Conflict Resolution In Purchasing Relationships (Negotiating To Win/Win With Colleagues)

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1 Conflict Resolution In Purchasing Relationships (Negotiating To Win/Win With Colleagues) F. Michael Babineaux, A.P.P., C.P.M., Senior Business Specialist FedEx Corporation 901/434/8099; Abstract. The goal of this presentation is to bring purchasing people to the awareness that relationships with their suppliers and colleagues, as well as friends and family, merit the investment in time and energy required for disagreements to be resolved in such a way that all parties feel like winners. Objective. To this end, the presentation helps participants to understand what they bring to the conflict situations that both help and hinder their success. This presentation will also present the opportunity for participants to learn about effective conflict management skills. Conflict Definition. From Webster you can find any number of definitions of conflict. Here are the first two: 1. To fight; battle; contend. 2. To be antagonistic, incompatible, or contradictory; be in opposition; clash. As you can readily see, many of the terms used in defining conflict are words of confrontation and bring to mind something to be avoided. Constructive vs. Disruptive Conflict. All conflict is not necessarily bad. If well managed, conflict can be highly constructive. It s essential to effective problem solving and can be helpful in making decisions. Knowing that there is a difference between constructive and disruptive conflict can also help you learn how your own behavior decides which path it will take. Conflict Avoidance. A well-known story demonstrates the destructive nature of avoiding conflict. The story comes from the background of Dr. Jerry Harvey, a professor of Management Science. Dr. Harvey wrote that while sitting around a casual family game of dominoes one Sunday afternoon in Coleman, Texas, his father-in-law suggested a "trip to Abilene to eat dinner at the cafeteria." The suggestion received lukewarm support, but ultimately was accepted by all. The group started out in 104-degree heat in a car without air conditioning for the 53-mile trip to Abilene, Texas. What started as a pleasant family evening soon pitched Dr. Harvey s entire family into a state of confusion, bitter recrimination and not inconsiderable gastronomic distress. Upon their return from Abilene, the recriminations began. It seems that no one had really wanted to go in the first place, but each had thought that the others did. Some years later, Dr. Harvey wrote about the trip in an insightful, common sense article, called The Abilene Paradox. He embroidered this experience into what became for him an intensely personal reassessment of the very foundation of group decision-making. Among the many things to be learned from Dr. Harvey s experience is that faulty decisions result from inadequate processes of discussion that do not allow voiced disagreements or engaging in significant conflicts of ideas. Approaches to Conflict. Here are two approaches to conflict and how to deal with it. One is the logical conflict management approach and the other, the emotional conflict management approach. The logical conflict management approach rests on the assumption that people can

2 and will make conscious decisions about how they will deal with a specific conflict. The approach outlines different modes of dealing with conflict: avoidance, collaboration or compromise. In this approach each of these modes may fit a certain situation better than the others. So, one evaluates the conflict situation, analyzes it, and decides on a course of action. The difficulty with this approach is that conflict is treated as something that is easy to analyze and isn't heavily influenced by a person's emotional state. While this works with conflicts that don't involve much emotional heat, it doesn't make sense when people are angry and frustrated. Angry and frustrated people don't often operate in such an analytical mode. At the other end of the spectrum are people who understand conflict as something involving emotional energy. These people see conflict as an emotional encounter. They also tend to believe that the suppression of the emotional energy associated with conflict is sweeping the problem under the rug. What's more important is that some feel that this is destructive. Neither of these approaches work all the time, especially if the conflict is of an emotional nature. In that case, the most successful approach is to attempt to resolve the conflict by being cognitive of the other person s behavioral style and one s own ability to operate in a manner that is conductive to resolution. Observable Behavior of Colleagues. In an article written by Ms. Elaine Whittington, C.P.M., CPCM, A.P.P. titled, Conflict Resolution Within The Supply Chain, she wrote, Sometimes it is helpful to know your own conflict personality and how best to interface with similar as well as different conflict styles. I echo Ms. Whittington s remarks. It s been my experience that much conflict can be steered to a constructive conclusion if at least one of the parties to the conflict understands that principle. Exhibit A outlines a method of observing the behavior of colleagues on two continuums: a horizontal continuum of their assertiveness, and a vertical continuum of their emotionalism. By observing the behavior of colleagues on these two continuums one can categorize how they are most comfortable managing conflict. Natural Reactions. Each of these conflict personality styles has a natural reaction to conflict. The Assertive-Factual personality wants to strike back, the Unassertive-Feeling person wants to give in, the Assertive-Feeling person will dump their bucket, and the Unassertive-Factual person will want to break off. While these may be the natural reactions to conflict, they are not necessarily the best reactions. The best reaction is one that considers the other party s concerns and interests - one that is versatile enough to deal with the conflict in a manner that is most comfortable to other party. Vary Your Approach to the Personality of Your Colleague. In her article, Using Awareness of Behavior Styles to Interact More Effectively, Ms. Jacqueline Miller, C.P.M. wrote, In order to be an effective team member, we must learn to recognize differences among our colleagues and their behavior styles and to adjust our own behavior to interface more effectively. While Ms. Miller was writing about working together in a team environment, the same can be applied to the resolution of conflict whether it concerns teams or just between two people. Exhibit B highlights several approaches to each of the behavioral styles outlined in Exhibit A. Five Steps to Conflict Resolution. William Ury, co-author of Getting To Yes. in his follow-up book, Getting Past No, suggests five steps to negotiating a conflict resolution. 1. Go to Balcony (Be sure you can see the big picture). When faced with a conflict, rather than react naturally, step back and see the conflict objectively.

3 2. Step to their side (Be sure to look at it from their perspective). In this step you want to do three things; listen to what they re saying, acknowledge any good points they make and agree with them whenever you can. Dr. Steven Covey s 5 th habit says it succinctly, Seek first to understand, then to be understood. 3. Reframe (It ll be helpful if you focus on solving the problem and not on assigning blame). This requires you to focus the attention away from the differences of positions and toward a commonly advantageous third position. 4. Build them a Golden Bridge (Make it easy for them to agree with you). If you re trying to settle a conflict, don t put obstacles in the way of agreement. It s surprising the number of hoops some people require you to jump through just to do business with them. If they only knew how damaging that is to relationships. It s like adding fuel to a fire. 5. Use Power to Educate (If all else fails, be sure they understand the consequences). Sometimes it only takes a realization that an agreement is a better alternative than continuing the conflict. Summary. Conflict can be healthy when it brings about new ideas and deeper relationships. For this to occur, the basis for dealing with the conflict must be win/win. Conflict is unhealthy when it leads to distrust, anger, and withdrawal. These results usually mean that conflict has been approached on a win/lose basis.

4 EXHIBIT A Observable Behavior of Colleagues Facts Unassertive Slow Decisions Detailed Calm Relaxed Relationships No Pressure Quick Decisions No Time Wasting Control Assertive Quick Decisions No Detail Gut Feelings Feelings

5 EXHIBIT B Vary Your Approach to the Personality Characteristics of Colleagues Facts Unassertive Be Detailed Act Calmly Allow Time Go Slowly Develop Trust Be Relaxed Be Concise Don t Be Aggressive Be Businesslike Assertive Be Enthusiastic Be Informal Be Interesting Feelings

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