A commonly held assumption is that when the word diversity is used concertedly with conflict, the two words must bear antagonizing meanings. This often a misconception even at the workplace. Diversity, when effectively dealt with, is an investment into the building of a solid future and bettering of any organization, institution or business. Similarly, conflict, if framed well and properly managed is not only productive but can also be strategic. There are different ways of dealing with conflicts within institutions. A leader determines the culture and nature of conflict within an organization. There are ethical guidelines meant to guide the process of conflict resolution. Conflicts make up part of the day-to-day life in a workplace. Diversity can be said to be exchanges of incompatible practices, behaviors or actions among two or more interdependent organizations or bodies, groups, or individuals with group-identity-based differences leading to conflicting interests.
Diversity conflicts involve a number of key aspects. For instance, it entails parties with varying identities based on age, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, religion, class, and other such human differences. This sort of conflicts may also involve parties that are interdependent; and the level or degree of interdependence determines the potential of conflict. The conflict occurs at the point(s) of interaction between the parties. Diversity conflict can be inter-organizational, inter-group and/or interpersonal. Group-identity-based differences which often lead to conflicts of interests may be in such areas as ideas, values, methods, language, behaviors, experiences, goals, facts, physical appearance, performance, personalities, world views, emotions, expectations, spiritual practices, power, cultural backgrounds, styles and resources. Diversity conflict may also be as a result of incompatibility in practices, behaviors and actions. If one party differs from another in these aspects, it impacts on their ability to co-exist, live or work together. It may also bear detrimental effects on their relationship leading to a hostile or unfriendly work environment. Behaviors may vary from passivity, debate, disagreement, and withdrawal to sabotage, warfare and other violent actions. Violence is often life-threatening and life-diminishing instead of being life-enriching, life-enhancing or life-giving.
Diversity conflicts are a natural, normal and inevitable response by organizations, groups or individuals to differences experienced, felt or perceived in the ‘opposing’ party in a bid to maintain integrity, well-being and boundaries between the parties. The conflicting parties are neither right nor wrong, and neither good nor bad. Diversity conflicts can therefore be both harmful and productive. There are a number of ways through which diversity conflicts can be addressed to the advantage of the parties involved, and even to the organization at large. One such method is through mediation. Mediation and dialogue is applied in any conflict matters, whether in civil cases or in workplaces like universities and other such institutions. Dialogue, which is a form of communication, refers to two or more sides engaging in a discussion aimed at reaching to an understanding. The central goal of dialogue is to reach at an understanding rather than agreement. It involves not only active listening, but also listening for new information and suspending personal judgement for the while. When engaging in a dialogue, it is important to be aware of self while being mindful of other people too. It entails framing of relationships and the issue/conflict and engaging conflict management styles to attain a desired goal.
Effective conflict management is dependent on a number of issues, but most importantly, it starts with the mediator. Traditionally, there were two major, known and practiced, responses to conflict; fight or flight. Mediation is a recognized effective method of managing conflict. There is a format for mediation and a required skillset for a mediator. For effective conflict management, the mediator must possess adequate communication skills to engage in an unbiased constructive dialogue without prejudice. He/she must have negotiation, dialogue and mediation skills, emotional intelligence and conflict management systems that mitigate and prevent future disputes. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a tool used to harmonize vocabulary used within an institution. TKI shows the styles with the greatest tendency for use by an individual. According to Thomas Kilmann, there is no absolutely right or wrong style and different factors and conflicts warrant the use of different styles. A good mediator must therefore understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and choose the most conducive that will elicit the desired response or outcome. TKI presents the models in two parameters, as assertive or cooperative. When taking the assessment, the mediator must choose on one closest to what ought to be done or achieved.
Diversity conflict management and resolution, as explained, can be achieved through a systematic process of harmonizing the differing views of ‘rival’ parties. Sometimes there may be need to facilitate mediation talks. Facilitation is defined a structured dialogue or conversation between two or more conflicting parties. A facilitator is that third party who makes it possible and easier for differing sides to understand each other. The process of mediation involves a number of sequential steps aimed at arriving at an agreement. The first step entails preliminary arrangements prior to the mediation talks. The mediation starts with guidelines making up the introductory statements and initial statements defining the conflict. This is followed by two-way exchanges involving ventilation and information gathering; after which follows perspective taking involving clarification of the issues and the problem(s) at hand. Next is an important step-bargaining and negotiating- in order to generate options. Lastly, an agreement has to be written and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is signed (Watson, T., Watson, L., & Stanley, 2007).
Generally, the process of resolving diversity conflicts is the same. One mediator’s skillset may vary from another’s but essentially, the desired end result is the same. It may vary with the model that is chosen. According to the Thomas-kilmann Conflict Management Styles, there are five modes: Competing-addresses vital issues, quick to action and protects self-interests; Avoiding-reduces tension, buys time, is of low importance and low power; Accommodating-concerned about developing performance, maintaining peace, reasonable and creating good will; Compromising-of equal power, moderate importance, strives for resolution but is temporary. Lastly, at the peak is Collaborating-centered on creative solutions which are generated by multiple inputs. The conflict style and mental models at the work situation are impacted by factors such as communication skills, one’s skill in selecting a style, one’s experience in life (wisdom, personal and professional awareness), power (position), identity, expectations, situation and self-concept.
In conclusion, the basic premise of Algert & Stanley (2007) is that when we effectively learn to resolve conflicts with other people, then we have better opportunities to; succeed as a team, experience an enhanced work life, and increase productivity. It is important to have a conflict management plan so as to: effectively resolve individual conflicts; assist us to productively and intentionally get engaged in conflict; and lastly to be able to manage organizational conflicts effectively. It is not the best behavior to ignore a conflict once it has arisen. Conflicts that are unresolved often lead to violence, resistance and aggression. When properly managed, the positive impacts of diversity conflict in a human resource environment include strengthened relationships, increased motivation and involvement, creativity and innovation, spontaneity in communications, improved mastery of material, increased cohesion, growth and development, and most importantly improved organizational performance and increased productivity.
- Watson, N. T., Watson, K. L, & Stanley, C. A. Conflict management and dialogue in higher
Education: a global perspective.