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Management approaches to resolving conflict in the workplace Free essay! Download now

Home > A Level > Business studies > Management approaches to resolving conflict in the workplace

Management approaches to resolving conflict in the workplace

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Management approaches to resolving conflict in the workplace essay previewManagement approaches to resolving conflict in the workplace essay previewManagement approaches to resolving conflict in the workplace essay preview


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For a manager, dealing with change presents a dichotomy. Buchanan and

Huczynski (1991) point out the paradox that differences are essential to change

but that it is these differences which can generate disputes. As Deutsch (in

Vayrynen, 1991) points out, conflict is likely if there is a perceived incompatibility

or if the participants perceive that there is utility in conflict, that is, something to

be gained or less to lose than by remaining passive. However, many writers,

including Handy (1993), Mullins (1996) and Edelmann (1993), argue that a

certain amount of conflict is both inevitable and healthy, provided it is directed

positively. The danger is that conflict can become personal and negative, and

undermine individual and organisational performance. Striking a balance

between the two is easier said than done and a manager will need to employ a

variety of methods in attempting to do so. For the most part, the strategies for

managing change and conflict in LIS are no different to those which apply to

organisations in general because, essentially, they all deal with human reactions

to a changing environment. Indeed the LIS literature on the subject reflects these

general themes (for example, Eggleton, 1979; Allred, 1987; Baker, 1989; Buch,

1997; Pettas and Gilliland, 1992). Therefore, the framework for this discussion

will a general one, with examples from LIS where appropriate.

1 1995, Concise, 9th ed. Oxford, OUP.

Note use of footnote.

Sometimes useful but

this one is

unnecessary. OED

should be in bib.

Citation error.

Entry in bib. is

Huczynski and


Long paragraphs

like this could be

split up more for

easier reading.

Note the excellent

support from

multiple sources

Citation correct but.

Bib. entry is under

Bluck – should match

text citation - Pinder –

the source referred to4

Organisational change

According to Daft (1994), managers sense a need for change when they perceive

a performance gap, that is, a disparity between existing and desired levels of

performance. It seems a somewhat narrow definition in that it implies that all

change is planned and positive and seems to ignore the possibility of unplanned

and potentially negative change - for example, unexpected budget cuts. This

said, most change is planned, is intended to be positive and arises from the need

to respond to new challenges and opportunities (Mullins, 1996).

Organisational change may be incremental (linear) or radical (discontinuous). It

may be a reactive response to external, environmental factors or generated

proactively in anticipation of future trends (Hamel, 1998). Both, however, are a

response to how an organisation perceives its current or future environment.

Indeed, one can detect a Darwinian 'adapt or die' thread running though many

authors interpretations (Goble, 1997; Hamel, 1998; St Clair, 1996), a concept

summed up pithily by Handy (1993, p.291) with "change is a necessary condition

of survival".

Environmental factors include technology, government, the economy and societal

values and behaviour. For instance, in recent years, LIS have had to adapt to

the rapid development of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and

the Labour government's plans for national computer networks in public libraries

and schools. As Goble (1997) notes, they also face competition from external

providers in an increasingly commercialised information services market where

there is rapid price inflation for both printed and electronic sources, adding

pressure to already tight budgets. Further, in a service economy, consumers

have become more demanding and, lastly, the composition of the workforce is

changing, with an ageing population, more women, plus more part-timers and job

sharing (Mullins, 1996).

In response to, or in anticipation of such factors, organisations may initiate

change. This can incorporate both structure (hierarchy and division of work) and

culture (how things are done - values and norms), and such change may involve,

amongst other things, costs, job design, staff development and training, working

conditions and new services or products (Cornell, 1996).

Note use of

citation as part of

sentence. Helps

flow of sense.

Citation following a

sentence. Note stop

comes after


Good use of

side headings

to lead the

reader through

the arguments 5

Implementing such changes is not easy. Likert, in Cornell, (1996) identifies three

styles of managing change: authoritative (imposed by management); consultative

(discussed with staff but still decided by management) and participative (involving

staff in decision- making). Further, Lewin's widely cited model breaks the

management of change into three phases. First, unfreezing - diagnosing

problems and an awareness of the need to change. Second, changing - the

breaking of old habits and adoption of new skills and behaviour and third,

refreezing - evaluating and consolidating the changes (Daft, 1994; Cava, 1990;

Cornell, 1996; Mullins, 1996).

However, Handy (1993, p.292), doubts whether change can be 'managed' at all:

"To 'manage change' is wishful thinking, implying as it does that one not only knows

where to go and how to get there but can persuade everyone else to travel there."

He continues that change can at best be 'cultivated' through channelling and

learning, not controlling. Fundamentally, what Handy is advocating is Likert's

(op.cit.) participative approach or what Senge (in Goble, 1997) describes as the

'Learning Organisation'. This is an organisation in which change is welcome and

accepted and which never 'arrives' but constantly seeks to improve. Senge

stresses that people are the most important element in change, not technology or

processes. This model also emphasises the need for clarity of purpose, and for

dialogue and discussion through teamworking and empowerment, that is, a

participative management style. It is reasoned that by involving staff in decisions

which affect them and giving them greater responsibility for their work, they will

become 'empowered', will 'own' solutions and accept change more readily (ibid.).

There is general agreement with this view (amongst others - Underwood, 1990;

Cornell, 1996; Hamel, 1998; Mullins, 1996).

Reality, of course, is somewhat removed form academic models. To return to

Handy's (1993) evolutionary analogy, I would argue that Change is not always a

condition of survival - successful genes, such as those in crocodiles or, more

pertinently, humans, have remained stable over geological time spans.

Good use of evidence

to support points

although the writer is

beginning to rely too

heavily on three

reading list items:

Daft, Handy and


Typo not picked up

by spell checker.

Read your essay!

Good critical

comment. Writer

could have avoided

personalisation as

shown by


Nicely presented

‘long’ quote.

Reduced point size,

separated from text

and indented. Note

page number after

author. Page no,

could just as well

have been placed

after the quote. 1

Moreover, the norms and mores which our society conditions us to aspire to -

family values, owning a home, upholding the law - are based upon stability and,

as Duening (1997) notes, most people are creatures of habit and crave a sense

of belonging. This is not to say that change is bad or unnecessary. Rather, it is

an observation that, participative or not, change goes against the grain for many

because it upsets the psychological status quo (Baker, 1989). As such, a fear of

change is rational and even change that is commonly agreed to be for the best

can be unsettling and generate conflicting feelings of loss and discomfort (ibid.).

Where there is disagreement over change, resistance will be greater and Smith

in Buch, (1997) contends that a startling 80% of organisational change efforts fail.

Therefore, understanding how and why organisational change is likely to

generate such tensions is clearly of considerable importance.

Sources of conflict during organisational change.

Cornell (1996) identifies four responses to change: withdrawal (including

resignation), resistance, acceptance (a reluctant bowing to the inevitable) and

embracing (welcoming change and the opportunities it brings). The first three of

these indicate conflict. DeBono (1985) provides a simple framework which helps

to explain why such reactions occur. He states that people disagree because

they want different things or because they perceive things differently.

Organisational change provides ample opportunity for either or both of these

scenarios to cause conflict.

The style of change

As discussed above, participation, provided it is genuine, is widely regarded as

the most effective way of introducing change with minimum of resistance. (it is

also seen as one of the more productive strategies for dealing with conflict should

it arise (Baker, 1989; Mullins, 1996; Handy, 1993 - see below: Strategies for

managing conflict.) Nevertheless, Mullins, (1996) points out that it also requires

time and patience to establish, especially where, historically (as in many LIS),

there has been a hierarchical and bureaucratic culture where everyone 'knows

their place' and is not used to being consulted. In practical terms, it is more

decisive, quicker and therefore tempting to impose change with little or no

participation (ibid.). In addition, Duening (1997) warns against the

Useful side heading

keeps the writer on

the subject and

signpost the

direction of the

argument for the


Note how writer

has flagged

second level

heading by using

italics. Good

practice. 2

dangers of what he calls ‘catastrophist' management theories with their emphasis

on short-term

discontinuous change and the latest management fads. Whilst much is made of

the 'information age' and the 'knowledge economy', it should not be forgotten that

the human brain's capability to process information is unchanged (ibid.). Sykes

and Gerrard (1997), although writing in the context of the convergence of LIS and

ICT services, make the general point that change is unlikely to work if it is too

great a departure from existing practice and culture. Trying to change too much

too quickly is likely to be counter productive as people will not be able to deal

with it effectively. As Mullins (1996) observes, the adoption of an autocratic

approach to change, or an over-ambitious one, shows a failure to appreciate the

human aspects of change and is likely to generate fear, uncertainty and hostility.

Poor Communication

Closely linked to the style of management is communication. Managers who do

not communicate effectively run the risk that their plans and motives will be

misunderstood and generate resistance. If the reasons for change are not

justified and explained, rumour and speculation can fill the void (Daft, 1994) and

undermine the credibility of the project. Further, Clampitt (1991) remarks, that

informing people of an idea is not the same as persuading them that it is a good

one. Likewise, Mullins, (1996) warns that managers who are enthused and

motivated by proposed changes must beware of assuming that staff will

automatically be similarly engaged simply by the prospect.

Structure and Culture

Communication is both a contributory factor and a product of an organisation's

structure and culture. To focus on LIS once more, Prince and Burton (1988); St

Clair (1996) and Greenhalgh and Worpole (1995) all note that in recent years

there has been a move away from traditional structures and cultures which were

hierarchical, bureaucratic and function-based. In their place have come flatter

structures, convergence with computing services and more service- orientated,

entrepreneurial cultures which emphasise team-working, multi-skilling (reflecting

the growing use of ICT) and more participative management (Greenhalgh and

Note that in this para

the writer is making a

point and then

supporting it from the

evidence rather than

just saying what the

‘experts’ think. This

is how the literature

should be used.3

Worpole, 1995; Buch, 1997; Shaughnessy, 1996). Librarians and LIS managers

in all sectors must now possess a wider range of educational, financial and

management skills than was the case when the more passive,

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