4.1Definition of Conflict Management

Conflict is defined as an interactive process manifested in incompatibility, disagreement, or dissonance within or between social entities (i.e., individual, group, organization, etc.).

Conflict can also be defined as the process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party.

Conflict management does not necessarily imply avoidance, reduction, or termination of conflict. It involves designing effective strategies to minimize the dysfunctions of conflict and enhancing the constructive functions of conflict in order to enhance learning and effectiveness of an organization.

4.2 Types of Conflict

These four types of conflict may be described as follows:

  • Intrapersonal Conflict

This type of conflict is also known as intraindividual or intrapsychic conflict. It occurs when an organizational member is required to perform certain tasks and roles that do not match his or her expertise, interests, goals, and values.

  • Interpersonal Conflict

This is also known as dyadic conflict. It refers to conflict between two or more organizational members of the same or different hierarchical levels or units. The studies on superior–subordinate conflict relate to this type of conflict.

  • Intragroup Conflict

This is also known as intradepartmental conflict. It refers to conflict among members of a group or between two or more subgroups within a group in connection with its goals, tasks, procedures, and so on. Such a conflict may also occur as a result of incompatibilities or disagreements between some or all the members of a group and its leader(s).

  • Intergroup Conflict

This is also known as interdepartmental conflict. It refers to conflict between two or more units or groups within an organization. Conflicts between line and staff, production and marketing, and headquarters and field staffs are examples of this type of conflict. On special type of intergroup conflict is between labor and management.

4.3 Causes of Conflict in organisations

  • limited resources
  • Communication problems
  • Differences in interests and goals
  • Different perceptions, attitudes and lack of clarity about responsibilities
  • Task interdependence

4.4 Advantages and Disadvantages of Conflict

Conflict can have both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, conflict can bring energy to a competition and focus participants on the task at hand. It can also increase group cohesion and stimulate open discussion of issues. On the negative side, conflict can cause participants to lose sight of common goals and focus on winning at all costs. In addition, it can lead to distorted judgments and a lack of cooperation. Finally, the losers in a conflict feel demoralized and lose motivation; this loser effect harms long-term relationships and overall organizational performance.

4.5 Methods of handling conflicts in an organisation

  • Clarification of goals and objectives: The clarification and continual refinement of goals and objectives, role definitions and performance standards will help to avoid misunderstandings and conflict. Focusing attention on super ordinate goals that are shared by the parties in conflict may help to defuse hostility and lead to more cooperative behaviour.
  • Resource distribution: Although it may not always be possible for managers to increase their allocated share of resources, they may be able to use imagination and initiative to help overcome conflict situations – for example, making a special case to higher management; greater flexibility to transfer funds between budget headings; delaying staff appointments in one area to provide more money for another area.
  • Human resource management policies and procedures: Careful and detailed attention to just and equitable HRM policies and procedures may help to reduce areas of conflict. Examples are: job analysis, recruitment and selection, job evaluation; systems of reward and punishment; appeals, grievance and disciplinary procedures; arbitration and mediation; recognition of trade unions and their officials.
  • Non-monetary rewards: Where financial resources are limited, it may be possible to pay greater attention to non-monetary rewards. Examples are: job design; more interesting, challenging or responsible work; increased delegation or empowerment; flexible working hours; attendance at courses or conferences; unofficial perks or more relaxed working conditions.
  • Development of interpersonal/group process skills: This may help to encourage a better understanding of one’s own behaviour, the other person’s point of view, communication processes and problem-solving. It may also encourage people to work through conflict situations in a constructive manner.
  • Group activities: Attention to the composition of groups and to factors which affect group cohesiveness may reduce dysfunctional conflict. Overlapping group membership with a ‘linking-pin’ process, and the careful selection of project teams or task forces for problems affecting more than one group, may also be beneficial.
  • Leadership and management: A more participative and supportive style of leadership and managerial behaviour is likely to assist in conflict management – for example, showing an attitude of respect and trust; encouraging personal self-development; creating a work environment in which staff can work co-operatively together. A participative approach to leadership and management may also help to create greater employee commitment.
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