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Conflicts in the Workplace

An organisation is a conglomeration of individuals with different psychological, social and cultural backgrounds. Every individual has his own belief, attitudes, perceptions, likes and dislikes. As a result, difference of opinion is bound to arise over any issue. Decisions, however, will have to be made keeping in mind the interests of the organisation. The task before the human resource manager, therefore, is to secure consensus among the employees in spite of individual differences.

Conflicts Meaning
In simple terms, conflict means disagreement between the persons employed in an organisation. It may also mean clash of interests. It is the result of differences in the opinion of employees of an organisation over any issue. Such a difference of opinion arises mainly because mainly because of differences in perceptions. If, for example, a decision has to be made on whether to revise the working hours or to continue the existing timing, the employer is sure to get different views from different persons. Before making the final decision, the employer has to secure consensus among the employees. Only then the proposal will get the support of everyone in the organisation. Conflicts are not the same as disputes. In the case of conflicts the solution can be found out at the organizational level itself through

discussions. Conflicts take the form of disputes when a solution cannot be found out at the organizational level and the matter has to be referred to an impartial mediator.

The following are some of the definitions of the term conflict given by human resource management excerpts: 1. Conflict is any situation in which two or more parties feel themselves in opposition. It is an interpersonal process that arises from disagreements over the goals or the methods to accomplish goals John W. Newstrom and Keith Davis. 2. conflict is a process in which an effort is purposefully made by one person or unit to block another that results inn frustrating the attainment of the others goals or the furthering of his or her interests Stephen Robbins. 3. Conflict is the condition of objective incompatibility between values and goals Ralph Kilman and Kenneth Thomas. It is clear from the above definitions that conflicts arise because of incompatibility of goals, interests, methods of work and so on. WHY DO CONFLICTS ARISE? (CAUSES OF CONFLICTS) Conflicts arise in the workplace due to any of the following reasons:

1. Changes in work patterns When the employees are asked to adopt a different pattern of work, conflicts may arise between them on whether or not to accept such a proposal and update themselves to be able to discharge their responsibilities as per the new pattern of work. Such a problem arose in the past in most organisations when the employees were asked to learn computer operation. 2. Differences in perceptions the perception of any issue by different individuals will not be identical. One of the main reasons why conflicts arise in the workplace is that the perception of employees of any organizational matter differs. If one person favours the management proposal to revise timings another person may oppose it. 3. Difference in values Differences in the value system of individual is yet another factor contributing to conflicts. For examples, an employee, who has certain grievances, may want to show his protest to the management by striking work. On the other hand, another employee, who also has grievances, may show his protest by fasting in the workplace. It is mainly because of the differences in the value systems of different individuals we find lack of participation in strike by certain employees when a strike call is given. 4. Availability of options Another reason why conflicts take place in the workplace is that often the employees have options, e.g., day shift or night shift, time-wage or piece-wage or both, salary or commission or both, whether to take part in the strike or not in response to a strike call given by the trade union and so on. If there is only one option conflicts probably may not arise.

5. Allocation of limited resources Resources are always scarce in relation to demand. For example, when the funds available are limited, the management may find it difficult to meet the demands of different departments. In such a situation, if the production department wants a new machinery and the marketing department wants a delivery van, the management may ask the two departments to sort out the issue amongst themselves as the demand of one of them alone can be met. This may result on conflicts between the staff of the two departments. 6. Inter-dependence Conflicts arise due to the problem of interdependence between individuals and departments. For example, marketing depends on production, production depends on purchase of raw-materials and availability of labour which in turn depends on the availability of finance. When the production department has not adhered to its schedules, the sales people will not be able to meet their commitments. This provides scope for conflicts. 7. Unequal wok-load When there is disparity in the work-load of employees operating at the same level, conflicts are bound to arise. This might have been done deliberately or inadvertently. 8. Biased assessment of subordinates Some superiors show favoritism while appraising the performance of their subordinates. Favoritism is shown based on caste, religion, sex etc. as a result, an employee who deserves a higher rating would have been given a very low rating and vice versa. 9. Unattainable targets Some supervisors set targets for their subordinates that are unattainable. It might have been done

intentionally or unintentionally. In any case it provides scope for conflicts in the workplace. 10. Lack of trust and confidence lack of trust and confidence is yet another cause of conflicts. Some superiors have a feeling that their subordinates always shrink duties and are inefficient and incapable. As a result, they are always harsh in their approach. Similarly, some subordinates also have a feeling that their superiors are unreasonable. Such an atmosphere provides scope for conflicts to take place. 11. Threat to status quo Any change taking place in the organisation that disturbs the existing status pattern of the employees also gives rise to conflicts. For examples, certain privileges enjoyed by the employees may be withdrawn. Additional responsibilities may be given to them. Their work-load may be increased. These changes affect status quo. Different Stages of Conflict The process of conflicts involves five different stages as shown in the following diagram: Latent conflict At this stage conflict has not taken a definite shape. It may arise in the sub-conscious mind of a person. All the causes of conflicts are lying hidden. Felt Conflict Having perceived the conflict the parties, at this stage, begin to feel it. They become emotionally involved in the conflict.

Manifest Conflict When this stage is reached, the parties begin to show their hostile feelings outwardly. As a result, interaction between the parties becomes less, flow of work gets affected and co-ordination becomes difficult. Conflict Aftermath This is the last stage of the conflict process. At this stage, the conflict maybe either suppressed or resolved amicably depending upon the attitudes of the parties and the prevailing conditions.

Consequences of conflicts
Conflict is a natural occurrence. It arises mainly due to the differences in perceptions, values, beliefs, sentiment, likes and dislikes of the people at wok. Conflicts are not always bad. Certain benefits also become available to the organisation out of these. The various positive and negative aspects of conflicts are explained below.

Positive Aspect of Conflicts

These include, among other, the following: 1. The decision may be reviewed When there is disagreement between employees over a certain decision, the decision is reviewed. The pros and cons of the decision will be analysed thread-bear. In the absence of a conflicting situation in the workplace, certain bad decisions may also taken and implemented to the detriment of the employees.

2. Communication relationships improve Conflicts over any issue give scope for employees to discuss the same in a forum. This improves communication relationships among employees and paves way for a consensus on the issue. 3. There is scope for finding a better solution to the problem under consideration When solution to any problem in the workplace is accepted without any kind of resistance, there may be a tendency to thrust the views of a group on others. But when every individual is prepared to highlight the strong and weak points of an alternative course of action, best solution can be found to any problem. 4. Stagnation is avoided contemporary organisations need people who are dynamic. A person who blindly accepts the views of others cannot be called dynamic. The merits and demerits of any proposal must be thoroughly discussed in order to derive optimum benefits out of it. Existence of disagreement among employees, thus, eliminates stagnation and makes the organisation a progressive one. 5. Employees are relieved of their mental stress When an employee is not satisfied with a particular decision of his employer of the fellowemployees he gets disturbed mentally. When he expresses his dissent or dissent his views are accepted or rejected.

Negative Aspects of Conflicts

These include, among others, the following: 1. The morale of the employees becomes low: Disagreement among employees over certain work proposals affects their morale. This

affects their attitude towards work. As a result, they are not able to work with interest and commitment. 2. Productivity gets affected: When employees have low morale, their level of performance will also be low. This affects productivity. 3. Teamwork and co-operation may deteriorate: In view of disagreement, the employees are not able to work with proper understanding and cooperation. 4. There is decline in the level of efficiency: As the employees are thinking about the issue all the time, they may not be able to concentrate in their work. This leads to decline in the level of efficiency. 5. When not resolved conflicts may turn into disputes: Conflicts are a regular feature of an organisation. But a conflict has to be resolved within a timeframe. If it is allowed to remain without a solution for long, it may certainly turn into a dispute and require the help of a mediator. The labour courts may also have to be approached sometimes.

Levels of Conflict
Conflicts may arise at different levels in an organisation as indicated below: 1. Within an Individual 2. Between Individuals 3. Within a Group 4. Between an Individual and a Group and 5. Between Groups

These have been explained below.

Conflicts within an Individual

Conflicts within an individual arise when a person is unable to decide precisely what he wants. For example, an employee may not be able to decide whether to accept straight salary or commission when asked to choose one. Similarly, an employee may not be able to take a firm decision on whether to take part in the strike or not in response to a strike call given by the trade union. Such persons normally seek the advice of their friends or relatives on the matter.

Conflict between individuals

Such conflicts arise between two or more persons working in an organization either in the same or different level. For example, there may be a conflict between two factory workers or two salesmen. Likewise, conflict may also arise between a worker and a foreman, a sales representative and the sales manager and so on.

Conflicts within a group (intra-group conflicts)

Conflicts may arise between the members of a particular group. Such a situation may arise, say, when the member of employee union meet to discuss the course of action to be adopted in response to a certain antilabour policy of the management. Some members may favour a demonstration programme in the company premises, some may prefer mass

casual leave and still some others may insist on a strike plan. As a result the members may not be able to arrive at a consensus at once.

Conflicts between an Individual and a Group

Such a conflict may arise between, say, an employee, who is not a member of the trade union, and the union gives a strike call, its members may perusable the non-member also to extend his support. Conflicts between Groups (Inter-Group Conflicts) It refers to conflicts between, say, rival employee unions where there exists more than one union or between the employees of two departments, say, production and marketing and so on. Conflicts and Performance Where in an organisation the level of conflicts is found to be low, performance will also be very low in of the following reasons: (i) (ii) (iii) Indifferent attitude of the employees Lack of creative ideas Stagnation

If, on the other hand, the level of conflicts is found to be high then also performance will be low in view of such reasons as: (i) (ii) (iii) Lack of teamwork and co-operation Low morale Mental stress

Thus, it becomes clear that performance tends to be low whether the level of conflicts is low or high. Management of conflict refers to the task of maintaining it at an optimum level. The relationship between conflicts and performance may be explained by means of a diagram: It is clear from figure 22.1 that at point P the level of conflict is low and so is the level of performance. At point R the level of conflict is high and the level of performance is low. It is only at Point Q the performance, i.e., T is at its optimum level. An optimum level of conflicts, therefore, is necessary for securing an optimum level of employee performance. The following conditions may indicate the existence of a low level of conflicts in the workplace: 1. Low rate of absenteeism 2. Low rate of labour turnover 3. Lack of complaints and grievances 4. Employees accept changes without much resistance 5. Conservation approach to work for a longer period of time. The existence of the following conditions may indicate a high level of conflicts: 1. Low morale 2. Low productivity 3. Excessive complaints and grievances 4. Greater resistance to change

5. High rate of absenteeism and labour turnover

Measure to stimulate conflicts

As an optimum level of conflicts is necessary for securing optimum performance, steps may be taken to stimulate conflicts in a workplace where conflicts are totally absent. The following measures may be adopted in this regard: 1. Additional responsibilities may be given to employees. 2. Job rotation may help. 3. Certain privileges may be withdrawn. 4. Target may be increased. 5. Inter-dependence between individuals and departments may be increased. 6. Methods of work may be constantly updated. 7. Conventional channel of communication may be deviated.

Conflict Outcomes
Conflicts between two individuals or groups, say X and Y, may procedure any of the following outcomes: 1. In lose lose situation the position of the parties to the conflict is worse than what it was earlier. 2. In Lose Win situation X is defeated while Y is victorious. 3. In Win Lose situation Y is defeated while X is victorious.

4. In Win Win situation the position of the parties to the conflict is better than what it was before the conflict started.

Resolution of Conflicts
Five different strategies are available to resolve conflicts in any workplace. These are: 1. Avoidance 2. Smoothing 3. Forcing 4. Compromising and 5. Confronting These have been explained briefly hereunder.

Here, the parties concerned may withdraw from the conflict physically or mentally. Both the parties show no interest in pursuing the issue after raising it. Avoidance, however, cannot solve the problem. It takes the parties to a lose-lose situation.

In this approach, one party to the conflict tries to accommodate the other partys interests. It places emphasis on concern for others. The part accommodating may suffer detriment. It results in a lose win outcome.


In this case, one party tries to be aggressive so that he can achieve his goal. He has no concern for the other party. It may result in a win-lose situation. Compromising It is a strategy in which one party is willing to give up something in exchange for gaining something else. By doing so the party is able to take care of himself and also the other party. Such a strategy may not produce any definite outcome.

In this case both the parties are determined to work to find a solution by a mutually acceptable plan. It is a problem solving approach. It seeks to maximise the attainment of both the partys goals. It may take the parties to a win-win situation.