Conflict and Conflict Resolution in Organizations

Conflict and Conflict Resolution in Organizations

Actions taken by individuals to block or interfere with others’ interests, because of perceptions of incompatible interests and the belief that others may be interfering with the perceiver’s interests may result in Conflict. Interactive behavior is bound to take place at various levels of the organization and these can often lead to conflict.
There are various theories of the organisation as a co-operative or a conflict-ridden structure. Conflict can exist at an individual or group level. The main aim of grievance and disciplinary procedures is to provide the standard means for resolving conflict. The last resort, for either employer or employee, will be to terminate the contract, but steps will usually be taken to sort out problems before this stage.
The employer, in resolving conflict, employs disciplinary procedures and the employee adopts grievance procedures – but both should be clearly defined. Both procedures, when seen together, are ways of policing unacceptable behaviour.
Hopefully, industrial action and its harmful effects on corporate performance may be mitigated. At the very least, standard procedures will minimize the problem of adopting different treatments for similar incidents. Additionally, employers will have a stronger legal case – should this be necessary – if they have adopted standard procedures, such as the ACAS code.
There can be various types of conflict that can take place at individual level which are:

A. Intraindividual Conflict

Conflict due to Frustration: An individual’s behaviour can well be explained in the traditional need-drive-goal model of motivation. As it happens, the achievement of goals is often frustrated in the day-to-day life of an individual and thus resulting in conflict within the person. These conflicts due to frustration take place essentially because of presence of barriers to goal achievement. These frustration may often trigger various defensive behaviours in the individual, viz. aggression, withdrawal, fixation etc.
Goal conflict
This particular type of conflict may arise due to competing goals and can be of three specific types:
Approach-approach conflict, where the individual is motivated to two or more positive but mutually exclusive goals.
Approach-avoidance conflict, where the individual is motivated to approach a goal and at the same time is motivated to avoid it.
Avoidance-avoidance conflict, where the individual is motivated to avoid two or more negative but mutually exclusive goals.
Role conflict
Roles are expectations from a person in a particular position. There are various types of conflict that may arise out of the role perception or lack of clarity.

B. Interpersonal Conflict

Interpersonal conflicts frequently take place in the organization. The sources of such conflicts may be as follows:
Personal Difference. Everyone is having a unique background which creates differences in their value, beliefs, perceptions etc. and thereby making it difficult to have agreement all the time.
Information Deficiency. Quite often the bitterness and ill feelings among people ensues only because of the lack of adequate available information
Role Incompatibility. This type of conflict arises because primarily of the role conflicts.
Just for Laughs: The boss was complaining in our staff meeting the other day that he wasn’t getting any respect. Later that morning he went to a local card and novelty shop and bought a small sign that read, “I’m the Boss”. He then taped it to his office door. Later that day when he returned from lunch, he found that someone had taped a note to the sign that said. “Your wife called, she wants her sign back!”
Social psychologists have been concerned about intergroup conflict and hostility for a number of years. Intergroup behavior is even specifically identified as follows: “intergroup behavior occurs whenever individuals belonging to one group interact, collectively or individually, with another group or its members in terms of their reference group identification.
One way to look at organizations, however, is in terms of interacting individuals, one could think of it as consisting of interacting and overlapping role sets.
Interacting and Overlapping Role Sets. The role concept used in analyzing intra- individual conflict can also be used in the understanding of intergroup behavior. In particular, all organizational participants have certain expectations of others and of themselves concerning what is involved in their roles. The organization could be thought of as a set of such roles, and when these roles are in interaction with one another, the organization could more realistically be pictured as a system of overlapping role sets; this often results in conflict.
Robert L. Kahn is most closely associated with the role-set theory of organization. In Kahn’s view the organization is made up of overlapping and interlocking role sets. These role sets would normally transcend the boundaries of the classical conception of organizations. Figure 10.5 gives an example of the interacting role – set concept of organization. The figure shows only three possible role sets from a large manufacturing organization. The purchasing agent, executive vice president, and design engineer are called the focal persons of the sets shown. The supplier’s and consultant’s roles are vital in their respective sets but would not be included within traditional organizational boundaries. They are external to the classical organization. The design engineer is a member of the purchas-ing agent’s role set but is also a focal person for anther role set. The production manager is shown as a member of two role sets. The overlaps can result in role conflicts and ambiguities. Such dynamics become important in intergroup conflict analysis.

C. Intergroup Conflict

Antecedents to Intergroup Conflict: Several antecedent conditions have been identified for explaining intergroup conflict. These can be summarized as follows:
Competition for resources. Most organizations today have very limited resources. Groups within the organization vie for budget funds, space, supplies, personnel, and support services.
Task interdependence. If two groups in the organization depend on one another in a mutual way or even one-way (as in a sequential technological process), there tends to be more conflict than if groups are independent of one another. The more diverse the objectives, priorities, and personnel are of the interdependent groups (for example, research and production), the more conflict there tends to be.
Jurisdictional ambiguity. This may involve “turf” problems or overlapping responsibilities. For example, conflict might occur when one group attempts to assume more control or take credit for desirable activities, or give up its part and any responsibility for undesirable activities.
Status struggles. This conflict occurs when one group attempts to improve its status and another group views this as a threat to its place in the status hierarchy. One group may also feel it is being inequality treated in comparison with another group of equal status in terms of rewards, job assignments, working conditions privileges, or status symbols. Human resources departments typically feel they are treated inequitably in relation to sales, finance, or production departments.

The Impact of, and Strategies for, Intergroup Conflict

Presenting interacting groups in terms of overlapping role sets and some antecedents provides a better understanding of the dynamics and resulting conflict that can occur. Groups in conflict have much different behavior from that of smoothly cooperating groups. There is evidence that groups in conflict change both internally and in relation to one another. “Unfortu-nately, these changes generally result in either a continuance or an escalation of the conflict.” In particular, after searching the relevant literature, Daft identified the following characteristics of groups in conflict:
There is a clear distinction and comparison between “we” (the in-group ) and “they” (the out-group).
A group that feels it is in conflict with another group becomes more cohesive and pulls together to present a solid front to defeat the other group.
The positive feelings and cohesion within the in-group do not transfer to the members of the out-group. The members of the out-group are viewed as the enemy rather than as neutrals.
Threatened group members feel superior – they overestimate their strength and underestimate that of members of other groups.
The amount of communication between conflicting groups decreases. When there is communication, it is characterized by negative comments and hostility.
If a group is losing in a conflict, the member’s cohesion decreases and they experience increased tension among themselves. They look for a scapegoat to blame their failure on.
The intergroup conflict and resulting hostility are not the result of neurotic tendencies on the part of individual members. These seem to be a product of group interaction, even when individuals in the group are normal and well adjusted.
The above findings from research help describe and provide an understanding of the behavior of conflicting groups in organizations, such as unions and management, production and sales, office personnel and operating personnel, nurses and doctors, and faculty and administrators. There is even some evidence that gender may affect intergroup behavior. Research indicates that although men and women are equally adept at helping groups solve conflict, women tend to seek changes in future behavior while men tend to push for more immediate results.
There is also recent theoretical analysis indicating the importance that the origin of the group (for example, mandated versus voluntary) and the degree of externally imposed task structure (for example, high versus low) may have on the outcomes of intergroup interactions. For example, mandated groups with high external task structure are predicted to have low member satisfaction and minimal quality of output while voluntary groups with low external task structure are predicted to have high member satisfaction and high quality of output. These indications, of course, need to be tested by empirical research, but if the model proves predictive, it could greatly help managers make better decisions in forming and structuring interacting groups.
There are a number of possible strategies that can be employed to reduce the conflict. These can be grouped into four major types:
Avoidance. This type of strategy attempts to keep the conflict from surfacing at all. Examples would be to simply ignore the conflict or impose a solution. This strategy may be appropriate if the conflict is trivial or if quick action is needed to prevent the conflict from occurring.
Defusion. Under this strategy, an attempt is made to deactivate the conflict and cool off the emotions and hostilities of the groups involved. Examples would include trying to “smooth things over” by playing down the importance and magnitude of the conflict or of established super ordinate goals that need the cooperation of the conflicting groups in order to be accomplished. This strategy is appropriate where a stopgap measure is needed or when the groups have a mutually important goal.
Containment. Under this strategy, some conflict is allowed to surface, but it is carefully contained by spelling out which issues are to be discussed and how they are to be resolved. To carry out this strategy, the problems and procedures may be structured, and representatives from the conflicting parties may be allowed to negotiate and bargain within the structure established. This strategy is appropriate where open discussions have failed and the conflicting groups are of equal power.
Confrontation. Under this strategy, which is at the other end of the continuum from avoidance, all the issues are brought into the open, and the conflicting groups directly confront the issues and each other in an attempt to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. This strategy may involve mutual problem solving or even formally redesigning jobs or responsibilities in order to resolve the conflict. Confrontation is most appropriate when there is a minimum level of trust, when time is not critical, and when the groups need to cooperate to get the job done effectively.
There are many other strategies that could be used besides those described above. For example, conflict management techniques such as the following can be used: super ordinate goal (a common goal that is appealing to conflicting groups); the reduction of interdependence between the conflicting groups; expanding resources so that competition between the groups is minimized; mutual problem solving to get the conflicting groups conflicting groups together in a face – to – face meeting; creation of a formal appeals system; and merging conflicting groups.

Conflict between groups

Conflicts of interest may exist throughout the organisation – or even for a single individual. There may be conflicts of interest between local management of a branch or subsidiary and the organisation as a whole.
Sales and production departments in a manufacturing firm (over scheduling, product variation)
Trade unions and management.
Interest groups such as trade unions tend to wield greater power in conflict situations than their members as individuals. Trade Unions are organisations whose purpose it is to promote their members’ interests. (Strike action has to be preceded by a ballot.)

D. Organizational Conflict

So far, in this chapter has focused, in turn, on intraindividual, interpersonal, and intergroup conflict. All these types of conflict take place within the organizational setting. Now attention is directed at organizational conflict per se, but it must be remembered that intraindividual, interpersonal, and intergroup conflict are all inherent in organizational conflict.

Structural Conflict

Individuals in the organization have many conflicting organiza-tional cross pressures operating on them. For example, in the classical organization there are four predominant types of structural conflict:
Hierarchical conflict. There may be conflict between the various levels of the organization. The board of directors may be in conflict with top management, middle management may be in conflict with supervisory personnel, or there may be general conflict between management and the workers.
Functional conflict. There may be conflict between the various functional departments of the organization. Conflict between the production and marketing departments discussed earlier is a classic example.
Line – staff conflict There may be conflict between line and staff. It often results from situations in which staff personnel do not formally possess authority over line personnel.
Formal – informal conflict. There may be conflict between the formal and informal organizations. For example, the informal organization’s norms for performance may be incompatible with the formal organization’s norms for performance.
The existence of conflict in organisations might be considered inevitable or unnatural, depending on your viewpoint.
Point to ponder: “participation is an excellent method for identifying differences and resolving conflicts.” Do you agree or disagree? Discuss.