Conflict is not confined at the individual level alone but is manifesting itself more and more in organisations. Employees have become more vociferous in their demands for a better deal. Various departments in an organisation face a situation full of conflicts due to a number of reasons like goal diversity, scarcity of resources or task interdependence etc.
Management today is faced with the awesome responsibility of ensuring optimum levels of growth and productivity in an environment that is full of conflicting situations. A survey suggests that the modern manager spends over 20% of his time handling one form of conflict or the other. Top and middle level managers in the same survey have pointed out the importance of conflict management skills. So the knowledge of this article will equip you better to manage conflict situations more deftly at your workplace.
TYPES OF CONFLICT
Conflict within an Individual
You can locate conflict at various levels. There could be conflict within oneself-the intrapersonal conflict. Basically, there are three types of such conflicts. You may have an excellent job offer in a city you are not willing to go to. In such a case, you are attracted to and repelled by the same object-an approach-avoidance conflict.
Similarly you may be attracted to two equally appealing alternatives like seeing a movie or going for a picnic-an approach-approach conflict. You may also be repelled by two equally unpleasant alternatives like the threat of being dismissed if you fail to report against a friendly colleague who is guilty of breaking the organisation’s rules an avoidance-avoidance conflict.
Conflict between Individuals
Conflict can also take an interpersonal form. Conflict between individuals takes place owing to several factors, but most common are personal dislikes or personality differences. When there are only differences of opinion between individuals about task-related matters, it can be construed as technical conflict rather than interpersonal conflict. Of course, technical and interpersonal conflicts may influence each other due to role-related pressures. The sales manager may put the blame for low sales volume on the production manager not meeting his production schedule and may start disliking the production manager as an incompetent person. It is often very difficult to establish whether a conflict between two parties is due to manifest rational factors, or it emanates from hidden personal factors.
Conflict between an Individual and a Group
These types of intra-group conflicts arise frequently due to an individual’s inability to conform to the group norms. For example, most groups have an idea of a “fair day’s work” and may pressurize an individual if he exceeds or falls short of the group’s productivity norms. If the individual resents any such pressure or punishment, he could come into conflict with other group members. Usually, it is very difficult for an individual to remain a group-member and at the same time, substantially deviate from the group norm. So, in most cases, either he conforms to the group norm or quits (or is rejected by) the group. Of course, before taking any such extreme step, he or the other group members try to influence each other through several mechanisms leading to different episodes of conflict (much to the delight of the researchers in this field called Group Dynamics).
Conflict between Groups within an Organisation
Intergroup conflicts are one of the most important types of conflict to understand, as typically, an organisation is structured in the form of several interdependent task groups. Some of the usually chronic conflicts in most of the organisations are found at this level, e.g., Union vs. Management, one Union vs. another Union; one functional area like production vs. another functional area like maintenance; direct recruits vs. promotees, etc. The newly emerging field of Organisational Politics has started systematically investigating such types of conflict and in a later section on the effects of conflict we shall give examples of what happens to groups when their conflicts are not solved.
Conflict between Organisations
Conflict between organisations is considered desirable if limited to the economic context only. The laissez-faire economy is based on this concept. It is assumed that conflict between organisations leads to innovative and new products, technological advancement, and better services at lower prices. However, in this Unit we shall refrain from probing into this macro-level conflict.
THE PROCESS OF CONFLICT
You have just observed that beginning within an individual, conflict can be found on several levels. The nature of intrapersonal conflict is of very high significance and the knowledge of mechanisms available to resolve it is immensely important in improving personal effectiveness, In this however, our focus will be on interpersonal, intragroup and intergroup conflicts as these types directly influence effectiveness of an organisation.
For a conflict to exist it 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. Still, does, a mere awareness of opposing goals, or differences of option, or antagonistic feelings imply that there is a conflict? It would be easier for you, to understand conflict, if you view it as a dynamic process which includes antecedent conditions, cognitive states, affective states and conflicting behaviour. Have a look at Figure I on the conflict process and you will be able to describe and analyse conflict between two parties individuals, groups or organisations-in a chain of episodes which tend to unfold in a particular sequence.
I. Potential Antagonism
The first stage is the presence of antecedent conditions that create opportunities for conflict to arise. They need not necessarily lead to conflict and may be present in the absence of conflict as well. You may refer to this stage as the source of conflict. Some of these antecedent conditions which we shall discuss refer to scarcity of resources, heterogeneity of members and diversity of goals, values, perception; degree of dependence between groups; insufficient exchange of information, etc.
II. Cognition and Personalisation
The antecedent conditions may or may not lead to conflict. They must be perceived as threatening if conflict is to develop. The situation may be ignored if it is seen as minimally threatening. Moreover, if a conflict is perceived, it does not mean that it is personalised (“felt conflict”). However, if feelings are generated, they tend to influence perception of the conflict. It is at the felt level, when individuals become emotionally involved and parties experience feelings of threat, hostility, fear or mistrust.
III. Conflictive and Conflict-Management Behaviour
Manifest behaviour is the action resulting from perceived and/or felt conflict. At this stage, a conscious attempt is made by one party to block the goal achievement of the other party. Such behaviour may range from subtle, indirect and highly controlled forms of interference to more open forms of aggressive behaviour like strikes, riots and war. Most conflict-handling behaviours are displayed in several forms like resignation and withdrawal, appeasement and compromise, confrontation and collaboration, etc. These behaviours are often referred to as conflict management styles and stem from the strategies of conflict stimulation or conflict resolution.
The interplay between different forms of overt conflict behaviour and conflict handling strategies of stimulation or resolution influence the consequences. These consequences (in terms of performance of the group, the level of satisfaction and quality of relationship in the involved parties, change of structure and policies etc.) in turn influence the antecedent conditions and probability of future conflict. Sometimes, the aftermath sows the seeds of yet another conflict episode in which case the entire process is repeated.
The four-stage conflict-process model is a very useful framework to understand the episode of any conflict. On the basis of such a framework you can now define conflict as the process which begins when A, as one party perceives that B, as the other party, is making some conscious efforts to frustrate A in pursuing his interest. Party A and/or B may he an individual and/or group(s).