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Conflict is an unavoidable development in any work environment, especially where changes are happening constantly. There are various precursors of conflict in an organizational setting, which include workers with different background skills and cultures. Nevertheless, the conflict has both positive and negative connotations in relation to management. Managers and other stakeholders should have the capacity to realize when conflict is harmful, and when it contributes to creativity and/or improvement.
The key to conflict management is to adopt a positive attitude when seeking solutions to these disagreements. Consequently, all forms of conflict resolution should be engineered towards mutually beneficial outcomes.
Eventually, the ability to manage individuals with different goals is the hallmark of effective conflict management. Conflict managers are responsible for fostering a work environment that ensures maximum productivity. This is a presentation on a conflict management scenario involving employees and other stakeholders at Marbles Construction Company. This report is intended for the company’s board of directors. The presented report analyzes the situation and offers potential solutions to the underlying problems.
The Conflict Scenario
This conflict happened in Marbles Construction Company, where the workers felt that the organization’s owners were ignoring developments within the larger construction industry. The company has a record of treating its workers with respect and prioritizing even the welfare of the lowest-placed employees. The ensuing conflict takes the form of ‘owners’ versus ‘laborers’. On one hand, the company’s low-level employees, who mainly consist of construction workers, feel that the organization’s wage structure is outdated. Therefore, the workers went on a mini-strike that later escalated into a bigger conflict.
A year ago, the workers raised concerns that their wage structure dates back to 2009 when the company adopted temporary measures to deal with the recession economy. The 2009 agreement was meant to safeguard the interests of both the company and the employees. During these negotiations, the two parties had agreed that Marbles adopt a conservative wage structure for the workers, whereby casual and temporary construction workers put in more hours, with less pay per hour. This arrangement meant that the workers’ average earnings remained the same but they had to put in more work each day. On the other hand, the company received more input at the same cost. Given the prevailing economic conditions of 2008 and 2009, this agreement was considered to be mutually beneficial.
The workers’ union has been trying to convince Marble’s manager to revert to the old wage structures for the last two years. However, their attempts have borne no fruits, hence the worker’s outrage. The workers were particularly offended that even when Marbles won a $2 billion construction tender, the organization still declined to grant them their wishes. Consequently, the workers’ intention was to paralyze the progress of this new project through regular go-slows and eventually a strike that attracted the media’s attention.
When the company tried to ‘eliminate’ troublemakers, the workers responded by sabotaging the progress of the new project by hiding or destroying construction plans and equipment. Most of the supervisors and mid-level managers were in support of the workers’ requests and this made it difficult for the upper management to deal with the situation.
The company’s board of directors and other managers are interested in finding the most suitable solution for this conflict. Currently, the negotiations are underway but there are constant interruptions in the new project’s workflow. Marble’s owners feel that the new mega-project does not justify a pay increase for the workers because it was negotiated and priced with the current pay-structures in mind.
The company also feels that it is not legally obligated to increase the wages of casual workers above the recommended industry-standards. Therefore, the workers should not use the company’s former glory as of the basis for a pay rise. On the other hand, the workers feel that even though they lack a solid legal basis for their demands, the legitimacy of their requests should be obvious to everyone. Both the workers and the owners cite Marbles record of having a humane culture as the basis for their argument.
Three Possible Responses to this Conflict
Just like in any conflict resolution scenario, there are two possible approaches to the aforementioned problem. First, there are solutions that would be aimed at meeting and pleasing the grievances of the employees. The second type of solution involves making sure that the progress of Marbles’ new mega project is not derailed. Some of the possible solutions, in this case, include accommodation, collaboration, compromise, avoidance, and contention (Wallensteen, 2015). Nevertheless, the three most effective responses to this case are accommodation, contention, and compromise. These three solutions have been adopted because of their suitability to the Marble case. The situation and personalities involved also make these three approaches germane to the scenario.
An accommodating response will involve any of the conflicting parties’ willingness to accommodate the needs of their counterparts. The party that is willing to accommodate does so in the understanding that giving in to the persuasions of the opposing party is the best cause of action. Accommodation is appropriate in this scenario because the underlying issues affect both of the parties in this standoff. For instance, strikes and go-slows affect both the company and the workers.
Furthermore, reaching an amicable solution is more important than ‘winning’ for all the involved parties. It is important to note that accommodation worked in the past whereby Marble sought to retain as many workers as possible during the recession. On the other hand, the workers accommodated Marble’s need to stay afloat in the tough economic times.
A compromising response seeks to arrive at a solution that pleases all the conflicting parties to a certain degree. The compromising approach “is a balance between winning and a concern for the other person’s needs and wants” (Fisher, 2016, p. 77). For this approach to be successful, both of the conflicting parties are expected to give up part of their demands. This approach could be useful in this scenario because the cost of this conflict is expected to be higher than the implications of losing ground. This method also applies to this case because both of the parties in this conflict have valid arguments.
The contentious approach is applicable to this case in regards to the fact that both of the conflicting parties are concerned with winning. For example, Marble is concerned with completing its mega project as planned, while the workers have resolved to derail the company’s progress at whatever cost. The contentious approach depends on which of the two parties in the conflict yields more power. This approach is also useful to this case if it is upgraded to an emergency, whereby Marble stands to lose the big contract. This approach is also expected to leave some of the aggrieved parties at a loss.
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A Hypothesis of the Possible Results
Accommodation is the approach that is most likely to please the disgruntled workers. The workers are of the view that the company chose accommodation in the past, so it should not abandon this approach this time around. Nevertheless, the fact that this conflict has been going on for a while might make this approach less effective. The company should first heal all the wounds of the ongoing conflict before seeking to accommodate or to be accommodated by the workers. The effectiveness of this approach also depends on the types of personalities that are representing both parties in this conflict (Halperin, 2014).
In choosing to utilize a compromising approach, Marble’s owners stand to maintain the status quo. The workers have taken this action in the hope that the company will compromise as it has done in the past. Consequently, a compromise is expected to disadvantage Marble’s owners but only in the short term. This approach is also expected to enable the company to maintain its cooperate image and the underlying culture. It is also important to note that the cost of conflict might end up being higher for the company in the long term, hence the need to compromise. This is currently the best course of action for Marble’s directors.
At this point, the company is starting to lose both its brand value and profits. If the above approaches do not work, the company should go about its resolution using the contentious style. This would ensure that this conflict does not end up being a costly affair for Marble. However, the workers are expected to lose a lot if the company ends up firing all or some of them in a bid to resolve the conflict. One advantage of this approach is that it has the potential to achieve results in a speedy manner. Nevertheless, this approach is expected to have a negative effect on the company’s brand (Deyoe & Fox, 2012).
Deyoe, R. H., & Fox, T. L. (2012). Identifying strategies to minimize workplace conflict due to generational differences. Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business, 5(1), 102-129.
Fisher, R. J. (2016). A North American pioneer in interactive conflict resolution. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing.
Halperin, E. (2014). Emotion, emotion regulation, and conflict resolution. Emotion Review, 6(1), 68-76.
Wallensteen, P. (2015). Understanding conflict resolution. New York, NY: Sage.