In any organization, there is a possibility that individuals who work there will be entangled in one form of conflict or another. A foundation for the development of conflicts is brought about by the failure to agree on principles. Disagreements can be between two individuals or groups of people like departments. Virtually every company carries out its operations in a setting that is characterized by continuous changes. This, therefore, calls for constant adjustments and realignments in the way operations are conducted.
According to Miller (2009, p. 43) managers on most occasions find themselves performing dismally in dealing with detrimental conflicts. One of the most common responses by managers towards conflict resolution has been to try and mediate the conflict. In most cases, the mediation process starts without sparing enough time to fully understand the different points of view from members on either side of the camp entangled in a conflict. Consequently, the parties involved do not feel that their concerns or views have been adequately addressed. As a result, no one benefits from the disagreement that had been manifested.
Managing such types of situations in any organization is not easy because some people strongly believe that all the organizational differences are dysfunctional. Sadly, they fail to realize that lack of differences within an organization creates an atmosphere of stagnation and apathy. Conflicts stimulate new ideas and encourage healthy competition. This paper analyses the case of Middlesex Insurance firm.
Rising to a management position in a given firm or even any position within is normally a long-term dream of many employees (Shockley-Zalabak, 2009, p.79). This is why many of them work very hard to ensure that they win promotions based on merit, their academic credentials and other training. John Fellows happens to be one of these lucky people as he was promoted because of his hard work. He was selected to join the management team as a manager in charge of the claims division in this famous insurance firm (Middlesex Company).
He actually had a vast experience and had undergone extensive training on the new systems that were to be introduced in an effort to ensure that most of the company’s operations were computerized. Through these, the company had the target of reducing overreliance on hired experts. Therefore, overhead costs were to be saved and the money used to finance other operations.
John was also aware that the new position he had acquired was being eyed by two of his fellow workers, who had in fact applied for the same post. The first month was very successful with John agreeing that the department had very competent employees. This conclusion was based on the information he had received. Even Tom and Joan, both of whom were opposed to John, became supportive and accommodating. After these, he thought that it was time he started training the personnel and later on install a new computer system.
As a result of poor communication, conflicts emerged in Middlesex insurance company. John convened a meeting where he announced that he was moving forward by starting the training program. Later on, he was to implement the new computer system after successful training had been done. Nonetheless, the announcement was met by resistance with Joan putting up complaints that John was moving too fast. She argued that he first of all needed to comprehend well the procedures of the department.
On the other hand, John was convinced that Joan was simply not happy with his promotion because she was also interested in the same position, something that she strongly denies defensively. Communication is important in workplaces as it has helped shape companies and influence culture through interaction of people from different backgrounds (Shockley-Zalabak, 2009, p.79).
Communication makes a difference at the workplace because the way people communicate is based on their different sexes and therefore impacts greatly on all employees. Men and women have different ways of giving orders, behaving and managing a team. Men are more direct when ordering things around the office and this portrayed itself from the way John introduced the training programme. However, women are softer when making demands as they tend to use tagged phrases.
According to Shockley-Zalabak (2009, p.82) many women have not meant to be timid but men’s perception towards them has been wrong. It has also been affirmed that the way women communicate is well-suited for leadership positions. Since businesses always have profit targets and strategies, communication hiccups can adversely affect these and other organizational goals.
Being able to understand the differences that exist between men and women’s way of thinking, decision making and speaking is very important to a given organization. This can greatly improve personal relations at workplaces which would in turn translate into a highly productive workforce. This is also an indicator of gender sensitivity and appreciation of culture – sex diversity.
Men believe that the best way of telling out the facts is to evade muddying details which they consider to be time wasting. Women on the other hand print their big picture with complexity meaning that they have to understand almost everything (Shockley-Zalabak, 2009, p.83). This is well manifested by Joan who feels that John has been moving very fast even before understanding the processes at the claims division. John on the other hand feels that since the department’s personnel is competent enough, there is no need to wait any longer but rather embark on training immediately. When Joan resists, John misunderstands her and feels that she is simply unhappy with his promotion.
Managing the Conflict
According to Simons and Randal (2000, p.27) change in any business in not only essential but is also inevitable because the elements that affect businesses are not static either. For this reason, the organization has to continuously make organizational changes that will enable it to remain competent in the dynamic business environment. There is the need to create great effectiveness in the competitive market environment and bring about these changes.
Due to the harsh economic climate, the insurance industry is facing a lot of challenges as it has to cover more people and manage other claims and insurance requirements (Shockley-Zalabak, 2009, p.85). However, at the internal management level, Middlesex has not computerized its services for efficiency. It is however in the process of introducing the systems to improve its operations. This has been initiated through the promotion of John so that he can manage the claims division because he had undergone prior training.
The management saw that he was better placed to bring about the required changes by implementing the computerization of the system. As John is set to spearhead the changes, his interaction with colleagues is bound to instigate problems. These problems will be manifested through leadership failure, strategy breakdown, politics, power struggle and demolition of the organizational structure (Miller, 2009, p. 63).
Though many people do not like change and will be very resistant to it, there is no doubt that without change the organization will not survive the emerging market conditions. Middlesex Insurance understands this concept, and that’s why they promoted John. John also feels that he needs to ensure continued improvements in innovation; reorganization and the strategic corporate revitalization. According to Miller (2009, p. 63) these are some of new realignments that are expected in the banking and insurance industry.
The pace of change in Middlesex should be quicker than ever before according to John. There is definitely no time to waste since the business environmental pressure around the world is increasing considerably (Shockley-Zalabak, 2009, p.85). The current economy is in a critical condition that requires continuous change at a very fast speed. The changes that will be carried out in this industry will be aimed at better survival in the economic environment, adjusting to the unpredictable marketplace and meeting the new workforce requirements (Miller, 2009, p. 65).
When this is achieved, the bank will be able to attain financial success, satisfy its clients, and increase loyalty. On the other hand, other employees will readily accept change and get more committed when they are actively involved in the business decisions like deciding together when to start the training programs.
The management is supposed to take a proactive role based on there own understanding of the type of change that is needed. They will then communicate it to the rest of the organization before they embark on implementing it and the changes that will be expected (Miller, 2009, p. 43). This will help to reduce bad incidences that a company might face. An example is manifested from the way Joan became an obstacle to the changes that were being spearheaded by John.
The Possible Underlying Problem
Basically, the introduction of a computer system is not an underlying problem and neither is it John’s decision. However, poor communication and other organizational issues could be the dilemma. Scenarios where the workers do not agree with what is being implemented by the management are increasingly becoming common. In this context, the real issue could be power struggle or lack of proper communication (Miller, 2009, p. 63).
Power and politics are among the key and critical concepts that affect the process of decision-making and consequently the entire organization and change strategies. They hence form a very big basis by which to understand the organizational behavior of many companies. Both power and politics are forceful conceptions and are a consequence of the dealings between diverse fundamentals in an organization. Since Joan, John and Tom are ambitious and competent people, power struggle and opposition politics are expected in such an organization.
Organizational politics and power struggles are becoming a common reality in the banking and insurance sector. Scholars say that this is not only inevitable but it’s something very essential for any business (Simons and Randal, 2000, p.45). Basically such struggles arise whenever there are topics that touch on resources, proposal of new ideas, bringing unexpected changes, pursuance of personal objectives and enhancement of ones stance (Shockley-Zalabak, 2009, p.85).
It would be a naïve act to pragmatically expect to distance a person from organizational politics. It is not very clear whether Joan is genuinely concerned about the haste with which John is implementing the process or if she is playing office politics by being ‘smart’ and demanding. This is because she is only insisting that John gets to learn and understand the procedures at the claims department before initiating the changes.
Her argument makes a lot of sense because before changes can be initiated, problems must be diagnosed and then a good solution determined. John however feels that her resistance to changes has to do with the fact that he won the position she had been eyeing. This could be true but it’s not clearly highlighted whether they had personal differences. Besides, it has been indicated that the initial month’s success was due to the competence from the personnel in the claims division. In addition to these there was positive cooperation from Joan and Tom who had initially vied for the management position that is now held by John.
Power struggles and political leanings are always expected in an organization and they present a challenge to the leaders and managers. The political skills from a company’s leadership will enable the business to attract more resources and external support. This helps to build personality, self-awareness and creation of work relationships. The flexible management style adopted means that there will be more dependence on personal and interpersonal skills which is likely to progress to the corporate agenda for bigger success (Miller, 2009, p. 67).
Tom’s involvement in the conflict can not be ignored because he highlights some important things that are very critical to note. He cites the morals of the rest of the team and adds that three senior personnel are considering a transfer. There are five possible ways that Tom could be affected by the conflict. He does not explicitly state his reason for reluctance or his stance on the matter (Putman and Poole, 2001, p. 577).
When he states that there is reason to be worried about the morale of the workers at the division, it clearly shows that there are many other issues that need to be addressed before the training can be launched. This also implies that the organization does not have good communication chains. It should be a matter of concern that three senior workers of the division are planning to transfer without having sought for dialogue over the issues facing them in this context (Putman and Poole, 2001, p. 577). These issues could include;
- Power distance which describes the different resolutions to fundamental human inequalities that could exist at the workplace.
- Uncertainty avoidance which is a way that workers may use to avoid stress in the organisation concerning their uncertain future.
- Individualism versus collectivism – this address interests of one or majority of the groups.
- Masculinity versus femininity – separation of emotional roles between male and female personalities based on their gender orientation.
- Long-term vs. short-term courses which is the choice of concentration of efforts by the personnel either at present or in the future
Solving the Conflict
John is facing a lot of challenges in his position due to the arguments posed by Tom and Joan. This time round it is only dialogue that will help in giving a solution. The best thing to do is to accept that there is conflict which needs to be resolved. Each side should be given a chance to give their own side of the story. This should involve listening to everyone’s arguments without any interruption as it will help in agreeing on the relevant agenda to be discussed in details (Putman and Poole, 2001, p. 579).
The meeting will then explore concerns that have been raised by both parties, categorize individual concerns, allow for open communication and shift the focus from present to future while promoting mutual understanding (Miller, 2009, p. 67). The negotiation should be aimed at generating and evaluating options while enhancing resolution of the problem. It should also acknowledge or accept peace-making gestures and construction of a mutually satisfactory accord for a more encouraging way of working towards attainment of organisational goals.
Being an Effective Claim Manager
It’s very important therefore to understand that being so different does not imply that others are wrong. Several strategies to deal with these communication issues include:
It’s important to find out what you don’t know from others. Some people fear to ask others where they are from as they are mostly scared of sounding offensive or being seen as racists. This greatly hinders communication efforts that are put in place. People should be encouraged to talk about their culture and form friends who will encourage them to work together efficiently (Putman and Poole, 2001, p. 581). Learning about other people’s culture has proved to be a better way of appreciating cultural diversity.
Be Open-Minded and Respectful
Diversity can be misinterpreted of confused. Respecting the way others work and how you interact with them is very important as they are likely to respect you back. Learn from others rather than considering yourself to be the best, you are also supposed to make logical critics. Apologize for your actions and ask how you can improve on your character. Celebrate cultural holidays together and in addition to these hold cultural awareness meetings (Miller, 2009, p. 67).
Indulge People as Individuals
stereotyping is very detrimental to people’s morale to work and at times culture has not defined who a person is. This means that moral understanding can be misunderstood if one is not critical in evaluation. Do not rush into solutions or conclusions based on ethnicity (Putman and Poole, 2001, p. 581). Get to understand workmates better without any bias on their cultures.
The disagreement between John, Joan and Tom can be described as an organizational conflict because it entails misunderstandings about policy and company issues. However John seems to be taking the issue to be more personal when he accuses Joan of being unhappy with his promotion. This context identifies issues concerning different cultures in an organization. There is always a cultural difference in communication specifically the way people from different backgrounds respond, interact, talk and solve their issues.
Miller, K. (2009). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes. USA: Boston, MA.
Putman, L., & Poole, S. M. (2001). Conflict and Negotiation. Handbook of Organizational Communication: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.
Shockley-Zalabak, P.S. (2009). Fundamentals of Organizational Communication, Knowledge, Sensitivity, Skills, Values. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon Publishers.
Simons, T.L., & Randall, P.S. (2000). Task Conflict and Relationship Conflict in Top Management Teams: The Pivotal Role of Intra-group Trust. Web.