Workplace Dispute Resolution

Dispute occurs between individuals or groups, often when they are competing for the same resources or when one group thinks that another has blocked its ability to reach its goal. On the other hand, conflict develops when one group appears to jeopardize the goals of another, becomes openly antagonistic to another, and is not governed by organizational rules. Once conflict develops, it is likely to get worse, as antagonism grows, the goals become even more important to the two groups and the groups begin violating the organization’s rules in an attempt to reach their goals. (Porter, L.W., W.J. Crampan, and F.J. Smith 1989)

An organization that is complacent may become lazy; if every one agrees about every thing, no one is motivated to do exceptional work to prove the value of an idea. Such an organization can quickly get into trouble if it competes with other organizations in a rapidly changing environment.   A manager of a relatively stagnant or complacent organization may stimulate conflict to get the organization out of its ruts.   When properly managed, conflict can lead to creativity and productive change in an organization. For instance a moderate amount of conflict between two people who are interested in the same issue can lead the people to raise new questions, new doubts and perhaps new solutions. People in conflict may acknowledge the existence of problems that complacent people would have ignored. To stimulate this type of productive conflict, a manager can take number of actions. He or she can change the relationships between people by, for instance, forcing people to compete more for scarce resources or moving them closer together physically, he or she can train people to recognize the value of conflicts and avoid easy, superficial agreement (Stein, L, May, 1995).   A manager may even enter discussions with the purpose of playing ‘devil advocates’, opposing the generally accepted ideas stirring up trouble to try to uncover opposition to the accepted goals or methods. Compaq Computer uses this approach in making most major decisions.   Conflict between groups can raise specific kinds of problems that require specific resolution techniques. The compatibility of two groups and the importance of their interaction for attaining the groups’ goal determine which of the following strategies are useful:   Accommodation is recommended approach when two groups have compatible goals but do not need to interact in order to reach their goals (Porter, L.W., W.J. Crampan, and F.J. Smith. 1989). The two groups will typically have friendly meeting to decide how they can both work towards their goal accomplish their inter-dependent task while spending the least time and energy.   When two groups are incompatible and neither groups need interaction with the other in order to achieve its goal, the two groups may simply avoid each other. The research and the financial departments of the company may have different ideas about how the company should spend its money and these differences many lead to a good deal of conflict when the two departments discuss the issues. However, because a third department in the organization actually makes the decision about how to allocate funds, direct interaction between the two groups may infect the unnecessary. Competition is the likely outcome of the group conflict. When the group goals are not compatible but the group needs to interact in order to reach their goals. In properly manage competition the organization always benefits, although usually only one of the groups actually wins.   Collaboration occurs when groups are working toward compatible goals and the interaction between them is important. This does not necessarily means that the groups work hand in hand to everyone’s mutual benefits. Often the groups’ goal, though compatible, are different, and they will have different ideas about which goals are most important and how to achieve the goals. Collaboration can therefore be difficult to achieve but often yields innovative (Stein, L, May, 1995).    When interaction is moderately useful to both groups and their goals are somewhat compatible, the groups are like to compromise. Compromise has some of the characteristics of all other approaches. The groups do not need to collaborate, but they cannot afford to avoid each other. Each group may have to give something in compromise but because they are working towards somewhat similar goals, the groups are not likely to compete about who gives up what.      “Skillful manager can make conflict productive by carefully managing conflict and getting groups to collaborate or compromise” (Stein, L., Xue, B.G., & Belluzzi, J. D. 1993). On the other hand Mediation and other Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs now exist in many organizations to address such issues as supervisor-supervisee conflicts, management union disputes, and team/workgroup problems.   In mediation, a neutral person trained in resolving conflicts helps both parties approach up with a resolution by helping them to negotiate and discuss the real issues.   In mediation, as an alternative of an outside arbitrator, the two parties, with or without an attorney, settle on the conclusion, which can consist of a public act of contrition, a change in company policy or monetary reimbursement.   To get the most out of mediation, experts give this advice:

  • Have explicit dates, times, places and information concerning your case so you can speak with precision.
  • Brainstorm potential solutions you’d be happy with and be ready to confer them.
  • Keep an open mind and make certain you comprehend the constraints the employer may have.
  • Be optimistic and consider that an equally acceptable solution can be worked out.

Like mediation, arbitration is a figure of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that can be used to resolve disputes sooner as well as less expensively than going to court. But though mediation involves hiring a neutral mediator to assist you and the other party work out your own solution, arbitration is for those times when you just can’t reach conformity even with the assist of a mediator. Lots of companies have suppliers; employees as well as major customers sign agreements stating that every dispute that cannot be resolved through conciliation or mediation will go to obligatory arbitration. The parties concur on the arbitrators, characteristically people familiar with the industry, and efficiently hire these people to serve as judges. The decisions they make are ultimate (Stein, L., Xue, B.G., & Belluzzi, J. D. 1993).   Companies where the senior executives have signed employment agreements frequently turn to arbitration to resolve disputes regarding compensation when a manager leaves the company, such as whether the company met assured goals that would activate certain bonuses. Internet startup firms characteristically arbitrate disputes with departing employees where the compensation package might have included assets, such as stock options, that are complicated to enumerate. Lots of businesses have suppliers and customers sign arbitration agreements as a stipulation of doing business. And now, even employment prejudice and sexual harassment claims are sometimes submitted to arbitration.


Porter, L.W., W.J. Crampan, and F.J. Smith. (1989), “Organizational Commitment and Managerial Turnover,” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 15, 87-98.

Stein, L. (1995, May). Skinner’s Behavioral Atom: A cellular analogue of operant conditioning and its implications. Paper presented at the 21st annual meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Washington, DC.

Stein, L., Xue, B.G., & Belluzzi, J. D. (1993). A cellular analogue of operant conditioning. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 60, 41-53.

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