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Conflict Management

Conflict Management

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Published by Prachi Gharat

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Published by: Prachi Gharat on Jul 02, 2011
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Theory of conflict management
Conflict is defined as disagreement between individuals. It can vary from a mild disagreement toa win-or-lose, emotion-packed, confrontation (Kirchoff and Adams, 1982). There are twotheories of conflict management.
y
 
The traditional theory 
is based on the assumption that conflicts are bad, are caused by troublemakers, and should be subdued.
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ontemporary theory 
recognizes that conflicts between human beings are unavoidable. Theyemerge as a natural result of change and can be beneficial to the organization, if managedefficiently. Current theory (Kirchoff and Adams, 1982) considers innovation as a mechanism for bringing together various ideas and viewpoints into a new and different fusion. An atmosphereof tension, and hence conflict, is thus essential in any organization committed to developing or working with new ideas.
C
onflict management
involves implementing strategies to limit the negative aspects of conflictand to increase the positive aspects of conflict at a level equal to or higher than where theconflict is taking place. Furthermore, the aim of conflict management is to enhancelearningandgroup outcomes (effectiveness or performance in organizational setting) (Rahim, 2002, p. 208).It is not concerned with eliminating all conflict or avoiding conflict. Conflict can be valuable togroups and organizations. It has been shown to increase group outcomes when managed properly(e.g. Alper, Tjosvold, & Law, 2000; Bodtker & Jameson, 2001; Rahim & Bonoma, 1979; Khun& Poole, 2000; DeChurch & Marks, 2001).
 
C
onflict
W
hile no single definition of conflict exists, most definitions seem to involve the followingfactors: that there are at least two independent groups, the groups perceive some incompatibility between themselves, and the groups interact with each other in some way (Putnam and Poole,1987). Two example definitions are, ³process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party" (
W
all & Callister, 1995, p. 517), and ³theinteractive process manifested in compatibility, disagreement, or dissonance within or betweensocial entities´ (Rahim, 1992, p. 16).There are several causes of conflict. Conflict may occur when:
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A party is required to engage in an activity that is incongruent with his or her needs or interests.
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A party holds behavioral preferences, the satisfaction of which is incompatible withanother person's implementation of his or her preferences.
y
 
A party wants some mutually desirable resource that is in short supply, such that thewants of all parties involved may not be satisfied fully.
y
 
A party possesses attitudes, values, skills, and goals that are salient in directing his or her  behavior but are perceived to be exclusive of the attitudes, values, skills, and goals held by the other(s).
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Two parties have partially exclusive behavioral preferences regarding their joint actions.
 
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Two parties are interdependent in the performance of functions or activities.
Models of Conflict Management 
There have been many styles of conflict management behavior that have been researched in the past century. One of the earliest,Mary Parker Follett(1926/1940) found that conflict wasmanaged by individuals in three main ways: domination,compromise, and integration. She alsofound other ways of handling conflict that were employed by organizations, such asavoidance and suppression.
E
arly
C
onflict Management Models
Blake and Mouton (1964) were among the first to present a conceptual scheme for classifyingthe modes (styles) for handling interpersonal conflicts into five types: forcing, withdrawing,smoothing, compromising, and problem solving.In the 1970¶s and 1980¶s, researchers began using the intentions of the parties involved toclassify the styles of conflict management that they would include in their models. Both Thomas(1976) and Pruitt (1983) put forth a model based on the concerns of the parties involved in theconflict. The combination of the parties concern for their own interests (i.e.assertiveness
 
) andtheir concern for the interests of those across the table (i.ecooperativeness) would yield a particular conflict management style. Pruitt called these styles yielding (low assertiveness/highcooperativeness), problem solving (high assertiveness/high cooperativeness), inaction (lowassertiveness/low cooperativeness), and contending (high assertiveness/low cooperativeness).Pruitt argues that problem-solving is the preferred method when seeking mutually beneficialoptions.
Kozan¶s Group
C
onflict Management Models
In the 1990¶s and 2000¶s, research began to focus more on models that would explain howconflict is managed within groups and organizations. Kozan (1997) established three normative(not prescriptive) models of group conflict management.
1.
 
Confrontational model - In this model, conflicts are made of multiple sub-issues which arebroken down and confronted by both parties. Both sides of the conflict are openlyacknowledged, and a sense of reasonable compromise is important to the success of theresolution of the sub-issues involved.2.
 
Harmony model - In this model, conflict is managed mostly though avoiding it. This isaccomplished through the observation of societal and organizational norms. Conflict is not seenas an opportunity to find solutions to problems, but as a harmful state of affairs. When conflictdoes occur, it is often handled through mediation by third parties.
 
3
.
 
Regulative model - In the regulative model, conflict is handled by strict rules and regulations.Bureaucratic means are used extensively to minimize conflicts or to aid conflict avoidance.When conflicts occur, they are defined in terms of general principles and resolved in apredetermined fashion.
Khun and Poole¶s Model
Khun and Poole (2000) established a similar system of group conflict management. In their system, they split Kozan¶s confrontational model into two sub models: distributive andintegrative.
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D
istributive - Here conflict is approached as a distribution of a fixed amount of positiveoutcomes or resources, where one side will end up winning and the other losing, even if they dowin some concessions.
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Integrative - Groups utilizing the integrative model see conflict as a chance to integrate theneeds and concerns of both groups and make the best outcome possible. This model has aheavier emphasis on compromise than the distributive model. Kuhun and Poole found that theintegrative model resulted in consistently better task related outcomes than those using thedistributive model.
D
e
C
hurch and Marks¶s Meta-Taxonomy
DeChurch and Marks (2001) examined the literature available on conflict management at thetime and established what they claimed was a "meta-taxonomy" that encompasses all other models. They argued that all other styles have inherent in them into two dimensions - activeness("the extent to which conflict behaviors make a responsive and direct rather than inert andindirect impression") and agreeableness ("the extent to which conflict behaviors make a pleasantand relaxed rather than unpleasant and strainful impression"). High activeness is characterized byopenly discussing differences of opinion while fully going after their own interest. Highagreeableness is characterized by attempting to satisfy all parties involvedIn the study they conducted to validate this division, activeness did not have a significant effecton the effectiveness of conflict resolution, but theagreeablenessof the conflict management style, whatever it was, did in fact have a positive impact on how groups felt about the way theconflict was managed, regardless of the outcome.
Current Conflict Management 
Rahim (2002) noted that there is agreement among management scholars that there is no one bestapproach to how to make decisions, lead or manage conflict. In a similar vein, rather than

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