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It's been said that we find comfort among those who agree with us, but we find growth among those who don't. An opportunity to improve the quality of the relationship between parties is at the core of any conflict, whether it's disciplinary in nature, contractual, organizational, or personal.
In many organization/cultures conflict is intrinsically bad. Its presence is viewed as evidence that something is wrong within the organization, and for the good of the organization, conflict must be eradicated. A more enlightened view is that conflict is inevitable in organizations, and conflict can contribute to the health and well-being of the organization and its constituents. Organizations with the latter view place a premium on addressing conflict, maintaining an environment which tolerates it, and deploys effective vehicles to facilitate resolution.
The quality of communication in most organizations is not uniform in quality, content, or frequency. People often talk but avoid saying what they really mean. There is often contradiction between the spoken word and its inner meaning and message. People often look as if they are listening but lack real connection with the person speaking. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "The Wall."
Studies have shown that the two parties to a conflict seldom know its real cause, although both almost always think they do. And the causes they ascribe to the conflict seldom even have significant bearing on the controversy. Conflicts perceived to be rooted in action and content are most frequently caused by communication failures, usually failures to actively listen. Contrary to popular belief, deliberate workplace attempts by one person to intentionally harm another are extremely rare. The need to be right - a strong drive in all of us, is almost invariably a prime contributor to any conflict. We all interpret reality subjectively, which also contributes to differences of view. And we infrequently mobilize to resolve problems until they are too big to side-step. We dance around them, until we hit "The Wall." Then we place our focus on assigning blame, when really, on most occasions, both or neither party are to blame.
Honest Dialogue is the Prescription
We can spend a lifetime assigning blame. The responsible prescription, however, calls for honest dialogue - not to convince one party that the other is right, but to find a way to handle the presenting situation in a way that we can make the most of it. In these situations, there are two approaches to communication. One is from the perspective of instinctive, spontaneous certainty that one is right and the other person is wrong. The other is through scrupulous self-examination and open-mindedness. One is the way of arrogance. The other the way of humility.
The effective management of conflict is absolutely essential to the effectiveness and competitiveness of any organization. The lack of proficiency in this area will have a pervasive and detrimental impact on employee productivity, morale, creativity, and ultimately organizational success.
Conflict Resolution at Longwood University
The venue for conflict resolution at Longwood University is not simple. On an elemental level, good dispute resolution mechanisms allow conflict to be addressed early on and at the lowest possible effective level. Good dispute resolution mechanisms are also more collaborative than adversarial. Objectivity, informality, expediency, mutual respect, and honest communication are necessary ingredients in all effective processes.
At Longwood, some dispute resolution processes are mutually exclusive to particular employee groups. The Faculty Status Committee is a group to which faculty grievances are submitted exclusively. There is a statutory grievance process available to Classified staff, exclusively. Other processes, like state mediation, are available to all employees. State and federal non-discrimination enforcement agencies like EEOS and EEOC are not only available to all Longwood employees, but applicants for employment as well. And methodologies for remediating claims of sexual harassment or failures to reasonably accommodate may include students as well as staff. But the vast majority of conflicts can be resolved by the parties themselves, with the proper frame of mind, and a little assistance or support from an objective third party.
The Director of Human Resources is available to all campus constituencies to provide information, make recommendations, refer, or to advise parties to any employment dispute.