Types of Conflict Situations

Since conflict has both positive and negative connotations and consequences, it must be looked into and managed for useful purposes. The management must survey the situation to decide whether to stimulate conflict or to resolve it. Thomas and Schmidt have reported that managers spend up to twenty percent of their time in dealing with conflict situations. Hence, it is very important that managers understand the type of conflict that they have to deal with so that they can devise some standardized techniques in dealing with common characteristics of conflicts in each type of category.

There are Five Basic Types of Conflicts Situations. These are:

Conflict within the Individual

The conflict within the individual is usually value related, where the role playing expected of the individual does not conform with the values and beliefs held by the individual. For example, a secretary may have to lie on instructions that her boss is not in the office to avoid an unwanted visitor or an unwanted telephone call. This may cause a conflict within the mind of the secretary who may have developed an ethic of telling the truth.

In addition to these value conflicts, a person may have a role conflict. For example, a telephone operator may be advised and required to be polite to the customers by her supervisor who may also complain that she is spending too much time with her customers. This would cause a role conflict in her mind. Similarly, a policeman may be invited to his brother’s wedding where he may find that some guests are using drugs which is against the law.

This may cause conflict in his mind as to which role he should play-of a brother or of a policeman. Conflict within an individual can also arise when a person has to choose between two equally desirable alternatives or between two equally undesirable goals.

Interpersonal Conflict

Interpersonal conflict involves conflict between two or more individuals and is probably the most common and most recognized conflict. This may involve conflict between two managers who are competing for limited capital and manpower resources.

For example, interpersonal conflicts can develop when there are three equally deserving professors and they are all up for promotion, but only one of them can be promoted because of budget and positional constraints. This conflict can become further acute when the scarce resources cannot be shared and must be obtained.

Another type of interpersonal conflict can relate to disagreements over goals and objectives of the organization. For example, some members of a board of a school may want to offer courses in sex education while others may find this proposal morally offensive thus causing conflict.

Similarly, a college or a university may have a policy of quality education so that only top quality students are admitted while some members of the organizational board may propose ‘open admissions’ policy where all high schools graduates should be considered for admission. Such a situation can cause conflict among members of the governing board. In addition to conflicts over the nature and substance of goals and objectives, they can also arise over the means to reach these goals.

For example, two marketing managers may argue as to which promotional methods would result in higher sales. These conflicts become highlighted when they are based upon opinions rather than facts. Facts are generally indisputable resulting in agreements. Opinions are highly personal and subjective and may provide for criticism and disagreements.

These conflicts are often the results of personality clashes. People with widely differing characteristics and attitudes are bound to have views and aims that are inconsistent with the views and aims of others.

Conflict Between the Individual and the Group

All formal groups as well as informal groups have established certain norms of behavior and operational standards that all members are expected to adhere to. The individual may want to remain within the group for social needs but may disagree with the group methods. For example, in some restaurants, all tips are shared by all the waiters and waitresses. Some particular waitress who may be overly polite and efficient may feel that she deserves more, thus causing a conflict within the group.

Similarly, if a group is going on strike for some reason, some members may not agree with these reasons or simply may not be able to afford to go on strike, thus causing conflict with the group.

This conflict may also be between the manager and a group of subordinates or between the leader and the followers. A manager may take a disciplinary action against a member of the group, causing conflict that may result’ in reduced productivity.

‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ is a classic example of rebellion of the crew of the ship against the leader, based upon the treatment the crew received. The conflict among the armed forces is taken so seriously that the army might obey their commander even if the command is wrong and in conflict with what others believe in.

Inter-group Conflict

An organization is an interlocking network of groups, departments, sections and work teams. These conflicts are not so much personal in nature, as they are due ‘to factors inherent in the organizational structure. For example, there is active and continuous conflict between the union and the management. One of the most common, unfortunate and highlighted conflict is between line and staff. The line managers may resent their dependence on staff for information and recommendations.

The staff may resent their inability to directly implement their own decisions and recommendations. This interdependence causes conflict. These conflicts that are caused by task inter-dependencies require that the relationship between interdependent units be redefined, wherever the values of these interdependent factors change, otherwise these conflicts will become further pronounced.

These inter-unit conflicts can also be caused by inconsistent rewards and differing performance criteria for different units and groups. For example, salesmen who depend upon their commission as a reward for their efforts may promise their customers certain quantity of the product and delivery times that the manufacturing department may find it impossible to meet, causing conflict between the two units.

Different functional groups within the organization may come into conflict with each other because of their different specific objectives. There are some fundamental differences among different units of the organization both in the structure and the process and thus each unit develops its own organizational sub-culture.

These sub-cultures, according to Lawrence and Lorsch differ in terms of: (a) goal orientation that can be highly specific for production but highly fluid for Research and Development, (b) time orientation that is short run for sales and long run for research, (c) formality of structure that is highly informal in research and highly formal in production and (d) supervisory style that may be more democratic in one area as compared to another.

Similarly, inter-group conflict may arise between day shift workers and night shift workers who might blame each other for anything that goes wrong from missing tools to maintenance problems.

Inter-organizational Conflict

Conflict also occurs between organizations that in some way are dependent on each other. This conflict may be between buyer organizations and the supplier organizations about quantity, quality and delivery times of raw materials and other policy issues, between unions and organizations employing their members, between government agencies that regulate certain organizations and the organizations that are affected by them. These conflicts must be adequately resolved or managed properly for the benefit of both types of organizations.

Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.
Sonia Kukreja

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