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Managing Workplace Conflict

Several scholars have come up with different definitions of conflict. In spite of the differing meanings that the term conflict has acquired, a number of common themes bring about most definitions. Conflict is a perception issue to the parties to it, whether it exists or not. It is normally agreed that conflict does not exist if no one among the parties is aware of the conflict. Therefore, conflict can be defined as a process that starts when one party feels that another party has a negative effect, or is about to affect negatively on something that the former treasures.

This definition covers a wide range of conflicts that is experienced by people in organizations – such conflicts are due to incompatibility of goals, differences brought about by interpretation of facts, people disagreeing on behavioural expectations, and many more. There are schools of thought that have come up with expressions on conflict. One school of thought- the traditional view expresses that conflict has to be avoided. That conflict shows the malfunctioning in an organization/group.

The other school of thought is the human relation relations view which argues that conflict is natural and inevitable in any group. The view further proposes that conflict should

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not be treated as evil but rather as a potential to be a positive force in determining organizational performance. The third school of thought proposes that not only that conflict can be a positive force in an organization but also argues that some conflict is absolutely necessary for an organization to perform effectively. This third perspective is known as the interactionist view.

Steps in the conflict process The conflict process has five stages: Stage I: Potential Opposition or Incompatibility – The initial step in the conflict process is the occurrence of conditions that generate opportunities for conflict to occur. These conditions don’t need to lead directly to conflict, but any of these conditions is necessary if conflict is to emerge. These conditions (which can be viewed as sources of conflict) are condensed into three broad categories: Communication, structural and personal variables.

Communication; Research suggests that differing word connotations, jargon, exchange of information which is insufficient, and noise in the channels of communication are all barriers to communication and potential precursor conditions to conflict. The conflict potential increases when either less or more communication takes place. Structure; The term structure here refers to the variables such as size, the degree of specialization of tasks, reward systems, member-goal compatibility, the degree of dependence between groups, jurisdictional clarity, and leadership styles.

Size and specialization act as forces to accelerate conflict, the larger the group and the more specialized activities, the greater the likelihood of conflict. Personal variables; this includes personality, emotions and values. Evidence shows that some personality types – for example, individuals who are highly tyrannical and assertive-lead to potential conflict. Emotions can also cause conflict, for example, an employee who shows up to work irate from her hectic morning commute may carry that anger with her to the meeting. Her anger can annoy her colleagues, which may lead to a tension-filled meeting.

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