Friday, August 6, 2010

Conflict Management

Conflict has a positive as well as a negative consequence on an organization. Organizational conflicts include intra-individual, interpersonal, intergroup, and structural conflict.

Sources of Conflict
There are many potential sources of conflict. Modern organizations are characterized by complex relationships and a high degree of task independence that can cause frictions. Moreover the goals of the parties are often incompatible, especially when the parties compete for limited resources. People also have different values and different perception of issues. A production manager, for example, may take the position that streamlining the product line and concentrating on a few products can make the organization more productive, while sales manager may desire a broad product line will satisfy diverse customer demands. An engineer may want to design the best product regardless of cost or market demand considerations.

Most sources of conflicts in an organization are listed below:
Competition for Limited Resources: Any group exists for the purpose of attaining some goals with the help of available resources. These resources may be tangible like men, materials, and money or intangible like power, status or the manager's time. No organization is capable of providing all the resources demanded by various units. Resources are limited and different groups have to complete for these scarce resources and many conflicts arise from this source.

Diversity of Goals: Groups in an organization have different functions to perform and as such they develop their own norms and goal. Goals of one group are incompatible to the goals of another group. Take, for example, a company, which manufactures electric fans that has a seasonal demand. Three departments marketing, production and finance - are involved. Since the demand for the product is seasonal, the marketing manager would like to have sufficient stock during the season. The production department has to gear up its capacity during the season but because of a tight labor market finds it difficult to hire labor temporarily and resorts to employ people on a permanent basis. This creates another problem. The finance manager says that as the storage costs are high it is expensive to keep stock build up in the slack season, and maintaining the production line during slack season imposes an additional burden.
This example shows that each department develop its own goals, which may conflict with another department's goals and one department may try to achieve its goals at the expense of another.

Task Interdependence: Groups in an organization don't function independent of one another. They have to interact with one another in order to accomplish their tasks. Three types of interdependence can cause inter-group conflict-pooled, sequential and reciprocal. Pooled interdependence exists when two work groups may not directly interact with each other but are affected by each other's actions. For example, when one independent product group performs poorly, all other groups may suffer financially. This can happen when rewards are contingent upon collective performance.

Sequential interdependence occurs when one group's performance depends on another group's prior performance. In a construction project, for example, the excavating team must prepare the foundation before the masons can work on the building structure. Since the masons depend on the excavators, conflict - between the groups can occur when the excavators' work is delayed.

Reciprocal interdependence occurs when two or more groups are mutually interdependent in accomplishing their tasks. For example, in developing and marketing a new product, three major departments (marketing, production and research) depend on each other to perform their tasks. Information possessed by one department is needed by another department. For example, the research department needs market information from the marketing department, and marketing needs research to provide customer services. When one group in unable to meet the expectations of another group, inter-group conflict usually results.

Differences in Values and Perception: Conflict is generated within organizations because various groups within the organization hold 'conflicting' values and perceive situations in a narrow, individualistic manner. An example that comes readily to mind is that of the management-labour conflict. Labour feels that management is exploiting it because in spite of making a profit, management feels that the profits should go to cash reserves so as to make the company an attractive proposition for investors.

Organizational Ambiguities: As implied, conflict may emerge when two organizational units compete over new responsibility. Newcomers to organizations are often struck by the ambiguity that exists about job responsibilities. Few organizations make extensive use of job descriptions or periodically update the job descriptions that do exist. Further, it is rare that the manager or employee consults his own job description. Managerial and staff jobs by their very nature are difficult to structure tightly around a job description.

Introduction of Change: Change can breed inter-group conflict. Acquisitions and mergers, for example, encourage inter-group conflict, competition, and stress. When one organization is merged into another, a power struggle often exists between the acquiring and acquired company. An attempt is usually made to minimize conflict by laying out plans for power sharing before the acquisition or merger is consummated.

Nature of Communication: One of the major fallacies abounding about conflict is that poor communication is the cause of all conflicts. A typical statement is: "If we could just communicate with each other, we could eliminate our differences". At the same time, evidence does suggest that problems in the communication channel such as noise, distortion, omission and overload do affect the process of collaboration and lead to misunderstanding. Too much information as well as too little information can lay the foundation for a conflict.

Managing Conflict
There are no hard and fast rules for conflict management styles. It depends on the situation, capability of manager experience of manager, attitude of the parities and so on. Conflict can be managed in different, some focusing on interpersonal relationships and others on structural changes. Avoidance of the situation that causes the conflict is an example of interpersonal approach. Another way of coping with the conflict is through smoothing, emphasizing the areas of agreement. A third way is forcing, pushing one's own view on others; this of course, will cause resistance. A traditional way of coping with conflict is to compromise, agreeing in part with the other person's view of demand.

Attempts can also be made to change the behaviour of individuals, but is quite difficult. At times, it may also be possible to reassign an individual to another organizational unit, in many situations, conflicts are resolved by a person with higher authority. The main problem is that the loser may attempt to get even with the winner at a later time, thus perpetuating the conflict. In the problem solving approach to organizational conflicts differences are openly confronted and the issues are analyzed as objectively as possible.

Another way of coping with conflict is to make structural changes. This means modifying and integrating the objectives of groups with different view-points. Moreover the organizational structure may have to be changed and authority-responsibility-relationships clarified. New ways of coordinating activities may have to be found. Tasks and work locations can also be rearranged. Often one must not only decide on the necessary changes, but also select the appropriate process for this reason, the next section focuses on organization development.

Following are the important styles which managers and management use to resolve various conflicts in the organizations.
Understanding and Listening: Individuals may develop fear concerning their obsolescence or job security grievances about being underpaid or frustrations regarding not being promoted. In addition performance appraisal may show persons certain deficiencies in their performance. Deficiencies, in turn, can lead to frustration or defensiveness. In such process effective managers perceive themselves not only as enforcers but also as listeners and resources for an employee. As listeners they try to gain empathy and understanding of how the employee sees the conflict. As resource persons, they may provide information on the constraints within which individual employees will have to resolve their conflicts, possibilities for resolution and encouragement for taking actions.

Therapeutic Approach: Interpersonal conflicts often last longer than they should, because the people involved are attending to the contents of what is being said to the relative ignorance of process (i.e., how things are being said and done). Approaches include working through conflicts by means of therapeutic group session set in motion, the brief of discussions then final briefs are compiled. The actual point of conflict is sorted out. In this process, individuals develop a sensitivity to how things are being said and the feelings behind them as well as the actual contents of what is being said. This enriched awareness of the interactions between two conflicting parties provides a broader bare for understanding that interaction and thus managing it effectively.

Pseudo solutions Approach: When individual conflicts are not resolved as well as there might be parties feel expressing anger has risk associated with it beyond admitting to oneself that the anger is there. Being angry involves the guilt of hurting someone as well as the risk of being wrong (or even being right) and thus being excluded from some relationships. There is also a concern over retaliation, especially if the other person has power of the party. As result of attitude conflict becomes taboo and norms are set up to minimize its manifestation.
Delaying tactics are a protective device. When confronted with conflicting rules, the bureaucrat of the Spanish Empire would obey but not execute. Similarly people of Mexico "never say no but don't do". But such kind of style for conflict solution is never good and should be avoided.


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