The Conflict Management Life Cycle

Google the word “conflict.” What do you expect to see? In reality, every definition, or outcome that becomes available when you click search is surrounded by a negative connotation. It is inevitable to have this conception of the word as conflict is something that we have all dreadfully dealt with. However, we cannot hide from conflict. It is something that is heavily evident in our society today. Although no one enjoys conflict or hopes to partake in it, it is important to be prepared to deal with it. In the public relations field, PR practitioners and organizations have a set model in place that guides them through handling conflict. This effective plan is known as the Conflict Management Life Cycle.

The Conflict Management Life Cycle is a mental and physical diagram that entails the steps one must take in order to deal with a crisis within an organization. This life cycle is segmented into four parts, each containing subcomponents of their own. These four categories include the proactive phase, strategic phase, reactive phase, and recovery phase.

The proactive phase is known for including strategies and action plans, that are put into place or thought about in order to prevent a conflict from occurring. In this phase, an organization has laid out their duties and steps that they will take if a conflict rises unexpectedly. Within the proactive phase, there are four components that a PR practitioner and organization must go through in order for it to be effective. These four components are environmental scanning, issues tracking, issues management, and crisis planning. Environmental scanning is the action of constantly looking and educating the organization on what is going on in society and making sure that the organization is being sensitive to those topics. In addition, issues tracking serves a similar purpose as its role is to collect news stories and articles regarding the issues at hand. When the issue is slowly emerging, the organization and PR practitioner must undergo issues management, where they make behavioral changes regarding the status of the conflict. Lastly, in the proactive phase, it is essential to create a crisis plan that will describe every detail in how to handle the potential crisis and prepare for the worst.

The second phase of the conflict resolution process is the strategic phase. This phase is known as the time the conflict is identified by the PR practitioner as something that needs instant action, so that the conflict can be resolved in a timely manner. Within this phase, there are three steps that must be completed in order for this phase to be successful. These three components are risk communication, conflict-positioning, and the conflict management plan. Risk communication is when dangers or threats towards an organization are made in order to stop any further harm or problems. It is important to note that risk communication will continue until the risk goes away or escalates into a bigger issue. Secondly, conflict-positioning is a strategy used when an organization “positions” itself in a spot where they will be ready and effective in handling the backlash of the conflict. Similar to the crisis plan that is in the proactive phase, the strategic phase contains a guideline that will be followed and how the conflict will be dealt with, known as the conflict management plan.

Once the conflict hits its peak and is known by the public, it is the organization and the PR practitioner’s job to deal with the events in the public communications environment as they unravel. It is important for the organization and its top executives to take responsibility for their actions and understand the issue that sparked the crisis. This is the foundation of the third step, the reactive phase. Similar to the previous phase, the reactive phase contains three steps that should be taken. These three steps include, crisis communications, conflict resolution, and litigation public relations. Crisis communications entail important duties including, performing the conflict management plan that was created in the strategic phase, and also the constant efforts of meeting the current needs of the public. It is important to please the public and to make sure that the organization is following through with their apology and action plan that they promised the public. Secondly, one of the most important strategies in the entire process is conflict resolution. During this step, actions are taken to bring an intense conflict to an end. Unfortunately, majority of these intense conflicts are found and resolved in court. Litigation public relations serve as a key player in resolving these big issues.

The last phase, the recovery phase, includes the action of rebuilding your brand and reputation and strategizing ways in which the public and consumers will be able to see you for whom you really are. Building a strong reputation can be hard work and can take a long time. It is often upsetting to see large organizations with good images, be turned upside down from a mistake. However, set in the recovery phase, there are two actions that can be taken as a step to improvement. These two steps include reputation management and image restoration. Reputation management is the responsibility of the organization and PR practitioner to look deeply into the current state of the organization’s reputation and identify ways to fix it and make it better. In addition, image restoration includes legitimate change by the organization and additional events that will enhance positive opinions towards the company.

It is important to understand that in order for the Conflict Management Life Cycle to be effective, an organization and a PR practitioner must go through the process in this specific order. Once the organization has gone through the entire process, the conflict will either be resolved, or they must start from the beginning and repeat it. It is strenuous work, yet it is the most effective way to help organizations resolve issues correctly and refrain from making similar mistakes in the future.

Using social media has become one of the biggest activities to do on the web. Majority of our world today has become addicted to each social media platform and enjoy its information and entertainment. The innovative and modern way of receiving daily news with a simple reach into your pocket has changed our lives forever. Social media is essential, specifically in a crisis, because it allows a wide audience to come into contact with the information in a timely manner. Popular topics, including public relation conflicts, tend to go viral in a matter of hours, spreading stories far and wide. However, the details on a conflict do not always come from the organization itself; rather the message spreads by word of mouth, expressing various opinions and outlooks on the current situation. In a crisis, a company may use social media platforms to discuss their premeditated intention with the controversial material. It is important for the organization to create mobile-friendly content that is easy for those with social media applications to view and effectively consume. There are many social media platforms that can be used in a PR crisis, however, it is important to post on multiple to ensure that a wide range of individuals see the message. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are three of the biggest social media platforms today and are used by various demographics. These three social media platforms are very well-known. They appeal to individuals of all ages, and you can find this diverse community as soon as you log onto each site. These three social media platforms are used in various instances that range from recreational and professional reasons. In addition, these sites are ones that individuals check numerous times a day. Since there are so many active members on these platforms, there will always be new content to read about the crisis.

It is inevitable that a company or an organization will go through a crisis at some point during its business journey. We have seen many in the media and have been exposed to the ways that they handle it. One PR crisis, in particular, involved the clothing company Calvin Klein. Calvin Klein’s PR and advertising teams strived hard to come up with a campaign that would grab the attention of the public. This advertisement was known as the #InmyCalvins Campaign. Models and celebrities would pose in Calvin Klein attire with a statement where they would fill in the blank with a personal activity that they do in their Calvins. The mistake that the Calvin Klein Company made was putting two of the same ads next to each other with controversial, gender equality statements. Fetty Wap, a famous rapper, was on one of the billboards. He was dressed in professional attire, and his statement read, “I make money in my Calvins.” Next to his still image, famous actress, Klara Kristin was shot in a sheer, short dress, and her quote read “I seduce in my Calvins” (News Activist, 2017). The advertisement placed in the middle of Soho, New York, sparked controversy and negative outlooks on the Calvin Klein organization. People complained that it displayed gender inequality and outlined false stereotypes. As a PR practitioner, who is educated in the Conflict Management Life Cycle, it should be easy to analyze how the company of Calvin Klein promptly responded and acted using the public relations model.

For the proactive phase, Calvin Klein was not prepared with strategies or plans that they would use if a crisis like this occurred. They did not intend to make an advertisement that was so controversial and didn’t expect the backlash that they would receive. However, with this being said, something that came to Calvin Klein’s advantage without them knowing, was their prescheduled rotation of advertisements. This had meant that the advertisements placed in the populated city of New York, would only be up for a few weeks before it was taken down and switched out with a different one. This was good for the organization as the advertisement was only up for a short amount of time, limiting the negative comments by the public. Regarding the strategic phase, their guidelines and expectations of themselves are present on the Calvin Klein online website. These terms are put in to place so that Calvin Klein can defend their brand when a crisis occurs. These terms read, “Calvin Klein is global lifestyle brand that exemplifies bold, progressive ideals and a seductive and often minimal, aesthetic. We seek to thrill and inspire our audience while using provocative imagery and striking designs to ignite the senses” (Klein, 2018). However, although they still had this foundation, they still suffered a severe backlash. Calvin Klein had a minimal appearance in the reactive phase, as they only apologized once on a social platform saying that the message that was displayed was not their intention and that they believe in gender equality. In addition, the company had to deal with a petition for removal of the advertisement. Lastly, in the recovery phase, Calvin Klein used popular public figures to enhance their brand. They continued with the #InmyCalvins campaign, yet they put better, more positive statements on billboards with the faces of big names such as, Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber. Calvin Klein is still in the process of the recovery phase as the public has not and will never forget the controversial advertisement. It is Calvin Klein’s job to win back over the respect and trust of their consumers.

There is a major difference between the two words competition and conflict. Competition, in the public relations textbook, is defined as striving for the same goal as others, while conflict is a disagreement that leads to a threat by another individual (Wilcox, 2015). In any environment, it is normal to have some healthy competition. This competition helps the organization, or an individual grow and become a better product than it was before. Conflict, however, can be categorized with unhealthy competition and instead of challenging others to do their best, it is the act of pointing out flaws within the company. For the parties involved, conflict does nothing for their status except do damage and expose the things that they are doing poorly. It is important for PR practitioners to know the difference between the two because if executives want their companies to succeed, they need to eliminate the source that is bringing their organization down drastically. 

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