Egg chasing

Egg chasing

Egg chasing

Finance | 1 Nov 2007

Egg chasing Paul Bennett explores some approaches to conflict resolution. 

I was amazed at the behind the scenes cel-ebrations in the England rugby team’s dress-ing room last month after they had beaten France in the semi-final of the world cup. I was not surprised by the celebration but more by their chosen song. Eye of the Tiger or Simply the Best I could have understood, but The Gambler byf Kenny Rogers? The rugby lads were chanting noisily “you gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run etc…”Not just a song, but also a mantra for the team’s on field behaviour.

How many of us could benefit from living by the same principles. I am sure we can all remember some time in our working lives where we argued for a cause to the point of destruction of the relationship with the opponent in the argument. If Kenny is right it can be occasionally good to walk away. A wonderful story of two farmers arguing over an egg which was found laid directly under the wire fence between their two farms demonstrates the principle beautifully.

“That egg is mine,” said Farmer Smith. “No it isn’t, it’s mine,” exclaimed Farmer Jones. After several minutes of heated argument Smith said: “We need to settle this like gentlemen, do you agree?” “Damn right, I agree,” said Jones. “Ok, what we are going to do is kick each other where it hurts, in turn one after the other. The one who lasts the longest wins the egg and because I am the gentleman here, you can have first kick.” said Smith. “I’m the gentleman here so I insist you go first,” replied Jones. “Very well,” said Smith who proceeded to kick Jones really hard where it hurts. After a few seconds of rolling in pain Jones got up and said: “Ok my turn” to which Smith replied: “Keep the egg.”

Conflicts are part of normal everyday life; too few and life is boring, too many and life can become stressful. Conflicts are nearly always caused by people having different points of view or by people trying to achieve what they want at the expense of others.

Recent research among managers reveals that the principal causes of conflict at work are misunderstandings, personality clashes, differences in goals, substandard performance, problems relating to areas of responsibility, lack of cooperation, problems relating to areas of authority, frustration, competition for limited resources to name a few.

The research also revealed that many staff with managerial responsibility spend up to a quarter of their time at work dealing with conflict. In all work situations, there will be conflicts that should be avoided if at all possible. There will also be conflicts that will need handling in such a way that they do not get out of control or snowball.

Where it is not possible to prevent conflict, then it will become necessary to try to resolve it in a positive and constructive manner. Successful resolution has to be based on an accurate and thorough understanding of the actual conflict itself. The Thomas-Kilmann model suggests there are five broad approaches that can be taken for successful conflict resolution.

Different situations may be handled most effectively with different styles. For example, you may disagree with a subordinate about the next steps required by a project. If after discussion you believe strongly that your way is right, it may be appropriate to resolve the matter using your authority. After all, as the manager you carry the can. You have at least heard your subordinate’s views. On the other hand, a colleague of equal status cannot be handled with imposed authority. A dominating alternative may be equally fruitless. A consensus seeking or compromising approach may be better.

Conflict situations are situations in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, we can describe a person’s behaviour along two basic dimensions. Competitiveness – the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy his/her own concerns, and cooperation – the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns. Next month I will explore these further. Until then, altogether now: “You gotta know when to hold them...”


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