Conflict is inevitable in everyone’s life. Be it at home, work, or in social settings. What differs is how we perceive and respond to it. While some might view conflict as a negative, unfavorable situation, which must be avoided, some people might see it as an event that must involve some kind of supervision or handling of authority for its resolution. Here, we will focus on conflict management in the workplace.
Another interesting view is how conflict can also be seen as an opportunity for personal, group, or management growth.
That being said, let’s understand what conflict really means. Coser simply defines conflict as “A struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power and resources in which the aims of the opponents are to neutralize, insure or eliminate the rivals”
Every organization has different employees with different backgrounds, values, opinions, and priorities who work together. Hence, conflict in an organization is also inevitable when so many different perspectives coalesce and sometimes clash.
The most common causes of conflict include personality and value clashes, miscommunication, and organizational mismanagement. It can be expressed in different ways, including insults, noncooperation, bullying, and anger. Even the negative effects of workplace conflict can include work disruptions, decreased productivity, project failure, absenteeism, turnover, and termination. Let’s take a closer look at some of these conflicts and what they appear as.
Types of conflict
- Interpersonal conflict: This conflict comes between any two individuals of the organization, whether they are colleagues, employees, or managers.
Often using a negotiator or mediator helps in resolving interpersonal conflict, especially when it gets too destructive.
- Intrapersonal conflict: People usually believe that conflict occurs between two or more individuals. Contrary to that, conflict may actually arise within an individual too. For example, When an employee finds that he has to perform a task for which doesn’t align with his ethics or worldview competent enough. He or she feels conflicted that either they have to resign from the task or change their ethics
Therefore, this conflict can be managed by introspecting and working on internal conflicts and their affected behaviors has to be carried out by the individuals themselves.
- Intra-group conflict: This happens among individuals within a team. The misunderstandings among these individuals lead to an intragroup conflict,usually arises from interpersonal disagreements due to differences in views, beliefs, expertise, background, culture and ideas.
Sometimes this conflict can also help create the opportunity to solve a problem more effectively, but if the conflict harms the effectiveness and harmony of the team members, then some external guidance could be sought by the group members.
To learn cross-cultural team-building skills, click here.
- Intergroup conflict: This conflict occurs when individuals from different teams of an organization find some difference of opinion and interest among them. For instance, the finance department of an organization can come into conflict with the admin department after realizing that one gets paid way more than others.
This might arise due to the varied sets of goals and interests of these different groups. Furthermore, excessive competition within organizations may also facilitate this conflict.
Conflict management in the workplace: prevention and reduction
There are two major actions directed towards reduce or manage conflict when it occurs: actions directed at conflict prevention and actions directed at conflict reduction.
“Prevention is better than cure”. This saying works perfectly well for conflicts too, as preventing a conflict is often easier than reducing it once it begins.
Few strategies to prevent conflict in the workplace include:
- Providing stable, well-structured tasks and roles: When work activities and roles are clearly defined, understood, and accepted by employees. The probability of having a conflict reduces. If organizations or management couldn’t provide this stability, then employees should raise this concern themselves.
- Emphasizing organization-wide goals and effectiveness: Focusing on organization-wide goals provides a big picture as well as a common objective for all employees that build closure and as a result prevent goal conflict.
If larger goals are emphasized and communicated well with the employees then it’s highly likely that they will work together to achieve common goals.
- Facilitating intergroup communication: Miscommunication is one of the biggest causes of conflict, no matter what the situation, setting, or culture is.
So it becomes important to facilitate communication among groups and to share personal and work information so that trust starts getting built among each other and greater intergroup teamwork becomes possible.
- Avoiding win-lose situations: When resources get scarce, people usually find themselves in conflict over them.
To avoid this management and employees can seek some form of resource sharing to achieve organizational effectiveness. Furthermore, the rewards can also be given for contributions to overall corporate objectives; this will foster a climate in which groups seek solutions acceptable to all.
Conflict reduction by conflict management styles
Researchers Thomas and Kilmann have developed a widely used and effective framework that includes five styles of handling conflict: competing, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising.
Through this framework, a conflict management style is chosen while considering both factors, including, the individual’s assertiveness represented on the horizontal axis and the individual’s concern for others represented on the vertical axis.
- Accommodating: Or friendly helper is used when individuals set aside their own interests and have a high concern for others. It can be seen as a weak style, but it actually is powerful to take consideration of others.
This style works when: the person realizes they are wrong, they want things to be peaceful, and when they realize it’s futile to argue in this situation.
- Avoiding: When people have low concern for their opinion as well as other opinions, they use the avoiding style. It might seem that the person is running away from the situation, but sometimes it’s better to avoid conflicting situations and give yourself and other parties some time to consider things again.
This style works especially well when any party seems to lose control of themselves and they aren’t even considering having open communication.
- Compromising: When people have moderate concern for themselves and other people, they use a compromising style. Through this style, parties try to find a way to partially satisfy themselves as well as other parties to get a quick solution at hand.
This style works especially well when reaching a solution becomes so crucial for both parties that they can consider losing something for it.
- Collaborating: When people try to find a way to satisfy people on both sides of the argument, they use collaborating. It’s a win-win situation and it is the most preferred style for researchers and negotiators.
This style works only when parties realize that they care for long-term solutions and relationships.
Every conflict is different, and everyone’s perception and approach to them are also different. Meaning there is actually no one right way to manage all of them. And a lot of factors play during the process, hence it’s important to consider all of them before deciding on which one to use. Prevention helps by focusing on common possible causes and understanding the different conflict management styles can help in dealing with a wide range of conflicts. Finally, choosing the right style is important as it becomes the main difference between resolution and uncertainty.
What kind of person do you think you are during a conflict? What kind of style you usually use in situations and what would you actually prefer? Try to ask yourself these questions to increase your awareness. Sometimes you have to use your preferred method on the people you are comfortable with managing conflict and sometimes you need to understand other environmental factors a little more before selecting your style. And sometimes you probably need to ask for somebody’s help who is better equipped to deal with that particular conflict. Either way, introspecting is the key step to conflict management.