Conflicts abound in a management career. Managers inevitably will have conflicts with staff, bosses, peers, customers and other departments or divisions. Resolutions often depend quite a bit on two key principles in negotiations and interpersonal relations.
I have seen countless management conflicts during four decades in management and management consulting. Nearly every one that comes to mind had some degree of fairness and respect that impacted the level of hostility and whether the conflict had a successful conclusion.
Managers who resolve that they will treat the other party with fairness and respect will increase their odds of settling the conflict with less time, energy and tension. Even if they don’t settle it, they walk away with their reputations intact and valuable lessons in how to deal with similar situations in the future. They personally will benefit from those lessons, and they will serve as role models for staff.
The Negotiation Principle: Fairness
“Social exchange theory is a concept based on the notion that a relationship between two people is created through a process of cost-benefit analysis,” according to the Tulane University School of Social Work.
In management, it means that conflicts often are the result of a cost for one party that exceeds the benefit they get from another party. For example, a manager doesn’t want to pay a staffer what the staffer thinks the job is worth. The staffer thinks the labor “cost” is higher than the pay “benefit”.
Win-win is another way of describing fairness. Both parties receive a benefit that they think is worth the cost to them individually. The cost and benefit also are both reasonable in nature.
There are exceptions to this rule. In some cases, one of the parties has to deliver a benefit to the other party regardless of the cost. As an example, a company CEO orders the head of one division to move resources to another division. In that case, the first division bears all of the cost while the second division gets all of the benefit.
See More on Leaders and Managers: Career advice for people in charge.
The Interpersonal Principle: Respect
Workplace stress and job insecurity undermine respectful relationships. A division head who is ordered to hand over valuable resources to another division may now wonder if he or she had everything necessary to achieve the goals and objectives for the year.
That division head may not like the result, but unleashing hostility on the other division head is not an answer. Respectful relations may lead to future situations in which the second division provides some benefit back to the first.
In real work situations, a manager is most likely to show automatic respect to bosses and clients when they have disagreements. But a peer who is a competitor for a major promotion may undermine respectful relations. An impatient, insecure or highly stressed manager is more likely to show some disrespect to underperforming staff people.
But that same manager who shows respect to the peer may end up with that peer as a boss. They have a solid foundation for future conflicts with better resolutions. The impatient manager who treats staff people with consistent respect is more likely to have low turnover and better productivity from that same staff.