Updated June 9, 2023
Conflicts at Workplace – We find conflict in most places where we work. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable.
- It essentially means ‘disagreement’ or ‘incongruence of ideas’.
- The disagreement, so long it is subtle, is manageable; however, it becomes unmanageable once it becomes violent.
- A conflict can be between two individuals, an individual, a group, or two parties.
- A conflict occurs when both parties cannot achieve their goals or if there is a disagreement between them.
Sources of Conflict at Workplace
Having said this, let us also try and identify the sources of Conflict in the Workplace.
Broadly these sources can be:
- Personal factors (Internal)
- Structural factors (external)
Consider a task with activities that are not related to one another or interdependent on one another. The output of one activity could be an input to another. Hence, the other activity cannot start unless the first activity finishes.
There could thus be a conflict between the two. This is an example of a structural (external) factor leading to conflict. A person’s skills and abilities do not match the skill sets required for the job, and hence there could be a Structural (internal) conflict that may arise at the workplace.
A particular task may have jurisdictional ambiguities. There may be an occasion where there are no geographical boundaries. Most organizations, in fact, do not have well-defined roles for several or most of the positions; as a result, much of the work done by an individual overlaps with the other.
There is no proper job description that is defined for various roles. As a result, two persons or more spend time and energy doing an activity but with a lot of overlap, resulting in poor utilization of manpower from an organizational standpoint. This can be avoided if all the positions’ roles are well carved out.
It will also bring to light a lot of clarity in terms of the gaps in the processes, which can then be plugged in accordingly. Role ambiguities are common within the department or the same function.
It is up to the concerned departmental/functional manager to ensure that the roles of the employees are properly defined. For that matter, it is important for a team manager to ensure that the roles are properly defined, lest there occurs an overlap rendering the roles team less productive. The one that we discussed above can be considered a role conflict.
Internal factors leading to conflicts in the workplace can be plenty.
- An individual looks at the functional goals in a different way, while another individual looks at the same goals in a different way.
- The same goal is perceived differently by two different individuals or, for that matter, two different groups resulting in a conflict. Therefore when we talk of the organizational goals or when we talk of the vision and mission of an organization, all the people have to be in sync with each other or, better put, all of them have to be properly aligned to the vision or mission or else a conflict may result. This could be called a Goal conflict. This is an internal factor.
- The people are unsure about their goals; if such a situation exists, it could be detrimental to an organization. Goal conflict may also be due to the scope of work that an individual is expected to do. If such a conflict exists, it would not be in good taste for the success of an organization.
Let us understand this better through an example.
- Consider an employee or a set of employees who have been recruited and finally come on board.
- After joining, they find that the job realities are much different from what they had been told.
- The scope of the work, the work timings, etc., could be much different from what they were informed before the recruitment. Often, an organization recruiter, to complete his / her hiring targets, portray an incorrect picture of their goals and roles, often resulting in conflicting situations.
- Placement agencies often see the same, as they place the candidates and get their share of fees from the organizations by portraying a rosy picture of the goals and roles the individuals would have to perform, which would be far from realities, thus leading to a conflicting situation.
- Organizations encountering such situations would have invariably had higher attrition rates.
Consider an example where I am the boss, and I care two hoots for the emotions of my subordinates. My emotions thus clash with the emotion of my subordinates, and thus a conflict sets in. This could better be termed as Emotional conflict.
There are several types of conflicts in the workplace. Intrapersonal conflict / Intraindividual conflict is the most common form of conflict. This is a conflict that exists within an individual. When an individual goes into self-introspection mode, he/she encounters an intrapersonal conflict.
Consider a person who comes from a strong ethical background and has strong principles. He works for the organization and has been asked to grease the palms of an official. This unethical act may lead to a conflict within an individual as this is against his/her principles.
Interpersonal Conflict at Workplace
Interpersonal conflict is a conflict that occurs between two individuals and is a common feature in any organization. It is common within a function or a department also.
There could be a difference of opinion between two individuals within the same function, or there could be a difference of opinion between the boss and the subordinate. The production manager and the marketing manager are generally at loggerheads and in a conflicting mode in most manufacturing organizations.
The Marketing manager over-commits the targets to its customers to delight them and tries to earn brownie points from the management.
On the other hand, the production manager is at a crossroads as he cannot fulfill the production targets set for the month. He is upset with the marketing manager as the marketing manager, without consulting him, has committed to delivering products to the client on a particular date, keeping him out of the loop.
A little larger than the above could be an intergroup conflict which is a conflict that may exist between two groups of people. For example, there could be a conflict between the workers and the management due to a prolonged dispute over an increase in wages. The rivalry between two political parties within the national political arena is another example of intergroup conflict.
A little larger than the intergroup conflict is Organizational conflict. An example of conflict at the workplace could be a situation wherein, let us say, the organization’s HR department has rolled out a policy that the employees do not like. Hence, this could be a conflicting situation at the organizational level. This may be an organizational-wide conflict.
Interorganizational Conflict at Workplace
Interorganizational conflict can be a rivalry between two organizations. This rivalry should not be mistaken as competition between the two organizations.
Two organizations may conflict over launching a product or a service. The persistent issue between the local municipal authorities and the people-representative association over poor drainage systems and bad roads could also be an example of this type of conflict at the workplace.
Having understood these types of conflicts in an organization, it thus becomes imperative to manage them. Any manager’s success or organization’s efficiency is strongly dependent on conflict management. The style or how it is manageable can closely associate with managing a conflict.
A conflict could be at a latent stage, which may generally not be evident; however, it may comprise factors in a particular situation that may turn into potential sources for inducing a conflict. A conflict could be visible in several ways, the most common being anxiety, tension, and frustration. In certain cases, the conflict is not only perceived but also felt. It may become very visible and come out in the open. Both parties in conflict may display extreme behaviors like aggression or even withdrawal.
Conflict at Workplace: Management Styles
Therefore, let us learn a bit about the various conflict managing styles and understand your style of managing a conflict facilitates you with better conflict resolution.
A competitive style of managing a conflict reflects a high degree of assertiveness. It involves the use of power in resolving a conflicting situation. In this resolution style, an individual or a party would also use high rank, high connection, etc., to do things in one’s favor. In this style, the party takes a stance and sticks to it, showing a low degree of cooperativeness.
Cost-cutting measures by the management or enforcement of unpopular disciplinary rules by the administration would be examples of Conflict in the Workplace where this competitive style is useful.
This style becomes evident when one party of an individual goes all out to gain a strong position without considering the issues or concerns of the other opponent party.
Gradually, as the intensity of conflict increases, the tendency for a forced conflict is very likely wherein one party wins over the other party’s expense. A win-lose kind of situation often arises in this mode of resolution.
This resolution style can be resourceful when the relationship with the other party does not matter.
An avoiding style of Conflict at Workplace handling involves stepping aside diplomatically and not addressing the conflict immediately. It consists in postponing the conflict or withdrawing physically or psychologically from a threatening situation.
This style is helpful when more pressing matters must be handled in a limited time frame. In other words, if there are other pressing matters, the Avoiding style withdraws from the problem.
This style provides a temporary solution to the problem, and the probability of its recurrence is higher.
This style of conflict management at the workplace can be useful when you know that you cannot win, the stakes are low, you think that the problem will go away, or you may win the conflict by delaying.
A collaborative conflict resolution style in the workplace is useful for high assertiveness and cooperativeness during a conflict. Both parties attempt to satisfy their needs.
This leads to a Win-win approach wherein both parties seem interested in resolving conflicts at the workplace. This makes the conflict work environment very fertile and leads to the emergence of creative ideas.
This style can be effective when the skills of both parties are complementary and time is sufficient. Cost reduction and learning are positive outcomes of this style. This style is very common in most professional organizations today.
For instance, when the monthly payroll is under process, the HR manager collaborates with the IT team for a smooth payroll process to avoid software-related issues. The HR manager also collaborates with the Finance team for tax implications, loan deductions incorporated while processing payroll, and also for crediting the salary in the respective bank accounts of the employees.
Therefore, this style is the most sought in organizations today as it breeds creativity and creates a spirit of teamwork that is highly desirable for organizations.
This style enables open & direct communication, which should lead the way to problem-solving. This conflict resolution style should be in use when both parties must win and trust each other. Here, the skills of both parties are complementary, and learning forms the ultimate goal.
The compromising style of Conflict at Workplace resolution is useful when collaboration or competition fails, and each party tries to give up something to reach a compromise.
This often leads to a temporary solution. This style can be useful in maintaining relations with the parties involved. It can also be helpful when the parties enter a deadlock, and there seems to be no way forward.
An accommodating style can be adopted when one party is willing to sacrifice in the other party’s interest.
Here, if the manager constantly defers the problem for one reason or the other, he may lose the respect of others for himself. In this conflict mode, by yielding to others’ points of view, an individual or a party conveys to the other that he/she is reasonable.
Managing a conflict at the workplace is useful where the outcome is not vital, but solving the conflict is important. This style can be useful when you want to create a state of obligation for a trade-off at a later stage and goodwill.
Negotiation is the most common method of conflict resolution in the workplace, which involves bargaining between the conflicting parties to decide to resolve their conflict.
We often notice that parties in a conflicting mode enter into a deadlock called a Bargaining impasse, which leads to the need for a third-party negotiation.
In a third-party negotiation of a conflict, an attempt by a relatively neutral person can resolve their differences. This could be of three types of conflicts in the workplace.
Arbitration is one way of third-party negotiation wherein the arbitrator can dictate a settlement between the parties.
The arbitrator has high control over the final decision and low control over the process. An outcome or a settlement here happens because of the authority of the arbitrator.
Mediation facilitates negotiation by using a lot of persuasion and reasoning.
A lot of logical reasoning takes place by the mediator. Therefore, a mediator possesses high control over the process and low control over the conflict resolution direction.
Ultimately, it is the parties that decide how to resolve their differences.
Inquisition controls the conflict to a major extent. An inquisitor has a very high amount of control in a conflict resolution as to how the conflict resolution will go.
He has a high decision control by choosing the form of conflict resolution. He possesses high control over what information needs to be examined and how this should be examined.
What did we learn?
- Conflicts in the Workplace are evident and unavoidable.
- Addressing conflicts promptly can curb unpleasantness and make conditions more conducive to work and progress.
- Various styles and ways can be useful for conflict resolution in the workplace. Most styles and ways depend on how both parties behave; at times, if the other party is adamant, then a compromise or accommodating style of conflict resolution can be adopted.
- Conflicts and their resolutions can be better when managers encounter conflicting situations and adopt suitable resolution styles.
- Conflicts are very common in an organization, especially on the shop floor. A horizontal conflict occurs at the same level in an organization, i.e., between people at the same hierarchal level. These people could be within the same function but performing different roles or between two people from different departments.
- A line-staff conflict portrays a shop floor picture perfectly. The supervisor is always at loggerheads with the workers, reasons of which could be plenty – ranging from stiff targets, shorter lunch breaks, undue close monitoring, and payment of overtime wages and bonuses to the workers.
- A conflict manifests itself in various forms like aggression, tension, frustration, etc. The outcome of a conflict can be positive or negative. If the conflict resolution satisfies both parties, the outcome may be positive; otherwise, it could be negative.
- If the conflict at the workplace suppresses for any reason or other, residual tension may crop up. This residual tension may become a latent conflict source for the next conflict episode.
Here are some articles that will help you to get more detail about the Conflicts at the Workplace, so just go through the link.