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Managing Conflict in Public Organizations

2480 words (10 pages) Business Assignment

30th Nov 2020 Business Assignment Reference this

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Abstract

Conflict is inevitable in any situation when emotions run high.  Conflict can and will affect people in their everyday lives either at work or at home.  Conflict competence involves developing the skills that help people deal with the emotions resulting from the conflict.  Managing conflict properly through leadership, better communication, and negotiation, will have a positive outcome.  Utilizing several conflict resolution techniques can help manage one’s emotions, and have positive outcomes when managing conflict.  By using the Team Conflict Competency Model and the Engage Constructively Model I can help resolve the conflict issues between the unions in the public sector and the Human Resources Director for the city.

Introduction

I am the Human Resources Director of Spanish Moss, Florida.  I have 400 employees that work at the police department, fire department, public works department, and other various general employees.  Part of my duties as the director of human resources is to negotiate the collective bargaining agreements on behalf of the city for the collective bargaining agreements currently in place for the police union, fire department union, public works union, and the general employees union.  The collective bargaining agreements for all four city unions are currently coming up for renewals.  However, the city manager has explained to me that due to the tremendous decline in city revenues as the result of diminished home values, businesses moving out of the city, and rising operating costs.  The manager has also informed me that I am not to offer any increases in benefits.  I am to propose eliminating all pension benefits for new hires, cutting back vacation time from 96 hours to 40 hours per year, and eliminate all sick time benefits.  On top of all of this, I am also instructed to propose that everyone accepts a 6% pay cut.  The city commissioner has refused to raise taxes, so all of these cuts are necessary to avoid mass layoffs in the police department, fire department, public works department, and other general city employees.  My manager has explained to me that if I do not accomplish the goals of eliminating the listed benefits, the city will not be able to meet its financial obligations and we will risk being taken over by the county.

The Proposal

I am extremely nervous about conducting this meeting with the four different unions.  I have a good idea that the employees will not react well to the new proposed changes.  I will need to be prepared myself for any emotions that may run high.  I will conduct the collective bargaining agreement meeting of the four unions at a designated time and place.  I explain to the 4 unions that in order to avoid massive layoffs in all departments, it has become necessary to make adjustments to the benefits they are currently receiving.  I will inform everyone that due to the financial difficulties, the following benefits will need to be adjusted.  Vacation time will be reduced from 96 hours to 40 hours per year, any sick time accrued will no longer be available, while pension benefits for the new hires will be eliminated, and all public sector employees will have to take a 6% decrease in pay.  However, as expected, all members of the 4 unions have become outraged by these proposals.  The union employees yelled at me, called me all kinds of names, and left the building.  Many members refused to negotiate under these circumstances.  Even though this is part of my job to deal with the collective bargaining renewals, I cannot help but understand how the employees feel about the proposals.  These employees put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve the community.  Although I am telling them they need to take huge cuts in all of their benefits and expect them to not be upset.  I report back to the city manager that the 4 unions refused to discuss the issues and left the meeting without making any deals.  The city manager is highly upset and questions my abilities and to handle the situation.  The city manager told me that if I do not complete the deal with the unions, I might be one of the first to be laid off.  This is quite unsettling to me.  I know that I have the ability to be conflict competent, I am confident in my training and abilities to resolve this conflict.  I return back to my office and begin preparing a new strategy to bring the four unions back to the negotiating table to discuss the proposals in a more constructive manner.  I also need to resolve the disappointment the city manager has in my current abilities to get the deal completed.

Conflict Competence

Conflict is inevitable in this situation and can lead to positive or negative outcomes.   When a number of people interact and have their own viewpoints, ideologies, and perspective’s differences and debates will arise.   As the appointed Director of Human Resources, it is my job and responsibility to be conflict competent.  “Conflict competence is the ability to develop and use cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills that enhance productive outcomes of conflict while reducing the likelihood of escalation or harm” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 2).  Being conflict competent can result in better relationships, creative solutions, and positive outcomes.  “It is possible to prepare for and respond to conflict in ways that reduce the negative or harmful aspects and promote mutually satisfying outcomes” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 2).  I have to be mentally and physically prepared before I ask the unions back to the negotiating table. When two or more parties have different opinions on the subject matter, conflict negotiation is necessary to find an outcome. Most successful types of conflict negotiations are resolved and mutually satisfying for all involved.

Conflict Models

Through the use of conflict models, I hope to develop new strategies with concepts, skills, and techniques to help with conflict resolution.  There are several conflict resolution techniques that I can utilize to help the union members deal with their emotions while discussing and resolving the issue.  I will use the Individual Conflict Model to help with managing their emotions as well as mine.  These techniques will ensure that emotions can be controlled and not get out of control.  The Individual Conflict Model “involves three steps:  cooling down, slowing down, and engaging constructively” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 2).  The cool down stage of the model can help employees regulate emotions so they can maintain or regain their emotional balance before proceeding any further (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 6).  The second phase of the individual conflict model is called “slowing down”   “Slow down involves developing a strategy for what to do when cooling down is not working” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 6).  Employees that become emotional can take time out from the discussion.  Taking a short walk or going to lunch can be enough time to cool down and regain composure so the negotiations can continue.  “When people are able to recognize that they are upset and slow things down, they can consider how they are looking at the situation and then begin to look for other non-threatening alternatives” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 52).  When things can be slowed down, it will allow effective communication to help resolve any issue effectively.  The final stage is engaging constructively to resolve the issues.  “Engaging constructively involves reaching out, perspective talking and listening for understanding, sharing thoughts, and feelings, and collaborating to create solutions” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 7).  Collaborating to create solutions to the conflict will be the last step in resolving the issues.  This will involve all of us interacting to come up with positive resolutions for all parties involved. 

Team Conflict Model

Utilizing the Team Conflict Model will help resolve issues with the union employees.  “Team conflict competence includes creating the right climate to enable open, honest discussion” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 8).  Communication among all members is extremely important.  “The team conflict model includes reflective thinking, delayed responding, listening for understanding, perspective-taking, and expressing emotions” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010. pg. 9). To manage conflict resolution effectively employees need to be open and honest when discussing issues without fear of retaliation.  “Reflective thinking is a practice that enables us to slow down our immediate reactions, consider possible alternatives, and reengage later in more fruitful discussions for resolution” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 96).  This can be helpful in finding effective ways to reach collaborative solutions. 

Delayed responding consists of taking time outs to cool down before continuing the conversation.  “Perspective-taking is the ability to see the situation from the conflict partner’s point of view” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 80).  Perspective-taking can also be broken down into three separate parts. These include listening for understanding, perspective-taking with focus on content, and perspective-taking with a focus on emotions.  Listening and understanding what others have to say without any issues.  It is very important to always comprehend what others are saying.  It is extremely important to never interrupt during anyone expressing their issues in this phase.  Perspective-taking with focus on content involves “focusing on the other’s points of view, positions, and/or ideas” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 84).  Showing that you are very interested in what the other party has to say on the matter.  Always demonstrate an understanding of what the other party has stated by repeating what they have said. 

It is important to ask questions and have an open ended discussion on anything that you might not understand what the other party has stated. Face to face conversations are crucial when developing any kind of empathy.  This might help with resolving any conflicts quicker.  Perspective-taking with focus on emotions is “the ability to show empathy during conflict is the most effective way to demonstrate emotion-focused perspective taking” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 86). When a person displays empathy towards another person’s feelings, emotions are displayed; compromise is utilized.  Emotions will always play a huge role in conflict resolution. The four unions see me as a threat to their career.  It is my responsibility to resolve any negative emotions with communication.  Negative emotions will prevent any conflict resolution from being resolved.  It is always important to have respect for all those involved within the conflict even if you do not agree with them.  “Positive emotions also help increase people’s resilience, which in turn helps them deal with the stress and setbacks that come with conflicts” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 62).

Behavioral Elements

Constructive behavioral elements within conflict competence are made up with four elements.  The elements include reaching out and initiating contact, intent to address emotional damage, offering to take responsibility, and apologizing.  I have to be the first one to “reach out” and invite the unions of the police department, fire department, public works department, and the general city workers back to the negotiation table to resolve the conflict at hand. Resume communication between the four unions. I need to attempt to repair any emotional conflict damaged during the first negotiations.  I have to be self -aware of my own emotions so I can engage constructively with them.  Holding my head up and keeping my composure will give the impression that I am confident the issues will be resolved.  Offer my apology on the first negotiations and make any amends that we are here to resolve any issues at hand.  Initiate constructive behavior and involve dialogue and discussions with all involved.  Stay relaxed and centered during the entire face to face conversations.  I have been told in the past that I tend to carry my emotions on my face and through body gestures.  I fell it is important that I do not roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders, cross my arms, or stomp my feet or breath out dramatically.  Giving the unions the impression that I am irritated or uninterested in what the employees have to say is not the way to come to a resolution.  I will utilize several conflict resolution techniques to assure that this meeting goes well and the conflict is resolved.  Being the first to reaching out and initiating contact with all four unions, I am letting them know we are open to negotiations.  I need to show the four unions that I am interested in resolving these issues.  When addressing emotional damage, I am expressing a desire to repair the emotional damage.  Never will I push blame or point fingers at anyone, but stress that it is important that the union employees understand the cutting of their benefits is out of my control.  I have to be professional and compassionate at the same time.  I have to be careful expressing my feelings to show that I understand how they are feeling.  This can sometime cause conflict.

Conclusion

I have to convince the city employees that taking the proposed reductions is far better than facing unemployment.  If we cannot come to terms with the proposed reductions in benefits, many people (including myself) are facing being laid off.  Collaborative outcomes consist of three different components.  These include adapting, reflective thinking, and creating solutions.  “Adapting is an optimistic outlook, flexibility, and a willingness to consider all possibilities” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg. 94).  It is important to come up with many alternatives instead of just one.  This is the phase where everyone brainstorms to come up with more than one viable solution to the problem.  “Creating solutions is the problem-solving aspect of conflict management and resolution” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010 pg, 102). Hopefully in the end, all of the employees will continue to keep their positions after the mandatory cuts; however, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the employees seek employment in another city.  After all negotiations are completed, I will inform the city manager that all four unions are in agreement with the new bargaining agreement terms.

References

  • Runde, C. E., & Flanagan, T. A. (2010). Developing Your Conflict Competence. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Boss.

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