Conflict management is the practice of being able to identify and handle conflicts sensibly, fairly, and efficiently. Since conflicts in a business are a natural part of the workplace, it is important that there are people who understand conflicts and know how to resolve them. This is important in today’s market more than ever. Everyone is striving to show how valuable they are to the company they work for and at times, this can lead to disputes with other members of the team.
‘Conflict management is the principle that all conflicts cannot necessarily be resolved, but learning how to manage conflicts can decrease the odds of non-productive escalation. Conflict management involves acquiring skills related to conflict resolution, self-awareness about conflict modes, conflict communication skills, and establishing a structure for management of conflict in your environment.’ All members of every organization need to have ways of keeping conflict to a minimum and of solving problems caused by conflict, before conflict becomes a major obstacle to your work.
Characteristics of Conflict
- Conflict is a Process
Conflict occurs in ‘layers’. First layer is always misunderstanding. The other layers are differences of values, differences of viewpoint, differences of interest, and interpersonal differences. It is also called a process because it begins with one party perceiving the other to oppose or negatively affect its interests and ends with competing, collaborating, compromising or avoiding.
- Conflict is Inevitable
Conflict exists everywhere. No two persons are the same. Hence they may have individual differences. And the differences may be because of values or otherwise, lead to conflict. Although inevitable, conflict can be minimized, diverted and/or resolved. Conflict develops because we are dealing with people’s lives, jobs, children, pride, self-concept, ego and sense of mission. Conflict is inevitable and often good, for example, good teams always go through a “form, storm, norm and perform” period.
- Conflict is a Normal Part of Life
Individuals, groups, and organizations have unlimited needs and different values but limited resources. Thus, this incompatibility is bound to lead to conflicts. The conflict is not a problem, but if it is poorly managed then it becomes a problem.
It must be perceived by the parties to it, otherwise it does not exist. In interpersonal interaction, perception is more important than reality. What we perceive and think affects our behaviour, attitudes, and communication.
One party to the conflict must be perceiving or doing something the other party does not like or want.
- Interdependence and Interaction
There must be some kind of real or perceived interdependence. Without interdependence there can be no interaction. Conflict occurs only when some kind of interaction takes place.
- Everyone is inflicted with Conflict
Conflict may occur within an individual, between two or more individuals, groups or between organizations.
- Conflict is not Unidimensional
It comes into different ways in accordance with degree of seriousness and capacity. At times, it may improve even a difficult situation.
Conflict Management Styles
Conflict management must aim at minimizing affective conflicts at all levels, attain and maintain a moderate amount of substantive conflict, and also to match the status and concerns of the two parties in conflict.
Many styles of conflict management behavior have been researched in the past century. Mary Parker Follett described them as domination, compromise, and integration (involves openness, exchanging information, looking for alternatives, and examining differences to solve the problem in a manner that is acceptable to both parties).
She also mentioned avoidance and suppression as other forms of handling conflicts. Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton then presented five styles: forcing, withdrawing, smoothing, compromising, and problem solving. The five styles in currency in 21st century, as shown in Figure.
- Avoidance (Leave-lose/win)
It is non-assertive and non-cooperative. The manager may think or pretend that no conflict exists or just ignore it. This strategy is used when the effort to resolve is not worth the salt. But this approach over the time worsens the situation.
Avoidance might take the form of diplomatic sidestepping the issue or postponing resolution in time to come or simply withdrawing from a situation. A turtle is a symbol for avoidance, because it can avoid everything by pulling its head and legs into the shell to be off to everything.
- Accommodating (Yield-lose/win)
Accommodating is non-assertive and cooperative, just opposite of competing. To solve the conflict, if someone puts his interests last so as to satisfy concerns of other people by giving in, sacrificing, or accepting, or yielding to other’s view point, it is called accommodation.
However, being too accommodating too often can weaken your position to the point where your voice is never heard. There will be high relationship orientation. This style is also used when the new approach is to be used in the very near future. It may solve the conflict for the other party, but a conflict will begin in manager. This style is not objective.
A chameleon is a symbol of the accommodating style since it changes its color to match the color of its environment. By changing its color to accommodate its surroundings, , the chameleon fits quietly into its environment.
- Competing (Win/lose)
The style is assertive and non-cooperative. A person puts his/her interests before anyone else’s interests. It is also known as dominating style. One stands up for his rights and uses all the power to win his position. There is low relationship orientation. Managers, using this style, want others to follow his dictates or get his way.
This style can be used only when one’s leadership is established. There would be low relationship orientation Low relationships orientation a lion can be a symbol of a competitive style. The lion’s roar helps the lion to satisfy its interests.
- Compromising (Mini-win/mini-lose)
It is some assertive and some cooperative. Compromise is on the path toward collaboration, somewhere between competition and accommodation. The style means mutual give-and-take to satisfy both parties, or both may say, “Something is better than nothing.” It has equal distance between competing and accommodating.
There would be negotiated relationship orientation. When the objective is to move on, not to stop the journey, the manager may compromise. A zebra can be a symbol for the compromising style. A zebra’s unique look seems to indicate that it didn’t care if it was a black horse or a white horse, so it “split the difference” and chose black and white stripes.
- Collaborating (Win/win)
It is assertive as well as cooperative, just opposite of avoiding. It may also be called integrative style. This style focuses on satisfying the underlying concerns of both the parties, meeting many current needs by working together. Through this style, employees develop ownership and commitment. Sometimes this style gives birth to new mutual needs.
Types of Conflict
Conflicts can be of different types as described below:
- On the basis of involvement
Conflicts may be intrapersonal (conflict with self), interpersonal (between two persons) and organizational. Organizational conflict, whether real or perceived, is of two types –intra-organizational and inter-organizational. Inter-organizational conflict occurs between two or more organizations.
Different businesses competing against each other are a good example of inter-organizational conflict. Intra-organizational conflict is the conflict within an organization, and can be examined based upon level (e.g. department, work team, individual), and can be classified as interpersonal, intragroup and intergroup.
Interpersonal conflict-once again-whether it is substantive or affective, refers to conflict between two or more individuals (not representing the group of which they are a part of) of the same or different group at the same or different level, in an organization.
Interpersonal conflict can be divided into intergroup and intergroup conflict. While the former— intragroup-occurs between members of a group (or between subgroups within a group), intergroup-occurs between groups or units in an organization.
- On the basis of Scope
Conflicts may be substantive and Affective. A substantive conflict is associated with the job, not individuals, while an affective conflict is drawn from emotions. Substantive conflicts may be over the facts of a situation, the method or means of achieving a solution to the problem, ends or goals, and values. Thus it includes task conflict and process conflict in its scope.
Procedural conflicts can include disagreements about factors such as meeting dates and times, individual task assignments, group organization and leadership, and methods of resolving disagreements. Unresolved procedural conflicts can prevent work on collaborative projects. Substantive conflict can enhance collaborative decision-making. Substantive conflict is also called performance, task, issue, or active conflict.
On the other hand, an affective conflict (also called as relationship or opposite of agreeable conflict) deals with interpersonal relationships or incompatibilities and centres on emotions and frustration between parties.
Affective conflicts can be very destructive to the organization, if remains unresolved. Relationship conflict comes under the scope of affective conflicts. An affective conflict is nearly always disruptive to collaborative decision-making. The conflict causes members to be negative, irritable, suspicious, and resentful.
For example, when collaborators disagree on the recognition and solution to a task problem because of personal prejudices (e.g. prejudices stemming from strong social, political, economic, racial, religious, ethnic, philosophical, or interpersonal biases) they are seldom able to focus on the task.
The two concepts are related to each other. If one could make a distinction between good and bad conflict, substantive would be good and affective conflict would be bad. Substantive conflict deals with disagreements among group members about the content of the tasks being performed or the performance itself.
- On the basis of Results
Conflict can be Constructive or Destructive, creative or restricting, and positive or negative. Destructive conflicts are also known as dysfunctional conflicts, because such conflicts prevent a group from attaining its goals.
Conflict is destructive when it takes attention away from other important activities, undermines morale or self-concept, polarises people and groups, reduces cooperation, increases or sharpens difference, and leads to irresponsible and harmful behaviour, such as fighting, name-calling.
On the other hand, constructive conflicts are also known as functional conflicts, because they support the group goals and help in improving performance. Conflict is constructive when it results in clarification of important problems and issues, results in solutions to problems, involves people in resolving issues important to them, causes authentic communication, helps release emotion, anxiety, and stress, builds cooperation among people through learning more about each other; joining in resolving the conflict, and helps individuals develop understanding and skills.
- On the basis of Sharing by Groups
Conflicts may be Distributive and Integrative. Distributive conflict is approached as a distribution of a fixed amount of positive outcomes or resources, where one side will end up winning and the other losing, even if they do win some concessions.
On the other hand, integrative – Groups utilizing the integrative model see conflict as a chance to integrate the needs and concerns of both groups and make the best outcome possible. This type of conflict has a greater emphasis on compromise than the distributive conflict. It has been found that the integrative conflict results in consistently better task related outcomes than the distributive conflict.
- On the basis of Strategy
Conflicts may be competitive and cooperative. Competitive conflict is accumulative. The original issue that began the conflict becomes irrelevant. The original issue is more of a pretext than a cause of the conflict. Competitive conflict is marked by the desire to win the fight or argument, even if winning costs more and causes more pain than not fighting at all.
Costs do not matter in competitive conflict, and therefore, irrationality remains its main mark. Competitive conflict is characterized by fear, which is one of the important ingredients in a conflict becoming irrational. If one is personally invested in the outcome, this too leads to irrational conclusions, especially if issues of self-esteem, whether personal or national, are involved.
Competitive conflict can either begin by, or be rationalized by, conflicts of ideology or principle. Even more, when the desire to win overtakes any specific reason for the conflict, irrationally develops.
Importantly in history, when powers are roughly equal, such as the World War I alliances were, conflict that becomes competitive and irrational nearly always develops. In economic competition customers are the winners and the firms may be at risk. But in sports competition is encouraged.
In a cooperative situation the goals are so linked that everybody ‘sinks or swims’ together, while in the competitive situation if one swims, the other must sink. A cooperative approach aligns with the process of interest-based or integrative bargaining, which leads parties to seek win-win solutions. Disputants that work cooperatively to negotiate a solution are more likely to develop a relationship of trust and come up with mutually beneficial options for settlement.
- On the basis of Rights and Interests
Conflict of rights means where people are granted certain rights by law or by contract or by previous agreement or by established practice. If such a right is denied, it will lead to conflict. Such a conflict is settled by legal decision or arbitration, not negotiation.
On the other hand conflict of interests means where a person or group demands certain privileges, but there is no law or right in existence. Such a dispute can be settled only through negotiation or collective bargaining.
Stages of Conflict
A manager must know various stages of conflict to handle it. The solution to conflict becomes easy before it becomes serious, if he knows of the real issue behind the conflict and how the conflict developed. Normally a conflict passes through the following stages:
- People recognise lack of resources, diversity of language or culture. Sensitiveness may possibly result in conflict.
- If there are serious differences between two or among more than two groups, the latent conflict in a competitive situation may turn out into conflict.
- An incident may trigger a latent conflict into an open conflict
- Once a problem has been solved, the potential for conflict still remains in the aftermath. In fact the potential is bigger than before, if one party perceives that the resolution has resulted into win-lose situation.
Causes/ Reasons/Sources of Conflicts
Conflicts may be caused by any one or more of the following reasons
- Cognitive (Recognition and Understanding) Dissonance (Difference of opinion)
It is a conflict between convergent (ability to narrow the number of possible solutions to a problem by applying logic and knowledge) and divergent thinking (thinking outwards instead of inward).
Status is a state, condition, or situation. When there is a need for status and a “wrong” person is promoted.
A party is required to engage in an activity that is incongruent with his or her needs or interests.
A party holds behavioural preferences like attitudes, values, skills, goals, and perceptions, the satisfaction of which is incompatible with another person’s implementation of his or her preferences. Economics: Insufficient remuneration to employees.
Conflicts from stress from external sources; i.e., functional or dysfunctional situations. Poor or Inadequate Organizational Structure and Lack of Teamwork.
- Seeking Power
Often a conflict for power struggle takes place when everyone wants to be a leader and nobody wants to be a follower.
- Weak Leadership
Conflict is bound to result if someone of less stature leads a more qualified and experienced worker.
Arbitrary interpretation and application of rules and policies: Lack of transparency and openness creates dissatisfaction among the affected people.