“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can
make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening
it. That factor is attitude” – William James
This final post will build on all previous knowledge and examine how to resolve conflict from a theoretical and practical view point.
Conflict resolution, defined as ‘The process of ending a disagreement between two or more people in a constructive fashion for all parties involved’, is central to the development and progression of any organisation. As previously discussed, conflict is often viewed as inevitable within any group or organisation, where different groups of individuals are bound to have conflicting goals, ambitions and interests.
In Buchanan and Huczynski (2007) analysis of the most commonly adopted approaches to resolving conflict they outline five conflict resolution models, and suggest appropriate situations for their use:
- Competing/Forcing – Here the main objective is to get your own way, regardless of whose feathers you may ruffle along the way, because you know what is right. This approach is more than likely to leave the other party feeling angered, upset and resentful
[useful for – emergencies, implementing change, crisis]
- Avoiding – Here the main objective is to avoid dealing with the conflict, viewing conflict as unhealthy you’d prefer to let someone else deal with it. Bigger problems later on down the line are likely to arise though as a side effect
[useful for – trivial issues, fixed issues, letting people cool off, when the disruption outweighs the benefit of resolution]
- Compromise – Reaching a quick agreement is the main objective of this approach, where a solution that all parties can live with is more efficient than finding one that actually solves the problem. Although the conflict is now quashed, the best resolution possible has not been reached
[useful for – temporary resolution to complex issues, time efficiency, reducing disruption]
- Accommodating – Main objective to avoid upsetting other party, in an attempt to maintain harmonious relationships. The problem with this approach is that this sort of stance during the resolution process is likely to encourage the other party to take advantage
[useful for – when you are wrong, building relationships, creating harmony, minimizing loss when you’re outmatched]
- Collaborating – Solving the problem together in a way that produces a quality decision, where both parties are committed to the resolution. This approach sees all sides of the conflict examined with equal importance, and is most likely to resolve the issue for good
[useful for – finding integrative solutions, when the objective is to learn, to merge different perspectives]
However, adopting the wrong approach can have serious consequences for an organisation, and lead to irreparable damage both internally, with staff and externally, with stakeholders.
My case study will highlight how approaching conflict in the wrong way and attempting to incompetently resolve it proved a costly mistake for the organisation in question.
Gate Gourmet, founded in 1992 in Zurich, is the world’s largest independent airline catering and hospitality supplier. In 2005, after the loss of some key contracts, Gate Gourmet found themselves in financial difficulties. In response to the financial strain, internal spending cuts were made reducing the current working conditions, and agency staff who were cheaper than contracted employees, were introduced.
On the 10th August 2005, around 200 full-time contracted GG employees, unhappy with the new working conditions, company policies, and agency co-workers, held an impromptu strike at the end of their tea break, in an attempt to get the attention of managers who had so far avoided listening to, and dealing with, their concerns and queries. Following two warnings from management to return to work, all workers involved with or associated with the strike were sacked.
The following day, the remaining 300 employees were faced with an ultimatum – to either sign a new contract, wavering previous employee entitlements, setting out new working conditions, and introducing a lower wage or also face being sacked. Outraged employees began forming a picket line at Heathrow and ground several flights due to lack of catering, demanding to be reinstated without having to sign any new contract.
On the 12th August, emergency talks began between Gate Gourmet and the Transport General Workers union in an attempt to return to business as usual in the quickest manner possible. On the 26th August after talks between management and staff, GG and TGWU came to an agreement that saw 395 of the 710 dismissed staff reinstated. The others were offered voluntary redundancy packages or compensation. While this settled that matter and allowed business to return to normal at Heathrow, in the long-term this did not solve the issue. Those staff who did return to work were still unsatisfied with the result, feeling that there was a clear lack of communication between staff and management.
Those who did not accept reinstatement or redundancy, which totalled around 167 employees, pursued legal help and the conflict ran on for a further four years until 2009, where the final cases were settled in court.
This example highlights just how dangerous leaving a conflict unresolved can be, if the managers had just spoken to staff in the first place and tried to come to some collaborative resolution, this all could have been avoided. However, by avoiding the initial conflict and then trying to force a resolution on the staff, Gate Gourmet ultimately cost themselves thousands of pounds in legal fees, compensation, redundancy packages and lost business.
In conclusion it’s clear that there a number of ways to tackle the elephant in the room (conflict), but most importantly, is the understanding that there is no definitive answer. Conflict, by the definition of its very nature, is a sensitive and subjective issue that is unique on every separate occasion. Therefore, resolving conflict must be a thought out process which aims to solve the issue in the most effective way, whether this be competing/forcing or the polar opposite collaborating.
What are your thoughts? Is there a style of resolution you prefer to adopt over others? How do you think Gate Gourmet handled the conflict resolution process? Have you been involved in a conflict resolution? Let me know what your thoughts or experiences are by commenting below, and make sure you vote in the poll!