This paper will introduce the reader to the concept of conflict and different approaches to a conflict management. The author will present different types of conflict that are common in most organizational environments and the underlining causes which created them. Additionally, the author will illustrate the differences between constructive and socio-emotional conflict and differentiate between the concept of conflict and the concept of attack. Furthermore, the paper will discuss different styles of conflict management such as: confrontation, collaboration, facilitation, compromising, avoidance and denial.
Conflict, what is it? Many definitions of conflict have been developed over the last decades to describe what the conflict and especially organizational conflict is. One of definition states that conflict is “ an antagonistic interaction in which one party attempts to block the intentions or goals of another”, another definition describes the conflict as “a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party”. In either way the conflict represents the conflicting views on the same subject presented by different parties.
In order to handle successfully any type of conflict he or she must understand the conflict process itself. Generally, the conflict process starts with the sources of conflict that can represent opposing views and values, inadequate resources, unclear rules, or limited communication. Next the process includes the set of perceptions and emotions involving the issue, and the conflict manifestation followed by the conflict outcomes that can be either positive characterized by decisions and cohesiveness or negative characterized by turnover, politics, and stress.
Of course, many different types of conflict can exist in every business environment, and successful manager must learn to differentiate among them. For example, McShane & Von Glinov (2005) recognize the following conflicts: intrarpersonal that can occur within the person or interpersonal that can exist between two or more persons and in business environment they recognize intraorganizational conflict that can exist inside the organization or interorgnizational conflict that can occur among different organizations. At this point important is to accentuate that not every conflict is detrimental to the company morale and business results. In certain situations one may encounter a constructive conflict sometimes known as task-related, this conflict occurs when different perspectives or perceptions are present regarding particular issue, which enables involved parties to keep the focus on the issue instead of people. Opposing to the constructive conflict is the socio-emotional conflict. The socio-emotional conflict arises when the issue becomes personal and emotional. In this situation opposing perspectives become personal attacks and the bias distorts communication processes.
To fully understand the dynamics of conflict he or she must be able to differentiate between the concept of attack and the concept of conflict. The major difference lies in motivation behind them. According to Kenneth Boulding two separate hostilities exist: the malevolent and non-malevolent. The purpose of malevolent or malicious hostility is to hurt or destroy the position of the opposing party without any regard to for anything else. On the other hand, non- malevolent hostility “may well worsen the position of others but is acted out for the purpose of improving the position of the attacker”. As one can notice the major difference is whether the involved sides want to destroy the system or are motivated to work with it.
Another important aspect in dealing with conflicts is conflict management. The conflict management is not an easy task; the major dimensions are the extent to which an individual is assertive versus cooperative in his or her approach to conflict. Many approaches exist to solving organizational conflicts; as a result, effective leaders vary their styles of handling conflicts to fit a specific situation. Among many approaches one can mention the confrontation. Confrontation is a non-negotiable demand or ultimatum, generally it compels opposite party to do what is or was decided, and as such is not a very productive approach, which at the end generates a win-lose situation. Another approach is collaboration.
According to Daft & Marcic, this style “reflects both a high degree of assertiveness and cooperativeness” (1998), and enables both sides to win The collaborating conflict resolution style is necessary when opposing views are to important to be compromised and when the commitment of both sides is needed for consensus. The facilitation is another approach to conflict management. It can be used in situations when will exists but the skills are not fully developed. In this situation, the facilitator can help the group learn the new ideas and the collaboration processes.
The facilitator is not “involved in the substance of decisions only in the process of making them”. Among many different conflict management approaches one must mention compromising. The compromising is a process of splitting common differences very often associated with bargaining. This approach creates the situation in which neither party loses. The last approach is avoidance. The avoidance is useful in situation when the latent conflict can not be resolved or the issues of the conflict are not very important to the sides “as to require the time and resources to work them out”. The negative aspect of avoidance is that the hostile aftermath of the conflict is avoided but the underlining causes of the conflict remain untouched.
In conclusion one can state that conflict is a process in which one side perceives that its own interests are being opposed or threatens by other side, it is a combination of several aspects influencing each other such as: sources of conflict, perceptions and emotions, conflict manifestations, and the outcomes. The conflict can be constructive or socio-emotional, as a result different types of conflict exist. In analyzing conflicts important is to differentiate between the concept of attack and the concept of conflict. And lastly the management of conflicts includes many different approaches such as: confrontation, collaboration, facilitation compromising and avoiding. Organizational conflict in not only inevitable, but on the contrary, it can serve as useful tool in stimulating creative solutions for the benefit of the whole organization.