Handling Conflict in Organization


Lecturer Management
Charki Dadri


Organizations are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to thrive. If turf war, disagreement, and differences of opinion escalate into conflict you must intervene immediately. Conflict in the organization can be constructive or destructive for an organization. Most of the time it is destructive affecting morale, productivity and even turnover. In fact, the Chinese character for "conflict" represents two meanings, opportunity and danger. As a manager you need to find and focus on how to make it beneficial and how to minimize the negative aspects. As the CEO, you have to create an organizational culture that encourage and even rewards good conflict management, your goal has to be to increase the benefits achieved from managing and encouraging beneficial conflict, like task and process conflict, while managing, resolving and reducing the negative effects of relationship conflict. This article looks in to how to manage conflict in the organization. It provides definite positive and negative consequences, theory, type, example, current research results, conflict management strategies with their related studies, and resolution process of conflict. Different writers have defined organizational conflict in different way. The common key words, which are used in these definitions, are frustration, incongruence, incompatibility and mismatch. There are six levels of conflict: Intra-individual conflict, Inter-individual conflict, Intra-group conflict, Inter-group conflict, Intra-organizational conflict and Inter-organizational conflict. Another important organizational concept is the "Organizational Commitment". The four approaches to study and conceptualize OC are: Attitudinal approach, Behavioral approach, normative approach and Multidimensional approach. This paper is an attempt to understand the causes, consequences and types of conflicts and suggest remedial steps for the smooth functioning of the organization.


The concept of conflict may be understood as collision or disagreement. The conflict may be with an individual when there is an incompatibility between his or her own goal and event; may be between two individual or between two groups of orgnization. According to Chaung and Megginson conflict is "the struggle between incompatible or opposing needs, wishes, ideas, interest or people". Conflict arises when individual or group encounter goal that both parties cannot obtain satisfactorily. The term conflict, evasion fights, roits or wars have become pervasive and, in fact, virtually every day of every year one can find dozens of armed combat situation somewhere in the world. These are more violent expression of conflict but a manager encounters more stubble and non-violent type of opposition such as arguments, criticism and disagreement. Conflict can be positive and negative-constructive or destructive. It may be cognitive or affective. Cognitive conflict refers to differences in perspectives or judgments about issues. Affective conflict is emotional and directed at other people. Affective conflict is likely to be destructive because it can lead to anger, bitterness, goal displacement and poor decisions. Cognitive conflict, on the other hand can air legitimate difference of opinion and develop better idea and solution to problem, when conflict occurs within the company team and between the team and outsider it can reduce morale, lower productivity increase absenteeism and cause smaller large scale to serious and violent behavior.

There are three types of conflict in the orgnization-task, process and relationship. Task conflict relates to the content and goal of the work. According to Graves, task conflict arises among members of team and affects the goals and tasks they are striving to achieve.  It can be based on differences in vision, intention or qualities expectation. It is essential to focus and channel any task conflict so that these differences become collaborative and lead to improvements in the way and go about accomplishing current and future task. Converting conflict to friendly competition might be one way or taking the best from both sides.

Then there is process conflict, which is related to how the work gets done. This form of conflict centers around, the process, procedures, steps or methods used to reach goal. One person might like to plan many steps ahead while others might like to dive in headfirst. These differences in approaches or processes can lead to communication breakdowns and ultimately conflict. But task, process conflict can be useful if managed correctly. Healthy differences in approaches to process will often lead to improved way of doing job.

Relationship conflicts focus on interpersonal relationship. They are directly between people and may be over roles style, resources or even personalities. This conflict can penetrate and damage all aspect of an organization. Relationship conflict can quickly demand all the attention and energy.

Positive Consequences of Conflict:

* Increased involvement
* Increased cohesion
* Increased innovation and creativity
* Personal growth and change
* Clarification of key issues
* Organizational vibrancy
* Individual and group identities
* Major stimulant for change
* Group thinking is avoided
* A minimum level of conflict is optimal

Negative consequences of conflict

* Unresolved anger
* Personality clashes
* Less self esteem
* Inefficiency
* Diversion of energy from work
* Psychology well being threatened
* Wastage of resources
* Negative climate
* Group cohesion disrupted
* Create stress in people
* Frustration

According to Julie Gatlin, Allen Wysocki, there are eight common causes of conflict

Conflict needs;

Whenever people compete for scare resources recognition and power conflict can occur.

Conflicting styles

Because individual bear unique, they all have different styles, everyone should understand their own style and learn how to work with others who have different style.

Conflicting perceptions;

In this people may view the same incident in dramatically different ways memos, performance reviews, rumors and hallway comments can be sources for conflicting perception.

Conflicting goals

Problem can occur when people are responsible for different duties in achieving the same goal.

Conflicting roles

This conflict occurs when one task is assigned to more than one person

Different personal values

Differing personal values politics, religion, can cause conflict, color ethnicity differences can lead to conflict

Unpredictable policies

Whenever policies are changed inconsistently applied or non-existent misunderstanding are likely to occur. The absence of clear policies or policies that are constantly changing can create an environment of conflict.

Related studies

* Turk (2000) He done his study upon 1400 worker conducted at the university of North Carolina measured the fallout of workplace conflict. 53 per cent of those survey said "they lost time at work" 37 per cent said " there commitment to the employer decrease due to conflict. 12 per cent said" conflict cause them to leave the job"

* Gatlin (2007) In his study he found that one in three worker were in workplace conflict each week. This study also finds that this conflict is bad for their health.

* David (2004) in his research at the university of Washington business school. He found that one disagreeable worker can lead to decrease group perform.

Commonly used conflict management strategies

Whenever we face a problem related with organizational conflict the solution are there in the form of conflict management strategies

The strategies commonly adopted by the organization are as follows:

1. Collaboration

In collaborating, the intention of the parties is to solve the problem by clarifying differences rather than by accommodating various points of view. It's a kind of win-win solution that allows both parties to achieve their goals. The use of collaborations is inappropriate when time is of the essence, issues are unimportant, and goals of other party are wrong or illegal.

2. Compromising

It is a well-accepted strategy for resolving conflict. In it there is no clear winner or loser. It is a kind of situation in which each party is willing to give up something. It's use is appropriate when cooperation is important but time /resources are limited or finding an outcome, even less than best is better than being without any solution. It is not suitable when creative solution is essential.

3. Avoidance

In this the conflicting parties may either withdraw or conceal the incompatibility.

4. Competition

It is a kind of win-lose approach in which a person seeks to satisfy his or her own interest, regardless of the impact on the other parties to the conflict.

5. Accommodation

It's a kind of lose win situation in it one parties seeks to appease an opponent, that party may be willing to place opponents interest above his or her own. in short one party willing to be self sacrificing.

Related studies

Mayer, Claude (May 2008)
examined conflict between south African manager this study has been undertaken in the department of management at Rhodes university in Grahamstawn.the study aimed at collection, analysis and interpretation of conflict in the managerial context in automotives industry. in depth interview were undertaken with 45 managers, the main finding of this study is the managers with diverse background experience work related conflict ,which are related to value and identity concept in selected organization.

Sorenson (1999)

This study was conducted at center for entrepreneurial and family business at Texas, Tech University. This study indicate that collaboration, accommodation, compromise strategies produce relatively better outcomes for organization

High levels of collaboration contribute to positive outcome for organization & High level of compromise & accommodation contribute to positive inter-personal relationship.

Poitras and Tareau (2008) conducted their study related to dispute resolution pattern and organizational dispute states. This study tell us that dispute resolution pattern have a non-negligible on organizational conflict state. To increase Harmony interest based dispute resolution pattern should be followed.

Avoko and Pekerti (2008)

Conducted their study on Relationship between conflict type task, relationship, process, conflict features, and communication process. This study find that conflict features intensity & duration, fully mediated the link between conflict types and trust while communication openness moderated the relationship b/w conflict features & trust.

Kim Do Kyun, and Lee Eun Hee (2007) conducted their study on. Communicative Analysis of south & North Korean. Conflict. This study found that because of economic & political system there is lack of communication b/w each other. To over come the problem they use the communicative conflict resolution process. Which include constructing more agenda to create more interpersonal & organizational interaction, exchange popular culture by media. These strategies enhancing the relationship b/w both the parties.

Townsen, Ashly (2004) conducted a study on "An Examination of How price affect conflict management." In this he examined that price fluctuation in conflict funding resources directly correspond to conflict intensity and the success of conflict management. A systematic examination is under taken between price intensity and conflict management. Market prices for several resources and obtained."

Objectives of the study:

The objectives of the study are: -

* To examine the different types of conflict in the organization.
* To study the various positive and negative consequences of conflict.
* To study the various causes of conflicts.
* To examine the conflict management strategies which are commonly used in the organization.

Research Methodology

The present study is based upon descriptive and research design. Descriptive research is also called statistical research. The main goal of this type of research is to describe the data and characteristics about what is being studied. I selected descriptive research because I want to get better understanding of the topic. Descriptive research is the exploration of the existing certain phenomena. The secondary data is collected through websites, survey, book, magazines, journals etc. The primary data is collected through interview conducted in three reputed pharmaceutical companies namely Pfizer, Sanufi Aventis and Express Pharma of H R managers.


* Collaborating is considered to the one of the best strategies, especially when the company interest are at the stake, this strategies is generally used when organization feel that the concern is important. This strategies is used mostly in all the organization, where we have to solve inter personal conflict. It promotes creative problem solving. It takes more time than other strategies.
* Compromising strategies come under the second choice by the organization company use compromising when they dealing the moderately important issue. It can often lead to quick solution.
* When conflict is upon fairly unimportant issue company to resolve the conflict uses accommodating strategies.
* Company uses avoiding strategies. Where there is clear advantage of waiting to resolve the conflict. Avoiding is appropriate if companies are too busy with more important concern.
* Competition Strategies is used by company when they dealing with strong personalities. In this senior person use their power to diffuse the conflict.  


Conflict can serve as a constructive mechanism for change .it allow an opportunity to work with someone who you ordinarily would not, understand that conflict will happen but don't let it damage your orgnization.try to resolve them as quickly as possible.


* Poitras Jean and Tareau Le Aurelia (2008) "Dispute resolution pattern and organization dispute states" International Journal of Conflict Management, vol-19 no-2 pp 72-87
* Henkin Alan B. Peter J Cistone and Jay R. Dec. (2000) "Conflict management strategies of principals in site Based managed schools" Journal of Educational Administration vol 38 no-2 pp 142-158
* Robbins P Stephen "Organizational Behavior" Pearson Education, 10th edition, pp 395-384
* Aswathappa K. "Organizational Behavior" Himalaya Publication House, 8th edition, pp 353-384
* Badaracco Jr. Joseph L. and Ellsworth, Richard R (1991) leadership, intergrity and conflict. "Journal Of Organizational ChangeManagement"4(4) pp 46-55
* Tomphon, Wener  (1997) "The impact of role conflict facilitation on core and discretionary behaviors" Journal of Management, vol 23, pp 583-601
* Mayer C. H, 2008. Managing conflict across cultures, value and identities, a case study in the South African automotives industry Phd Thesis. Department of Management. Rhodes University. Grahamstown South Africa
* Schwartz. S .H 1994 "Are there Universal Aspects in the Structure and Content Of Human Values?"In Mayton Current Understanding and Implication for the Future  "Journal of Social Issues". 50(4) pp 19-45


* www.etu.org.za/toolbox/docs/building/conflict.html
* www.nsba.org/sbot/toolkit/Conflict.html
* www.cios.org/encyclopedia/conflict/index.htm
* www.etu.org.za/toolbox/docs/building/conflict.html
* www.oppapers.com/.../Conflict-Causes-Management/132545
* www.searchtwice.com/conflict_management.asp
* www.mftrou.com/workplace-conflict-management-strategy.html

Lecturer Management
Charki Dadri

Source: E-mail January 4, 2010


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