Conflict Management

Conflict management is the practice of being able to identify and handle conflicts sensibly, fairly, and efficiently. Since conflicts in a business are a natural part of the workplace, it is important that there are people who understand conflicts and know how to resolve them. This is important in today's market more than ever. Everyone is striving to show how valuable they are to the company they work for and at times, this can lead to disputes with other members of the team.

Conflicts are natural in all walks of daily life – both at workplace and home. Thus, conflict is ever present and both charming and maddening. But conflict is a complex and big subject. There are many sources of conflict. Conflict occurs when individuals or groups are not obtaining what they need or want and are seeking their own self-interest.

Sometimes the individual is not aware of the need and unconsciously starts to act out. Other times, the individual is very aware of what he or she wants and actively works at achieving the goal. It would be better to identify conflict at an early stage and come to an understanding.

The concept of conflict is controversial. Psychologists and sociologists have given different meanings. It is being defined as a process by few, an obstructive behavior, and goal incompatibility by others. Conflict can be expressed as: Conflict is a process, where perception (real or otherwise) leads to disruption of desirable state of harmony and stability in an interdependent world.

“An expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from the other party in achieving their goals”.

Unpicking this a little, it means that for a disagreement to become a conflict, there needs to be:

• Some element of communication: a shared understanding that there is a disagreement;

• The well-being of the people involved need to depend on each other in some way. This doesn’t mean that they have to have equal power: a manager and subordinate can be equally as interdependent as a married couple;

• The people involved perceive that their goals are incompatible, meaning that they cannot both be met;

• They are competing for resources; and

• Each perceives the other as interfering with the achievement of their goals.

Types of Conflict

There are three types of conflict, Personal or relational conflicts, instrumental conflicts and conflicts of interest:

Personal or relational conflicts are usually about identity or self-image, or important aspects of a relationship such as loyalty, breach of confidence, perceived betrayal or lack of respect.

Instrumental conflicts are about goals, structures, procedures and means: something fairly tangible and structural within the organisation or for an individual.

Conflicts of interest concern the ways in which the means of achieving goals are distributed, such as time, money, space and staff. They may also be about factors related to these, such as relative importance, or knowledge and expertise. An example would be a couple disagreeing over whether to spend a bonus on a holiday or to repair the roof.

Characteristics of Conflict:

1. Conflict is a Process:

Conflict occurs in ‘layers’. First layer is always misunderstanding. The other layers are differences of values, differences of viewpoint, differences of interest, and interpersonal differences. It is also called a process because it begins with one party perceiving the other to oppose or negatively affect its interests and ends with competing, collaborating, compromising or avoiding.

2. Conflict is Inevitable:

Conflict exists everywhere. No two persons are the same. Hence they may have individual differences. And the differences may be because of values or otherwise, lead to conflict.

Although inevitable, conflict can be minimized, diverted and/or resolved. Conflict develops because we are dealing with people’s lives, jobs, children, pride, self-concept, ego and sense of mission. Conflict is inevitable and often good, for example, good teams always go through a “form, storm, norm and perform” period.

3. Conflict is a Normal Part of Life:

Individuals, groups, and organisations have unlimited needs and different values but limited resources. Thus, this incompatibility is bound to lead to conflicts. The conflict is not a problem, but if it is poorly managed then it becomes a problem.

4. Perception:

It must be perceived by the parties to it, otherwise it does not exist. In interpersonal interaction, perception is more important than reality. What we perceive and think affects our behaviour, attitudes, and communication.

5. Opposition:

One party to the conflict must be perceiving or doing something the other party does not like or want.

6. Interdependence and Interaction:

There must be some kind of real or perceived interdependence. Without interdependence there can be no interaction. Conflict occurs only when some kind of interaction takes place.

7. Everyone is inflicted with Conflict:

Conflict may occur within an individual, between two or more individuals, groups or between organisations.

8. Conflict is not Unidimensional:

It comes into different ways in accordance with degree of seriousness and capacity. At times, it may improve even a difficult situation.