Conflicts and Management of Conflicts


Conflicts and Management of Conflicts

 Conflicts in an organization occur due to the disagreement amongst groups of employees or individual employees. It is characterized by antagonism and hostility and is usually fueled by the opposition of one party to another. Conflict arises when one of the party attempts to reach an objective which is different from that of the other party. The elements involved in a conflict consist of varied sets of goals, principles and values of the two parties. Conflict is often inevitable in many situations. They may range from petty ones to the very serious ones which can lead to even hostility among individuals.

Conflicts significantly affect employee’s morale, their turnover, and often lead to litigation. All these affect the performance of the organization either constructively or destructively.

Conflict situation is an important aspect in the working of an organization. A conflict is a situation when the interests, needs, goals or values of involved employees or group of employees interfere with one another. A conflict is a common phenomenon in the place of work. Different stakeholders may have different priorities; conflicts may involve team members, departments, projects, organization and customer as well as boss and subordinate. Conflict can be due to the mismatch between organizational needs and personal needs. Often, a conflict is a result of perception. Conflict is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, a conflict presents opportunities for improvement. Therefore, it is important to understand the conflicts and the application of various conflict resolution techniques so that conflicts can be managed effectively.

There is no single definition of conflict. Most of the definitions involve different factors which include (i) there are at least two independent groups, (ii) the groups have some incompatibility between themselves, and (iii) the groups interact with each other in some way. Two examples of the definitions of conflict are as follows

  • Conflict is a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party.
  • Conflict is the interactive process manifested in incompatibility, disagreement, or dissonance within or between social entities.

Conflict can arise when a party engages in an activity which is in conflict with the needs or interests of the other party or a party holds behavioural preferences, the satisfaction of which is incompatible with the implementation of the preferences of the other party. There are basically three reasons for conflicts to arise. These reasons are given below.

  • Economic – In this case the conflict happens mainly due to the availability of limited amount of resources. The groups or individuals involved come into conflict to attain the most of these resources, thus bringing forth hostile behaviors among those involved.
  • Value – In this case the conflict happens due to the varied preferences and ideologies that people have as their principles. Conflicts driven by this factor are demonstrated by the aggressive actions of the parties involved.
  • Power – In this case the conflictoccurs when the parties involved intends to maximize what influence it has in the organizational and social environment. Such a situation can happen among individuals as well as groups and even between the organizations. When one tries to assert his influence on others the seeds of conflict are sown.

Classification of conflicts

 Conflicts in an organization can be either intra-organizational or inter-organizational. Inter-organizational conflict occurs between two or more organizations mainly when their business interests compete against one another. Intra-organizational conflict is conflict within the organization, and can be between departments, work teams, or individuals. Conflicts can also be inter-personal, intra-group, and inter-group conflicts. Basically intra-organizational conflicts are classified into the following four types.

  • Inter-personal conflicts – These conflicts refer to conflicts between two individuals of the organization. These occur typically due to the organizational employees being different from one another. Organizational employees are with varied personalities which usually results into having incompatible choices and opinions. Apparently, it is a natural occurrence which can eventually help in personal growth or developing one’s relationship with others. In addition, coming up with adjustments is necessary for managing this type of conflict. However, when interpersonal conflict gets too destructive, involvement of a mediator sometimes helps in resolving the conflict.
  • Intra-personal conflicts – Theseoccur within an individual. The experience takes place in the person’s mind. Hence, it is a type of conflict that is psychological involving the individual’s thoughts, values, principles and emotions. Inter-personal conflicts can come in different scales, from the simple one like deciding to have a cup of tea or not to ones that can affect major decisions such as choosing a career path. Furthermore, this type of conflict can be quite difficult to handle if the employee finds it hard to decipher his inner struggles. It leads to restlessness and uneasiness, or can even cause depression. In such occasions, it would be best to seek a way to let go of the anxiety through communicating with other employees or with those people who are close to him. Eventually, when the employee comes out of the situation, he becomes more empowered as a person. Thus, the experience evoked a positive change which helps the employee in his own personal growth.
  • Inter-group conflicts – These take place when a misunderstanding arises among different groups, departments or teams within the organization. These conflicts may happen due to the varied sets of goals and interests of these different groups, departments or teams. In addition, competition also contributes for inter-group conflict to arise. There are other factors which fuel this type of conflict. Some of these factors may include a rivalry in resources or the boundaries set by a group to others which establishes their own identity as a team.
  • Intra-group conflict – These are the type of conflict that happens among individuals within a group or team. The incompatibilities and misunderstandings among these individuals lead to an intra-group conflict. It arises from inter-personal disagreements (e.g. team members have different personalities which may lead to tension) or differences in views, opinions and ideas. Within a team, conflict can be helpful in coming up with decisions which will eventually allow them to reach their objectives as a team. However, if the degree of conflict disrupts harmony among the members, then some serious guidance from outside the team is required for it to be settled.

Conflict management

Conflict comes naturally and the clashing of thoughts and ideas is a part of the working experience in the organization. It is true that it can be destructive if left uncontrolled. However, it should not be seen as something that can only cause negative things to transpire. It is a way to come up with more meaningful realizations that can certainly be helpful to the individuals involved. These positive outcomes can be reached through an effective implementation of conflict resolution. Conflict can be seen as an opportunity for learning and understanding of the differences.

Conflict management is the process which helps in the identification and handling of the conflicts sensibly, fairly, and efficiently. Conflicts at the work place in any organization are natural because of complexity of its operation. It is important that managers in the organization understand conflicts and know how to resolve them. This is important in the present day scenario more than ever when every employee in the organization strives to show how valuable he is for the organization he works for and, at times, this can lead to disputes with other employees of the organization.

Conflict management process helps in limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing its positive aspects. The aim of conflict management is to enhance learning and group outcomes, including effectiveness or performance in organizational setting. Properly managed conflicts can improve the performance of the groups of employees or individual employees under conflict.

Considering the fact that individual employees will have different points of view, there are always be instances when misunderstandings can occur amongst the employees. With the arising of these intractable conflicts comes the need for conflict management. Even in seemingly ordinary situations, conflict may be rooted by other non-apparent reasons. Understanding the other sides of the issue would allow those involved to come up with an ideal resolution to the problem.

In dealing with conflicts, there are five basic conflict management strategies. These strategies of dealing with conflict vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. People generally have a preferred conflict resolution strategy. Also different strategies are most useful in different situations. Parties under conflict normally follow one of these strategies for resolving the conflict. These five strategies for conflict handling are described below.

  • Accommodating – Accommodation involves having to deal with the problem with an element of self-sacrifice. It consists of accommodating the concerns of other party under conflict first of all. In this case the employee sets aside his own concerns to maintain peace in the situation. Thus, the employee yields to what the other employee under dispute wants, displaying a form of selflessness. Though the accommodation might come as an immediate solution to the conflict issue, yet it also brings about a false manner of dealing with the conflict. This can be disruptive if there is a need to come up with a more sound and creative way out of the conflict. This behaviour is the most efficient if the employee is in the wrong as it can come as a form of conciliation. This approach is also effective when the other employee under dispute is the expert and has a better solution.
  • Avoiding – In this approach of solving the conflict, there is withdrawal from the conflict. The problem is dealt with through a passive attitude. Avoiding is mostly used when the perceived negative end outweighs the positive outcome. In employing this technique, employees end up ignoring the problem, thinking that the conflict will resolve by itself. Avoiding technique might be applicable in certain situations but not in all cases. Avoidance means that the employee neglects the responsibility that comes with it. The other employee involved in the conflict might think that the problem is getting neglected. Thus, it is better to confront the problem before it gets worse. Avoiding approach works well when the issue is trivial or when the employee has very little chance of winning in the conflict.
  • Collaborating – Collaborating is the approach which aims to find a solution to the conflict through cooperating with other parties involved in the conflict. In this approach, communication is an important part of the strategy. In collaborating approach, parties under conflict become partners or pair up with each other to achieve both of their goals in this style. This is how parties break free of the ‘win-lose’ paradigm and seek the ‘win-win’ solution. This can be effective for complex scenarios where parties need to find a novel solution. Collaborating parties aim to come up with a successful resolution creatively, without compromising their own satisfactions.
  • Competing –Competing approach involves authoritative and assertive behaviours. It is the win-lose approach. In this approach, the aggressive individual aims to instill pressure on the other party to achieve a goal. It includes the use of any means to attain what the individual thinks is right. This approach is appropriate in the case of emergencies when time is the essence. It may be appropriate in some situations but it should not come to a point wherein the aggressor becomes too unreasonable. Dealing with the conflict with an open mind is vital for a resolution to be met.
  • Compromising – Compromising approach is about coming up with a resolution that would be acceptable to the both the parties involved in the conflict. It is the ‘lose-lose’ scenario where neither party under conflict really achieves what it wants. This requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation. Under compromising approach, one party is willing to sacrifice its own sets of goals as long as the other party also does the same. Hence, it can be viewed as a mutual give-and-take scenario where the parties submit the same amount of investment for the problem to be solved. This approach may be appropriate for scenarios where there is a need of a temporary solution, or where both the parties have equally important goals. A disadvantage of this strategy is the fact that since the parties under conflict find an easy way to the problem, the possibility of coming up with a more creative solution gets neglected.

The five strategies of the conflict management are shown in Fig.1

Five strategy of conflict management

Fig 1 Five strategies of conflict management