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Practical Perspectives: Conflict Management from a Jail Administrator’s Perspective
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 11/01/2010

County jail
Editors note: The following is the second in a series of articles written by Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

From a jail administrator’s perspective change is inevitable as a human circumstance within your jail, but even with the certainly of change as a constant within life we seem to struggle with assimilating to change as the norm. Change may be a fact of life we are challenged day in and day out within our personal lives, but it is usually resisted, particularly in organizations (Sherman & Garland, 2007). This assumption, in the context of organizational behavior theory, leaders within any jail facility will find work place conflict within three categories of potential stressors: environmental, organizational, and personal (Robbins & Judge, 2007).

Other sources of stress includes poor communication, power seeking, dissatisfaction with management style, weak leadership, lack of openness, and change in leadership. All of which creates a very complicated landscape for managers to influence necessary degrees of change within the organization in order to remain viable in an intensely complicated operating environment. An environment that adds multiple dimensions of culturally influenced leadership perspectives, power, and politics in the mix that ultimately bring degrees of stress and conflict in to the organization.

The sooner your leadership team realizes change has become a way of life for most organizations, the sooner the pressure from various sources such as ever-increasing resource competition, (what your organization is provided within the operating budget), security and custody oriented technological developments, and other forces has created an environment that rewards organizations will be realized. Subsequently, the literature suggests your best oriented team will become much more capable of identifying trends and issues that drives change and responding quickly to them. Ultimately, leader’s need to realize change is the only permanent thing in this world and when organizations change there are many forces of resistance against the change and culture is one of the important forces of resistance.

Obviously, stress is like the most destructive force within any jail operation that is not mitigated, not managed, will prevent an organization need to adopt change in order to remain responsive and viable. Stress on the one hand is a dynamic condition in which an individual is confronted with an opportunity, constraint, or demand related to what he or she desires and for which the outcome is perceived to be both uncertain and important (Robbins, 2007). On the other hand, our understanding of "conflict" comprises conflict as two dimensional with either functional or dysfunctional properties. Robbins (2007) defines stress as dynamic condition in which an individual is confronted with an opportunity, demand, or resource related to what the individual desires and for which the outcome is perceived to be both uncertain and important.

The famous Chinese proverb "No stress, no motivation", meaning that proper stress can spur individuals to devote more efforts to their job which suggests a functional level of stress. However, if the level of stress and its corresponding influence on the organization is dysfunctional the organization will most likely experience a conflict. This jail administrator subsequently proposes that the direct effect of job stress on affective conflict exists, and that a change process based on a systemic collection of work place stress and conflict data would be the most effective means for jail leadership to bring about positive change.

Negative effects of job stress have been well documented and include job dissatisfaction, burnout, and lower organizational commitment (Perrewe, Ralston & Fernandez, 1995). Moreover, some scholars found a close relationship between the extent of job stress and the level of conflict. Whereas Friedman et al., (2000) indicated that job stress might derive from conflict; there are also studies that propose conflict as an outcome of job stress (Perrewe, Ralston & Fernandez, 1995; Wall & Callister, 1995). The types of conflict have different consequences. Thus, researching antecedents of top managerial job stress and its relationship with conflict seems to be both necessary and important (Wang, Jing & Klossek, 2007).

The literature clearly views resistance to change as having cognitive, emotional, and behavioral states that co-exist and affect each other (Sherman & Garland, 2007). The literature also suggests that insufficient attention has been paid to resistance to change as a political or power element. Organizational change alters the political landscape and sources of power (Graham, 1998). Given that changes substitute ambiguity and uncertainty for the known, (Robbins, 2002), the manager armed with the relatively simplistic action research tools becomes a change agent who acts as the catalysts and assumes responsibility for managing change. In this instance, that when proactively applied management becomes capable of combating resistance to change and subsequently becomes a capability to manage conflict in the organization.

In the process of better managing conflict that is an inevitable occurrence within an organization’s change experience, the jail administrator’s need to realize human resource management techniques play a major role in changing the organizational culture, and should leverage their role when mandated to adopt some form of change within their organization. The learning organization has recently developed a groundswell of interest for new ways to successfully respond to the world of interdependence and change (Kim, 1993). The major interventions used in bringing a more positive experience to change include action research, organizational development, sensitivity training, survey feedback, process consultation, team building, inter group development, and appreciative enquiry (NSBA, 2007). Evidence indicates that the manager engaging “learning organization” techniques has an ability to develop the continuous capacity to adapt and change, (Robbins, 2007), and subsequently manage organizational conflict with enhanced results.


Friedman, Raymond A; Simon T Tidd, Steven C Currall, James C Tsai. (2000). What goes around comes around: The impact of personal conflict style on work conflict and stress. International Journal of Conflict Management: Special Issue: Managing Conflict, 11(1), 32-55. Retrieved September 11, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 59716617).

Graham, Robert (1998). Power and Politics in Project Management. International Journal of Project Management, 16(3), 199-200. Retrieved September 11, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 26722073).

Kim, Daniel H, (1993). The Link Between Individual and Organizational Learning. Sloan Management Review, 35(1), 37. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 812673).

National School Board Association (NSBA) (2007). Professional Leadership Development: Dealing with Conflict. Retrieved 21:04, September 8, 2010, from http://www.nsba.org/sbot/toolkit/Conflict.html.

Perrewe, Pamela L, Ralston, David A, Fernandez, Denise Rotondo. (1995). A model depicting the relations among perceived stressors, role conflict and organizational commitment: A comparative analysis of Hong Kong and the United States. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 12(2), 1. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 9069163).

Robbins, Stephen P. (2002). The Truth about Managing People-- and Nothing But the Truth. Prentice Hall, Financial Times Press, Pg. 174. Retrieved 21:58, September 11, 2010, from The Truth about Managing People-- and Nothing But the Truth.

Robbins, Stephen P. and Timothy A. Judge (2007). Organizational Behavior 12th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Sherman, W Scott and Gail E Garland. (2007). Where to Bury the Survivors? Exploring Possible Ex Post Effects of Resistance to Change. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal, 72(1), 52-62, 3. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1273060391).

Wall, James A Jr and Callister, Ronda Roberts. (1995). Conflict and its management. Journal of Management, 21(3), 515. Retrieved September 11, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 9044923).

Wang, Guofeng; Runtian Jing, Andreas Klossek. (2007). Antecedents and management of conflict: Resolution styles of Chinese top managers in multiple rounds of cognitive and affective conflict. International Journal of Conflict Management, 18(1), 74-97. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1373197431).

Other articles by Tebbitt:


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