Change, Conflict, and Alternative Dispute Resolution
Change, Conflict, and Alternative Dispute Resolution
No plan is perfect, nor are we as members of society. Problems are bound to arise, and few are more troublesome than conflict between colleagues, peers, patients, customers, or other health care professionals.
The combination of the individuality of staff, patients, consumers, and other healthcare professionals creates a new set of dynamics. With each new environment, managers are faced with making adjustments whether they have been with the organization for a number of years or you are just beginning. For example, an employee may not be comfortable with your management style because he or she has not experienced it before. Employees may have to make adjustments to either their schedule or the way in which they complete the requirements of their job. These types of adjustments can cause attitude and morale shifts either positively or negatively.
Most employees have a difficult time adjusting to changes represented by a manager or a fellow colleague. Any adjustment can cause internal conflict that then can have an effect on the dynamics of the learning environment and potentially cause group conflict. These types of conflict, whether internal, interpersonal or within a group, should never be ignored because they can be very disruptive to a work environment.
It is important to distinguish the differences between change and conflict. Conflict, in part can be define as
• Continued struggle or battle, especially open warfare between opposing forces.
• Disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people.
• Psychological state resulting from the often unconscious opposition between simultaneous but incompatible desires, needs, drives, or impulses.
• Opposition between or among characters or forces in a literary work that shapes or motivates the action of a plot.
• Being incompatible, in opposition, or in disagreement
Change, in part, is defined as
• Becoming different, or making something or somebody different.
• Exchanging, substituting, or replacing something.
• Passing or making something pass from one state or stage to another.
• Remove one or more articles of clothing and replacing them with something else.
• Alteration, variation, or modification, or the result of a change.
• Variance from a routine or pattern, especially a welcome one.
• Shifting from one state, stage, or phase to another.
Conflict is often perceived negatively and occurs between two individuals, whereas change tends to have a positive or neutral connotation and is generally independent of an interaction between two or more individuals. Change happens to the employee or the organization/department; conflict arises among employees or with a manager. As noted below, there are strategies and or processes for managing both.
Change means something is happening or different. There are two types of change: controlled and uncontrolled. Learning communication skills and strategies to manage conflict will assist managers in managing controlled and uncontrolled change by helping them understand the people affected by both types of changes to predict their reactions, assist them in transition, and anticipate ways to motivate those impacted by change, to name a few.
Uncontrolled change happens as a result of a change in the external environment. For example, a death in the family can dramatically impact how an employee will perform in an organization/department and with his or her peers. Because change is part of the fabric of our society, an employee’s ability to adapt is crucial to maximize academic potential. Change can create unrest, anxiety, tension, and resistance. Any of these negative reactions will upset the dynamics of the organization/department and create obstacles in building and maintaining a learning community. Effective management of an organization or a department within an organization requires change-management skills. The ability to reduce tensions, anxieties, fears, and resistance to both controlled and uncontrolled change is a key asset to a manager.
Conflict management is the key to eliminating and neutralizing this threat to healthy work environment dynamics. No plan is perfect, nor are we as managers or employees. Problems are bound to arise and none are more troublesome than conflict among teammates, coworkers or between a manager and an employee. In addition to communication skills, primary alternative resolution methods are negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.
Negotiation can be formal or informal. As a manager, you may negotiate without realizing this is what you are actually doing. For example, an employee requests a change to their schedule. Your communication is a negotiation of the final decision. Negotiation can resolve most conflicts if good communication skills are used throughout the process. Keep in mind that listening may be the most important skill you can use in the negotiation process.
Even when the best communication skills are used, negotiation sometimes fails. Values, morals, and personal interests can prevent the employee(s) and/or manager from finalizing an agreement.
When negotiation fails, mediation is typically the next process used to manage conflict. Mediation can be described as a structured negotiation with a neutral third party called the mediator. The manager for the organization/department usually serves as the mediator when the conflict is between two or more employees. The primary role of the mediator/manager is to assist the employees with their communication skills. A third party (the manager) is necessary when employees have failed to achieve a successful resolution of a conflict or come to an agreement on their own.
Key components for mediation are neutrality, emotion management, and ground rules. It is crucial for the mediator/manager to remain neutral throughout the process so that the employees feel comfortable and an environment for open communications, trust, and respect is created. In the mediation process when one employee feels the other employee is “favored” by the manager, trust is lost, communication breaks down, and the process usually fails. Emotion management is no more than keeping the employees focused and maintaining a logical perspective. It is important that emotions are never ignored because they are commonly the source of the conflict. For example, on the surface, a conflict may “appear” to be one employee not contributing his share of work in a team project, but in reality the employee hurt the other’s feelings by failing to accept a lunch invitation. The process of mediation is designed for such issues to surface and be resolved. Ground rules are important for the process, as designed, to be successful. If the conflicting employees were able to successfully communicate they would not need mediation. Emotions can hinder an employee’s ability to listen. An important ground rule is “no interruptions allowed.” One person speaks at a time, while the other listens.
Mediation is a voluntary process. There are various mediation models containing stages to create an organized structure for the process. Typically, the models will begin with an introduction, findings and/or summary of facts, generation and selection or alternative solutions, and a summary/conclusion. Drafting the final agreement is an option for the employees.
Mediating conflicts will provide stability and instill positive feelings within the class. It is important to use this form of conflict management when relationships will continue in the future, for example, with employees working in lab settings together or on team projects. This process allows employees to communicate with each other in a controlled environment where emotions can be monitored by an objective individual.
Arbitration as a form of conflict management has become more popular in today’s society. Although arbitration is rarely used in an academic setting, it will be discussed here to give you a complete picture of the conflict management techniques available. When the parties cannot come to agreement, arbitration provides an expeditious as well as final and binding resolution to the parties’ conflict. Court trials can often take years to provide a final resolution. Arbitration can be scheduled as quickly as the parties’ schedules allow. The parties’ set forth the guidelines as to how many arbitrators will preside (one or a panel), the number of witnesses allowed, the timelines for the presentation of post-hearing briefs and how long the arbitrator has to render a decision. The arbitration hearing is conducted much like a courtroom trial without the formality. The parties present evidence supporting their case, after which the arbitrator renders a decision. Arbitration provides conflict resolution in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
It is important to note that negotiation, mediation, and/or arbitration may work for some situations, but they may not prove to be successful for others. Because the mix of employees is always changing, organization/departments are very dynamic. Fully understanding the dynamics of the organization/department you are facilitating will assist in determining if negotiation, mediation, or arbitration is the most effective form of dispute resolution for the specific conflict at hand. However, at times, none of these forms of dispute resolution are the right fit. The challenge is first to determine the issue or issues that are causing the conflict, then to determine what components each of these forms of alternative dispute resolution will work and combining these components into a unique form/process/procedure specifically designed to reach efficient and effective outcomes for your organization/department.
While determining whether negotiation, mediation, or arbitration work best for your needs or in designing an alternative dispute resolution strategy specific to your needs, it is important to consider:
• Who are the stakeholders?
• Do current employees or other stakeholders express concern with all or only part of existing alternative dispute resolution options?
• What feedback has been received about the current strategies or plan or the need for a specific strategy for you organization/department?
• Is a conflict-management procedure a possible and appropriate way to address the conflicts that arise in relation to your organization/department?
• Would the procedure be a good “fit” with the goals, mission, vision, culture, etc., of the organization?
• Does the organization have the appropriate resources, i.e., technology to implement a new procedure?
• Who manages the procedure?
• What areas and employees should be part of the procedure?
• Would it be managed internally or externally?
• Is there an employee within the organization who has the ability to be neutral?
• What type(s) of follow-up steps are needed?
• Should there be documentation? What type?
• What is the next step if the procedure does not solve the conflict?