30/03/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

Conflict can be defined in many ways and can be considered as an expression of hostility, negative attitudes, antagonism, aggression, rivalry and misunderstanding. It is also associated with situations that involve contradictory or irreconcilable interests between two opposing groups.

A few definitions of conflict are as given below:

“A simple definition of conflict is that it is any tension which is experienced when one person perceives that one’s needs or desires are or are likely to be thwarted or frustrated.” Follett simply defines conflict as, “the appearance of difference, difference of opinions, of interests.”

Chung and Megginson define conflict as, “the struggle between incompatible or struggling needs, wishes, ideas, interests or people. Conflict arises when individuals or groups encounter goals that both parties cannot obtain satisfactorily.”

According to David L. Austin, “It can be defined as a disagreement between two or more individuals or groups, with each individual or group trying to gain acceptance of its view or objectives over others.”

Louis R. Pondy has given a very comprehensive definition of conflict.

According to him the term conflict is used in four ways in the literature to describe:

(i) Antecedent conditions of conflictual behaviour such as scarcity of resources or policy differences;

(ii) Affective states of individuals involved such as stress, tension, hostility, anxiety etc.;

(iii) Cognitive state of individuals, that is their perception or awareness of conflictual situation; and

(iv) conflictual behaviour ranging from passive resistance to over aggression.

Thus, we can say that fighting, hostility and controversy, all of which can be called conflict, are nearly every day fare for individuals and groups, although they are not always evident. It is an absolutely predictable social phenomenon and it should be channeled to useful purposes.

Features of Conflict

From the organizational point of view following are the broad features of conflict:

  1. Conflict occurs when individuals are not able to choose among the available alternative courses of action.
  2. Conflict between two individuals implies that they have conflicting perceptions, values and goals.
  3. Conflict is a dynamic process as it indicates a series of events. Each conflict is made up of a series of interlocking conflict episodes.
  4. Conflict must be perceived by the parties to it. If no one is aware of a conflict, then it is generally agreed that no conflict exists.

Transitions in Conflict Thought

There have been conflicting views over the role of conflict in groups and organizations. There are three different schools of thought emphasizing different roles conflict in organizations.

These three schools of thought are:

(i) The Traditional View

(ii) The Human Relations View

(iii) The Inter-actionist View.

The views of all these schools of thought are explained as:

  1. The Traditional View

According to the traditional view, conflict, by definition, was harmful and was to be avoided. This view was consistent with the attitudes that prevailed about human behaviour in the 1930s and 1940s. Traditionally, conflict was viewed negatively, and it was used synonymously with such terms as violence, destruction and irrationality.

Conflict was seen as a dysfunctional outcome resulting from poor communication, a lack of openness and trust between people and the failures of the managers to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of the employee. Conflict could cause losses in productivity because groups would not cooperate in getting jobs finished and would not share important information. Too much conflict could also distract managers from their work and reduce their concentration on the job.

Thus, traditional writers had a very conservative view about conflict as they considered it totally bad and advocated that conflicts must be avoided, with the result that sometimes; there is a tendency to suppress conflict and push it under the rug. By ignoring the presence of conflict, we somehow try to wish it away.

Both the scientific management approach and the administrative school of management relied heavily on developing such organizational structures that would specify task, rules, regulations procedures and authority relationships so that if a conflict develops, then these inbuilt rules will identify and correct problems of such conflict. Thus, through proper management techniques and attention to the causes of conflict, it could be eliminated and organizational performance improved.

  1. The Human Relations View

The human relations view dominated the conflict theory from the late 1940s through the mid 1970s. The human relations view argued that conflict was a natural occurrence in all groups and organizations. Since conflict was inevitable, management should accept the conflict. This theory says that conflict is avoidable by creating an environment of goodwill and trust.

But still conflicts are bound to happen due to differences in opinions, faulty policies and procedures, lack of cooperation, allocation of resources which will lead to distortion and blockage in communication. Accordingly, management should always be concerned with avoiding conflict if possible and resolving it soon if possible, in the interests of the organization and the individuals.

  1. The Inter-Actionist View

Modern View Point, while the human relations view accepted conflict, the inter-actionist approach encourages conflict. This view is based on the belief that conflict is not only a positive force in a group but is also necessary for a group to perform effectively. This approach encourages conflict. According to it if the group is harmonious, peaceful and cooperative, it is prone to become static and non responsive to the needs for change and innovation. Therefore, the group leader must allow some conflicts to happen in the group, so that the group may remain viable, self critical and creative.

However, conflicts must be kept under control to avoid their dysfunctional consequences. The major contribution of the inter-actionist approach is encouraging group leaders to maintain an ongoing minimum level of conflict, enough to keep the group viable, self critical and creative.

Thus, it becomes evident that to say conflict is all good or bad is in appropriate and naive. Whether a conflict is good or bad depends on the type of conflict. Specifically, it is necessary to differentiate between functional and dysfunctional aspects of conflict.

Functional and Dysfunctional Conflict

The inter-actionist view does not propose that all conflicts are good. There are both positive and negative aspects of conflicts. Boulding recognizes that some optimum level of conflict and associated personal stress and tension are necessary for progress and productivity, but he portrays conflict primarily as a potential and social cost.

Similarly, Kahn views that “one might as well make a case for interpreting some conflict as essential for the continued development of mature and competent human beings, but they feel that conflict has a social cost.”

Thus, we can say that the conflicts which support the goals of the group and improve its performance are known as functional conflicts. On the other hand, there are conflicts that hinder group performance; these are dysfunctional or destructive forms of conflict.

The demarcation between functional and dysfunctional is neither clear nor precise.

Functional Conflicts

If we look at conflict from functional point of view, conflicts are supposed to serve the following functions:

  1. Release of Tension

Conflict when expressed can clear the air and reduce the tension which might otherwise remain suppressed. Suppression of tension can lead to imaginative distortion of truth, sense of frustration and tension, high mental exaggerations and biased opinions resulting in fear and distrust. When members express themselves, they get some psychological satisfaction. This also leads to reduction of stress among the involved members.

  1. Analytical Thinking

When a group is faced with a conflict, the members display analytical thinking in identifying various alternatives. In absence of conflict, they might not have been creative or even might have been lethargic. The conflicts may induce challenge to such views, opinions, rules, policies, goals and plans which would require a critical analysis in order to justify these as they are or make such changes that may be required.

  1. Group Cohesiveness

Inter group conflict brings about closeness and solidarity among the group members. It develops group loyalty and greater sense of group identity in order to compete with the outsiders. This increases the degree of group cohesiveness which can be utilized by the management for the attainment of organisational goals in an effective manner. As cohesiveness increases, differences are forgotten.

  1. Competition

Conflicts promote competition and hence it results in increased efforts. Some persons are highly motivated by conflict and severe competition. Such conflict and competition, thus, lead to high level of effort and output.

  1. Challenge

Conflicts test the abilities and capacities of the individuals and groups. It creates challenges for them for which they have to be dynamic and creative. If they are able to overcome the challenge, it will lead to search for alternatives to existing patterns which leads to organizational change and development.

  1. Stimulation for Change

Sometimes, conflict stimulates change among the people. When they are faced with a conflict, they might change their attitudes and be ready to change themselves to meet the requirements of the situation.

  1. Identification of Weaknesses

When a conflict arises, it may help in identifying the weaknesses in the system. Once the management comes to know about the weaknesses, if can always take the steps to remove them.

  1. Awareness

Conflict creates awareness of what problems exist, who is involved and how to solve the problem. Taking cue from this, management can take the necessary action.

  1. High Quality Decisions

When conflicting, persons express their opposing views and perspectives, high quality decisions result. The people share their information and check each other reasoning to develop new decisions.

  1. Enjoyment

Conflict adds to the fun of working with others when not taken seriously. Many people find conflict enjoyable to competitive sports, games, movies, plays and books.

Dysfunctional Conflicts

The dysfunctional aspects of the conflicts can be visualized in the following ways:

  1. High Employee Turnover

In case of intra-individual and inter-individual conflicts particularly, some dynamic personnel may leave the organization, if they fail to resolve the conflict in their favour. In this case, organization will be the sufferer in the long run due to the loss of key people.

  1. Tensions

Sometimes, conflict can cause high level of tensions among the individuals and groups and a stage may come when it becomes difficult for the management to resolve the conflicts. This will result in anxiety, frustration, uncertainty and hostility among the members.

  1. Dissatisfaction

Conflict will result in discontentment to the losing party, who will wait for an opportunity to settle the score with the winning party. All this tussle will result in less concentration on the job and as a result, the productivity will suffer.

  1. Climate of Distrust

Conflict often creates a climate of distrust and suspicion among the members of the group as well the organization. The degree of cohesiveness will be less as the discords will be more. The concerned people will have negative feelings towards each other and try to avoid interaction with each other.

  1. Personal Vs. Organizational Goals

Conflicts may distract the attention of the members of the organization from organizational goals. They may waste their time and energy in finding ways and tactics to come out as winners in the conflict. Personal victory becomes more important than the organizational goals.

  1. Conflict as a Cost

Conflict is not necessarily a cost for the individuals. But the conflicts may weaken the organization as a whole, if the management is not able to handle them properly. If the management tries to suppress conflicts, they may acquire gigantic proportions in the later stages. And if the management does not interfere in the earlier stages, unnecessary troubles may be invited at the later stages. It is a cost to the organization, because resignations of personnel weaken the organisation, feeling of distrust among members have negative impact on productivity and so on.

Conflicts contained within reasonable limits, thus, serve, several useful purposes and can be functional for individuals, groups and to the institution. However, if conflict is allowed to develop beyond control, it could tend to become destructive, resulting in such adverse situations as strikes, sabotage and other dysfunctional behaviour. There should be an optimum level of conflict that is very useful for the development of that is very useful for the development of creativity, high problem solving behaviours and productivity.

This optimum level is depicted in the following figure:

Optimum Level

Too little conflict creates conditions of inertia, and boredom in the system and excessive conflict results in destructive and dysfunctional tendencies, thus, conflict has to be managed. Managers have to motivate the level of conflict in the system. If there is too little or no conflict at all, he may even have to induce some level of conflict to energies the system. As the level of conflict tends to go beyond the optimum level, the manager must act to resolve the conflict in a manner that will beneficial to the organization.