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Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism’s Conflict Management Report


Executive Summary

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism is an organization established in 2012 after the merge of three separate agencies responsible for tourism, culture, and private investments. As it stands, the department handles internal disputes and grievances through the Department of Labor. Unofficially, managers and employees manage conflicts on their own, using various conflict theories as well as the concept of Sulha for fairness of mediation. This system is not completely efficient. The agency has almost no control over conflict resolution. The proposed system would increase managerial involvement and personal agency, and help reduces turnover. It is based on western conflict resolution approaches in amalgamation with Sulha.

Company Description

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism is a governmental entity established in 2012 by the president of the UAE. The newly found body united in itself the function of several previously separate agencies: the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, and the privately-owned Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) (“Who we are,” 2017). The newfound government body sought to eliminate the barriers between separate organizations by attaching them to the same root and enabling interconnections between different branches, thus facilitating speed and efficiency of service.

As it stands, the Department of Culture and Tourism handles the matters related to tourism and culture, seeking to promote Abu Dhabi as a popular global destination. Some of its overarching goals include developing cultural authenticity, promoting diverse natural offerings, family leisure, and entertainment, and supporting Abu Dhabi’s development into a popular touristic resort. The department covers vast areas of the tourism and hospitality industry, such as business startup and operationalization, business support and advice, cultural recreation, and family activities.

The department itself remains rather large with over 900 active employees (“Who we are,” 2017). The Department of Culture and Tourism has a unified labor department to handle internal conflicts, worker complaints, and issues with outside contractors.

Conflict Principles and Theory

Conflict resolution is heavily tied to local traditions and culture. Although there are many theories of conflict resolution, some of them are more popular in some areas of the globe, while others find regional and even local use. In modern western management, there is a theory of the inevitability of conflict in the workplace (Alderson, 2015).

Western companies and employees see conflict as something natural, therefore do not take personal offense unless the conflict is based on personal disagreements rather than working issues. Western companies tend to favor competition and cooperative conflict resolution styles, based on the level of the hierarchy, where the conflict is happening. Conflict resolution in large companies is typically institutionalized, though ADR (alternative dispute resolutions) are also very common (Coleman et al., 2015). In the majority of situations, the managers allow employees to work out their differences, before taking affirmative action.

In the Arabic world, however, different theories and approaches are popular, due to cultural reasons. Unlike western society, which is highly individualistic, many Middle Eastern cultural values prioritize the community over the individual. Therefore, conflicts are viewed as detrimental to the organization and society in general. Based on these cultural beliefs, avoidance and yielding strategies are very common. Departments prefer to settle conflicts between individuals peacefully and secretly, without exposing them to the rest of the organization.

The concept of Sulha is very common, as it takes root in Qur’an, is aimed at ensuring the community’s desire for stability, restoring the aggrieved individual’s honor, and the accused individual’s desire for reconciliation (Peli, 2015). Saving Face is a very important part of conflict resolution, which the Arab culture shares with the Asian culture. The concept of Sulha, although not directly outlined in the organization’s code of conduct, is the main driving instrument of internal conflict resolution in the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.

Situation Analysis – Current Scenario of Conflict Addressing

Legal formalism and the presence of foreign specialists in Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism have required the company to possess a formal authority for solving in-company disputes. Conflicts are solved under the authority of the Department of Labor, which solves disputes between employees, conflicts between employees and managers, as well as issues between the organization and outside contractors.

However, this department largely serves western employees only, following their working ethic and culture. Arab employees seldom file their complaints to the Department of Labor, preferring to settle differences between themselves. Managers are usually not involved unless they are good friends with both parties or have prior knowledge of the incident. Managers typically use the concept of Sulha to mediate conflicts (Peli, 2015).

However, when the conflict is kept between employees, power abuse is increasingly common. The employee in a higher position or with greater leverage can force the other employee to concede, utilizing competitive conflict style, whereas the weaker party adopts either an avoiding style or yielding style to mediate the tension (Elgoibar, Euwema, & Munduate, 2016). As a result, the tension indeed falls off, but at the cost of integrity, personal grievance, and objective truth.

The Department of Labor is rarely involved in day-to-day conflict resolution, as many individuals see it as shameful to bring personal issues to such a high level of deliberation. Besides, they see the inevitable publicity of the conflict as something detrimental to the process. Sulha is somewhat detrimental to centralized conflict resolution because the concept of “saving face” conflicts with the necessity of involvement of a third party.

Proposal for a Dispute System

From the initial analysis, it is obvious that the existing system of conflict resolution presents itself as a dual system, where eastern and western approaches to conflict management coexist. However, this system is not without flaws, as it operates on the cultural backgrounds of the individuals involved rather than on the gravity of the conflict situation. This creates a precedent where individuals try to settle matters between each other without appealing to a higher authority. According to Hamberger (2012), the most efficient conflict management systems have the following characteristics:

  • A proactive approach. Managers are instructed to seek out conflicts and eliminate them before they enter an active phase. This suggestion does not contradict the principles of Sulha, as if there is no active conflict, there is no need for retribution and for saving face.
  • Shared responsibility. This suggests that the responsibility for decision-making is not confined to the counselor alone, but is shared across the entire system. This characteristic, while useful in western companies, maybe detrimental in eastern structures due to the high publicity of the solution.
  • Delegation of authority. This principle states that conflicts should be solved at the lowest possible level of operational authority.
  • Accountability. Managers should be held responsible for the resolution of conflicts. Sulha is neutral on this suggestion, but it should stimulate a more proactive approach to solving conflicts.
  • Ongoing training. Managers should be trained in the art of conflict resolution.
  • Feedback loop. A constant stream of data on conflicts and resolutions should be used to improve organizational policies. This proposal can be applied only if the anonymity of the individuals involved is respected.

The proposed dispute system will revolve on managers to seek out and solve individual employee-employee and manager-employee conflicts and disputes. Conflict resolution is to be made private and by cooperation and conciliation conflict styles, which are deemed the most productive (Roche, Teague, & Colvin, 2016). Avoidance and yielding conflict styles should be avoided as counterproductive, as they leave one of the two parties without satisfaction. The labor department should be left with handling conflicts with external contractors only, as well as cover matters of legal grievances between managers and employees.

To make the new system effective, all employees must be educated on its necessity as well as its operational methods. The concepts of Sulha should be engrained into the system, for it to be better accepted by the employees (Peli, 2015). The purpose of the system is to mediate conflicts on a relatively personal level, without having issues muted out or evaded. Besides, every individual employee will know the proper channels for efficient, unbiased, and respectful dispute settlement, which would mitigate the use of personal authority in settling interpersonal disputes.

Cost Benefits

Cost benefits from having a proper operational conflict resolution system come from the reduction of turnover from interpersonal conflicts, increases in the agency and personal responsibility, and improved decision-making based on managerial cooperation. Turnover is an issue often overlooked in business and operational analyses. According to various studies, the costs of replacing an employee vary from 0.5 to six monthly salaries, depending on the position and the availability of replacements in the labor market (Caspersen, & Elffers, 2015). As it stands, the turnover rates in Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism are at 9.6%, out of which nearly a half quit due to poor leadership and organizational structure (“Reports and statistics,” 2018). Conflict resolution has a direct impact on leadership and would be able to reduce turnover by at least 4%.

Employee agency and responsibility for decision-making would benefit the organization in a multitude of ways. The ability of the company to identify and solve personal conflicts would help locate potential troublemakers that may be using their skills and position to silence any failures or underperformances they might have been responsible for. Having a clear and transparent structure would improve the quality of leadership and force managers and employees alike take personal responsibility for their successes or failures (Roche et al., 2016). As a result, the organization would see improvements in the quality and quantity of output. Besides, the managers would be able to evaluate the performance of individual members and managers based on accurate reports rather than machinations born out of unjust conflict resolutions.

Industry Best Practices

Academic literature for conflict resolution in organizations is largely presented by western studies. This is because western culture accepts the presence of conflict in business and organizational matters and does not prohibit its active discussion, study, and resolution. At the same time, studies of conflict theory in the Middle Eastern context is largely connected to political and military conflicts rather than organizational ones. The only area where principles of justice and organizational matters are widely explained and discussed is the Islamic banking sphere, which operates on the Sharia law (Oseni, 2015).

Western-based practices support the separation between disputes and grievances, letting them be handled by different authorities. Liu, Fu, and Liu (2009) state that the appropriate method is to have disputes handled by managers, whereas grievances should be handled by legal counselors and consultation teams. This method provides clarity in separating personal issues and disagreements from legal work, where an employee or a manager overstepped the personal and legal bounds of another character.

Saeed, Almas, Anis-ul-Haq, and Niazi (2014) underline the importance of personal relationships between managers and employees for grievance and dispute systems to be efficient. The researchers state that in an organization prone to corruption, personal relationships serve as guarantees of justice, which normally would not be possible in an unjust mediation of disputes.

Lastly, Speakman and Ryals (2010) talk about the necessity of re-evaluation of the dual concern model, which is present in both western and Arabic conflict resolution systems, when it comes to multiple conflict scenarios. In these dangerous circumstances, a multifactor approach must be taken, one that considers not only the dimensions of empathy and practicality but also the dimension of the environmental climate, which would be affected by the decisions made during conflict resolution.

Conclusion

Conflict Management in Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism currently manages conflict using a deficient system that does not inspire confidence and respect from its employees. As a result, they are using ad-hoc ADR processes, which sometimes involve lower-rank managers, to solve personal disputes. This is not a systematic approach, which results in lower efficiency, exacerbated conflicts, and a high turnover rate. The proposed solution involves the introduction of a new conflict resolution system through transformational leadership practices, increasing the role of managers, separating disputes from grievances, and promoting transparency across the entire system.

References

Alderson, K. (2015). Conflict management and resolution in family-owned businesses: A practitioner focused review. Journal of Family Business Management, 5(2). 140–156.

Caspersen, D., & Elffers, J. (2015). Changing the conversation: The 17 principles of conflict resolution. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Coleman, P., Kugler, K., Mazzaro, K., Gozzi, C., Zokm, N., & Kressel, K. (2015). Putting the pieces together: a situated model of mediation. International Journal of Conflict Management, 26(2), 145-171.

Elgoibar, P., Euwema, M., & Munduate, L. (2016). Building trust and constructive conflict management in organizations: Industrial relations & conflict management. New York, NY: Springer.

Hamberger, J. (2012). The development of a dual system of workplace dispute resolution in large Australian organisations. Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations, 20, 139-159.

Liu, J., Fu, P., & Liu, S. (2009). Conflicts in top management teams and team/firm outcomes: The moderating effects of conflict‐handling approaches. International Journal of Conflict Management, 20(3), 228 – 250.

Oseni, U. (2015). Shari’ah court-annexed dispute resolution of three commonwealth countries – A literature review. International Journal of Conflict Management, 26(2), 214–238.

Peli, D. (2015). Muslim-Arab mediation and conflict resolution: Understanding Sulha. London, UK: Routledge.

Reports and statistics. (2018). Web.

Roche, W., Teague, P., & Colvin, A. (2016). The Oxford handbook of conflict management in organizations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Saeed, T., Almas, S., Anis-ul-Haq, A., & Niazi, G. (2014). Leadership styles: relationship with conflict management styles. International Journal of Conflict Management, 25(3), 214–225.

Speakman, J., & Ryals, L. (2010). A reevaluation of conflict theory for the management of multiple, simultaneous conflict episodes. International Journal of Conflict Management, 21(2), 186–201.

. (2017). Web.

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IvyPanda. "Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism's Conflict Management." January 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/abu-dhabi-department-of-culture-and-tourisms-conflict-management/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism's Conflict Management." January 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/abu-dhabi-department-of-culture-and-tourisms-conflict-management/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism's Conflict Management'. 7 January.

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