Overview of Conflict
Jake is a fast-rising employee who has recently been promoted to the position of branch manager at his organization. However, Jake has a strained working relationship with his company’s human resource manager, Monica. The conflict between the two dates back five years ago when Jake was working in lower-level management. During this time, Jake had requested educational support from the company but Monica had denied his request. All the other managers were in support of Jake’s request but the final authorization had to come from Monica. Jake was able to pursue his education goals without the support of the company and he owes his current promotion to this effort. However, Jake has not been able to forgive Monica, whom he feels was unjustified in denying him his valid request. Currently, the silent conflict between the two workers has degenerated in a manner that affects other employees and the company in general. Each of the two individuals has different viewpoints and positions concerning the issue.
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According to Jake, his request for educational support was in line with his career aspirations. Each year, the company sets aside a budget for employees who are interested in furthering their education. Furthermore, this support is not free as there are conditions for acquiring this service, which includes having a guarantor. At the time of his request, Jake had been in the company for almost three years. As a dedicated employee, Jake felt that there was no way of justifying Monica’s ‘malicious’ actions.
On her part, Monica reviewed Jake’s request and found that although he had support from other managers, his personnel file had anomalies that led to his disqualification. Records indicated that Jake had three incidents with junior-level employees. Nevertheless, in all these incidences, Jake was absolved of any wrongdoing. It is also customary for the company to give educational support to employees who have been in the company for more than three years. At the time of his request, Jake had only two years and nine months under his belt. Monica had requested Jake to wait another year for him to be approved, but he refused to do so.
The Actual Conflict
The problem with the relationship between the two workers is that Jake feels that Monica is a relatively malicious individual. Consequently, even when Jake encounters issues with his staff, he has trouble forwarding the complaints to Monica. Jake is also of the opinion that Monica does not approve of his promotion and she is likely to undermine his position if the opportunity presents itself. The main problem is that Monica is largely unaware of the depth of the ongoing disagreement. The conflict is an underlying problem for the company now and in the future (Bies, Barclay, & Aquino, 2016). This report lays out an action plan that both parties can use to realize their respective positions.
The Action Research Plan
The following action plan is based on the notion that “forgiveness has a three-tier element; it is a psychological act, a communicative act, and a social act” (Barclay & Saldanha, 2016, p. 701). The psychological tier involves the individuals who are engaging in a conflict letting go of their sustained hurt. At the communication action level, the conflicting parties talk to each other about their willingness to forgive and reconcile. In the next level, the conflicting parties can balance out their relationship and mode of association in a properly functioning manner.
Action Plan 1: Individual Level
The individual action level should be initiated by perception. During this step, both Jake and Monica should ask themselves if the offense conducted has been perceived through seeing, hearing, or feeling (Moore, 2014). In this case, Jake is likely the more offended party and he ‘feels’ that Monica does not have his best interests at heart. Various individuals often perceive various situations differently, and this factor is important to the action plan.
The next step of an individual is to find out the justification behind the conflict. Both of the conflicting parties should ask themselves if their feelings of hurt are justified. In hard-to-forgive conflicts, it is common for one or both of the individuals to ‘own’ the hurt by claiming that the offending party had a right to his/her actions. However, some parties can make their feelings personal and consequently blow the scenario out of proportion. The second scenario is more likely, as in this case, Jake appears to have taken Monica’s actions in a personal manner.
In the third step of the individual action plan, the parties should investigate how the conflict has been sustained over time. In some cases, a conflicting party can feel the offense only for a certain period, while on other occasions it is easier to ‘let go’ within a short period. Researchers have pointed out that several factors affect how conflict is sustained, including culture, gender, and psychological issues (Gerardi, 2015). In this conflict, indications are that Jake has sustained his feeling of hurt, while Monica has been able to let hers go. Both parties will benefit from evaluating how and why their feelings of hurt have been sustained. The threat of past feelings reoccurring can also be examined during this action step.
Action Plan 2: Communication Level
In this action plan, the first step involves exploring how the conflict touches on identities and/or actions. Both Jake and Monica need to ask themselves if the “offense is against their identities (who each of them is) or their actions (what each of them did)” (O’Sullivan, 2017, p. 6). Sometimes the issues of identity and actions can end up being mixed up in the process. For example, Monica’s involvement in the conflict is likely more action-oriented while Jake feels identities are to blame for the conflict. For forgiveness to occur, both parties should be able to communicate whether they are offended by actions or identities.
On another level, the conflicting parties should be able to evaluate how they often deal with offenses against them. For example, some individuals chose to retaliate, go into defense mode, or accept and move on. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that all responses to perceived offenses can be easily justified by the offending parties. Retaliation can also be behavioral or verbal, whereby the offended party can go into defense mode to avoid more problems. In the outlined scenario, Jake is doing all that he can to avoid dealing with Monica. Unless he can forgive her, he is likely to remain in this defensive mode for a long time. Eventually, the parties should explore the history that exists between the offender and the offended. This is the only way for them to find a solution and repair their relationship.
Action Plan 3: Culture Level
This action step calls for the conflicting parties to explore how their respective cultures relate to issues of conflict and forgiveness. The first aspect to be explored in this case is moral values. Both Jake and Monica should find out if they have value for forgiveness outside of their work environment. For example, most religions advocate for forgiveness and if one or both parties are religious the reconciliation process might be easier. The next step in this action plan is to investigate whether trust can be regained and what it takes for it to be restored. Finally, the element of harmony can be explored. This is where the working relationship between Jake and Monica is analyzed in a bid to find out if they can work productively together.
Forgiveness versus Reconciliation
Forgiveness and reconciliation are related practices but they are two distinct responses to workplace conflict. First, forgiveness can be a one-person affair but it takes the effort of two or more people to reconcile. For instance, even though Jake chooses to forgive Monica, the latter can still impede the reconciliation process. Reconciliation is a process that involves all the parties involved in a conflict. The process is initiated by an act of forgiveness and it can involve outside elements such as mediators. Ultimately, both the conflicting parties have to do whatever that is in their power to repair the relationship.
Another distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation is that the former is an inward process while the latter requires outward contributions. Therefore, the action process outlined above has to start with introspective exercises and then move into physical exercises such as talking to each other. Nevertheless, it is important to note that both processes involve some inward processes for them to be successful. Therefore, forgiveness is part of reconciliation but reconciliation is not necessarily part of forgiveness.
Barclay, L. J., & Saldanha, M. F. (2016). Facilitating forgiveness in organizational contexts: Exploring the injustice gap, emotions, and expressive writing interventions. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(4), 699-720.
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Bies, R. J., Barclay, L. & Aquino, K. (2016). A systems perspective on forgiveness in organizations. Academy of Management Annals, 10(1), 245-318.
Gerardi, D. (2015). Conflict engagement: Workplace dynamics. The American Journal of Nursing, 115(4), 62-65.
Moore, C. W. (2014). The mediation process: Practical strategies for resolving conflict. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
O’Sullivan, M. (2017). The Structural Causes of Workplace Conflict: Understanding the Implications for the Mediation of Workplace Disputes. Bond Law Review, 29(1), 6-7.