In groups of people with various temperaments, philosophies and personalities, there is bound to be interpersonal conflicts. An interpersonal conflict may be any form of confrontation or interaction between groups that hinders the achievement of group goals (Poduska, 1980). In a school setting where persons work closely and where job functions demand constant communication, some relationships will inevitably be wrought with conflicts.
Conflicts can (1) cause stress, (2) cause frustration, (3) cause hostility, (4) result in impaired or bad judgment, (5) restrict freedom, (6) use valuable energy, (7) influence other workers negatively, (8) result in lack of confidence in principal or administrator, (9) detract from the attainment of goals and objectives.
Some reasons for conflicts include:
Cognitive dissonance. A conflict between convergent and divergent thinking.
Status. When there is a need for status, such as the "wrong" person being promoted.
Economics. Insufficient remuneration.
Leadership styles. Differences in leadership styles in administration.
Stress. Conflicts from stress from external sources; i.e., functional or dysfunctional situations.
Power struggle. Conflict from power struggle when all want to lead and none want to follow.
Inappropriate assignment of administrative leadership. Conflict resulting from someone of less stature leading a more qualified and experienced worker.
The application and interpretation of rules and policies.
Assessment of employee performance.
Allocation of resources and privileges.
Identify or clarify the issues.
Search for shared values.
Explore possible solutions.
Select the solution that satisfies those who have the conflict.
The principal must possess the qualities that enhance good working relationships among staff members. These qualities include a knowledge of group dynamics, motivational skills, persuasiveness, organizational sensitivity, ethnic and cultural awareness, objectivity, a sense of humor, listening skills, and compassion. The principal must show a high degree of loyalty and respect to all concerned. She must be able to make wise and intelligent decisions and possess some analytical skills.
Authoritative command. This is based on the formal authority vested in the leader and the tendency of subordinates to obey the leaderís command. It is very successful in achieving short-term reduced levels of conflict. Its major weakness is that it does not treat the cause of the conflict.
Altering the human variable. This is very difficult to achieve. The goal is to change the behavior of the conflicting parties. It has a dual potential effect of alleviating the source of the conflict and ending the conflict itself. This is achieved through human relations training, sensitivity and awareness training. A third party is usually involved.
Altering the structural variable. This is the most successful resolution technique. It is assumed to be so because leaders have authority to change the organizational structure or at least to have an input into such changes. This is accomplished by exchanging group members, creating or coordinating positions, developing an appeal system, expanding the boundaries of the group or the organization.
Integration. It is the most effective technique in cases when different goals or ideals are being sought. Integration is achieved through face-to-face dialogue and brainstorming in order to understand the conflict and evaluate the worth of suggestions. This technique is useful, for example, when two department heads are at odds over the use of the facilities that one has jurisdiction over.
Consensus management. The principal seeks group input in the decision-making process, especially in the formation and prioritizing of goals. This technique is useful, for instance, when a school administration must decide on the best day to begin internal examinations.
Compromise. Compromise sends a message of tolerance, understanding, and sympathy for both parties leaving integrity and dignity intact. This is especially applicable in teacher-parent, teacher-student, or teacher-teacher conflicts.
Negotiation. Time should be taken to understand both sides through questioning, to evaluate what is being said, and to make decisions without being subjective. Choices should be offered after pointing out disadvantages and benefits of suggestions. This is a suitable strategy when dealing with parents of a disruptive student and when convincing irate teachers to tolerate and "accept" a difficult student back in school after a severe disciplinary infraction.
Problem solving. This also known as confrontation. It seeks resolution of disagreements through face-to-face confrontation of the conflicting parties. Rather than accommodating various points of view, this approach aims at solving the problem. It does not determine who is right, who is wrong, who wins, or who loses. Conflict stemming from semantic misunderstanding can be quickly and effectively alleviated in this manner.
Superordinate goals. Common goals that two or more conflicting parties each desire and that cannot be reached without the cooperation of those involved are called superordinate goals. These goals must be highly valued, unattainable without the help of all parties involved in the conflict, and commonly sought. A union-management dispute illustrates the functioning of the superordinate goal. In times of economic plenty, unions are frequently adamant in their demands. But in numerous cases where an organizationís survival has been seriously threatened owing to economic pressures, a union has accepted pay reductions to keep the organization in business. A compelling and highly valued goal, survival, has preceded other, individual objectives, and temporarily resolved the labor conflict.
Smoothing. Smoothing can be described as the process of playing down differences that exist between individuals or groups while emphasizing common interests. Differences are suppressed in smoothing, and similarities are accentuated. When we recognize that all conflict situations have within them points of commonality, we further recognize that smoothing represents a way in which one minimizes differences.