Conflict Management in the Negotiation Process
Conflict is an expressed struggle between two or more interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals (Wilmot, 1998, pg.34).
It would seem strange to have a conflict within a conflict, wouldn't it? The whole negotiation process is in existence because of some sort of disagreement or conflict, and aside from the actual act of the negotiation, I want to discuss some of the "behind the scenes" conflict that can exist.
Since people do the negotiating, it us understood that the people can act or behave in ways that can either make the process function or render it dysfunctional.
There are three different types of outside conflict during the negotiation process I will discuss: task/person conflict, content/relationship conflict, and conflict as a constructive/positive force.
If a team is negotiating against another team, there may be conflict within the team. We experienced this in our class simulation when the spokesperson for management kept making things up, this upset his team because they didn't know where he would end up with his comments. Also, what he said didn't always coincide with what his group had decided to do during meetings and caucuses.
Task conflict in team decision-making refers to the disagreements about work to be done. This includes the allocation of resources, or maybe the development and implementation of policies. This type of conflict has beneficial effects on the quality of team decision-making. Initially, task-oriented disagreement rather than consensus appears to facilitate dialectically styled discussions, which prevent groupthink (Janis, 1982). It also stimulates the identification, scrutinization, and ultimate integration of different perspectives needed to produce high-quality implementable decisions. Task conflict was also found to enhance affective acceptance among management team members due to the intellectual consideration and utilization of each other's diverse input (Amason, 1996)
Person conflict in team decision-making refers to the occurrence of identity-oriented issues, where personal beliefs and morals come into play. This type of conflict deteriorates team decision-making effectiveness by limiting the team's ability to reach high-quality decisions and disturbing mutual acceptance among team members. The arguments for these detrimental consequences are that person-oriented incompatibility: (a) limits cognitive processing of new information; (b) reduces receptiveness to ideas advocated by others who are disliked; (c) decrease willingness to tolerate opposition; (d) gives rise to hostile attributions concerning each other's intentions and behaviors; (e) disturbs effective communication and cooperation within the team; and (f) consumes time and energy preserved for working on the substantive decision task (Baron, 1991, 1997).
An example of task conflict could be when a chief negotiator is arguing about the location of the research to be done with some fellow members of his team.
He says that the information regarding the negotiating sessions they are currently involved in is the library (it could be that simple). His teammates might suggest the internet. Since he has never had any exposure to the internet, he disagrees, saying the library has the books He may believe that the only place his team needs to search for necessary for the research.
After arguing this for several minutes, the other members in his team show him how the internet works and he sees that it isn't a bad idea after all. He may still prefer to use the library, but at least he also sees the internet as an option.
Let's use the same chief negotiator for our example of person conflict. He is in a group that tries to prevent old city buildings from being torn down, with the understanding that they can be rebuilt for another use.
There are two different small companies that are interested in the building. One is a law firm interested in locating a branch in that area of the city. The other is an abortion clinic.
Our chief negotiator is a strict catholic who is dead-set against abortion, but not to an extreme level. Other members of the group don't care either way or are against it also- except for one, and she's for it. She and our chief negotiator are having a problem picking the best company to leave the building to. Although he's not an extreme person against abortion, he feels a little chance to pull some "good" out of the situation. She feels that the firm would be okay, but she also believes that a clinic on this side of town would be beneficial to the people. Because of their conflicting viewpoints, they will experience a decrease in their tolerance of each other, their communication quality will decrease, and they will both feel as if they are wasting their time trying to talk to the other.
The best way to describe these kinds of conflict is by example.
If another driver hit your car and you each disagree about who is responsible for the damages. You try to negotiate with the other driver, but it's no use.
The most significant factor in this conflict is the content- who's responsible for the damages. Poor communication with the other driver is relatively unimportant. The quality of communication is significant only in how it affects the negotiations. It wasn't the communication that caused the problem, and it won't be the problem in the future because there will be no continuing relationship.
Also known as "cognitive conflict."
Let's say you have a relative who you think is a bit on the obnoxious side. Whenever you're together, this relative does something to upset you. Last Christmas, he criticized your eggnog recipe and you stormed out of the family room. Although you feel you should try to repair that relationship, you're not sure you could do it alone. Maybe asking a friend to help would be an option.
In this example, the content- your eggnog- is insignificant. The most important thing is the relationship with that relative. That will continue to leave a hangover worse than any hangover.
Also known as "affective conflict."
Your neighbor has built a very large sculpture of Mighty Mouse that you think encroaches on your property. In discussing this matter (and it's hard to keep a straight face….), you find that you and your neighbor disagree on the boundary between your lots. Tempers flare (for goodness sake, it's Mighty Mouse). So before calling your lawyers, the two of you decide to call in a neutral third party (Not Mighty Mouse)to help solve the dispute.
In this case, the content- the dispute over the location of the boundary line- is significant. It precipitated the conflict, but it's an isolated event. Poor communication doesn't cause the conflict, though it has prevented you from resolving it. Still, you want to maintain the relationship with your neighbor because you expect to be living next door for many, many years (and with any luck, he'll grow tired of Mighty Mouse).
Conflict as a Positive Force
A little conflict is healthy in a professional relationship. If both people are skilled in their jobs, molding their different opinions together can produce the best solution to a problem. You don't want to approach two people who have no problem reaching solutions even though you overhear a shrill comment or two (Schwartz, 1997)
This is true in the way of negotiators, also. As I stated earlier, sometimes someone is opened up to a new option they were not aware of before. Some decisions can't be made without some degree of conflict involved. Here are some other examples of conflict in a positive (or constructive) light:
-Conflict can enhance creativity through constructive challenge and interchange of ideas.
-Conflict can improve decisions through thoughtful consideration of different information and different views.
-Conflict can facilitate implementation through involvement, mutual understanding, and buy-in.
-Conflict can improve employee performance through broadened experience and exposure.
-Conflict can foster personal and organizational learning through mutual problem solving.
The largest problem for negotiators in teams is learning to deal with the negative as well as the positive conflict.
Conflict can also be considered constructive if:
-people can change and grow personally from the conflict.
-the conflict results in a solution to the problem.
-it increases the involvement of everyone affected by the conflict.
-it builds cohesiveness among members of a team.
When dealing with conflict in a group in negotiations either while preparing or during, there are some things to remember to help make the experience less negative. These are some things to get the most out of each conflict interaction:
-remember that conflict is just energy, like joy, happiness, sorrow, or anger, it is just there.
-when dealing in groups, remember that people change. In conflict, people try new strategies, communicate differently, and change goals when necessary.
-people interact with an intent to learn instead of an intent to protect. Constructive conflict is viewed as a learning experience, instead of something to protect yourself against.
-people do not stay in the conflict when the conflict is constructive- it does not define who they are. Constructive conflict is a dynamic process that occurs within the bounds of already existing patterns.
-constructive conflict enhances self-esteem in the participants. Feelings of productivity, positive self-worth, and greater interdependence is felt within the group.
-constructive conflicts are characterized by a relationship focus instead of a purely individualistic focus. When we acknowledge the importance of the relationship, it allows us to move to constructive conflict.
-constructive conflict is primarily cooperative.
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