The case under study highlights how interpersonal conflicts can exist within organizations or any setting of two or more people. The conflict took place at the replica of the Mir space station in Russia where international participants were to spend 110 days in isolation adjacent to Russian participants who were already in isolation for 240 days.
The conflict took place on New Years Eve where two Russian cosmonauts got into a bloody fight and immediately after the brawl, the Russian commander tried to sexually assault Ms. Lapierre. Although a complain was launched with the administration, the administration took no action, defending itself by stating that this was a planned incident in order to prepare the cosmonauts to resolve their personal issues in a tactful and mature manner since in space the administration would not be available to help out.
This incident resulted in the sealing of doors between the Russian and International team’s jurisdictions. The conclusions drawn from this incident are that conflict, whether interpersonal or intergroup, can arise in any setting, whether it is a space shuttle replica or an office department, therefore, it is important to understand the reasons for conflict and the negotiation strategies that must be adopted in order to resolve the issues.
Individual behavior in an organization is affected by various factors that exist in the organizational environment and the individual’s character and personality as well. The MARS model of individual behavior outlines four key factors that affect an employee’s behavior and performance.
These include motivation, ability, role perceptions and various situational factors. Employee motivation would include the forces present within a person that affect behavior. Ability on the other hand includes the natural aptitude and the learned capabilities that are reflected in an individual’s behavior. Role perceptions are an individuals beliefs regarding what behavior is appropriate and what behavior is inappropriate whereas the situational factors would include the work conditions, people, budget etc (John B, Minor, 2007).
Individual behavior and conflict have a strong link with each other. Conflicts can arise due to various reasons such as incompatible perceptions, goals, different values and various other conditions. The conflict process begins no doubt through a source of conflict that exists within a setting. Conflicts need not be destructive all the time, however, they can also be constructive and help employees to understand the different views they hold and also strike out ways of negotiating a deal which keeps everyone happy.
Since, conflicts are a part of most organizational settings, organizational behavior aims at studying the various causes of conflict, the types of conflict and the strategies to overcome conflict with the help of negotiation primarily so that mature and practical decisions can be made (John B, Minor, 2007).
Q1. Identify the different conflict episodes in this case. Who was in conflict with whom?
Ans1. There are various conflicts that exist in the case. Conflict basically exists when one party or individual recognizes that its interests are disparate from other individual’s interests and that a clash of interests has occurred. The conflict process occurs when the sources of conflict i.e. conflicting goals, views, lack of resources, poor communication etc translate themselves into conflicting perceptions and emotions which eventually manifest conflict through overt behaviors and decisions. Similar to our definition, we can identify four conflicts that exist in the case.
Firstly, the conflict arises in the fact that since all the participants are from different countries i.e. Japan, Austria and Canada there spoken languages were different and that the lack of proficiency in English meant that communication would have several hindrances amongst the participants.
The second conflict that existed was the New Year’s event when two of the Russian cosmonauts got into a bloody fistfight. The same day, another conflict occurred between the Russian commander and the French-Canadian female Ms. Lapierre. Soon after the brawl, the commander took Ms. Lapierre away from the surveillance camera range and attempted to kiss her. The last conflict was between the international team and the IBMP itself. When the team complained about the incidents, the IBMP took no action, stating that such incidents were part of the experiment, the statement disappointed the international team and the Japanese team member even quit because of the lack of concern from IBMP.
Q2. For each incident of manifest conflict, identify the sources or causes of conflict.
Ans2. Manifest conflicts are those that arise because of conflicting emotions and perceptions between individuals. This has a direct impact on the decisions and behavior of certain individuals towards others. Such manifestations can be in either subtle or aggressive form.
However, in the case above the two events of manifest conflict i.e. the fight between the cosmonauts and the Ms. Lapierre incident had overt behavior and extreme aggression. In the first incident where the two cosmonauts got into a fistfight, the source was by no doubt the fact that they did not get along. This could be due to different beliefs and values, perceptions and conflicting goals. Even in the second case, the sources of conflict can be attributed to different values and beliefs. Clearly, according to the case, the commander believed that in his culture, kissing was not regarded as sexual harassment and because of the different belief he took such a decision (Peter Condliffe, 2008).
Q3. What conflict management style(s) did Lapierre, the international team, and Gushin use to resolve these conflicts? What style(s) would have worked best in the situations?
Ans3. The conflict management style adopted by Ms. Lapierre was an interpersonal conflict management style called ‘Competing.’ In this style, an individual tries to win the conflict at the expense of the other. In this case, she defended herself using force to push away the Russian commander and fought him off. This style is used when cooperativeness is not an option; rather, assertiveness is an option.
The international team on the other hand also adopted an interpersonal conflict management style called ‘Avoiding.’ In this style, situations that may result in conflicts are avoided all together and that is exactly what the international team did when they asked the IBMP to close the doors between their chamber and the Russian chamber so as to avoid any conflict altogether. Gushin used an accommodating approach towards conflict management when he stated that ‘if the crew can’t solve their problems amongst themselves, they can’t work together.’
This implied that there were clear rules and procedures, the fact that the space object will be out in the space and that resolutions should be obtained in a mature and practical manner amongst the individuals themselves. In other words, that the IBMP was justified for what it said and that it was none of their business (Paul M. Terry, 1996). The style that would have worked best in these situations would have been through negotiation. Negotiation is the most powerful tool to conflict resolution and attains a fair solution for every party involved. That is when discussion is used to obtain a more satisfactory solution rather than aggression or ignorance altogether. Moreover, collaboration can also be used; in this the problem is defined and a mutually beneficial solution is obtained through problem solving.
Q4. What conflict management interventions were applied in the case study? Did they work? What alternative strategies would work best in this situation and in the future?
Ans4. The conflict management interventions applied in this case study includes avoidance conflict management and competitive conflict management and harmonizing conflict management (Amanuel G. Tekleab, Narda R. Quigley, and Paul E. Tesluk, 2009). However, none of the strategies used by the respective individuals worked. The international team’s use of the avoidance strategy might work as long as the chambers are barred from access to each other. The competitive conflict management intervention used by Ms. Lapierre did not work evidently because the commander tried to kiss her again the next day. Lastly, the accommodating conflict management intervention on the IBMP’s behalf did not work, in fact, as a result of their ignorance a team member also resigned.
As stated earlier the best way to intervene was through negotiation. Moreover, other techniques should also be worked upon to reduce conflict altogether in the future. These include the reduction of differentiation, improving the communication and understanding amongst participants and clarity in rules and regulations for e.g. “any sort of harassment will not be tolerated” (Ron Fisher, 2000).
Clearly, through the case study, we understand that conflict is a process whereby one party notices that its interests are not in line with another party’s interests and thus a clash has occurred. Evidently, a conflict arises because of the sources of conflict that exist and this translates into manifest conflict whereby actions and decisions are taken which might harm the other party in a subtle or aggressive manner. Conflict management and conflict intervention techniques and styles should be adopted as per the requirements.
The incorrect type of conflict management style can worsen the situation as we saw in this case. Since, conflicts are a part of most organizational settings, organizational behavior aims at studying the various causes of conflict, the types of conflict and the strategies to overcome conflict with the help of negotiation primarily so that mature and practical decisions can be made.
- Amanuel G. Tekleab, Narda R. Quigley, and Paul E. Tesluk. (2009). A Longitudinal Study of Team Conflict, Conflict Management, Cohesion, and Team Effectiveness. Group Organization Management, Apr 2009; 34: 170 - 205.
- Paul M. Terry. (1996). Conflict Management, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, Apr 1996; 3: 3 - 21.
- Peter Condliffe. (2008). Conflict Management. 3rd Edition. LexisNexis Butterworths.
- Ron Fisher. (2000). Resolving Interpersonal Conflict. Available from http://www.aupeace.org/files/Fisher_ResolvingInterpersonalConflict.pdf
- John B, Minor. (2007). Organizational Behavior: From Theory to Practice. Illustrated. M.E Sharpe.