What is a Conflict? Definition, Types, Reasons, and Ways To Reduce

What is a Conflict?

A conflict is a situation when there is a misunderstanding between two or more individuals either in terms of goals, attitudes, interests, needs, beliefs, roles, or other aspects. In organizational settings, such conflicts are known as organizational conflicts or workplace conflicts.

Conflicts are common in organizations. Whenever two employees or a group of employees differ in their goals or understanding conflicts arise in the workplace.

Organizational conflict simply refers to all kinds of opposition or antagonistic interaction between or among individuals or groups in the organization. It exists whenever one party perceives that another party has blocked or hampered or is about to hamper the accomplishment of goals.

In general, conflicts are supposed to create negative consequences but it not always negative. If conflicts are managed properly, they produce good results. Through disagreement for a positive result, the best way can be obtained which causes better performance.

Types of Conflict

At the workplace, there can be different forms of conflicts that arise due to various reasons. Generally, organizational conflicts are categorized based on the basis of involvement and reason for conflicts. They are;

On the Basis of Involvement

Based on who is involved in the conflict, conflict can be classified into the following five types.

  • Intrapersonal Conflicts – It is a conflict that occurs within an individual.
  • Interpersonal Conflicts – This is the conflict that occurs between two individuals.
  • Intra-Team Conflicts – Intrateam conflicts occur within a team i.e. within the members of a team.
  • Inter Team Conflicts – These types of conflicts occur between two teams of the organization.
  • Inter-Organizational Conflicts – Inter-organizational conflicts occur between two organizations of the same industry or organizations in the same business network.

Based on the Reason for Conflict

Based on the reasons for conflicts, conflicts are of three types.

  • Relationship Conflicts – Conflicts arising out of interpersonal differences or relational tensions between two or more employees within the same and different levels are called relational conflicts. This is concerned with the relationship intrinsically, not the task at hand.
  • Task Conflicts – When there is a disagreement among members regarding the nature of work to be performed in the organization, such conflicts are called task conflicts. Unclear roles, intention to delegate the responsibility, work overload, task significance, etc. cause task conflicts.
  • Process Conflicts – Confrontations among the team members because of the differences in opinion, on how work should be completed, are process conflicts.

Read Also: Resistance To Change

Factors Influencing Conflict In the Organization

There can be various sources for conflicts in the organization. The most common five reasons are mentioned below:

Vague Responsibility

Conflicts may arise if there is a lack of clarity regarding who is in charge of what duty. The tasks and responsibilities of each employee should be spelled out in detail to avoid this. Additionally, the duties and responsibilities should be agreed upon by each employee.

Interpersonal Differences

Every employee in the company has a unique personality, which is very important in causing interpersonal issues. Because of variations in perception, personality, attitudes, and behaviors, interpersonal conflicts among the members of the organization frequently result in confrontations.

Limited Resources

Inadequacy of resources also causes conflicts in the workplace. Capital, time, machinery, materials, information, etc. are the most essential to accomplish the task within the time and standard. In the absence of such resources, individuals and groups can not achieve the targets.

Conflicts of Interest

Because of the diversity of the workforce, there may be diversities of interests. Conflicts of interest develop when employees’ personal ambitions and the organization’s aims are not aligned. This causes conflicts in the organization. The conflict of interest is what causes disagreements between employee unions and management.

Poor Communication

Poor communication between the supervisor and the employees or the organization to employees is another vital cause that leads to conflicts in the organization. Inadequate communication, one-way communication, communication overload, etc. are communication-related reasons causing conflicts.

Relationship Between Conflict and Organizational Performance

There are several approaches for internalizing conflicts in the organization. Traditionally, conflict is observed as a negative energy that reduces organizational performance while the modern approach to conflict approach claims that conflicts in manageable scope increase the performance of the organization.

An organization having no conflicts can not generate new ideas, alternative courses of action, and a foundation of decision-making. The dilemma between these two extremes whether conflicts decrease or increase organizational performance is presented in the following picture.

Fig. Source

In the above figure, organizational performance is observed to be low when the conflicts remain at two extreme levels i.e. low (point A) and high (point C). Organizational performance is at its highest at moderate levels of conflict which is called the optimal level of management purpose.

Low Level of Conflict (Performance Point A)

The opinions of employees and supervisors on particular subjects are shared when there is little conflict. There is no change initiative, and they cooperate with one another. People like to carry out tasks according to established protocols.

Employees do not look for novel solutions to address environmental changes. In this situation, organizations remain non-adaptive to environmental challenges.  As a result, the organizational performance continues to be below average.

Maximum Level of Conflict (Performance Point C)

At the maximum level of conflict, people disagree with existing ideas, plans, and policies. On every topic, each participant strives to develop a fresh perspective. People disagree with other people’s opinions. There is a maximal amount of disagreement, which prevents people from cooperating in actions and behavior.

As a result, the organization suffers from a lack of discipline and low production. People compete with one another, defend their beliefs, and hold opinions that are different from others. These differences might be founded on behavioral expectations as well as disparities in how facts are interpreted.

Optimal Level of Conflict (Performance Point B)

At the optimal level of conflict i.e. point B, people do not agree with each other. Their actions and behavior show a lack of cooperation. People do, however, think differently in productive ways. Through the best use of organizational resources, new solutions are created to address issues and accomplish goals.

Every employee in the company believes that having different points of view helps improve organizational effectiveness. If someone is superior, they accept their opinion. Thus, cooperation among the employees uplifts organizational performance at this level.

Managing Conflicts in the Organization

Conflicts are natural in human life as well as in the workplace. Since conflicts can help or hurt organizational performance, as we have discussed earlier, constructive conflicts should be handled properly and negative or dysfunctional conflicts should be resolved or reduced.

Following are some of the techniques to handle conflicts at the workplace – stimulating, preventing, and resolving techniques.

Stimulating Technique

Conflict is not always bad for the organization or destructive. The best alternative path of action can be developed through conflicts to help people make better judgments. If addressed correctly, conflicts can improve organizational effectiveness.

According to the stimulating technique, there won’t be any innovation or creativity if there isn’t any dispute. Thus, managers need to stimulate conflicts in the organization. To stimulate conflict, the following methods are used.

  • Reorganizing – This focuses on changing or altering the existing role, responsibility, and authority relationship in the organization.
  • Communication – By using communication as well, managers can create conflicts among employees. Under this, managers manipulate information while communicating with the employees.
  • Encouraging Competition – Competition can be increased by providing bonuses, incentives, pay, and awards to excellent performers.
  • Bringing in Outsiders – Managers may sometimes create conflicts by bringing in people from other organizations or the labor market.

Preventing Technique

The prevention technique is based on the principle that if we prevent from being the conflict created, it will be no tension to solve it. As such, this technique explains that managers should pay due attention to preventing organizations from creating conflicts.

The following are some techniques for preventing conflicts.

  • Solving the Problems Immediately – You should solve the problems in time by discussing and sharing the views with conflicting parties if any.
  • Expansion of Resources – Most conflicts are created because of a shortage of different resources, as such, necessary resources should be made available.
  • Changing the Structural Variable – Conflicts may be developed due to the misunderstanding of role, responsibility, and authority relationships.
  • Altering the Human Variable – Most conflicts are created due to the lack of understanding of the human variables i.e. group or team.
  • Improving Communication System – Open and two-way communication helps to reduce the chances of organizational conflicts.

Resolving Technique

Managers need to identify the level of conflicts and start resolution techniques. A strategy that intends to eliminate conflict in the organization is called a conflict-resolving strategy. The following techniques can be used for resolving conflicts.

  • Problem-Solving – By solving the problems i.e. root cause of the conflicts, managers can solve conflicts. In this, managers need to bring together conflicting parties together to share their problems.
  • Smoothing – It includes minimizing the conflicts by highlighting the similarities through peaceful co-existence and eliminating misunderstanding between the conflicting parties.
  • Compromising – It is the process of bringing down both parties of the conflict to a point of agreement by leaving some uncommon group of differences.
  • Avoidance – Conflicts can be resolved temporarily by avoiding them.

Related: Strategies To Manage Teams in the Workplace.

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