Authoritative control can become an issue within any organization. Leaders at times feel as though they are not wrong in their actions and will confront anyone who questions them. This may not be the case all the time, but it is the case some times. That is where conflict arises and leads to issues within the organization. The conflict may generate issues concerning communication, where someone may feel lack of control, may feel dominated, coerced, or even shut out. It is important to understand why this conflict exists and how to identify components of authoritative control that could lead to conflict and confrontation.
At times people who are given the position of leader abuse their powers and lack empathy or compassion for those below them in terms of rank or position. They assume everything they do is correct and those who question them are wrong simply because they feel more experienced than their subordinates. Senior personnel also sometimes do not wish to give credit to their subordinates for fear of losing their position as leader and losing confidence in their abilities to lead.
Furthermore, the organizational environment that houses this type of conflict is one where the participants within feel closed off from communication and expressing how they feel or think concerning anything that bothers them. It is seen in many instances that expressing feelings and thoughts, questioning superiors, is frowned upon because it shows weakness and insecurity. The truth is, it breeds more conflict because participants within the conflict feel ignored, neglected, and misunderstood. In any organization whether it is a business or an army group, voicing one's opinion is not well tolerated.
In this conflict, a senior personnel tells a junior personnel he is wrong in questioning his leadership. The senior personnel did not follow protocol on a project and the resulting outcome resulted in negative consequences for the senior personnel and the junior personnel. The junior personnel attempts to offer an alternative method of dealing with this problem for future reference and the leader rejects it stating he knows better because he is more experienced. The conflict is then exacerbated by the senior personnel's insistence on not taking blame and then placing blame on the junior personnel.
History shows that businesses tend to treat their staff more like a group rather than seeing them as individuals. The problem is, regardless of how the organization views them, they are still individuals. These individuals are then subject to having to withstand negative aspects of poor leadership, if these poor leaders arise, and deal with it by merely following order or instruction. That is the typical protocol for many organizations. The leaders feel like they can call the shots and the subordinates must obey or leave. It is not like that for all organizations, but it does happen. And when it happens, it is sometimes believed to lead to positive outcomes.
Conflict is complex and can stem from a variety of causes. Mayer uses a wheel metaphor to define the causes of conflict. Human needs are the definitive causes of conflict and are seen as the "hub." Human needs can be expressed as basic needs. Other immediate causes can be history, feelings, values, communication, and structure or context. These immediate causes comprise the "wheel of conflict." In order to understand a conflict, it is important to examine the immediate causes. "A better understanding of the conflict's history and its context, and of the parties' feelings, values and patterns of communication, will reveal their deeper needs" (Mayer). The range of needs for human go from: subsistence, to practical, technical and emotional anxieties, to identity-based needs for community, implicating familiarity and self-sufficiency.
Picking three for instance, subsistence, technical, and emotional anxieties, these immediate causes can help paint a better picture of how conflict arises. Survival is a key instinct in any human being. Looking at wars throughout history, survival has played a significant role in many of the conflicts that existed throughout time. People need to know they will be safe and their loved ones will be safe. So they will fight or challenge anyone or anything that might jeopardize this safety or stability.
Emotional anxieties, another very easy to understand immediate cause is something that can and does exist for any one person. People sometimes fight with others because they feel scared, threatened, or angry. Anger, a complex emotion stemming from any number of other feelings, usually leads as the main feeling experienced for people who have conflict with emotional anxieties as their immediate cause. People want to feel good as much as possible. When someone makes them feel bad, feel a negative emotion, conflict helps them determine or confront how to make themselves feel better.
An example of a survival-based conflict can be of a man who fights another man because the man threatened violence against him. He may feel a certain way in relation to the confrontation, but his immediate thoughts are if he does not fight back, he will die. Another example can be two women lost in the woods. Both women see a piece of food on the ground and a conflict stirs from both of their desires to eat the food and survive. In the first example the response to the fear of death triggers the conflict. In the second example the fear of death triggers the conflict.
For emotional anxieties, an example could be a man becomes jealous of another man who is flirting with his girlfriend. This emotional response causes the man to become angry and confront the other man leading to conflict. Another example is of a woman who overhears her friend talking bad about her behind her back. Here she feels betrayed and angry, propelling her to confront her friend and therefore a conflict is born. Although the feelings are different, the actions and cause are the same. The feelings are strong, they propel them to confront, and a conflict arises.
People need to see what causes conflicts in order to eliminate or reduce them. These conflicts are not purely based on emotions but sometimes on technical aspects. Technical anxieties come from the person fearing they are or will be seen as incompetent in the actions they perform. As mentioned prior, sometimes, senior personnel do not want their subordinates to question their actions. This because they fear they will be seen as less than or incompetent and then have their position of power stripped away from them. Leaders like being leaders because they have authority and control over others, or at least, themselves.
When a person challenges this, conflicts form based on their desire to want to seem more competent than the other. The old saying: "knowledge is power" applies because the more someone seems like they know what they are doing, the more confident others will be in following that person and the more confident he/she becomes. Therefore, conflict will come from the need to prove to he/she is right in order to preserve his/her role in the group/company/organization. While the nature of the conflicts differ with the subordinates sometimes feeling incompetent or insecure, the cause is still the same. No one wants to feel inept and people will try their best to seem capable and confident in order to gain the trust and confidence of others.
Managing conflict is the next phase after identifying sources and causes of conflict. There are varying styles, but five main styles will be discussed. The first conflict management is accommodation. Accommodation is when one cooperates to a high-degree, possibly at one's own expense, working against one's goals, intentions, and preferred results. This method is effective when the other party is perceived as the professional or has a superior resolution. It can also be operative for conserving future associations with the other party.
People who accommodate sacrifice their perspective in order to gain a solution to a problem or relinquish power to preserve the relationship the person has with the other party. Situations where accommodation may happen are with employees and employers, a married couple, or even a student to a teacher. Socially speaking accommodation is meant to pacify conflicts in order to preserve or gain something. The second style of conflict management is avoidance.
Avoidance quite simply put is when a person avoids the issue so conflict will not result. Instead of pursuit of one's goals or the other party's, nothing is done. This style of management conflict is most effective for trivial matters or when the person knows he/she stands no chance of winning the conflict. This style is also effective if the issue or source of conflict could end up being very costly if lost.
Emotionally charged situations sometimes call for avoidance. This is done in order to generate some distance/space. Sometimes problems solve themselves, in which case avoidance is beneficial. However, it is not a good long-term style of conflict management as inactivity usually leads to more problems. The third style of conflict management is collaboration.