Many people automatically assume that conflict is related to lower group and organizational performance. This chapter has demonstrated that this assumption is frequently incorrect. Conflict can be either constructive or destructive to the functioning of a group or unit. Levels of conflict can be either too high or too low. Either extreme hinders performance. An optimal level is where there is enough conflict to prevent stagnation, stimulate creativity, allow tensions to be released, and initiate the seeds for change, yet not so much as to be disruptive or deter coordination of activities.

Inadequate or excessive levels of conflict can hinder the effectiveness of a group or an organization, resulting in reduced satisfaction of group members, increased absence and turnover rates, and, eventually, lower productivity. On the other hand, when conflict is at an optimal level, complacency and apathy should be minimized, motivation should be enhanced through the creation of a challenging and questioning environment with a vitality that makes work interesting, and there should be the amount of turnover needed to rid the organization of misfits and poor performers.

What advice can we give managers faced with excessive conflict and the need to reduce it? Do not assume there is one conflict-handling intention that will always be best! You should select an intention appropriate for the situation. The following provides some guidelines:

Use competition when quick, decisive action is vital (in emergencies); on important issues, where unpopular actions need implementing (in cost cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline); on issues vital to the organization’s welfare when you know you are right; and against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.

Use collaboration to find an integrative solution when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised; when your objective is to learn; to merge insights from people with different perspectives; to gain commitment by incorporating concerns into a consensus; and to work through feelings that have interfered with a relationship.

Use avoidance when an issue is trivial, or more important issues are pressing; when you perceive no chance of satisfying your concerns; when potential disruption outweighs the benefits of resolution; to let people cool down and regain perspective; when gathering information supersedes immediate decision; when others can resolve the conflict more effectively; and when issues seem tangential or symptomatic of other issues.

Use accommodation when you find you are wrong and to allow a better position to be heard, to learn, and to show your reasonableness; when issues are more important to others than yourself and to satisfy others and maintain cooperation; to build social credits for later issues; to minimize loss when you are outmatched and losing; when harmony and stability are especially important; and to allow employees to develop by learning from mistakes.

Use compromise when goals are important but not worth the effort of potential disruption of more assertive approaches; when opponents with equal power are committed to mutually exclusive goals; to achieve temporary settlements to complex issues; to arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure; and as a backup when collaboration or competition is unsuccessful.


The process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party

“A process which begins when one party perceives that the other is frustrated, or is about to frustrate, some concern of his (or her)”

  • Perceived by the parties
  • Parties are in opposition to one another
  • At least one party is blocking the goal attainment of the other party
  • Goals can be tangible or psychological
  • Money
  • Task Achievement
  • Happiness

Types of Conflict

Task conflict

Conflict over content and goals of the work

Relationship conflict

Conflict based on interpersonal relationships

Process conflict

Conflict over how work gets done

Nature of Organizational Conflict

Conflict - any situation in which incompatible goals, attitudes, emotions, or behaviors lead to disagreement or opposition between two or more parties

  • Functional Conflict - a healthy, constructive disagreement between two or more people
  • Dysfunctional Conflict - an unhealthy, destructive disagreement between two or more people.

Forms of Conflict in Organizations

Interorganizational Conflict – conflict that occurs between two or more organizations Intergroup Conflict – conflict that occurs between groups or teams in an organization Interpersonal Conflict -conflict that occurs between two or more individuals Intrapersonal Conflict – conflict that occurs within an individual Interrole Conflict -a person’s

organizational behavior  CONFLICT AND NEGOTIATION

experience of conflict among the multiple roles in his/her life Intrarole Conflict – conflict that occurs within a single role, such as when a person receives conflicting messages from role senders about how to perform a certain role Person-role Conflict – conflict that occurs when an individual is expected to perform behaviors in a certain role that conflict with his/her personal values First is the presence of conditions that create opportunities for conflict to arise. Three general categories: communication, structure, and personal variables

1. Communication

  • Communication as a source of conflict represents those opposing forces that arise from semantic difficulties, misunderstandings, and “noise” in the communication channels.
  • Differing word connotations, jargon, insufficient exchange of information, and noise in the communication channel are all barriers to communication and potential antecedents to conflict.
  • Semantic difficulties are a result of differences in training, selective perception, and inadequate information.
  • The potential for conflict increases when either too little or too much communication takes place.
  • The channel chosen for communicating can have an influence on stimulating opposition

2. Structure

The term structure includes variables such as size, degree of specialization, jurisdictional clarity, member-goal compatibility, leadership styles, reward systems, and the degree of dependence.

  • Size and specialization act as forces to stimulate conflict. The larger the group and more specialized its activities, the greater the likelihood of conflict.
  • The potential for conflict is greatest where group members are younger and turnover is high.
  • The greater the ambiguity in responsibility for actions lies, the greater the potential for conflict.
  • The diversity of goals among groups is a major source of conflict.
  • A close style of leadership increases conflict potential.
  • Too much reliance on participation may also stimulate conflict.
  • Reward systems, too, are found to create conflict when one member’s gain is at another’s expense.
  • Finally, if a group is dependent on another group, opposing forces are stimulated.

3. Personal variables

  • Include individual value systems and personality characteristics. Certain personality types lead to potential conflict.
  • Most important is differing value systems. Value differences are the best explanation for differences of opinion on various matters.
  • Stage II: Cognition and Personalization
  • Antecedent conditions lead to conflict only when the parties are affected by and aware of it.
  • Conflict is personalized when it is felt and when individuals become emotionally involved.
  • This stage is where conflict issues tend to be defined and this definition delineates the possible settlements.
  • Second, emotions play a major role in shaping perceptions.
  • Negative emotions produce oversimplification of issues, reductions in trust, and negative interpretations of the other party’s behavior.
  • Positive feelings increase the tendency to see potential relationships among the elements of a problem, to take a broader view of the situation, and to develop more innovative solutions.
  • Stage III: Intentions
  • Intentions are decisions to act in a given way.
  • Why are intentions separated out as a distinct stage? Merely one party attributing the wrong intentions to the other escalates a lot of conflicts.
  • One author’s effort to identify the primary conflict-handling intentions is represented.
  • Cooperativeness—“the degree to which one party attempts to satisfy the other party’s concerns.”
  • Assertiveness—“the degree to which one party attempts to satisfy his or her own concerns.”

Five conflict-handling intentions can be identified as:

  • Competing: When one person seeks to satisfy his or her own interests, regardless of the impact on the other parties to the conflict
  • Collaborating: When the parties to conflict each desire to fully satisfy the concerns of all parties. The intention is to solve the problem by clarifying differences rather than by accommodating.
  • Avoiding: A person may recognize that a conflict exists and want to withdraw from it or suppress it.
  • Accommodating: When one party seeks to appease an opponent, that party is willing to be self-sacrificing.
  • Compromising: When each party to the conflict seeks to give up something, sharing occurs, resulting in a compromised outcome. There is no clear winner or loser, and the solution provides incomplete satisfaction of both parties’ concerns.

Intentions provide general guidelines for parties in a conflict situation. They define each party’s purpose, but they are not fixed. They might change because of re-conceptualization or because of an emotional reaction. However, individuals have preferences among the five conflict-handling intentions. It may be more appropriate to view the five conflict-handling intentions as relatively fixed rather than as a set of options from which individuals choose to fit an appropriate situation.

D. Stage IV: Behavior

  • Stage IV is where conflicts become visible. The behavior stage includes the statements, actions, and reactions made by the conflicting parties. These conflict behaviors are usually overt attempts to implement each party’s intentions.
  • Stage IV is a dynamic process of interaction; conflicts exist somewhere along a continuum.
  • At the lower part of the continuum, conflicts are characterized by subtle, indirect, and highly controlled forms of tension.
  • Conflict intensities escalate as they move upward along the continuum until they become highly destructive.
  • Functional conflicts are typically confined to the lower range of the continuum.
  • Stage V: Outcomes

Outcomes may be functional—improving group performance, or dysfunctional in hindering it.

  • Functional outcomes
  • How might conflict act as a force to increase group performance?
  • Conflict is constructive when it:
  • Improves the quality of decisions.
  • Stimulates creativity and innovation.
  • Encourages interest and curiosity.
  • Provides the medium through which problems can be aired and tensions released.
  • Fosters an environment of self-evaluation and change.
  • The evidence suggests that conflict can improve the quality of decision-making.
  • Conflict is an antidote for groupthink.
  • Conflict challenges the status quo, furthers the creation of new ideas, promotes reassessment of group goals and activities, and increases the probability that the group will respond to change.
  • Research studies in diverse settings confirm the functionality of conflict.
  • The comparison of six major decisions made during the administration of four different US presidents found that conflict reduced the chance of groupthink.
  • When groups analyzed decisions that had been made by the individual members of that group, the average improvement among the high-conflict groups was 73 percent greater than was that of those groups characterized by low-conflict conditions.
  • Increasing cultural diversity of the workforce should provide benefits to organizations.
  • Heterogeneity among group and organization members can increase creativity, improve the quality of decisions, and facilitate change by enhancing member flexibility.
  • The ethnically diverse groups produced more effective and more feasible ideas and higher quality, unique ideas than those produced by the all-Anglo group.
  • Similarly, studies of professionals—systems analysts and research and development scientists— support the constructive value of conflict.
  • An investigation of 22 teams of systems analysts found that the more incompatible groups were likely to be more productive.
  • Research and development scientists have been found to be most productive where there is a certain amount of intellectual conflict.

Transitions in Conflict Thought

1) The traditional view of conflict argues that it must be avoided—it indicates a malfunctioning with the group.

2) The human relations view argues that conflict is a natural and inevitable outcome in any group and that it need not be evil, but has the potential to be a positive force in determining group performance.

3) The inter-actionist approach proposes that conflict can be a positive force in a group but explicitly argues that some conflict is absolutely necessary for a group to perform effectively.

4) This early approach assumed that all conflict was bad. Conflict was synonymous with such terms that reinforced its negative connotation. By definition, it was harmful and was to be avoided.

5) This view was consistent with the prevailing attitudes about group behavior in the 1930s and 1940s. Conflict was seen as a dysfunctional outcome resulting from poor communication, a lack of openness and trust between people, and the failure of managers to be responsive to their employees.

Functional vs. Dysfunctional Conflict

1.  Not all conflicts are good. Functional, constructive forms of conflict support the goals of the group and improve its performance. Conflicts that hinder group performance are dysfunctional or destructive forms of conflict.

2.  What differentiates functional from dysfunctional conflict? You need to look at the type of conflict.

3.  Task conflict relates to the content and goals of the work. Low-to-moderate levels of task conflict are functional and consistently demonstrate a positive effect on group performance because it stimulates discussion, improving group performance.

  • Relationship conflict focuses on interpersonal relationships.
  • These conflicts are almost always dysfunctional.
  • The friction and interpersonal hostilities inherent in relationship conflicts increase personality clashes and decrease mutual understanding.
  • Process conflict relates to how the work gets done.
  • Low-levels of process conflict are functional and could enhance team performance.
  • For process conflict to be productive, it must be kept low.
  • Intense arguments create uncertainty.

Causes of conflict

  • Vertical conflict.
  • Occurs between hierarchical levels.
  • Horizontal conflict.
  • Occurs between persons or groups at the same hierarchical level.
  • Line-staff conflict.

• Involves disagreements over who has authority and control over specific matters.

How can conflict be managed successfully?

Pondy’s model suggests several methods to resolve conflicts. In collaboration, each side works toward a solution to satisfy its own goals plus the goals of the other side—both parties are better off after conflict resolution. In compromise, both parties negotiate to reach a mutually acceptable solution, but not necessarily one that achieves their goals

A primary responsibility of managers is to help subordinates resolve their disputes. Some managers spend much time managing conflict. Several techniques are helpful in managing conflict so that it results in functional rather than dysfunctional outcomes. These techniques concern changing attitudes and behaviors, changing task relationships, and changing the organizational structure or situation.

Individual-Level Conflict Management

Education and training helps resolve conflict. Sensitivity training or diversity awareness programs help employees appreciate different attitudes.

Job rotation and temporary assignments in other departments help people see another perspective. Promotions, transfers, and firings remove individuals from conflict situation.

Group-Level Conflict Management

At the group level, physically separating groups or changing task relationships means they no longer interact. Contact between groups occurs through people with integrating roles. Managers develop rules, procedures, and common goals to coordinate group activities.

These methods temporarily resolve a conflict because the underlying causes are not addressed. Many organizations resolve conflict at its source, through individual-level conflict management techniques or letting the groups to work out a joint solution.

Negotiation is a process in which groups with conflicting interests meet to make offers, counteroffers, and concessions to resolve differences. Negotiations may include a third-party negotiator—an outsider skilled in handling bargaining and negotiation—who helps find a solution.

The third party acts as a mediator, taking a neutral stance and helping parties reconcile their differences. If no solution is reached, the third party acts as an arbiter, or judge, imposing a solution.

Two processes occur in any negotiation situation: (1) distributive bargaining, in which parties decide how resources are distributed, and (2) attitudinal structuring, in which parties try to influence their opponent’s attitudes, perhaps appearing aggressive to increase their resource share or by appearing conciliatory to preserve a relationship.

Negotiation and bargaining are difficult processes in which a lot of give-and-take and posturing occurs. The process usually takes several months because the parties discover what they can and cannot get.

Organizational-Level Conflict Management

Conflict can be managed by changing the organization’s structure and culture to lessen conflict. Managers can clarify task and reporting relationships, change differentiation (e.g., move from a functional to divisional structure), increase integration, or use culture to create values and norms shared by people in different functions and divisions. These methods eliminating some conflict and increasing communication.

Although conflict can never be eliminated, conflict management techniques directed toward the individual, group, and organizational levels make conflict more functional.

The issue of “who wins?”

Lose-lose conflict.

  • Occurs when nobody gets what he or she wants.
  • Avoidance, accommodation or smoothing, and compromise are forms of lose-lose


  • Win-lose conflict.
  • One part achieves its desires at the expense and to the exclusion of the other party’s desires.
  • Competition and authoritative command are forms of win-lose conflict.
  • Win-win conflict.
  • Both parties achieve their desires.
  • Collaboration or problem solving are forms of win-win conflict.
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