Conflict resolution in staff coaching

Examination Thesis, 2013
21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents


2. What is a conflict?
2.1. Buridan’s ass
2.2. Types of conflicts
2.3. The meaning and the benefit of conflicts
2.4. The four-step analysis of conflicts

3. What does it mean to communicate?
3.1. Communicative disorders

4. Staff coaching/employee talk as a modern tool for conflict resolution
4.1. Types of employee talks and their goals
4.2. Instruments of staff coaching

5. A study case of conflict resolution at work
5.1. The analysis of the conflict
5.1.1. The type of the conflict and its possible causes
5.1.2. The analysis of the current conflict structure
5.1.3. The analysis of possible goals and solutions
5.1.4. The analysis of possible measures for conflict resolution .
5.2. An example of proper communication in conflict management

5. Conclusions


1. Introduction

If war is the violent resolution of conflict, then peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the ability to resolve conflict without violence”. – C.T. Lawrence Butler

This thesis regards the emergence of conflicts at work and their resolution through proper communication and staff coaching. As presented by Prof. Dr. rer. net. habil. Bern Rudow in his script Personalführung/Personalmanageemnt, one of the most delicate employee-employer discussions is the one involving conflicts and therefore, they tend to be avoided. This work shows that conflicts should not always have a negative connotation since they might be necessary for a productive team work and for our personal development. However, conflicts can be beneficial only if we are able to overcome them through professional communication and social competence. In this thesis, I show on the basis of Watzlawich’s (1964) and Schulz von Thun’s (2003) theoretical models of communication that conflicts should not be neglected or ignored but rather they should be thoroughly analyzed and solved in a well-prepared conflict discussion. The (conflict) discussion is regarded as a modern tool of human resources management and is crucial in contemporary conflict resolution (cf. Ramsbotham, Woodhouse & Miall 2011). The paper contains a theoretical part where the concept of conflict and a model of communication are presented and an empirical part where I present a conflict at work and how this situation could be solved. The work is structured as follows:

In chapter 2 I define what a conflict is in the light of Buridan’s ass concept and I classify conflicts in terms of Watzlawick (1964). Moreover, this chapter also shows that conflicts are not only trouble-makers but they are necessary for a personal and professional development.

Chapter 3 presents the well-known model of communication proposed by Schultz von Thun (2003, 2006) and possible communicative disorders.

Chapter 4 defines what staff coaching is and which types of employee-employer discussions are recurrent in the practice. Then, based on Neuberger (2004), I will regard several instruments of staff coaching such as active listening, questioning techniques and feedback.

Chapter 5 regards an empirical study of a conflict resolution that takes into account all the ingredients illustrated so far by the theoretical models. The main purpose of this chapter is to show how an employee-employer talk known in the personal management literature as staff coaching should be prepared and conducted by regarding the theoretical communicative models previously presented.

Chapter 6 concludes the work with a personal opinion about conflicts and their resolution.

2. What is a conflict?

Nowadays the term conflict is used, maybe, more than ever in mass media, in our personal or professional life and, hence, has become part of your everyday life. But what does a conflict mean? According to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the term conflict origins from Latin conflictus, collision born from the past participle of conflingere meaning to strike together. This is a very general term but it is used in several different contexts: 1. a state of disagreement or argument between people, groups, countries etc; 2. fighting or a war 3. a situation in which you have to choose between two or more opposite needs, influences etc; 4. a situation in which you have two opposite feelings about something; 5. something that you have to do at the same time that someone wants you to do something else: 6. conflict of interests: a) a situation in which you cannot do your job fairly because you will be affected by the decision you make: b) a situation in which different people want different things (cf. LDOCE). If we want to summarize the different interpretations of this term, we realize that the conflict can emerge either at a micro-dimensional level, i.e. within an individual or a small group or at a macro-dimensional or global level e.g. between nations, races, religions etc.

Nevertheless, the hallmark of all conflicts is what Watzlawick (1964) names “the fight of motifs”: the competition of several drives, ambitions or desires.

In this chapter I present the conflict in the light of Buridan’s ass concept, a classification of conflicts and Watzlawick’s four–step analysis of conflicts.

2.1. Buridan’s Ass

The allegory of Buridan’s ass perfectly illustrates the core of all conflicts where an individual or groups of people are torn apart by different or contradictory interests. The story of Buridan’s ass says that once an ass was standing halfway between two piles of hay. It kept looking left and right, unable to decide between the first pile of hay and the second one. Due to its indecision it eventually falls over and dies of hunger. This story vividly illustrates how serious the consequences of an unsolved conflict can be, i.e. our personal collapse or the break-up of our private or professional relations.

2.2. Types of conflicts: intraindividual vs. interindividual

According to Watzlawick (1964), the tendencies of the donkey are always dual: on one hand, it wants to satisfy its appetite and its goal and on the other hand, it wants to avoid the sufferings as a consequence of its desire satisfaction. This situation can be translated also in a specific employer-employee relation where the employee wants to satisfy his desires such as more money, more spare time or a balanced family life while the employer expects from him that he dedicates most of his time to work, is highly motivated and should be available also in his free time/weekends. However, in this work I assume that employer-employee or external conflicts are even more complex than that. A conflict between an employer and an employee involves two individuals that each of them can have contradictory desires. For instance, the employee desires more spare time but at the same time he might want to advance in a higher position, and so to have more responsibility and, hence, more work; the employer wants to exceed the amount of work but at the same time he does not want to discourage his employee, to lose him or to threaten his mental or his physical health.

In the light of all these, I argue that employer-employee conflicts involve both an intraindividual and an interindividual conflict.

i. Intraindividual conflicts can occur in the following constellations (cf. Watzlawick 1964 and Watzlawick, Beavin & Jackson 1968, 1969). :

a. desire – desire – conflict: one has to choose from two contradictory desires

Picture 1: Two conflicting desires

illustration not visible in this excerpt

b. desire – avoidance – conflict: one desires one thing but wants to avoid the consequences of his desire/ or the fulfillment of his desire

Picture 2: Desire-avoidance conflict

illustration not visible in this excerpt

c. aversion – aversion: the dilemma of wanting to avoid two negative situations

Picture 3: Avoidance-avoidance conflict

illustration not visible in this excerpt

ii. Interindividual conflicts between the employer and employee are also of different types such as management/leadership conflicts, rivalry conflicts, staff – line conflicts or gender conflicts etc. (see Watzlawick, Beavin & Jackson 1969; Ramsbotham, Woodhouse & Miall 2011). The above illustrated types of intrapersonal conflicts are valid also for interpersonal conflicts whereby one individual or one group might desire different things and pursue different goals.

2.3. The meaning and the benefit of conflicts

In this brief section, based on Watzlawick (1964) I will show that conflicts should not always be negatively regarded since they might bring us and our relations with the others several benefits.

1. First, conflicts make us conscious of our infelicitous relations to the others or unsolved problems. Therefore, it can be assumed that like in the case of a health problem, the sooner one finds out the cause of a problem, the quicker its (re-)solution is.
2. Second, conflicts might strengthen the need for change in our life. Since conflicts make us aware of several aspects in our relation to our superior or colleague that do not work, they might also nourish our desire to change these aspects and to improve our relations.
3. Third, conflicts nourish not only our desire for change but also our creative alternatives to respond to the conflict and find a solution to its cause.
4. Fourth, conflicts are dynamic also because they move us to take decisions in order to avoid the prolongation of the conflict and of its consequences. Learning to take decisions develops our personality and our self-esteem. Hence, one can say that conflicts can also induce changes in our personality.

However, in order to profit from all these benefits of conflicts, one must be able to analyze the conflicts and their causes. Therefore, the next section is dedicated to a thorough analysis of conflicts as proposed in Watzlawich (1964).

2.4. The four-step analysis of conflicts

Before starting this section, the question arises why it is necessary to analyze our conflicts. According to Watzlawich (1964) and Watzlawick, Beavin & Jackson (1968, 1969), the reasons are manifold: first, such an analysis helps us to influence a present conflict in the direction we want and second, we could avoid a conflict in the future. The analysis proposed in Waztlawich (1964) has four important phases or steps:

i. The analysis of the possible causes of a work conflict. There are several possible causes for a conflict at work. For instance, there can be a conduct/management conflict between a leader/employer and his/her employee or between the formal and the informal leader; a competition conflict between two leaders or two employees for the same position; a gender conflict between the rights and obligations of men and women at work; a class conflict whereby several races are regarded inferior; staff-line conflicts where there are different competences and due to this the employees can get frustrated.

ii. The analysis of the structure of the current conflict. To analyze the structure of the conflict implies to respond to the following three questions:

1. Who is part of the conflict? With respect to a conflict at work, there are two possibilities either interpersonal conflicts (such as between the employer and the employee, two colleagues etc) or between different groups.
2. How does the conflict partner behave? If we talk about an intraindividual conflict, he or she might show psychosomatic symptoms, self-aggression or would forget the conflict.
In couple, triple or group conflicts the dynamic is a bit different: the conflict partners/groups might quarrel, scream at each other, keep silent or create intrigues.
3. What is the factual and the emotional content of the conflict? As we saw above, in the case of an intraindividual conflict, the person might be caught in dilemma between two dichotomous desires, a desire and the fear of its consequences or two different kinds of fears. An employer- employee conflict or a group conflict might rise due to different interests, different social and educational background and/or different values and morals.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


Conflict resolution in staff coaching
German Academy for Management Berlin
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Mihaela Moreno is a scientific researcher in linguistics, human cognition and communication at CLUNL, Nova Universidade de Lisboa. Moreover, she has a degree in business and human resource management.
Personalmanagement, Konfliktlösung, Kommunikationsmodell, Mitarbeitergespräch
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Dr. Mihaela Moreno (Author), 2013, Conflict resolution in staff coaching, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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