mansour and Dadashi, Md. Ali (2013). Conflict Management and Negotiation, International Research Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences, Vol. 5 (5), pp:538-543.
- Thomas, K. W. and Kilmann, R. H. (2015). An Overview of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), Kilmann Diagnostics [Online]. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from: http://www.kilmanndiagnostics.com/overview-thomas-kilmann-conflict-mode-instrument-tki
- Whyte, W.F. (1967). Models for Building and Changing Organizations, Human Organization, Vol. 26, No. 1/2, pp: 22–31.