Types and causes of conflicts

A conflict can be defined as a state of opposition between persons, ideas or interests. Conflicts can be very destructive at workplace if not properly managed as they can bring everything to a standstill. Conflict between organizations is an inevitable outgrowth of functional interdependence and the scarcity of resources. Managers and organizational theorists have more frequently been concerned with resolving conflict within the organization rather than conflict between organizations that are part of a system. (Henry n.d). There are various types of conflicts that are usually experienced at workplace. The following are the most common types of conflict at workplaces: (Tricia & Ross 2007).

  1. Interdependence Conflicts- this type of conflict occurs when a person's job depends on someone else's cooperation, output or input. In somebody’s work depends on other peoples activities it is probable that he or she will face interdependence conflict at some point.  
  2. Differences in Style-People use different styles or procedures when doing their work. For instance, one person may be very task oriented and may just want to get the work done quickly. Others may be more concerned with having it done in a very artistic way or some may even want to include other people in the project. In most cases when People do things in different ways often affect others and cause conflict.
  3. Differences in Background/Gender – people come from different backgrounds and have different life and work experiences and preferences. Conflicts may arise between people because of differences in educational backgrounds, personal and work experience, and ethnic heritage. For instance, if one person's personal beliefs or preferences are unacceptable or intolerable by another person and they have to work in a similar office or close to each other, it will be difficult to uphold a professional relationship as conflicts will always arise.
  4. Differences in Leadership- there are usually different leadership styles that usually impact people or teams.  For instance some leaders or managers may be more open and empowering while others may be more direct and autocratic. It can be difficult for team members when they shift from one team to another to move to the different leadership 'tune'. Dealing with the different styles can cause the worker stress, leading to decreased production
  5. A difference in Personality-This is one of the most common conflicts experienced at work place. This is because an organization or company is characterized by people with diverse personalities which usually cause conflicts when they happen to work together. It is instigated by emotions and perceptions about others' intentions and character.

Conflicts in the case study

From the case study various conflicts of different natures arises. Some of the types of conflicts include: conflict arising from difference in personality, conflict as a result of difference in leadership, interdependence conflict and conflict as a result of differences in management styles.

The conflict between Ralph and George:

Ralph accuses George of trying to steal the best men from his department on the  other hand George accuses Ralph for finding excuses for his poor management style. The conflict of management style comes out because George thinks that Ralph is an efficient manager who had unnecessarily increased the size of his department and who is unwilling to cut down on expenses to a reasonable level. George thinks that Ralph should reduce the size of his department in order to remain competitive. George also thinks that workers in Ralph’s department will be better utilized if they work under him. George seems to be full of himself and his way of management. This is something is constantly bringing him into collision with other managers like Ralph. He thinks that he should do things the way he beliefs they should be done and nobody has a right to stand his way. He has the attitude of taking over and managing any group that is at his disposal even if it is not under his jurisdiction, he even wants to absorb the lab into his operation something that receives a lot of opposition from Ralph. He thinks that he is a better manager than his peers and even the director Mr. john.

The conflict between these two managers has greatly affected the organization performance. For instance the morale in Ralph’s group went down from the usual mark because they felt that they were underutilized due to low work load something that Ralph claims George is the cause because he directs projects to his department only to do nothing about them.

The conflict Ralph and his juniors:

This conflict arises mainly because of Ralph’s management style and his personality. He is too aloof and reserved and lacks effective personal relations, something that makes him seek the help of a new manager to work under him who is efficient in personal relations but this does not help a lot. The management and leadership style seems to have aggravated the conflict between him and his group. This is because the management style of Henry, the former manager, seems to have blended well with the workers in the department. Under Henry' s management this group was highly motivated and worked together as one big family and even turned down promotion in order to maintain the group not even George’s tricks could lure them into leaving the group.  The new management style under Ralph and personality shatters this group that before his coming was well knit, performing and had a strong group identity. This conflict has killed morale among his juniors who are now seeking transfers, reporting to work late and increased absenteeism. The workers under his department felt that the new management was too distant and reserved.

Conflict between George and Henry:

This occurred before Henry was replaced by Ralph. This is caused by George’s attitude of thinking that he is the best man for every department. .Henry claims that George tried to lure some of the best talents in his department to work under him something that he does not succeed because Henry had strong relations with workers in his department. On the other hand George blames the management style of Henry for unnecessarily increasing the size of the lab and therefore making it less competitive.

Henry and Ralph     

The conflict between this two is entirely based on differences in management styles. Henry resents that Ralph was planning changes without consulting him or acknowledging the role he had played in promoting the functions of the department before his transfer to the department of medical service. Henry does not take in easily Ralph’s way of managing his former department. For instance, when Ralph brings in a new manager Frank -whose assignments Henry refers to as ‘make work’ one and did not feel meaningful utilized. On the other hand Ralph felt that management procedures that had been put in place by his predecessor should be changed because he saw them as obstacles to his plans.

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

In many cases, conflict in the workplace just seems to be a fact of life. This case study presents situations where different people with different goals, needs and personality have come into conflict.  This conflict has even resulted to intense personal animosity between the key managers in the organization consequently affecting smooth running of projects and has killed morale of most employees. This requires that these conflicts be managed effectively so that they can lead to personal growth and development. Good conflict resolution mechanism ensures that problems that are brought to the surface and solved amicably. This also ensures the following benefits: (Tricia & Ross 2007).

- Increased understanding: The process to resolve conflict expands people's consciousness of the situation, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people.

- Improved group cohesion: efficient resolution of conflict allows the concerned parties or team members to build up stronger mutual respect and a renewed confidence in their ability to work together.

- Enhanced self-knowledge: Conflict pushes individuals to evaluate their goals in close detail, permitting them to appreciate the things that are most essential to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing their effectiveness at work place.

To achieve these positive aspects of conflict management one needs to understand the theories and tools that lie behind effective conflict management and resolution. The following theories and tools seems to be effective in managing conflicts like the one that we have seen in the case study and at the same time ensure that the positive aspects of conflict management are realized:

The Interest-Based Relational Approach

This theory is normally referred to as the "Interest-Based Relational (IBR) Approach". This approach is efficient in managing various conflicts as it employs conflict resolution strategy that respects individual differences in the process of helping people stay away from becoming too ingrained in a fixed position. This approach is based on the assumption that giving due respect to individual differences while keeping the people from being too focused on a fixed position will easily resolve or manage a conflict.( Herbert 2005).

In using this approach, an organization needs to tag along a set of standards or ground rules. The first rule requires the groups to ensure that good relations are the first and key priority. Conflicting parties should put up mutual respect and treat each other considerately. The next rule is to keep the people and the problems detached. Focus on the ideas or viewpoints and not on the person. Third, pay attention to the interests of the people or the group. This will enable one to understand why the group or individuals are fixed on such position. (Herbert 2005).

If the director of this organization, Mr. John, together with his managers employ this strategy I think they will be able to contain the conflict that is roaming between various managers in the organization thus making sure that running of the organization is not affected negatively and at the same time reap the positive aspects of effective conflict resolution. The following standard procedure should be followed: (Peter 2008).

(i) Ensure that good relations are the first precedence:  The facilitator should make sure that the involved parties treat each other calmly and to assist them put up mutual respect. The involved parties on the other hand should ensure they are considerate to one-another and stay constructive under pressure. John should get together his managers and help them build mutual respect and help them not to see each other as not as competitors but as a team members with a common objective of improving performance of the organization. This will help them deal with personal animosity arising from the conflict and assist them face the problem from a rationalized point of view. Also the conflict between Ralph and his juniors will be best approached by putting this first step into consideration. He should try to first create mutual respect and understanding between him and his juniors before trying anything else.

(ii) Maintain people and problems separate: When solving conflicts one should not approach it from a personalized point of view. One should recognize that in many cases the other person is not just "being difficult" – real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships. Therefore if John is to get his managers back together he should approach the differences facing them from an impersonalized perspective and help them understand the real issues facing them and how it is affecting performance of the organization. The conflicting managers should also put their personal difference out of the issues affecting them. Also Ralph should try to embrace this perspective when dealing with the conflict that is brewing between him and workers in his department.

(iii) Pay attention to the interests that are being presented: One should listen carefully to the parties involved in a conflict and try to develop an insight why the person is adopting his or her position. In this case John should listen to his two managers without being biased and try understanding the issues behind their conflicting ideas or management style. On the other hand the managers should try to understand each other and the reasons behind each one’s management style.

(iv) Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively you have to understand where the involved persons are coming from before making any judgment. This requires that one should listen to grievances presented by each party from an understanding point of view based on their background.

(v) Set out the facts:  The parties in a conflict should amicably agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision and then come up with a decision that will resolve the negative aspects of the conflict and making sure that the resolutions do not affect the other party’s performance or overall performance of an organization. This is can be more effective if done in presence of a third party. In this case John will act as a facilitator.

Following the above rules enables one to keep controversial discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the rivalry and dislike which often causes conflict to roll out of control.

Conflict management Resolution Process

This is a tool that can be utilized in organizations to make sure that arising conflicts are effectively managed. The starting point for dealing with conflict is to identify the overriding conflict style employed by yourself, your team or your organization. From this case study most conflict seems to have originated from difference in management style and personal differences.  The following process can be employed to manage the conflict (Peter 2008):
Step1: lay down the Scene
One should make sure make sure that the involved parties appreciate that the conflict may be a mutual problem, which may be best, resolved through discussion and negotiation rather than through raw hostility. The involved parties should be encouraged to freely give out the facts that defend their own perception of the problem. Use active listening skills to ensure you hear and comprehend their positions and perceptions. And make sure that when you talk, you're using a mature, assertive approach rather than a submissive or aggressive style. This step forms the basis of managing the conflict among the managers and in managing the conflict between the workers and their manager.

Step 2: Gather Information
This step enables one to try and get to the underlying interests, needs, and concerns in a conflict. Inquire for the other person’s viewpoint and confirm that you respect his or her opinion and need his or her cooperation to solve the problem. Try to appreciate his or her motivations and goals, and see how your actions may be affecting these. Also, try to comprehend the conflict in objective terms: Is it upsetting work performance? Damaging the delivery to the customers? Distracting team work? Slowing down decision-making? Be sure to focus on work issues and leave personalities out of the discussion. For instance Ralph should try to understand why George is doing what he is doing without dragging his personality issues into the subject. George on the other hand should try to find the reasons behind other managers’ management style from unbiased point of view and try to see how his personality and attitude is affecting performance of other departments. Ralph should try to understand why the conflict between him and his department team in an objective manner and how his management style and leadership is affecting the performance of his team and organization performance at large. This step requires one to take into account the following:

-Listen with compassion and see the conflict from the other person’s point of view.

-Identify issues clearly and concisely.

-stay flexible.

-Clarify feelings.

Step 3: concur on the Problem.
This requires the involved parties to agree the problems that they are trying to solve before they find a mutually acceptable solution. Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems - if you can't reach a common perception of the problem, then at the very least, you need to appreciate what the other person sees as the problem. The managers should be able to recognize that is a problem that is affecting their performance of their duties or performance of the workers under their jurisdiction. Recognizing and agreeing on the problem forms a forms one of the most fundamental steps in managing conflicts.

Step 4: Brainstorm probable Solutions.
This requires that all parties should be actively involved in finding a remedy on how to manage the conflict. This is because if everyone is going to feel contented with the resolution, it will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions. Brainstorm possible solutions, and be open to all ideas, as well as ones you never considered before.

Step 5: Negotiate a Solution

After brainstorming all the possible ways of managing or resolving the conflict, the involved parties will now negotiate on a solution. This requires that the involved parties appropriately understand the position of the other and develop together a mutually satisfactory solution that is clear to all. There are three guiding principles in this step: Be composed, be tolerant, and have respect.

3. Conflict Styles theory

In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann came up with five major styles of dealing with conflict that differ in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. They argued that people characteristically have a favored conflict management or resolution style. However they also noted that different styles were most useful in different situations (Shay 2008).

Thomas and Kilmann's styles are:

Competitive - this is a win-or-lose style of handling conflicts. It is asserting one's one viewpoint at the potential expense of another. People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually manage from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. This style can be useful when there is a crisis or emergency and a decision needs to be make fast; when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However it can leave people feeling hurt, discontented and aggrieved when used in less urgent situations. Competing or forcing has high concern for personal objectives and low concern for relations. It is suitable in dealing with conflicts which have no disagreements. It is also useful when disliked but necessary decisions are to be made (Shay 2008). 

Collaborative - collaborative style strives to meet the desires of all people involved. This requires that the parties involved in a conflict to cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is valuable when one want to bring together a range of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too vital for a simple trade-off. Collaboration aspires to find some resolution that can satisfy the conflicting parties. It is founded on readiness to accept as valid the interests of the other party whilst protecting one's own interests. In this style disagreement is addressed in an open and honest manner and alternatives are discussed to arrive at the best solution (Tjosvold, Dann& Choy 1992). This technique therefore engrosses high cooperation and low confrontation. Collaboration is appropriate when both parties desire to solve the problem and are willing to work together toward a mutually satisfactory solution. Collaboration is the best technique of handling conflicts, as it strives to satisfy the needs of both parties. It is integrative and has high concern for personal goals as well as relationship. (Shay 2008). 

Compromising- this style is based on the aspiration of trying to find a solution that will at least partially please everyone. Everyone is expected to surrender something and the compromiser himself/ herself also expects to relinquish something. Compromise is helpful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming (Peter 2008). Compromise is a regular way of dealing with conflicts, especially when the conflicting parties have comparatively equal power and jointly independent goals. It is based on the assumption that a central route should be established to resolve the conflict situation, with concern for personal goals as well as relationships. In the practice of compromise, there are gains and losses associated with each conflicting party. Therefore compromise is helpful when the intensity of the conflict is growing; making it hard for the team members to gain ground- this result in a half-baked or partial resolution.( Shay 2008).
Accommodating - this style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be influenced to give up a position even when it is not warranted.  This style calls one not to be assertive but be highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party and when peace is more valuable than winning. Accommodation engrosses high cooperation and low confrontation. It plays down differences and stresses commonalities. Accommodating can be a good approach when one party accepts that it is wrong and has a lot to lose and little to gain. As a result, they are willing to accommodate the wishes of the other party. This is a valuable conflict management approach if you don't care about the issue, or if you have little power in the relationship or situation. Also, letting the other person have their way once in a while may safeguard or even build a relationship. Therefore accommodating can be employed when the issue has a more significant importance to the other members or when peace matters more than winning. (Herbert 2005).

Avoiding-  avoidance is most likely used as a strategy for conflicts that seem impossible to resolve, when the issue is inconsequential, and when the team itself is not in the position to come up with a resolution or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. This style seeks to dodge the conflict totally. This style is characterized by delegating contentious decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to upset anyone’s feelings. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.  Avoidance is based on the belief that conflict is evil, unnecessary or loutish. It should be delayed or ignored. Avoidance strategy has low cooperation and low confrontation. It is useful either when conflicts are irrelevant or when the other party is unyielding because of rigid attitudes. By avoiding direct confrontation, parties in conflict get time to cool down. Avoidance is useful, if there is no imperative need to resolve differences now or in the future. Generally, this is not a useful long term conflict management strategy as the workplace is never small enough to avoid someone completely. (Herbert 2005).

The conflict styles theory provides viable approaches or styles that can be employed to effectively various conflicts presented in this case. The styles that seem most applicable to this case study include: collaborative, compromising and accommodating. Collaborative style requires that the parties involved cooperate effectively and acknowledge that each person is important. This strategy will help these managers involved in a conflict to bring together the varying points with the aspiration of coming up with the best possible solution that satisfies everybody and at the same time ensure each manager’s interests are protected.  This technique will ensure corporation and low confrontation among the parties involved in a conflict.  Compromise will also play and indispensable role in ensuring that the involved parties in a relinquish some of their stand to reach a common ground. For instance this will require Ralph and George to soften on some of their stand so that they adopt a solution they both are comfortable with. The accommodating approach will effectively help manage conflicts in this organization as it will require one to sacrifice some of his needs in order to meet the other person’s interests and help to cool down the conflict.  For instance it will require George to sacrifice some of his stands to make Ralph happy and vice versa. This approach will require also George, Ralph and Henry to play down their differences and build on what they have in common. This will also allow high cooperation and low confrontation thus ensuring that the running of an organization is not negatively affected by rising conflicts.    

Conclusion

Conflict in the workplace can be extremely destructive to individual performance and to good teamwork. If managed in the wrong way, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly twist out of control, resulting in situations where co-operation breaks down and thus adversely affecting performance within an organization. Therefore this calls for effective and viable conflict management strategy to be employed when confronting and managing a conflict. Positive approach to conflict resolution, where discussion is courteous and non-confrontational, and the focus is on issues rather than on individuals will ensure that negative aspects associated with the conflict are eliminated. If this is done, then, as long as people listen cautiously and explore facts, issues and possible solutions appropriately, conflict can often be resolved and be managed efficiently.

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