Textbook Notes - Chapter 13

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10 Nov 2010
MGTB27 / 01 Week 11
What is Conflict?
- Interpersonal conflict is a process that occurs when one person, group, or organizational
subunit frustrates the goal attainment of another
- Conflict often involves antagonistic attitudes (e.g. develop a dislike for each other/neg.
stereotypes) and behaviours (e.g. name calling, sabotage, or even physical violence)
- Within some organizations, conflict process is managed in a collaborative way to keep
antagonism at a minimum. Sometimes conflict is hidden or suppressed and not as obvious
Causes of Organizational Conflict
- Factors that contribute to organizational conflict:
Group Identification and Intergroup Bias
- Research has been done that concludes that people tend to develop a positive view of their own
- Intergroup bias occurs because self-esteem is a critical factor and by identifying yourself with
the success of your own group and disassociating yourself from out-group failures, this boosts
self-esteem and provides a feeling of social cohesion
- In organizations, there are a number of groups or classes with which people identify with:
o Personal characteristics: e.g. race or gender
o Job function: e.g. sales or promotions
o Job level: e.g. manager or non-manager
- Differences in groups might be accentuated by real differences in power, opportunity etc...
- Increased emphasis on teams in organizations generally places a high premium on getting
employees to identify strongly with their team and organizations must pay close attention to
managing relationships between these teams
- When individuals or subunits are mutually dependent on each other to accomplish their own
goals, the potential for conflict exists
o E.g. if sales staff does not provide production department with timely production
schedules, it may make the production department look bad
- Some departments are not highly interpedent (e.g. salespeople and maintenance department)
- Interdependence ca set the stage for two reasons:
o It is necessary for interaction between parities so if they cannot coordinate their own
interests, conflict will arise
o Interdependence implies that each power has some power and if they abuse their power,
this will create antagonism
- Interdependence does not always lead to conflict but sometimes provide a good basis for
collaboration through mutual assistance
Differences in Power, Status, and Culture
- Conflict can erupt when parties differ significantly in power, status, or culture;
o Power
If dependence is not mutual but one-way (e.g. A depends on B to accomplish
goals but B does not depend on A), the potential for conflict increases where
antagonism may develop
E.g. production workers might be highly dependent on inspectors to approve
their work but this dependence is not reciprocated. Production workers may treat
inspectors with hostility which is a symptom of conflict
Chapter 13 ± Conflict and Stress (pg. 424 ± 453)
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MGTB27 / 02 Week 11
o Status
Status differences provide little potential for conflict when people of lower
status are dependent on higher status since this is how organizations work
For some work, those with lower status find themselves giving orders to higher-
status people and the higher-status person may come to resent this reversal of
usual lines of influence (e.g. servers giving orders to chefs)
o Culture
When two or more very different cultures develop in an organization, the clash
in beliefs and values can result in obvious conflict
E.g. hospital administrators develop a strong culture on efficiency and cost-
effectiveness whereas physicians share a strong culture based on providing
excellent patient care at any cost
- Ambiguous goals, jurisdictions, or performance criteria can lead to conflict
- May be difficult to accurately assign praise for good outcomes or blame for bad outcomes
o E.g. if sales drop, design group may blame the marketing department for poor
advertising campaign and the marketers may claim that the product is not good
- Ambiguous performance criteria is a frequent cause of conflict between managers and
employees since employees do not know what is considered adequate/inadequate work
o E.g. there is much ambiguity surrounding what is needed to produce a hit movie or
show in the film and entertainment industry and conflict is common in this industry
Scarce Resources
- When resources are scarce, differences in power are magnified which may lead to conflict
o E.g. limited budget money, secretarial support, or lab space
- Scarcity has a way of turning latent or disguised conflict into clear/known conflict
o E.g. two scientist who does not get well may be able to put up a peaceful front until
there is a reduction in lab space, provokes each to protect their domain (conflict)
Types of Conflict
- Not all conflicts are the same which can be divided into relationship, task & process conflict
- Relationship conflict is interpersonal tensions among individuals that have to do with their
- Task conflict is disagreements about the nature of the work to be done (e.g. differences of
opinion about goals or technical matters)
- Process conflict is disagreements about how work should be organized and accomplished (e.g.
disagreements about responsibility, authority, resource allocation, who should do what)
- Such conflicts prevents the development of cohesiveness in work groups or teams
- Not all conflicts are harmful, when the task is non-routine, a variety of perspectives can be
beneficial as long as it does not degenerate into relationship conflict
Conflict Dynamics
- A number of events occur when one or more of the causes of conflict takes effect (assuming
conflicts between groups such as organizational departments):
o Parties begin to conceal information or pass distorted information to each other
o Each side becomes more cohesive and strict conformity is expected
o Contact with the opposite party is discouraged unless in mandatory environments
o Opposite party is negatively stereotyped and own position is boosted
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MGTB27 / 03 Week 11
o On each side, more aggressive people who are skilled at engaging conflict may emerge
as leaders
- What begins as a problem of identity, interdependence, ambiguity, or scarcity quickly escalates
to the point that the conflict process itself becomes an additional problem
Modes of Managing Conflict
- Conflict expert Kenneth Thomas notes that there are essential 5 basic reactions that can be
thought of as styles, strategies, or intentions for dealing with conflict
- Approaches are a function of how assertive \RXDUHLQWU\LQJWRVDWLVI\\RXURZQJURXS¶V
concerns and how cooperative you are in trying to satisfy those of the other party/group
- Can provide short-term stress reduction from conflict but does not change the situation
- Situations where the opponent is very powerful and hostile, when people need to cool down, or
if information is lacking, avoidance might be the best response
- Accommodating is a conflict management style in which one cooperates with the other party
- Accommodating is an effective reaction when you are wrong, when you want to build good
will, or if the issue is more important to the other party
- Competing is a conflict management style that maximizes assertiveness and minimizes
- People tend to frame the conflict in strict win-lose terms and full priority is given to your own
goals, facts or procedures
- Style holds promise when you have a lot of power, are sure of your facts, situation is truly win-
lose, or you will not have to interact with the other party in the future
- Compromise is a conflict management style that combines intermediate levels of assertiveness
and cooperation
- Similar to satificing rather than maximizing your outcomes (e.g. plea bargaining in the law
where there is a compromise between the defending lawyer and prosecutor)
- Compromise places weight on rules of exchange between two parties and when the weaker
party have little to offer the stronger party, compromise should not be used
- Compromise does not always result in the most creative response to conflict
- Style can be used when conflict stems from scarce resources or if other strategies fail
- Collaborating is a conflict management style that maximizes both assertiveness and
cooperation in hopes that an agreement that fully satisfies both parties is reached
- Emphasis is put on a win-win situation and no assumption that someone might lose
- Works best when conflict is not intense and when each party has information that is useful to
the other party. Frequently enhances productivity and achievement
- Research shows that collaboration between organizational departments (cross-functional teams)
is particularly important for providing good customer service
Managing Conflict with Negotiation
- Negotiation is a decision-making process among interdependent parties who do not share
identical preferences (attempt to prevent or resolve conflict)
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