Conflict Behavior In An Organisation
By Amarendra Bhushan
Conflicts are inevitable in one's organizational life and personal life. Probably, the executive starts his
work-day with a conflict and ends the day with another conflict. He is fortunate if he does not carry a conflict
home, but more often, he does, to the chagrin of his spouse, his children and himself.
I. Potential Antagonism
The first stage is the presence of antecedent conditions that create opportunities for conflict to arise.
II. Cognition & personalization
The antecedent conditions must be perceived as threatening if conflict is to develop. The situation may be ignored
if it is seen as minimally threatening. III. Conflictive & Conflict
III. Management Behavior
Manifest behavior is the action resulting from perceived &/or felt conflict. At this stage, a conscious attempt
is made by one party to block the goal achievement of the other party. Such behavior may range from subtle,
indirect & highly controlled forms of interference to more open forms of aggressive behavior like strikes,
riots & war.
The interplay between different forms of overt conflict behavior & conflict handling strategies of stimulation
or resolution influence the consequences. These consequences (in terms of performance of the group , the level of
satisfaction & quality of relationship in the involved parties, change of parties, change of structure &
policies , etc. )In turn influence the antecedent conditions & probability of future conflict. Sometimes, the
aftermath sows the seeds of yet another conflict episode in which case the entire process is repeated.
IMPACT OF CONFLICTS
As we know conflict may occur between two individuals, as in the case of superior vs. subordinate, between two
HODs, etc. Groups may be drawn into conflict with each other on the basis of performance, importance to a
particular group and in general the union- management rivalries. Conflict can also occur within an individual as in
situations of dilemma of choice, vividly characterized by phrases such as ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’
or ‘caught on the horns of a dilemma’. For example, a personnel manager may be quite undecided about how to deal
with the conflict (with workers, union) that is likely to result in work stoppage &loss in productivity.
While analyzing the impact of conflicts in any organization we will deal separately the two types of conflicts
i.e. interpersonal conflicts and inter-group conflicts. First we will discuss interpersonal conflicts.
The general assumption is that conflict tends to have negative consequences for both the individual and the
organization. For example, imagine yourself in an intense conflict situation. Examine your state of mind. You are
tense, uneasy, extremely anxious & probably unable to concentrate on your work. Naturally in such situations,
your performance is adversely affected. Decisions made may not be appropriate. Occasionally, they might even be
unrealistic or irrational. Thus, conflicts tend to impair one’s efficiency.
Sometimes, conflict is also observed to give rise to certain maladjusted behaviors in individuals trying to cope
with it. These include alcoholism, drug abuse, excessive smoking, under eating or overeating and extremely
aggressive or submissive behavior.
Apart from the above psychological & behavioral consequences, conflict has also certain physiological
consequences (more so under intense conflict situations) in that, certain changes take place within the
physiological system which are often ignored or unnoticed. Some of the changes that occur within the system
- More adrenalin & nor adrenalin are shot into the blood & continue the state of arousal &
- Speed-up of the heart beat & increase in blood pressure;
- More of hydrochloric acid is secreted into the stomach.
Hence, it may be understood that conflict not only affects an individual’s performance, but also gives rise to
psychosomatic disturbances, which undermine the health of the individual.
Below is a summarized list of the affect of conflicts on an individual
1. Psychological Responses
• inattentiveness to other things
• lack of interest in work
• job dissatisfaction
• work anxiety
• estrangement or alienation from others
2. Behavioral Responses
• excessive smoking
• under eating or overeating
• aggression towards others or work sabotage
• decreased communication
• resisting influence attempts
3. Physiological Responses
• peptic ulcers
• respiratory problems such as asthma
• coronary problems
Conflicts in work situations may also give rise to organization related individual consequences:
- Job dissatisfaction
- Apathy or indifference to work
- Role-set members & the company
- Job stress & burnout
- Work sabotage
- Employee turnover
- Increased territoriality & resistance to change
- Decreased information sharing, etc.
Can conflicts be positive? It can also be argued that conflicts are not necessarily bad. The progress we have
made so far in our civilization is due to the conflict between nature & man. Conflict releases energy at every
level of human activity- energy that can produce positive, constructive results. Conflicts tend to have a
motivational value; they drive or energize an individual to tackle a situation. To resolve a conflict one might
explore different avenues or alternatives of action, which make him/her more knowledgeable. Conflicts also provide
opportunities to test one’s own abilities.
While successful resolution of a conflict adds to one’s self-confidence, unsuccessful attempts make one more
realistic & resourceful to seek better alternatives& thereby improve one’s skills. It is perhaps so in
everyone’s experience. For example, think of any of the personal or organizational problems that you may have faced
in near future. It was probably difficult for you to resolve them at that time. But if the same problems were to
recur, surely you would have more confidence to tackle them at present than you had earlier when they first
occurred. It may even be amusing to think that such problems bothered you then, even though they appear so simple
Every organization must have faced internal & external conflicts from the time of its inception. However,
organizations that resolved their earlier conflicts in positive & constructive ways have survived, grown &
prospered because they benefited from their learning experiences. In certain instances they have also emerged as
the captains of the industry. Similarly, in organizations, when individuals find themselves in critical situations,
they often come up with workable & novel solutions because of the stakes involved for themselves & their
department. Given below is the list of consequences of conflict.
- Motivate individuals to do better and to work harder. One‘s talents and abilities come to the forefront in a
- Satisfy certain psychological needs like dominance, aggression, esteem and ego, and thereby provide an
opportunity for the constructive use and release of aggressive urges.
- Provide creative and innovative ideas. For example employee benefits of the preset day are an outcome of the
union –management conflicts over the past decades.
- Add variety to one’s organizational life, otherwise work life would be dull and ‘boring.
- Facilitate an understanding of the problem, people and interrelationships between people, better coordination
among individuals & departments, in addition to strengthening intra-group relationships, etc.
- Conflicts affect individual & organizational performance. Resolving conflicts consumes a considerable
amount of managerial time & energy, which could be more productively spent in the absence of conflicts.
- In a conflict situation people may promote their self-interests or personal gains at the cost of others or the
organization. For example, a union leader may call for a strike to assert his superiority or to stabilize his
- Intense conflicts over a prolonged period affect individuals emotionally & physically& give rise to
- Time spent on conflicts, if costed, could mean considerable amount of money wasted.
- Conflicts may lead to work sabotage, employee morale problems, and decline in the market share of
product/services &consequent loss of productivity.
The conflict resolution requires great managerial skills. Here we are trying to give a solution to a conflict
turning it in a constructive side.
If one party exercises the principles of interaction, listens, and us the six steps of collaborative resolution,
that party may be able to end the conflict constructively. At the very least, he or she may be able to prevent the
conflict from turning into a fight by choosing an alternative to destructive interaction?"
There is a difference between resolving a conflict and managing conflict. Resolving a conflict ends the dispute
by satisfying the interests of both parties. Managing a conflict contains specialized interaction that prevents a
dispute from becoming a destructive battle. Managing a conflict attends to the personal issues so as to allow for a
constructive relationship, even though the objective issues may not be resolvable. For example, the former Soviet
Union and the United States managed their conflict during the Cold War by using a variety of mechanisms. The
objective issues in the dispute were not resolved, and neither were the personal issues, which contained
significant perceptual differences. However, both sides attended significantly to the relationship to keep the
disagreement from turning into a destructive battle.
Our goal in conflict always should be to seek a resolution based on mutual gain. Realistically, however,
resolution is not always possible. When this is the case, we must manage the conflict to ensure that the
relationship is constructive and that open communication is maintained. We Listen to Conflict to understand the
other party and demonstrate the acceptance required to maintain the relationship
1. The Framework for conflict resolution
When conflicts arise, we assess a variety of factors before selecting our approach to the situation. We may choose
to compete, or dominate, where we try to impose our will on the other side through physical or psychological means,
or we may choose to accommodate, or surrender, and cede victory to the other side. Likewise, we may decide to
withdraw by either doing nothing or refusing to participate in the conflict altogether, or we may collaborate and
reach a constructive and mutually acceptable solution. And if none of those approaches proves effective, we might
choose third-party intervention, a form of collaboration in which an individual or group external to the conflict
intercedes to move both parties toward agreement.
While each of the above orientations represents a way to manage conflict, only two collaboration and third-party
intervention-are, by definition, focused on mutual gain and resolution. These two approaches consider the interests
of both parties and are most likely to use empathic listening as the primary tool to enhance understanding. The
other methods deal unilaterally with the conflict and fail to manage the interdependence of the dispute.
In order to understand the mechanisms behind the four orientations to conflict, it is useful to examine how
these orientations can be applied. The study of negotiation, one form of conflict resolution, provides two opposite
approaches for dealing with disputes. Most often, we think of negotiation in the formal sense seen in the business
or diplomatic environment, where two or more parties bargain to reach agreement. However, two types of negotiation,
competitive bargaining and collaboration, also provide good models for understanding different ways of resolving
2. Competitive Bargaining
When most people think of negotiation, they think of competitive bargaining. In this type of negotiation, a seller
asks for more than he expects and a buyer offers less than she is willing to pay. Then, through a series of
concessions, the two sides meet somewhere in the middle where each side is reasonably satisfied. This form of
negotiation also is frequently called distributive bargaining or concession-convergence. It maintains a
competitive, win-lose orientation, with the goals of one party and the attainment of those goals in direct conflict
with the goals of the other party. In other words, competitive bargaining is a positional conflict in which
"winning" is determined by how much of the original position was obtained. The parties believe that resources are
fixed and limited, and that they must battle to maximize their share of the wealth.
In competitive bargaining, each party uses strategy, tactics, and tricks to achieve its objective, and whether
one of both parties will achieve their goal depends upon their ability to "play the game." Each party seeks to
extract information from the other party that will help in identifying appropriate counteroffers, while revealing
as little accurate information as possible about its own preferences. The final agreement often depends on the
willingness of one party to stake out a tough and extreme position that causes the other party to make concessions.
Labor management disputes and international negotiations often use this model of conflict resolution.
The competitive bargaining process is unappealing to many of us and often produces unwise agreements. Some of us
simply do not have the skills or the temperament to play the game. We see the process as being unnecessary tough,
deceitful, or manipulative. Perceptions of power & control also are a significant factor in the effectiveness
of competitive bargaining. If you do not have the power in the relationship, or if you perceive that you do not,
you are more likely to obtain an unsatisfactory resolution. Your lack of power will prevent you from using
authority or aggression to resolve, or win, the dispute. In competitive bargaining this form of aggression is often
played as a trump card to achieve the win for the party who is able to acquire the most power.
The positional approach of competitive bargaining also causes unnecessary issue rigidity. Our egos become so
invested in our positions that we are prevented from accepting alternatives. Therefore, even if a better solution
is created, it is unlikely that we will back down. Another problem with competitive bargaining is that it often
ignores the personal issues that affect the resolution process. In competitive bargaining, we care about the other
party's needs only as a means to identify an opportunity for trade. For example, we will trade one day at the beach
(the other party's need) for one day visiting museums (our need). But even if the trade satisfies one need,
competitive bargaining still requires some amount of persuasion, deception, and manipulation if we are going to
resolve all of the objective issues in a satisfactory manner. Over time, this usually breaks down the trust between
the parties and places a significant strain on the relationship.
Competitive bargaining tends not to resolve conflict. It merely manages it for his short term. It is based on an
attitude of limits and is fundamentally a process of reaching a settlement within a bargaining range. Both parties
know that they are going to have to settle for something less than they would prefer, but they each hope that the
deal will be better than their bottom line. Parties who do not think they got the best deal possible or who believe
that they "lost" typically try to find ways to recoup their losses later. Even if one party believes that it "won,"
it still knows that it left something on the bargaining table and will try to acquire it in future negotiations.
Labor and management, for example, may reach an agreement, but it is not long before they are back at the
bargaining table, renegotiating issues that one or both sides thought had been settled previously.
There is an alternative that breaks the destructive cycle of competitive bargaining. It builds relationships and
opens the door to constructive resolution. The alternative not only helps you correctly identify the objective
issues, but also manages, if not resolves, the personal issues in the dispute. It is based on principles of
interaction that endeavor to understand all of the underlying interests that must be satisfied to reach sustained
The collaborative approach to conflict resolution, also called mutual gains or integrative bargaining, argues for
the possibility of solutions that all sides find acceptable. It embodies the notion of "win-win," a core component
of our principle of mutual gain. Collaboration is about identifying a common, shared, or joint goal and developing
a process to achieve it. It is a process in which both parties exchange information openly, defines their common
problems, and creates options to solve these problems. And while the collaborative process cannot guarantee that
agreement will always be reached, more often than not, the analysis of interests, needs, and desires helps the
resolution process and ultimate agreement.
There are many reasons why people don't pursue this model of conflict resolution. First, people in conflict
often do not recognize the potential for collaboration. This often is the result of an attitude of limits,
either-or thinking, or a fixed-pie mentality. When parties remain positional or see only a limited number of
solutions that will satisfy their interests, they do not use their creativity to solve the problem.
The history of the relationship between the two parties also can prevent collaboration. Over time, destructive
conflict can build resentment, if not contempt. And, as John Gottman notes in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994),
contempt breeds the intent to "insult and psychologically abuse" the other party. This is not always major abuse;
it may be small, nit-picking criticisms that add up over time. The personal issues become so overwhelming that the
objective issues of the conflict cannot be examined, and parties often cannot be in the same room together, let
alone identify ways of resolving the conflict.
Another barrier to collaboration relates to the complexity of most conflicts. Some elements are conducive to
collaboration, and some elements require competitive bargaining. Each mode of conflict resolution requires
different skill sets, and you can send mixed messages unless you handle them carefully.
Finally, people often have a lack of faith in their problem-solving ability. Parties that enter the resolution
process believing that they can work together usually find a way to collaborate. Those who do not have a solid
self-concept will be less willing to follow the Principles of interaction& use listening to seek collaborative
There are many obstacles that make collaboration more difficult. Given our inherent competitiveness and the
various factors that surround many of our disputes, it is a wonder that constructive collaboration occurs at all.
However, it does occur if one or both of the parties in conflict outcomes, the following conditions must be
established at some point during the process:
Face-to-face interaction: The Listening to Conflict approach to dispute resolution requires developing an
understanding of the total message another party is trying to communicate. The most effective way to accomplish
this is through face-to-face interaction, where we can see the nonverbal expressions that give us clues to
underlying emotional needs.
High acquaintance potential: Without the ability to accept and have positive regard for the other party,
collaboration will not be possible. We have to like the person as a person and be willing to establish a
relationship that goes beyond the issues of the dispute. This will allow the personal issues to be dealt with
separately from the objective issues in the particular conflict so that we can explore options for mutual gain.
Constituency support: The parties in conflict will not be able to collaborate if outside constituencies try to
force competitive and positional norms. Third parties must be supportive of the collaborative process or risk
nullifying the positive steps taken toward collaboration by reneging on constructive agreements established between
the two interacting parties. We must prevent or resolve any conflict with our constituencies prior to interacting
with the other party in the primary dispute.
Cooperative tasks: Acceptance goes a long way toward diffusing head-to-head competition in conflict, but unless
a joint or mutual task is established, there will be no need to collaborate. We at least must frame the conflict as
a problem to be solved together in order to establish a collaborative environment.
Shared exploration: Sharing in the process of understanding the problem and creating solutions keeps both
parties involved. This saves one party from the trap of inventing all of the solutions, and the inevitable
dependence and resentment that accompanies that responsibility. When both parties are involved, there will be
stronger commitment to the final solutions.
No fixed agenda: An agenda creates a positional interaction that is based on satisfying the needs of one party
without understanding how the interests of both are related. Having an agenda sends the message that you are not
interested in the other party's issues and needs issues and needs. The only agenda should be to follow the steps of
collaboration and work toward mutual gain.
Adherence to collaborative process steps. Successful resolution requires that we follow the steps of
collaboration. If we skip a step, we risk sending the other party mixed signals that will; propel that party toward
a defensive, competitive mode.
The Six Steps of Collaboration
With the above conditions in mind, a constructive environment can be established. However, collaboration also
requires that resolution proceed through a series of steps that create a more effective interaction. The steps
progress logically &should be departed from only to return to a previous step as a means to enhance the
relationship & increasing understanding. Skipping steps reduces the chance for collaborative agreement and
should be avoided. The six steps are as follows:
The Six Steps of Collaboration
1. Prepare for the Interaction.
2. Initiate the Exchange.
3. Facilitate the Relationship.
4. Understand the Interests.
5. Examine the Solutions.
6. Reach Consensus