Model of the conflict process

Theme: Conflict Management


What is conflict

Like many fundamental concepts, conflict has many definitions and interpretations. From the standpoint of managing an organization, conflict is defined as a lack of agreement between two or more parties, which may be specific individuals, formal or informal groups. Each side does everything to get its point of view or goal accepted and prevents the other side from doing the same.

The concept of conflict is often associated with aggression, threats, quarrels, war, and so on. As a result, there is an opinion that conflict is always an undesirable phenomenon, that it, if possible, should be avoided.

The modern point of view is that conflict in an organization is not only possible, but often desirable. Conflicts, of course, are not always positive. For example, a person can argue at a meeting only because he cannot help but argue. Group members may take the argumentative point of view just to avoid conflict, which can reduce the satisfaction of their needs for power and belonging, as well as the effectiveness of the organization as a whole. But in many situations, conflict helps bring out different points of view, provides additional information, helps bring out more alternatives, and so on. This makes the decision-making process more efficient and also gives people the opportunity to satisfy their needs for respect and power.

Conflict can be functional and lead to an increase in the effectiveness of the organization, or it can be destructive and lead to a decrease in personal satisfaction, group cooperation and efficiency. The role of conflict depends on how effectively it is managed.

Types of conflict

There are four types of conflict: intrapersonal, interpersonal, between an individual and a group, and intergroup conflict.

intrapersonal conflict. It can take various forms. One of the most common forms is role conflict. Most often, it occurs when contradictory or mutually exclusive requirements are presented to the employee. For example, the head of a department in a store requires the salesperson to be in the department at all times. Later, he makes claims to him that the seller spends all his time on customers and does not care about replenishing the department with goods. Similarly, from the foreman of the site, his immediate supervisor requires an increase in output, and the head of the company for quality at the same time requires an increase in the quality of products.

Intrapersonal conflict can also arise due to the fact that personal needs are not consistent with production requirements (the need to work on weekends when a family event is planned, the need to move to another city when other family members lose their jobs, etc.).

Interpersonal conflict. This type of conflict is perhaps the most common. It manifests itself in organizations in different ways. Most often, this is the struggle of managers for limited resources: capital, premises, labor, etc. Each of them believes that since resources are limited, he must convince the higher authorities to allocate these resources to him, and not to another leader.

Interpersonal conflict can also arise, for example, between two candidates for promotion in the presence of one vacant position. In this case, the conflict can be subtle and long-lasting. Interpersonal conflict can also manifest itself as a clash of personalities. People with different personality traits, attitudes and values are sometimes just not able to get along with each other. As a rule, the views and goals of such people differ radically.

Conflict between the individual and the group. As E. Mayo’s experiments at Hawthorne showed, production teams set standards for behavior and performance. Everyone must comply with them in order to be accepted by an informal group and, thereby, satisfy their social needs. But if the expectations of the group are in conflict with the expectations of the individual, conflict can arise. For example, someone wants to earn more by exceeding the norms, and the group considers such behavior as a negative phenomenon.

Conflict can arise between an individual and a group if that individual takes a position that differs from that of the group. For example, in a meeting discussing the possibility of increasing sales, when the majority believes that the problem can be solved by lowering the price, one of the participants in the meeting will firmly believe that such a policy will lead to a decrease in profits and will create the opinion that the company’s product is worse than the competitors’ products. Although this person may sincerely support the interests of the organization, he will still be seen as a source of conflict because he goes against the opinion of the group.

A similar conflict may arise on the basis of the performance of official duties. For example, when a leader takes unpopular disciplinary action. The Group may respond to these measures with lower productivity.

Intergroup conflict. The organization is made up of many groups, both formal and informal. Even in the best organizations, conflicts can arise between such groups. A typical example of an intergroup conflict is the confrontation between the administration of an organization, on the one hand, and the trade union, on the other.

Another example of intergroup conflict may be the confrontation between line managers and functional service workers. Staff workers are usually younger and better educated than line managers. Line managers (heads of shops, heads of sections, foremen) may reject the recommendations of staff specialists and express dissatisfaction with their dependence on them in everything related to information. In extreme situations, line managers may deliberately choose to implement the suggestions of staff specialists in such a way that the whole undertaking will end in failure. And all this in order to “put in place” specialists. Staff personnel, in turn, may be indignant that their representatives are not given the opportunity to implement their decisions themselves, and try to maintain the informational dependence of line personnel on them. These are prime examples of dysfunctional conflict.

Often, due to the difference in goals, functional groups within the organization begin to conflict with each other. For example, the sales department is focused on the customer, while the production departments care more about the profit-cost ratio.

Causes of the conflict

All conflicts have multiple causes. The main causes of conflict are the limited resources to be shared, the interdependence of tasks, differences in goals, differences in perceptions and values, differences in behavior, differences in education, and poor communication.

Resource allocation. Even in the largest organizations, resources are limited. Management must decide how to allocate materials, people, finances, and other resources to different groups in order to effectively achieve the organization’s goals. To allocate a larger share of resources to one leader or group is to allocate a smaller share to others. People always want more resources, not less. The need to share resources leads to the possibility of conflict.

Interdependence of tasks. The possibility of conflict exists wherever a person or group is dependent on another person or group for a task. Since organizations are systems consisting of interdependent elements, the failure of any specialist or group of their tasks can cause conflict.

Some types of organizational structures and relationships seem to encourage conflict arising from the interdependence of tasks. The intergroup conflict between line managers and staff personnel is considered above. The cause of this conflict is often the interdependence of industrial relations. On the one hand, line personnel depend on the staff, as they must use the knowledge and skills of specialists. On the other hand, the staff is dependent on the line staff, as they need their support at the moment when they figure out problems in the production process or act as a consultant. Moreover, the staff at the implementation of their recommendations usually depends on the line.

Certain types of organizational structures increase the potential for conflict. This possibility increases with the matrix structure of the organization, where the principle of unity of command is deliberately violated. The potential for conflict is also great in purely functional structures, since each major function focuses primarily on its own area of specialization. In organizations where departments are the basis of the organizational chart (whatever criteria they are created for: product, consumer or territorial), the heads of interdependent departments report to one common head of a higher level, thereby reducing the possibility of conflict for purely organizational reasons.

Differences in purpose. The potential for conflict increases as organizations become more specialized and broken down into divisions. This is because specialized units formulate their own goals and may pay more attention to them than to achieving the goals of the entire organization. For example, the sales department may insist on expanding the product range to better meet customer needs and increase sales. For the production department, such a policy leads to an increase in the cost of production, which contradicts its main goal – high production efficiency. For the production department, from the point of view of the cost-benefit ratio, it is beneficial to produce large batches of homogeneous products.

Differences in perceptions and values. The idea of a situation depends on the desire to achieve a certain goal. Instead of assessing a situation objectively, people may consider only those views, alternatives, and aspects of the situation that they believe are favorable to their group and personal needs.

Differences in values are a very common cause of conflict. For example, highly educated R&D personnel value freedom and independence. If their boss finds it necessary to closely monitor the work of their subordinates, differences in values are likely to cause conflict.

Differences in behavior and life experience. Research shows that people with personality traits that make them authoritarian, dogmatic, and indifferent to the concept of self-respect are more likely to come into conflict. Other studies show that differences in life experience, values, education, seniority, age and social characteristics reduce the degree of mutual understanding and cooperation between representatives of different departments.

Poor communications. Poor communication is both a cause and a consequence of conflict. It can act as a catalyst for conflict, making it difficult for individuals or groups to understand the situation or the perspectives of others. If, for example, management fails to communicate to workers that a new performance-based pay system is not intended to “squeeze juice” but will increase the company’s profits, improve its position among competitors and, ultimately, will lead to higher earnings workers may react in ways that slow down the pace of work.

Model of the conflict process

The figure shows a model of a conflict associated with a managerial situation as a process. It shows that the existence of one or more sources of conflict increases the possibility of conflict situations in the management process. However, even when there is a high possibility of a conflict, the parties can react in such a way as to prevent its occurrence. This happens when people realize that the potential benefits of participating in a conflict are not worth the cost. Their attitude towards this situation is expressed as follows: “This time I will let him do his own thing.”

But in many situations, a person will react in a way that prevents others from achieving their desired goal. The real conflict often manifests itself in trying to convince the other side or a neutral intermediary that “that’s why he is wrong, and my point of view is correct.” A person may try to convince others to accept his point of view or block someone else’s through primary means of influence, such as coercion, reward, tradition, persuasion, participation, etc.

Model of conflict as a process.

The next stage of conflict as a process is its management.

Functional consequences of the conflict:

1. The problem can be solved in a way that is acceptable to all parties, and as a result, people will feel their involvement in solving the problem, which is a motivating factor. This will eliminate or minimize the difficulties in implementing decisions: hostility, injustice and compulsion to act against one’s will.

2. Parties will be more willing to cooperate rather than antagonize in future situations fraught with conflict.

3. Conflict can reduce the possibility of submissiveness syndrome, when subordinates do not express ideas that they believe are contrary to the opinion of the boss. This leads to improved decision making.

4. Through conflict, group members can work through possible performance issues before the solution is implemented.

Dysfunctional consequences of conflict:

1. Dissatisfaction, bad morale, increased employee turnover and decreased productivity.

2. Less cooperation in the future.

3. Strong devotion to one’s group and more unproductive

competition with other groups.

4. Presentation of the other side as an “enemy”; perception of their own goals as positive, and the goals of the other side as negative.

5. Curtailment of interaction and communication between the conflicting parties.

6. Increase in hostility between conflicting parties as interaction and communication decreases.

7. Shift in emphasis: giving more importance to “winning” the conflict than solving the real problem.


There are several ways to manage a conflict situation. They can be divided into two categories: structural methods and interpersonal styles of conflict resolution.

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