Process of Conflict: Features, Types, Causes, Methods

What is Conflict?

Conflict is any situation in which two or more parties feel themselves in opposition, It is an interpersonal process. That arises from disagreements over the goals or the methods to accomplish those goals.

Conflict occurs whenever disagreements exist in a social situation over issues of substance or whenever emotional antagonisms create friction between individuals or groups. It, in some form or degree, is part and parcel of human life, hence, organizations are not free of it.

The term conflict has been used by different people to convey different meanings. It is a psychological state of mind within or outside the organization when people are in a state of dilemma, whether to do or not to do anything, and seriously engage themselves in weighing the pros and cons of the possible behavior but still feel unable to take a decision either way.

Thus it is the state of a wavering mind. It is not the same as ‘Quarrel’ or ‘Fight’. Conflict simply gives emphasis on differences in opinion, goals ideas, and lines of action.

Features of Conflict

From an organizational point of view, the following are the features of Conflict:

  1. Conflict occurs when individuals are not able to choose among, the available alternative courses of action.

  2. Conflict between two individuals implies that they have conflicting perceptions, values, and goals.

  3. Conflict is a dynamic process as it indicates a series of events. Each Conflict is made up of a series of interlocking conflict episodes.

  4. Parties to it must perceive conflict. If no one is aware of a Conflict then it is generally agreed that no conflict exists.

Types of Conflict

Conflicts in an organization can be broadly classified as follows:

  1. Conflict at Individual Level
  2. Inter individual Interpersonal Conflict

Conflict at Individual Level

The analysis of Conflict may start at the individual level itself. Since an organization is composed of various individuals, many Conflicts develop at the individual level. Individual-level conflict can be classified into two categories.

  1. Goal Conflict: A common source of conflict for an individual in an organization that has both positive and negative features is the existence of two or more Competing goals. Goal conflict occurs when two or more motives block each other. There can be three alternatives for goal conflict, Approach Approach Conflict, Approach avoidance Conflict, and Avoidance avoidance conflict.

  2. Role Conflict: Role Conflict arises due to the availability of many ways to achieve organizational goals. In the organization, every person is expected to behave in a particular manner while performing a specific role. When expectations of a role are materially different or opposite from behavior anticipated by the individual in that role, he tends to be in role conflict.

Inter individual Interpersonal Conflict

Inter-personal conflict involves conflict between two or more individuals. This type of conflict is the most common and most recognized conflict. In an organizational setup. There may be several forms of conflict but all these conflicts may be analyzed in two forms:

  1. Vertical Conflict: Vertical relationship in the form of a superior-subordinate relationship results in vertical conflicts which usually arise because the superior always attempts to control the behavior of his subordinates, and subordinates resist such control.

    A subordinate may resist such control. as he feels that his superior tries to control activities outside the scope of his control and he perceives conflict with his superior and atter may feel when his attempt of control is thwarted.

  2. Horizontal Conflict: Horizontal conflict at the interpersonal level is among the person at the same hierarchical level in the same function or in different functions.

Causes of Interpersonal Conflict

The major reasons for interpersonal conflict are:

  1. Nature of persons like ego states, value systems, and socio-cultural factors.
  2. Situation variables such as – Interest conflicts and role ambiguity.
  3. Personal differences
  4. Perception Differences
  5. Power differences
  6. Status differences
  7. Resource constraints
  8. Value of interest difference etc.

Conflict at Group Level

It is common that in every organization several groups are working together. Sometimes they affect the behavior of their members and sometimes they not only affect the behavior of their members rather they have an impact on other groups and the organization as a whole by interacting with the members of their own group or the members of another group. In this interaction process there may be two types of conflict:

  • Intra Group Conflict (within the group): A group consists of two or more persons who are in interaction with each other have a well-defined structure of role and status relations and have a system of values and norms of behavior for the smooth working of the group. The individual may want to remain in the group for social needs but may disagree with the group method.

  • Inter Group Conflict (between groups): Conflicts between different groups in the organization are known as intergroup conflict, as there are many factors in the organization are known intergroup conflict, as there are many factors in the organization which determine intergroup relationships.

    These factors can influence relations between two or more groups. If these factors are not positive they tend to create conflict among groups. If these factors are not positive they tend to create conflict among groups. These factors are: (i) Goal incompatibility (ii) Resource sharing (iii) Task relationship (iv) absorption of Uncertainty (v) Atitudenal sets.

Conflict at Organisational Level

We have already discussed conflict at the individual level – intra-individual and interpersonal, Group level conflict – intragroup and intergroup, all these types of conflict take place within the organizational setting. Conflict at the organizational level may also be:

  1. Intra-Organizational Conflicts: It will embrace all intra-individual, inter-individual, intra-group, and inter-group conflicts as they all are part of the same organization.

  2. Inter-Organizational Conflicts: These types of Conflicts occur between organizations that are in some or another way dependent on each other. This conflict can be between buyer and seller organizations between Unions and organizations, between Govt. agencies, that regulate certain organizations and organizations that are affected by them.

Process of Conflict

In an organization conflict is a process. This process progresses through different stages. Pondy pointed out five stages of Conflicts. As it is shown:

Process of Conflict
Process of Conflict

If we consider Conflict as a dynamic process, a conflict between the two parties that proceeds through the five stages, also takes into account the outcome of the previous conflict, if any that might have occurred between them. This aspect is important as various stages of a view conflict are likely to be governed by the previous conflict episode. The various stages of conflict episodes take place in the following manner:

  1. Latest Conflict
  2. Perceived Conflict
  3. Felt Conflict
  4. Manifest Conflict
  5. Conflict Aftermath

Latest Conflict

This is the stage in which the conflict has not taken shape therefore it is not apparent. It may occur in the subconscious mind. Some conditions from which conflict may occur are – (i) Competition for scarce resources (ii) Communication barriers causing inadequate and distorted information (iii) Divergence among sub-unit goals and methods and work (4) Role ambiguity.

Perceived Conflict

Parties to the conflict may perceive incompatibility of the antecedents of conflict. Perceived conflict occurs because of misunderstanding of the parties caused particularly by the lack of communication.

Felt Conflict

At this stage parties to the conflict feel that they have some conflict among themselves. It is the personalization and internalization of differences that causes conflict. There may be organizational or extra-organizational factors responsible for internalization.

Manifest Conflict

This is the stage when two parties to conflict show a variety of conflict behavior such as open aggression, sabotage, apathy, withdrawal work to rule, etc. depending upon the issue involved in the conflict.

Conflict Aftermath

At this stage, attempts are made to resolve the conflict through a Conflict resolution mechanism. Depending on the nature of the conflict resolution mechanism, either the conflict may be suppressed or resolved amicably. If the conflict is merely suppressed, the latent conditions of conflict may be aggravated and exploded in a more serious form. If the conflict is resolved amicably a basis for cooperative behavior is established between parties.

Causes of Conflict

Sources or courses of conflicts can be studied into three Categories:

  1. Communicational Aspect
  2. Behavioral Aspect
  3. Structural Aspect

Communicational Aspect

Lack of proper communication in the organization can be the cause of conflict. The problem of the communication process may be due to:

  1. Too much or too little communication.
  2. Filtering of Communication means that information is passed through many levels or through many members.
  3. The amount of information is functional up to a point, and after that, it becomes a source of conflict. * Semantic problems arise due to differences in background, training perception, and inadequate information about others.
  4. Pronlrm of Noise.

All these problems may lead to stimulating misunderstanding among members, which if not resolved, will result in conflict.

Behavioral Aspect

The behavioral aspect of conflict arises out of human thoughts and feelings, emotions and attitudes, values perception, and personality traits. Some of the important causes of this aspect of conflict are:

  • People’s values and perceptions differ situation-wise, which may lead to conflict with others.
  • The conflict may be based on a personal basis regarding religion, race, or sex.

  • The conflict may also arise due to different viewpoints about various issues.

  • The widening gap between ‘have’s and have not’s also causes conflict.
  • From the organizational point of view, there is conflict in the organization. goal and the psychological needs of the individuals because both of these are inconsistent with each other.

Structural Aspect

These conflicts arise due to the structural design of the organization.

  1. Lager Larger the size of organizations, the more will be the chances of a conflict.

  2. Destruction between line and staff Units within an organization is a big source of Conflict.

  3. Role ambiguity – Where the role of an individual is not clearly defined it will cause conflict.

  4. Poorly designed workflow structure and poorly planned coordination are also the cause of intergroup conflict.

  5. Scarcity of resources may bring conflict among groups who are otherwise peaceful at the time of abundance.

Conflict Management Methods

Conflicts in an organization can be managed by two methods:

  1. Preventive Approach
  2. Curative Approach

Preventive Approach

It is a universally accepted truth that prevention is better than cure. Management cannot altogether stop conflict, as it is inevitable and to some extent, desirable too, but it can take effective steps to prevent its occurrences in a dysfunctional manner. The techniques that can be used for the prevention of conflict are:

  1. Focus on Common Goal: The management should always talk in terms of overall organizational goals and their accomplishment.

  2. Structural Specifications: Jobs, and tasks roles, should clearly be defined, properly laid down and elaborately spelled out, to minimize conflicts.

  3. Sharing of Information: A number of conflicts develop due to a lack of information or due to distortion of available information. Hence organizational communication flow should be encouraged.

  4. Creating Win-Win Situation: Conflict within an organization should never be perceived as gaian to one party and loss to the other all conflicts’ should ultimately prove to be beneficial to the organization.

Curative Approach

Once it becomes known that a conflict has developed whether at the individual level or group level, it needs to be handled carefully so that all conflicts should ultimately prove to be beneficial to the organization by taking these steps:

  • Diagnosing the Issue: The first step is to find the nature of the conflict meaning thereby what the conflict is about, why it has developed, and how far it has progressed or evolved once the problem is identified the properly the conflict can be resolved.

  • Strategies for reduction of conflict Once a conflict has developed, and has started showing signs of becoming dysfunctional, it needs to be resolved or at least reduced in order to reduce conflict, two approaches are available either change the behaviors of people or change their attitudes.
Curative Approach
Curative Approach
  1. Avoidance: Nonattention or creating a total separation f the combatants or partial separation that allows limited interaction.

  2. Smoothing: Technique that stresses the achievement of harmony between disputants.

  3. Dominance: The imposition of a solution by higher management, other than the level at which the conflict exists.

  4. Compromise: A strategy that seeks a resolution that satisfies at least part of each party’s position.

  5. Confrontation: A strategy featuring a thorough and frank discussion on the sources and types of conflict and achieving a resolution that is in the best interest of the group but that may be at the expense of one or all of the conflicting parties.

FAQs About the Process of Conflict

What is the process of conflict?

These are the following steps of process of conflict:
1. Latest Conflict
2. Perceived Conflict
3. Felt Conflict
4. Manifest Conflict
5. Conflict Aftermath.

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