What is conflict?
Conflict is a process that involves people disagreeing. It is usually a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party. Conflict could be created due to different opinions of the interested parties, or due to the "show" of authority that some of the involved parties might have.
It can be separated in substantive conflict and emotional conflict. Substantive conflict is a disagreement over ends or goals and the means for their accomplishment. Emotional conflict is usual coming out over feeling of anger, mistrust, fear, etc. In addition, conflict may be classified in three types:
Intrapersonal conflict, interpersonal conflict and intergroup conflict.
TYPES OF CONFLICT
Intrapersonal conflict arises within a person. It is a fight you have to give with your ego, in front of several solutions for a decision you have to take. For example, if you are a sales manager and you are in front of a deal that you have to make on time with a customer, you might have to decide, either to close it according to your company's usual policy, or based mostly on your customer needs. In this occasion you are facing an intrapersonal conflict. To be more specific, in case you proceed with the first choice you will be ok with your company, but you may disappoint your customer and this can cause problems either in your personal relationship with him, or in your sales volumes. If you follow the second option, then you might have problems with your company, but you will probably improve your relationship with your customer and as a result the sales volumes as well. But, of course, you're taking a big risk, in case the sales results will not come as you have planned. This example could be a typical, usual, daily intrapersonal conflict of many employees in several organizational environments.
Many companies suffer because of interpersonal conflicts, due to high competition (internal or external), different personalities of those who are decision makers in a company, authority showing, etc.
Interpersonal conflict is arriving between colleagues, CEOs, boards of director, etc. and actually can be created in any level of a company. It is a usual reason which tends employees to resign. We have all faced during our working experience colleagues and managers fighting each other. Most of the times "these fights" or strong disagreements guide to problematic relationships between staff and finally in resign of those that "don't want to go a step back". It is important to refer that according to one research, "31.9% of CEOs quitted from their jobs, because they had conflicts with the board of directors". (Whitehouse, K. 2008, January 14).
"CEOs of competing companies might also have public conflicts. For example, in 1997, Michael Dell was asked what he would do about Apple Computer. "What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to shareholders." Ten years later, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Inc., indicated he had clearly held a grudge as he shot back at Dell in an e-mail to his employees, stating, "Team, it turned out Michael Dell wasn't perfect in predicting the future. Based on today's stock market close, Apple is worth more than Dell". (Haddad, C. 2001, April 18)".
Intergroup conflict takes place among different groups. Types of groups may include different departments in a company, employees and management, or competing companies in a market. Departments may conflict over budget planning. For example marketing budget or equipment budget usually creates a big conflict between marketing or production management or the general management.
Employees and management may disagree on work rules and procedures.
Suppliers may conflict with each other on the quality of goods, or in the pricing policy they're promoting in the market.
"For example, we will refer below a typical labor issue when a joint venture between two airline companies has taken place:
Canadian Air and Air Canada pilots were facing long term personal and legal conflicts when the two airlines' seniority lists were combined following the merger Seniority. This fact is a valuable and scarce resource for pilots, because it helps to determine who flies the newest and biggest planes, who receives the best flight routes, and who is paid the most. In response to the loss of seniority, former Canadian Air pilots picketed at shareholder meetings, threatened to call in sick, and had ongoing conflicts with pilots from Air Canada" (Stoykewych, R. E. 2003, March 7).
POTENTIAL CAUSES OF CONFLICT
Conflict can be created depending on the organizational Structure that a corporation follows. "For example, if a company uses a matrix structure as its organizational form, it will have decisional conflict built in, because the structure specifies that each manager report to two bosses" (Jaffe, D. 2000).
"For example, global company ABB Inc. is organized around a matrix structure based on the dimensions of country and industry. This structure can lead to confusion as the company is divided geographically into 1,200 different units and by industry into 50 different units." (Taylor, W. 1991, March-April).
Employees' Benefits differentiation
Resources offered from corporations as extra benefits to their employees such as money, time, and equipment are often a "problem". Competition among people or departments for different benefits is a frequent cause for conflict. For example, cars, mobile phones, credit cards, laptops are benefits that are offered not in all the employees, or not with the same value. For example salesmen might have different car according to their position in the company. This small issue can cause big conflicts. Differentiation in salaries of people in the same position level, but with different performance can as well create conflicts. Human beings are always jealous and feel unfair.
Task interdependence could be another cause of conflict. This issue is coming when your success or your achievement in your objectives is also depending on other people performance. For example, when you are a project engineer and you have to complete a building construction in timelines with the correct way and the planned resources, it might be a big success for you, but you have to be supported for example, from the electrician, the plumper, the builder, the supplier of the materials, etc. If you lose control, you will probably have big conflicts with all your above coordinators.
Sometimes conflict arises when two parties think that their goals are exclusively in their responsibilities. Within an organization, incompatible goals often arise because of the different ways department managers are approaching them. For example, a sales manager who' s bonus system depends on sales figures, believes that he has to offer higher credit periods in a big client, in order to earn bigger sales volumes. But the financial manager whose bonus terms, might depend on how fast the clients pay their amounts is disagreeing with this option. Then these two managers may conflict each other, because they focus on their personal interests and not on the company's common goal. Unless this issue is not resolved with the intervention of someone who has the authority to overlap those two, they might continue conflict without coming up to a solution.
Personality differences among personnel are something common and usual. Many times you're arguing with your colleagues, because you see things and issues in different way based on your ethics and your growing environment. Matching of the personalities and team spirit is a difficult thing, through a corporation and needs a special care from the Human Resource management department.
In many occasions conflict arises out of problematic communication system, such as unread-forgotten emails or dealing with people who don't give feedbacks in your inquiries, or they often forget to reply. Then conflicts are a typical result, usually from the involved parties who try to drop the fault each one in the other. Consequently, many working hours are lost in finding where the mistake in the communication history was.
OUTCOMES OF CONFLICT
Conflict can be dysfunctional if it affects negatively an organization, leads to low performance, or in the worst case, to workplace violence. To understand how to get to a positive effect of conflict, we first need to understand its causes, consequences, and tools to help manage it. "If conflict is too low, then performance is low. If conflict is too high, then performance also tends to be low". (www.flatworlfknowledge). The positive thing is to keep conflicts in the middle of this "thin line". Most of us might have the opinion that it is quite strange to try in leave conflicts existing in middle levels, but as we will see in the following paragraphs, we can definitely have positive outcomes.