By Justin Bigger
In chapter 11 of Management Communication, O’Rourke discusses conflict in the workplace and ways to manage the more negative aspects of it. He mentions specifically techniques to use to manage anger and talks about many different “conflict-handling intentions” that can help manage conflict in certain situations.
While O’Rourke discusses many techniques toward approaching conflict, he mainly focuses on things that individuals can do to mitigate some of the more damaging things that can happen when conflicts become a problem. He really doesn’t focus on company-wide efforts that can be implemented to resolve conflicts or actually use them to promote change within the organization.
I used to work for a small business in my hometown. The business was very close knit and everybody knew each other, some for many years. Because of the close-knit family type atmosphere conflict was something that was pervasive within the organization. On the outside looking in, it was very evident that many of the people in the organization knew each other so well that they knew how to get under each other’s skin and sometimes if they were having a bad day it was very easy for conflict to escalate in an unhealthy way. The owner of the organization realized this and set up a conflict management type system that really helped move the organization forward. First, conflicts were either classified as work-related or not. This was especially important in this particular business because people knew each other so well. If the conflict was work-related, then steps were taken to get to the core of the problem. After the core of the problem was discovered, steps were taken to resolve the conflict by using a mediator that would help the two sides come together and discuss differences. Most conflicts were centered around the way things were done, and after a while, many new implementations came about that helped the organization move forward.
While this is a very isolated case, and the locality of it probably doesn’t apply to most organizations, it shows that sometimes conflict can be healthy if approached from a positive frame of mind with the view of the larger organization and its goals.