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Chapter 11 – Conflict Management
•Conflict is an inevitable part of life in an organization that includes a hierarchy,
unequal distribution of power, and limited resources.
•Differences among people in terms of personality, values, attitudes, perceptions,
languages, culture, and national backgrounds.
•As organizations become flatter and more team-based, workers become more
interdependent and are responsible for more decision making.
•Conflict in organizations can take many forms ranging from “informal arguments
over office space and formal lawsuits over employment issues that can cost
organization thousands of dollars and person hours.”
•Managers spend 25 percent of their time dealing with conflict, which is the
equivalent of one day every week.
•The RCMP’s implementation of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system is
one example of Canadian organizations are responding to the increasing amounts of
interpersonal, group, and organizational conflict.
•Companies are turning to in-house conflict coaches and are creating special conflict
management jobs, such as facilitators and ombudsmen.
The Nature of Conflict in Organizations
•Conflict: The perception, in an interdependent relationship, of incompatible wishes,
goals, attitudes, emotions, or behaviours.
•Interpersonal Conflict: A dynamic process that occurs between two
interdependent parties as they experience negative emotional reactions to perceived
disagreements and interference with the attainment of their goals.
Conflict and Emotion
•Behavioural Component of Emotion: The verbal and nonverbal messages we
express when we communicate.
oMost emotional express occurs nonverbally through facial expressions, voice,
and gestures; often, a mismatch between our verbal and nonverbal messages
can be a conflict trigger.
•Physiological Component of Emotion: The bodily experience of emotion; it is the
way emotion makes us feel and thus what makes emotional experience so
•Cognitive Component of Emotion: The way our mind appraises or interprets
oFor example, the same joke might upset me while it makes you laugh. The
way one’s mind interprets situations is key to understand organizational
Task, Relationship, and Process Conflict
•Categorize interpersonal conflict in the following three content categories:
oRelationship (affective) conflict: Defined as interpersonal
incompatitibilites that typically include feelings of anger, tension, and
oTask (cognitive) conflict: Differences in viewpoints and opinions
pertaining to group task. Evident when there are disagreements over
different ideas, differences of opinions, and differences about the content of
decisions. Value conflicts are those that arise out of opposing principles or
ideals involved in carrying out a task, and often need the help of a mediator
or facilitator to get resolved.
oProcess Conflict: Controversy about aspects of how task accomplishment
will proceed. High performing teams had low but increasing levels of process
conflict, low levels of relationship conflict that rose slightly as their deadlines
got closer, and moderate levels of task conflict at the midpoint of group
interaction. Shared value systems, high levels of trust, and open discussions
produced the ideal conflict pattern.
oAccording to Tjosvold, we need to integrate our reason and emotion as well as
task and relationship issues in order to effectively deal with important
interpersonal conflicts effectively.
oTjosvold argue for the conflict positive organization
Organizational Manifestations of Conflict
•Interorganizational: Conflict that occurs between two or more organizations.
oCompetition, Corporate Takeovers, Mergers and Acquisitions, and New
Organizational Arrangements such as strategic alliances often heighten
oEXAMPLE: Conflict between Napster, the Internet music service company, and
several records companies is an example of interorganizational conflict.
•Intergroup: Conflict occurs between groups or departments.
oBecoming more common between “turf wars” between managers.
oDevelop an “us against them” mentality where each sees the other team as the
oCan lead to win-lose outcomes, and negative consequences like territoriality,
aggression, and prejudice.
oCan sometimes lead to functional outcomes such as re-evaluations and
introspection within each group.
•Intragroup: Conflict occurs within a single group or team, and, team conflict occurs
in the storming stage of a team’s development.
•Interpersonal Conflict: Conflict which occurs between two or more people, dynamic
process involving interdependent parties as they experience negative emotional
reactions to the perceived disagreements and interference with he attainment of
Is Organizational Conflict Healthy of Unhealthy
•Early approaches assumed that conflict was detrimental to organizational
performance and therefore should be eliminated; however later viewpoints proposed
that task conflict had a curvilinear relationship to organizational performance.
•Too little conflict lowers performance because it leads to complacency, while too
much conflict lowers performance, because stimulation levels are too high and
energy is diverted away from the task at hand.
•De Dreu argued that support for the conclusion that workplace conflict may be
beneficial is weak.
•Another approach to determining whether conflict is healthy or unhealthy is to
observe whether its consequences or outcomes are positive (functional) or negative
•Functional Conflict: Conflict that is a productive force, one that can stimulate
members of the organization to increase their knowledge and skills, as wells as their
contributions to organizational innovation and productivity.
oIndividuals develop a better awareness of
themselves and others.
oImprove working relationships
when two parties work through
their disagreements, they feel they
have accomplished something
oManagers sometimes actively
stimulate conflict by appointing a
“devil’s advocate” when they
suspect their group is suffering
•Dysfunctional Conflict: An
unhealthy destructive disagreement
between two or more people. Its danger is that it takes the focus away from the work
to be done and places the focus on the conflict itself and the parties involved.
oExcessive conflict drains energy that could be used more productively.
oDisagreements that involved anger and resentment directed at specific
individuals rather than specific ideas are dysfunctional.
oIndividuals involved in dysfunctional conflict often rely on threats, deception,
and verbal abuse to communicate.
•Bullying: repeated non-physical, health-impairing psychological mistreatment that
falls outside discriminatory harassment
Sources of Conflict in Organizations
•Organizations are hierarchical, and differences in specialization status and power
lead inevitably to conflict.