Conflicts are natural. They are expected to arise in any interaction involving two or more individuals. No two people think, act or react in a similar manner. This variability offers the opportunity for a conflict to arise in any situation. Without conflict, life in organizations would be stagnant. The future of the organization would be jeopardized. Dissonance, or a need to find a better way of doing things, is often the seed, which spurs on the team to higher levels of investigation and searches. The origin of conflict can be often traced to false perception. (Burton, 1968) In an organization conflict can play an important role in offering the workers and the management direction and purpose in spite of the difference of opinions between workers.
Through this paper, I hope to gain an insight to the various conditions that can cause conflicts between individuals in organizations. My personal experience in the past has been in the area of sales. As a manager, I was often faced with dealing with conflicts that arose under my watch. I was often called upon to arbiter or resolve the conflict, with the expectance of fairness and balance. I have since moved from the corporate setting to an academic setting where I teach courses in the engineering. In addition, I also coach the basketball team in the school. In my new work setting, often, the main drivers for conflict are very different from those of my previous sales job. I realize that my current work environment is also very conducive to creating its own type of conflicts that are just as significant those in corporate settings.
With this in mind, I decided to understand the classifications of conflicts and the necessary means to reduce the negative impact of conflicts on the morale of the individuals involved in the conflict. As stated earlier I coach the basketball team and often situations arise where the players on the team might want to do certain things their way. In this situation, conflicts often arise in team as a result of a few members of the team refusing to give up control and expecting the entire team to follow their way of thinking. (Rahim, 2001) If not handled effectively, this conflict can result in a team dysfunction. Such team fragmentation would defeat the goal and mission of the team -- winning games. Understanding the options that are available to me therefore is paramount and critical for handling the conflicts that could arise.
Types of conflict is defined as "a disagreement regarding interests or ideas. Whether it is within oneself, between two people, or within an organization, it has a negative connotation." (Esquivel & Kleiner, 1997) Conflicts in organization, in the past, have always been considered as unwanted and unattractive. Organizations encouraged conformity for their workers. Teams and groups increasingly view the creator of the conflict as a troublemaker and prefer not to ostracize this individual.
All conflicts are not the same. There are two different types of conflict identified: Emotional and Cognitive. The first, "Emotional conflict" is personal, defensive and resentful. Also known as "A-type conflict" or "affective conflict," and is rooted in anger, personal friction, personality clashes, ego and tension. The second on is "Cognitive conflict " and is largely depersonalized; also know as "C-type conflict," consist of argumentation about the merits of ideas, plans and projects. At an interpersonal level there might be two reasons why conflicts originate. The first can be attributed to group identity. This conflict arises when individuals have personalities and behavior patterns that do not synchronize well and are abrasive to each other. In the second case, the conflicts arise not from the individual's personality but rather from the group or team that he or she associates with.
The type of conflict that is created often determines the how the conflict ought to be managed. People have a positive concept and image of self. Attitudes are value-laden statements -- favorable or unfavorable -- about objects, people, situations or events. They reflect how an individual feels about something. Conflicts often arise when the attitudes of two or more people do not mesh and individuals cannot "get past these feelings." Emotional factors can become distorted and can even overshadow an individual's reasoning. The situation can become more of a win-lose competition issue. Disputing members will not be willing to arrive at a compromise. Perceptions are generally a reactionary process. Individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. Often, perceptions can introduce "a feeling" of how things should be around an individual. When the conflict situation is resolved in a win-win manner, there will be less negative aspects that affect the decision no matter how the conflict is resolved. In a no-win situation, every positive aspects of an alternative not chosen will become apparent while the negative aspects of the solution chosen will only make the situation of conflict worse.
Conflicts in teams
Conflicts in teams can be generally classified into three types: relationship conflicts, task conflicts and process conflicts. Each of these conflicts can have different impacts on teams within an organization. (Van Slyke, 1999) Emotions and personal feeling can distort and overshadow the purpose or agenda of the team making task execution and completion difficult. This situation might devolve into a very dysfunctional team environment.
Impact of gender and status on conflict management
Gender also impacts conflict management style. Largely, men do not shy away from conflicts. Women typically will avoid a conflict-based situation. Rahim and Bonoma's (1979) conceptualization of conflict management styles for interpersonal conflicts differentiates the styles on two basic dimensions -- concern for self and concern for others. "The first dimension explains the degree (high or low) to which a person attempts to satisfy their own concerns, while the second dimension explains the degree to which an individual tries to satisfy the needs or concerns of others." (Brewer, Mitchell, & Weber, 2002) Based on these two dimensions, five specific styles of conflict management have been identified -- integrating, obliging, dominating, avoiding, and compromising.
In the integrating style, there is a high concern for self and for others. Avoidance is characterized by low concern for self and others. The other three classifications lie somewhere between. The obliging style displays low concern for self and high concern for others, while in the dominating style there is low concern for others and high concern for self. In the compromising style, the concern for self and others is equally balanced. Research indicates that individuals select different types of conflict management styles based on the situation being faced and the conflict styles of the other individuals involved in the conflict. (Blitman, 2002)
Many researchers are of the opinion that conflict management styles are not related to the biological sex of the individual, but rather to the role that the individual might play as a result of the environment and the circumstance. For example, some studies indicate that women have a more cooperative orientation to conflict management when compared to men, but other research studies suggest that women are more competitive than men and the cooperative conflict management style might not be displayed in all situations. The developing of traits forced by gender can also impact the conflict management styles. For example men have traditionally been viewed as the breadwinner and guardian of the family and as a result developing aggressive, independent and assertive behavior was normal. On the other hand, women were viewed as homemakers. As a result, women were encouraged to develop complementing characteristic for the male such as sensitivity, cooperativeness and emotional attachments.
It is often observed that many of the conventional management traits of aggressive, competitive and risk taking are similar to those developed by males. Women competing in the corporate world therefore often display these traits nullifying the biological sex trait development. Therefore "to date, a major weakness in much of the research examining sex differences in conflict management style has been the apparent assumption that biological sex is equivalent to gender role." (Brewer, Mitchell, & Weber, 2002)
An individual status in any organizational structure is more an indicative of the type of conflict management style that would be used. For example, people at lower levels in an organization tend to use the avoiding conflict management styles while higher status individuals tend to use dominating conflict management styles in their interactions. A new employee consequently, will display different conflict management styles when compared to a long time employee. In many situations, conflict management styles for an individual will change based on the "other party" involved in the conflict. A new employee at a higher level might display more dominating conflict management styles when compared to an old employee at a lower level of the organization. Hierarchical structures of any environment therefore, have the ability to determine the styles of conflict management used.
Impact of culture and personality on conflict management
Communism and Socialist regimes were based on the concept that if all are…