ISSUES AND BEST PRACTICES
A Simple Strategy:
We examine one specific area of conflict, namely interpersonal one-on-one relationships and team-related undertakings in a virtual work setting. Although there are similarities between all areas of team-related conflict, each takes a slightly different slant depending on the setting in which the conflict occurs.
Sometimes in interpersonal relationships, and more particularly in settings involving virtual teams, conflicts may exist that are not immediately apparent. If a team member has remained cheerful with everyone and suddenly demonstrates a change in behavior, chances are you are witnessing the symptoms of a conflict situation. In these instances, the team leader can generally address the problem by proceeding through the following steps.
The essential five-step process for managing conflict effectively is as follows:
* Define the conflict. * Exchange proposals and feelings. * Jointly develop objectives/alternatives. * Reach an agreement of mutual commitment and support. * Close and acknowledge your progress.
Often the most difficult stage is the stepping back by one of the parties – we call this “getting off it” – and seeing that there is a conflict, labeling the nature of the conflict, and getting agreement that there is some point, definable, over which there is a lack of agreement. Only when the problem is captured and contained can it best be dealt with. We recommend you follow these steps sequentially to arrive at a clear, agreed upon definition :
a. Acknowledge the conflict. b. State your desire to resolve it. c. Use an “I” message to present you perception and how you feel about it. d. Clarify to see if the other person agrees with your assessment. e. Allow the other person to make a clear, specific statement of the conflict.
The most remarkable aspect of the Conflict Definition step is that all too often, once defined, the conflict become nonexistent for the parties. Or, to the surprise of the parties, the mutual conflict is entirely different than each individual’s perception of the conflict.
Exchange of Proposals and Feelings
Success in resolving the conflict depends largely on each party’s ability to understand the other party’s needs and goals. In a cross-cultural context, a lack of or incomplete degree of this understanding can be fatal to resolving conflict.
a. Get the other party’s position; find out how he is affected by the problem.
b. Give your point of view. Use “I” statements.
The most important and most overlooked element of this stage is the fact that each party must come to the realization that he only has to make certain the other party understands his position – they do not have to agree with it.
Mutual Development of Objectives/ Alternatives
Once each party understands the others’ position, there should be a move toward resolution.
a. Together, both parties look for a common objective- some condition under which both will be satisfied. b. Devise alternatives to reach the mutual objective developed by the parties. This may be accomplished by any one of a number of strategies – brainstorming, negotiation, problem solving techniques and so on. Just generate the ideas; do not choose them yet.
Reaching a Wise Agreement
Not just any agreement but a good agreement should be attained. Strive for the best, but keep it simple.
a. Jointly evaluate the ideas generated. b. Jointly choose the solution. c. Place the solution in writing. d. Develop an action plan outlining who, what, when and where. e. Set up a time to come back together so that the parties can reevaluate that the solution is working.
Closing and Acknowledgement of Progress
The entire process of conflict resolution may be wasted if this small but significant step is not taken. Giving defined closure on a positive note sets the stage for constructively handling future, inevitable conflicts. Both parties end feeling “whole”, respected, and respectful of the effort in which they have engaged.
a. Close and summarize what has taken place. b. Express appreciation of the effort.
There are, of course, many conflict management process models, but the principles of the framework presented here have lent themselves to a wide variety of multicultural uses because they:
(1) are simple and straightforward
(2) produce quick results
(3) translates easily to other languages
(4) can be facilitated by a third party
(5) have few, if any, opportunities for misunderstanding
(6) are self-perpetuating and continually, inherently reinforcing to the process itself. Once the process begins, small positive steps forward reward the participants.
(7) are non-threatening
(8) can be scaled to the level of complexity of the conflict
(9) adapt to multicultural and cross-cultural uses
(10) encourage participation and equity of input in designing joint solutions to issues
(11) leave the parties in a positive mindset and improved relationship
(12) are non-intrusive to existing management or relationship structures
(13) bring closure to negative situations
(14) are tailored easily to a wide range of situations
As in all conflict management models, there are shortcomings or inapplicable uses associated with this one. For example, this model is not well suited for large group use. Two-way or three-way party conflicts may be handled comprehensively, but not more. Maintaining direction and control of the dialogue becomes too unmanageable when more than three parties are involved.
Not too unlike most attempts at conflict resolution, parties clearly unwilling or unable to comprehend the benefits of managing disagreements may not respond. Similarly, deeply rooted emotional bases for conflict result in non-realistic solutions and, frequently, frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to work through to such “solutions”. In this event, we recommend the intervention of a suitably trained ombuds-person or facilitator.
ISSUES AND BEST PRACTICES