Conflict Management at Workplace: An Overview.
"The quickest way to kindle a fire is to rub two opposing opinions together." Anonymous


Anisha Christina. Dalabhanjan
Final MBA (HR & Finance)
Dept. of Management Studies & Research
Gulbarga University
Gulbarga, Karnataka


The main object behind this paper is to throw light on the conflict management at business and workplace. No workplace is free from conflicts. Conflicts may occur between to people/parties when their perceptions and opinions differ. This hampers the peace at the workplace. The efficiency and quality at the workplace comes down. The major goals and objectives of the organization for which it exists, will be disturbed. The manager's duty here is to avoid the occurrence of conflict with his managerial and leadership skills. The right dimension of conflict should be recognized and treated delicately without harming the interests of the conflicting parties. The function of conflict may be either positive or negative, hence, it is necessary to know the cause and effect and consequences erupting from conflict and the havoc it is going to cause. The proper type of conflict resolution actions should be undertaken. The goals and tasks at the workplace should be informed well at the time of induction and proper training of work and discipline code will reduce the chances of having conflicts at workplace.


Conflicts are inevitable in one's organizational life and personal life. Conflict seems to be ever-present in our lives, be it on the battlefield, on the football field or in the boardroom. The possibility of conflict looms anytime two or more people convene. Conflict in the workplace is a painful reality and a key reason for poor productivity and frustration. When people work together in groups, there are bound to be occasions when individuals disagree and conflicts arise in the workplace. Whether these disagreements become full-blown feuds or instead fuel creative problem solving is, in large part, up to the person in charge. Conflict arises from differences, and when individuals come together in teams, their differences in terms of power, values, and attitudes contribute to the creation of conflict. Managing conflict is an important aspect of business operations Thus, Conflict can be defined as a serious disagreement over needs or goals. Always a team or a company is recognized with the people, with their behavior, cooperation and output they produce. Conflicts cause disharmony in achieving the goals of the company.


To study more on conflict management, it is very necessary to know what conflict stands for. Conflict is a struggle to resist or overcome; a contest of opposing forces; strife; battle; a state or condition of opposition; antagonism; discord; clash; collision.

In simpler words, a conflict is an opposition of people, forces, or other entities. It is a mere situation in which someone believes that his or her own needs have been denied.

Conflict, sometimes, has a destructive effect on the individuals and groups involved. At other times, however, conflict can increase the capacity of those affected to deal with problems, and therefore it can be used as a motivating force toward innovation and change.


Managing a conflict contains specialized interaction that prevents a dispute from becoming a destructive battle. Conflict management attends to the personal issues so as to allow for a constructive relationship, even though the objective issues may not be resolvable. Managers who successfully manage conflicts in their organizations will experience lower rates of complaints than managers who fail to do so. Conflicts are bound to occur in workplaces. To turn it into a positive factor, it must be managed in a way that will benefit the organization and people working in it.

Conflict management is based on caring. Each of the parties involved in the conflict desire something. Those involves are frustrated because they cannot get something they believe they need or cannot give something they believe they should be able to give. It is the label for the variety of ways by which people handle grievances in standing up for what they consider to be right and against what they consider to be wrong. The managers must learn how to address and manage the conflict effectively so that they can maintain the peace and harmony in the workplace. They should imply their all managerial and leadership skills to put off the conflicts and resolve them as early as possible. If it is not done so, it will hamper the path of attaining goals of the organization. When conflict is not managed properly, then it takes on a life of its own and eventually produces damage that could have been prevented. There are subtler forms of conflict involving rivalries, jealousies, personality clashes, role definitions, and struggles for power and favor. Thus it is a highly intensive and most important obligation of any manager at the workplace.

Management of conflict occurs when a problem develops between workers and the management structure or directives. Conflict can arise between members of the management team if their leadership styles are contradictory. People who value independence tend to resist the need for interdependence and, to some extent, conformity within a group. People who seek power therefore struggle with others for position or status within the group. Rewards and recognition are often perceived as insufficient and improperly distributed, and members are inclined to compete with each other for these prizes.


There are four basic elements of conflict. These include:

1. The involvement of two or more parties:

Conflict in the workplace can take many forms. However, it always requires at least two parties. Often, one of the parties is unaware of the conflict. They are a part of it nonetheless. From the perspective of management, it is best to identify the two parties and separate them initially. The first step is to accept that there is a problem and to define what it is and who is involved.

2. A perception of incompatible goals:

It is often difficult to realize that problems are stemming from a perception of incompatible goals. Individuals may have specific goals for their team or the organization as a whole. Those goals may be quite different than the goals that someone else in another department might have. It is often easier for an individual to see him or herself as the "good guy" and see the person who is a threat as the enemy. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the other person may have goals that have not even been considered. In many instances, finding a way to satisfy both individuals will ultimately be good for the company.

3. Differing values or perceptions:

Conflict is normal. That is because each individual in an organization brings certain values and perspectives to the tables that are unique to him or her. These can enrich the organization by allowing for a more diverse dialogue and decision-making process. Unfortunately, they can also spark opposition and contribute to communication difficulties. Still, they are healthy problems to have. In fact, a truly dysfunctional operation would be one where everybody gets along.

4. A continuation of the conflict until both sides feel satisfied with the results:

Often conflicts will go on for long periods of time. This is especially true when one or more parties keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. This can come from a desire to avoid the conflict, or can just be the result of neither side feeling satisfied with the solutions, if any.


The best way to identify the symptoms of team conflict is to be aware of the kinds of behaviors that lead to conflict. The symptoms of conflicts can also be called as conflict behaviors.

Following are the symptoms of conflicts in a workplace.

  • Not completing work on-time or to quality goals.
  • Passive or aggressive behavior.
  • Responding to requests for information.
  • Hoarding information that should be shared.
  • Tension.
  • No desire to communicate.
  • Hostility.
  • Gossip.
  • Failing productivity.
  • Absenteeism.
  • Finger pointing.
  • Disastrous meetings.
  • Not returning phone calls or e-mails.
  • Complaining.
  • Slipping morale.
  • Physical violence.
  • Verbal abuse.
  • Filing grievances or lawsuits.
  • Accidents.
  • Escalating costs.
  • Bad times.
  • Shouting.
  • Anger occurs quickly and easily.
  • Not attending required meetings.
  • Slamming doors.

These were the symptoms which indicate the conflicts in a workplace which should be avoided well in advance to avoid the later negative consequences from them.


The conflicts are to be resolved depending upon what kind or type of conflict it is.

Thus, it is influenced to a great degree by the situations in which the conflict occurs. The three dimensions or types of conflicts are intrapersonal, interpersonal and intergroup.

Intrapersonal conflict: An experience which takes place within an individual. It occurs in relation to temptations to stop dieting as well as in a major decision of getting into better physical shape to get a good evaluation report.

An individual experiencing guilt as a result of inner conflicts often becomes depressed, irritable, and restless. However, identifying the actual source of conflict and distinguishing between what one wishes to do and what should be done are two steps in managing inner conflict successfully. Wishing leads to daydreaming and continued conflict, while authentic wanting leads directly to a specific behavior. Thus, when there a follow-through behavior, an individual feels stronger and more confident; he has risen to a personal challenge and brought about positive personal change.

Interpersonal conflict: conflicts between individuals of the same organization. It exists whenever people interact in some way to produce results or achieve goals. Because they differ, however, in many ways; attitude, personality, values, goals, background, experience, etc. the resultant conflict makes the attainment of the goals quite difficult. Therefore, learning to make the proper adjustments is an important factor in managing interpersonal conflict.

Intergroup conflict: conflict between groups in the same organization. It occurs whenever there is a contact or interactions between groups. Three sources of intergroup conflict are: cohesion-"sticking together" within a group often causes out-group hostility; structure- type of leadership and status of individuals within a group are factors that increase conflict; power-taking actions which affect others and purposely influencing the welfare of the others produces conflict with less powerful groups. Parties involved in conflict, by trying to find solutions acceptable to all, can reduce the dysfunctional aspects of conflict.


Conflict arises from a multitude of sources that reflect our differences: personality, values, ideologies, religion, culture, race, and, behavior. It also arises from simple misunderstandings. As we have expanded collaborative concepts within our workplaces, we have dramatically increased the number of human interactions where one's opinions can be heard. In a workplace, five basic sources of organizational conflicts could be learnt. They are mentioned below:

    1. Competition for scarce resources: Because the vital resources of money, manpower, time, materials and equipment are limited, allocating them to group produces conflict, for some groups will certainly get less then they need or want.

    2. Inherent conflict: Standardized procedures, rules, and policies that regulate behavior tend to reduce the likelihood of conflict. But at the same time, resistance to the control that they may impose is fostered. Moreover, in a complex organization the number of levels of authority may create problems that increase the potential for conflict.

    3. Line-staff relationships: the differences of the task responsibilities of line and staff members, while enabling them to accomplish their respective tasks, also increases the likelihood of conflict between them.

    4. Differences in goals and values: Groups within an organization often find it difficult to agree on action plans because they usually develop different goals and objectives. Similarly, many conflicts arise because some believe that a popular value should be applied to all situations, thus exceeding those whose values are different.

    5. Organizational ambiguities:  Conflicts may occur when goals are questionable and roles are not clearly defined. In addition, adequate standing operating procedures (SOPs) or nonsystematic approaches to mission planning and problem solving may also increase conflict.

    6. Nature of Reward Systems: The nature of reward system in an organization can lead to conflict situation. Where a reward system encourages competition when cooperation is required for success, conflict can arise among individual workers or groups.

    7. Low Formalization: The setting down of rules and regulations reduce conflict in organization. This is because that task expected to be performed by individuals and groups are usually spelt out in clear terms. On the other hand, where formalization is low, there is tendency for jurisdictional misunderstanding to take place.


At workplaces, conflicts portray many good as well as bad times. Most often, it considered as good because it helps people to be real and motivates them to participate. It makes one to learn how to recognize and benefit from the differences. On the other hand, conflicts are considered as problems because it directly hampers the productivity of the organization. It decreased the morale and also causes continued conflicts and inappropriate behaviors.

Followings are the points which throw light on functions of conflicts at the workplace.

    1. Conflict establishes identity. Through conflict, individuals and groups clearly establish their positions on issues.

    2. Conflict serves as a safety value to hold the group together. Through conflicts, individuals and groups "let off steam" which in turn enhances the communication process leading to better understanding of the issues within the group.

    3. Conflict increases group cohesion. When there is a higher level of communication brought about by conflict, work groups strengthen and become closer.

    4. Conflict tests the strength of individual and groups. Power struggles are inevitable in an organizational setting. Through conflict the question of "who has the real power in our organization?" is resolved.

    5. Conflict spurs needed change. The commencement and resolution of conflict issues identify weak areas in an organization which then hastens resolution/elimination of those problems which might not have been considered if it were not for the conflict.

    6. Conflict mobilizes energy: this concept adds credence to the old adage "I work best under pressure." When there is conflict in and organization, the pressure members feel causes them to work at greater efficiency and fervor.

    7. Conflict causes competition to improve performance. Conflict caused some organizations, groups, and individuals to "try to out-do the others" or to demonstrate competence.

    8. Conflict enhances communication. As discussed above, the communication process improves because of the higher level of information exchange and there is a higher level of understanding.

    9. Conflict ends non-productive associations: When differences of opinion or ideals are not addressed or resolved, the resulting association is distant and useless to the organization. The unresolved situation actually causes the organization to be considerably less than its ultimate potential. Through conflict resolution, these issues can be addressed to increase communication and understanding.


Every organization must have faced internal & external conflicts from the time of its inception. However, organizations that resolved their earlier conflicts in positive & constructive ways have survived, grown & prospered because they benefited from their learning experiences. In certain instances they have also emerged as the captains of the industry. Similarly, in organizations, when individuals find themselves in critical situations, they often come up with workable & novel solutions because of the stakes involved for themselves & their department. Given below is the list of consequences of conflict.

Individualistic consequences:

Conflicts in work situations may also give rise to organization related individual consequences:

- Job dissatisfaction
- Apathy or indifference to work
- Role-set members & the company
- Job stress & burnout
- Disloyalty
- Work sabotage
- Employee turnover
- Increased territoriality & resistance to change
- Decreased information sharing, etc.

Beneficial Consequences:

Conflict releases energy at every level of human activity- energy that can produce positive and constructive results.

- Motivate individuals to do better and to work harder. One's talents and abilities come to the forefront in a conflict situation.

- Satisfy certain psychological needs like dominance, aggression, esteem and ego, and thereby provide an opportunity for the constructive use and release of aggressive urges.

- Provide creative and innovative ideas. For example employee benefits of the preset day are an outcome of the union and management conflicts over the past decades.

- Add variety to one's organizational life, otherwise work life would be dull and boring.

- Facilitate an understanding of the problem, people and interrelationships between people, better coordination among individuals & departments, in addition to strengthening intra-group relationships, etc.

Dysfunctional Consequences:

The general assumption is that conflict tends to have negative consequences for both the individual and the organization.

- Conflicts affect individual & organizational performance. Resolving conflicts consumes a considerable amount of managerial time & energy, which could be more productively spent in the absence of conflicts.

- In a conflict situation people may promote their self-interests or personal gains at the cost of others or the organization. For example, a union leader may call for a strike to assert his superiority or to stabilize his leadership.

- Intense conflicts over a prolonged period affect individuals emotionally & physically& give rise to psychosomatic disorders.

- Time spent on conflicts, if cost, could mean considerable amount of money wasted.

- Conflicts may lead to work sabotage, employee morale problems, and decline in the market share of product/services &consequent loss of productivity.

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Source: E-mail June 16, 2011




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