Conflicts are a natural part of the collective human experience. Wherever there is the involvement of choices, conflicts are bound to happen. In the current competitive world, opinion and views are highly divided and hence conflicts are inevitable (Deutsch & Coleman, 2000). In our efforts to work cooperatively and collaboratively with one another, we often have differing opinions about how best to accomplish our common goals. Conflicts in the workplace are common and they occur as result of varying personalities and perspectives. Employer and employee conflicts are the most common types of conflicts in the workplace. Conflicts most of the times leave people ill at ease and hence it is usually avoided or suppressed. Different opinions, individual interests and outside influences usually have a provocative stimulus that may lead to a full blown conflict. Sometimes the participants in the conflict decide to put the conflict to rest by reaching out to an impartial person that would resolve the conflict. A conflict if well managed can breathe life and energy into relationships and can cause individuals to be more productive and innovative (Kritek, 1994).
In a case where there is a change of leadership in an organization, there is usually a conflict between the employers and employees. At most times the employees feel that the new employers bring in sudden changes to the policies of the organization that may not be in their favor. Employees are often confused about what their next moves should be and in most cases they lose trust in the organization’s leadership. The new leaders usually face difficulties in that transition period. All their efforts in trying to offer the organization the best leadership practices possible are usually met with huge obstacles in form of such a conflict. Employees even though notified in advance of the impending changes, may experience a sense of loss and trust which the new leadership might take time to build. There was a time where General Motors was changing its leadership as a result of a period of declining profits. The new leaders at the helm of the company brought in robust changes that most employees were not comfortable with. The moves put in place focused on maximizing the potential of employees to ensure productivity. Most of the employees felt that the moves were aimed at limiting their freedoms and scrapping of their free times. This is a case of a conflict arising as a result of conflicting viewpoints.
Employees in this conflict often feel that they were close to the previous leadership that had built an intimate relationship with them. It takes a lot of time for individuals to adjust to the new crop of leaders in the organization. New leaders bring in new policies and measures that they deem fit to steer the company into success but the employees usually feel that this is a move to deny them some of the freedoms that past leadership had accorded them. The employers always feel that the moves they are taking are to the best interest of the organization but the employees feel otherwise. This conflict in General Motors between the leaders and the employees started manifesting in the form of employee absenteeism and open defiance. This prompted the employers to take stern measures with regards to going against the new policies. Those found in defying the set rules were punished. All these moves were aimed at bringing order in the organization but they failed. More and more cases of defiance and absenteeism among the employees were being reported. It had reached the point that taking measures against the employees could not change the situation; it was time to put concerted efforts towards resolving the conflict.
This conflict was more of a constructive controversy conflict in that the participants in the conflict disagreed on certain issues that needed deliberative discussions between them to resolve. Constructive controversies enable the participants to process information in order to resolve the conflicts (Deutsch & Coleman, 2000). The issues behind the conflict revolved around the new leadership that was put in place that the employees had difficult times adjusting to. There was the urgent need to have a discussion that would enable the ironing out of all the unclear issues and proposals of moving forward. Both the employers and employees needed to process information on what the underlying issues to the conflict were. A constructive controversy demands that the participants follow the rules of cooperation, be skilled collaborators and use rational argumentation in the process of resolving the conflict. Participants are usually encouraged to produce solutions and display high levels of reasoning.
In resolving the conflict in GM, an impartial facilitator was brought in place to work towards ending the now full blown conflict. The facilitator organized a forum of discussion between the leaders and the employees to find solutions from within. The participants in the discussion were drawn from the employees’ side and the employer’s side. It was evident in the discussion that there was tension between the employees and their leaders. The employees had lacked the belief in their organization’s leadership and felt insecure with the new policies that were put in place. Both the employees and employers were given time to present their cases. The employees were hostile at first interrupting the discussions at times where one of the leaders was clarifying issues regarding the new policies. The main aim of the discussion was searching for a compromise but in most of the times the employees threatened to withdraw from the discussions. The discussions became more heated to a point that a solution was far from being arrived at. The facilitator calmed things down and tried to explain the points raised by both parties in an aim to create a more neutral ground. After further deliberations and clarifications, the employees were able to understand that the aim of the leaders was not to deny them freedom or retrench them as earlier believed but to fully maximize their potential without exploiting them.
After further deliberations and discussions, the employees and employers were able to agree on certain aspects of the newly introduced policies. The facilitator then provided an opportunity for both parties to propose solutions to the conflict. A number of solutions were proposed. The proposed solutions were carefully analyzed and those that were similar were merged. In the end, the solution that was agreed upon by both parties to the conflict was adopted. The clauses in the policy that seemed harsh to the employees were erased. The employees agreed to respect their employers and comply with the edited company’s policies. The agreements were signed by both parties as a sign of commitment to the agreement. In the end, the tension that existed between them was erased as they could be seen bonding easily and discussing various issues.
It was great seeing that the conflict between the employers and employees in General Motors was resolved. However, there are a few issues that needed to be done to improve the process of resolving the conflict. Before the facilitator organized the session with both parties, it would have been better if he had organized separate forums with each of the parties so as to have a clearer picture of the nature and extent of the conflict (Kritek, 1994). This would have avoided the misunderstandings during the negotiation process of resolving the conflicts. The parties to the conflict were to analyze the conflict come up with the best alternative solution. The process of negotiation should also be free from socio-economic and political factors that affect the analysis of the conflict (Whetton et al. 1998). A neutral ground for example a resort or a hotel would also have ensured that the tensions that existed within the organization’s premises were avoided.
Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P. T. (2000). The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.
Kritek, P. B. (1994). Negotiating at an uneven table: Developing moral courage in resolving our conflicts. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Whetton, David A, Cameron, & Kim S.(1998) Developing Management Skills. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Longman.