Allen and Lisa Reasonover
Conflict is something that usually occurs
when people disagree and/or have differing views. Conflicts of one sort
or another occur daily for various reasons. Many times conflict results
from differences in facts – this type of conflict centers on what is or
what is not; methods – this stems from disagreement about procedures and
about how something is done; goals/objectives – is the disagreement
about what is to be accomplished; and values – this conflict stems from
disagreement about what is right or wrong. The other causes of conflict
result from the use of power or position, lack of time, money, or other
resources. While many people attempt to avoid conflict at all cost,
conflict is unavoidable in the workplace. Conflict is a normal part of
everyday life on the job or off.
The existence of conflict does not necessarily mean a situation is
negative. Many positive outcomes result from conflict. Conflict sparks
dialogue, awareness, and a respect for differences that create an
opportunity to resolve issues. In the workplace today, employees tend to
do more work in team situations and the workforce is becoming more
diverse which leads to increased opportunities for conflict.
According to Brett Hart, “While it may seem, at times, that anything can
start a conflict where you work, conflict typically stems from a limited
number of causes.” (Hart 1) There are traditionally eight causes of
conflict. The first cause is conflicting needs. Employees often have to
compete for resources, recognition and power, which ultimately leads to
some type of conflict. The employees ‘without’ resources and power
nearly always complain and disagree with the employees ‘with’ resources
and power. The second cause is conflicting styles. All employees have
individual ideas of how to handle situations and typically, no two
employees agree on the same way. The third cause is conflicting
perceptions. Perceptions are a lot like styles and all individuals view
them in different ways. When the perception received is wrong, it
results in conflict. The fourth cause is conflicting goals. This
conflict usually occurs when two or more employees are responsible for
different duties in achieving the same goal. The fifth is conflicting
pressures. This can occur when two or more employees are responsible for
separate actions with the same deadline. The sixth cause is conflicting
roles. Conflicting roles occur when an employee has to perform outside
of his or her job description. The seventh is different personal values.
Differing values can lead to untruths that cause conflict. A major cause
of this type of conflict is the new diversified workforce. The eighth
cause of conflict is unpredictable policies. If company policies are
changed or applied inconsistently, it often leads to misunderstandings.
To avoid this type of conflict companies should have clear, documented
policies in place.
Defusing conflict in the workplace requires cooperation on the part of
the employee as well as the employer. Resolving disputes internally is
beneficial to both parties as well. One possible method is a successful
peer review program. Richard D. Fincher, a huge fan of peer review,
suggests that the following benefits result from peer review:
“Employees generally find resolutions
that are handed down by peers to be credible and acceptable.”
“The model is practical and
“Peer review allows employee disputes to
be resolved internally—not in court or before other external
tribunals.” (Clark 2)
There are three levels of conflict and they
are warm, simmering, and boiling. When the conflict has reached the
level of warm, the conflict is not a big deal to one of the parties
involved in the conflict. He/she may view the other person involved in
the conflict as a daily irritation. The atmosphere portrayed is positive
and the willingness to talk and/or listen is greater at this level. In
this level, there is optimism, cooperation, specific language, and a
solution agreed upon openly.
In the simmering stage, one person feels more resentment toward the
other persons involved in the conflict. The atmosphere is hostile and
feels as if you cut through the air with a knife. When the persons
involved in the conflict reach this stage, it is finger pointing,
absolutes are used, and an emphasis on winning and not losing. He/she
may use absolutes by using never and always in his/her discussions and
the appearance is crucial – we look good, they look bad.
The boiling stage of conflict is a level of revenge. The atmosphere at
this level is and can be dangerous. He/she may feel the need to inflict
pain, eliminate the other persons involved, and a need to retaliate.
During this stage of conflict, there is no light at the end of the
tunnel and no hope for resolution without mediation and/or arbitration.
In the workplace, people view conflict as a negative, but it can become
a positive if workable solutions result. Conflict in the workplace
happens within many organizations across the globe. How the conflict is
resolved is the challenge for many employers. When conflict occurs
between coworkers within an organization, it is necessary for the scene
of the crime to be established. The first step in gathering information
about the conflict is to identify the conflict, find out the resources,
who is involved and who is not involved, and ask questions. Some ways to
identify the conflict is to ask a few questions. What is the real issue?
How committed am I to this (the greater the commitment, the more
expression of anger will be displayed)? What is at stake (the greater
the risk, the greater the expression of anger)? Will it be here 50 years
from now? If the parties involved can answer these questions honestly,
resolution is accomplished.
There are two phases to identifying the conflict, private phase and
public phase. Private phase is when the parties involved pull themselves
aside and take deep breaths prior to addressing the issues and asking
What is the specific action or behavior
that is bothering me?
What is the feeling I’m choosing?, and
What is the reason for my feeling?
Public phase is more specific. It answers
the private questions listed above to the other party so she will know
where the conflict is stemming from. Knowing what the action or behavior
is assists with knowing why the feeling was chosen.
Second, provide damage control. Give the perception of power by letting
the parties involved know you are in control of the situation. This
requires using body language, facial expression, and voice tone. Damage
control requires listening effectively to the other party. By displaying
an open posture, leaning forward into the other party to show you are
interested in what he/she is saying, and by giving physical space to
that person – not invading her own personal space demonstrates interest
in the other party’s feelings. Giving encouraging gestures such as the
nodding of the head, encouraging noises, and facial expression can also
demonstrate interest. Listening attentively without interrupting what
the other party has to say is displaying a form of concern toward their
feelings and concerns. The last way to provide damage control is by
reflecting on what the other party said. This entails clarifying with
her what you think she said. Some simple questions could be, “Is this
what you were saying (by telling her what she told you)?” “Is this what
you are feeling (this is how the situation made you feel)?” “Is this
what you are thinking (this is how the situation makes you feel)?”
Showing interest in both sides of the conflict will help to resolve the
conflict that is taking place.
Third, resolve the conflict by trying to solve the crime. Resolving the
conflict can occur by getting the parties involved to negotiate or come
to an agreement of the expectations. A way to do this is to establish
common ground by offering this is what I want, what do you want? The
next thing to do is modify the expectations so that it is easy to
understand and comprehend. Once agreed upon, write these agreements of
the expectations down and have the parties involved sign them. This can
occur verbally, but having them in writing will be the best solution.
This not only provides documentation that the parties involved agreed at
the end of the open discussion of the conflict, but it will also remind
all parties of the agreement.
With resolution come consequences, both positive and negative. To
prevent some negative consequences to the resolution, a follow-up
session scheduled with those involved to make sure that everyone is
still in one accord. If those involved have achieved unity, give some
positive feedback and award them for a job well done on their project
assignment. If there is not unity, then review the agreement with both
sides of the conflict and advise them that if this is not resolved
within two weeks, there will be some serious repercussions (low
performance rating, suspension, or pulled off a project).
Beebe, Steven A., John T. Masterson.
(2003). Communicating in Small Groups.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Clark, Margaret. “A Jury of Their
Peers.” HR Magazine Jan 2004.
Tubbs, Stewart L. (2004) A Systems
Approach to Small Group Interaction. New
Behavioral Consultants. 10/24/06. Bret
Hart, Ph. D. 11/2/06. Conflict In The Workplace. <http://behaviorconsultants.com/Newsletters/conflict_in_the_workplace.htm>..
Camilla Allen, Senior
Human Resource Assistant; Strategic Planning and Employee Development
Nashville Electric Service (NES). Camilla has been with NES for 8
years and provides assistance for the employees’ training needs at NES.
She has been successful in creating and implementing the career
succession planning training curriculum. This program assists employees
that have completed and obtained a bachelor of science degree. She has
provided counseling to employees interested in returning to school to
obtain a degree. She assists employees any way she can to get them on
track. She also assists with the in-house training program that provides
for supervision and professional development courses for all employees
of the organization. She strives to make the Strategic Planning and
Employee Development office one of the best sections in the Human
Resources Department at NES. She is a member of the Administrative
Support Team in the Human Resources Department. She is also a member of
IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals).
Education: Near completion of BS from
Trevecca, A.S., Paralegal, Volunteer State Community College, A.S.,
Business, Aquinas Junior College Primetime. Professional and
Business Activities include, Membership in the International Association
of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).
LISA REASONOVER, Administrative Assistant to the Vice
President – Human Resources
Nashville Electric Service. Lisa has been with NES for 18 years.
During those 18 years, she has worked as an assistant to the operations
manager for Underground & Substation where she provided administrative
support, assisted with payroll functions, created and implemented
training programs, created and maintained the departmental budget and
worked with confidential information. She currently works as the
assistant to the vice president of Human Resources. This position
requires her to work in a highly confidential environment and in a
direct relationship with the Electric Power Board and the CEO. The
position requires taking the minutes of the Civil Service portion of the
Power Board meetings, processing payroll, working with the four
department managers to create and monitor HR programs, creating and
maintaining the departmental budget, handling executive level background
checks, recruiting candidates for executive level positions, and working
on projects and assignments as they arise.
Professional: Experience Assistant to the
Vice President of Human Resources, Nashville Electric Service.
Education: Attended Aquinas College, Middle Tennessee State
University, and University of Phoenix. Anticipated Bachelor’s Degree
from Trevecca Nazarene University – December 2006. Professional and
Business Activities: Member of the International Association of
Administrative Professionals (IAAP) - Nashville Chapter; Member of
the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); Third Party Instructor
of CPR/First Aid – Nashville Chapter of American Red Cross; Member of
Administrative Support Operations (ASO) Team – Nashville Electric