What are the different categories of conflict?

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Conflicts can be classified into the following categories:
(i) Individual level conflicts
(ii) Interpersonal conflict
(iii) Group level conflict
(iv.) Organizational conflict

As managers spend a consideration amount of time in dealing with conflict situations, it is important for them to understand the types of conflict so that they can find the appropriate techniques to deal with these conflicts. The different categories of conflict are discussed in details below:

(1) Individual level conflict :
A conflict arises within and individual when his motives or drives are block or he is unable to take decision due to being confronted with competing role and goals. There are some basic causes of conflict among individuals:

(a) Incomparability: an individual may not be able to take decisions though he is aware of the probability distribution of the alternatives because the outcomes are incomparable. An individual can not take a decision when the results can not be compared. In same way an individual could also be unable to make a comparison between the different alternatives available. For making a comparison a technique of comparison is required which includes assigning weight to different components, rationality in behavior and attitude and the competence to perform the task. The process of comparison also depends on the clarity and the decisiveness of the individual regarding the minimum standard of achievement. An individual can not make a comparison if he lacks the clarity regarding the acceptance.

(b) Unacceptability: Individuals have some acceptable alternatives in terms of their goals and perceptions and when the alternatives selected by the organizations are not satisfactory for him they become acceptable to that individual. This unacceptability is subjective as some alternatives unacceptable to one may be acceptable to others. When an individual finds the alternatives unacceptable, he searches for the alternatives that are acceptable to him. This search continues but some times repeated failure to find acceptable alternatives may lead to a redefinition of acceptable alternatives.

(c) Uncertainty: There is some uncertainty among the individuals regarding the external and internal environment of the organization. The behavior of the people regarding the acceptability of the alternative and effectiveness of the alternative could be determined with a certain level of certainty if the environment of the organization could be depicted properly. In case of uncertainty, an individual may feel frustrated which could ultimately be reflected in a conflict. There are a number of competing roles and goals within an individual and usually there are three types of conflicts in an individual: Frustration, goal conflict and role conflict.

(i) Frustration is the high level of dissatisfaction which generates conflicts in an individual whenever an individual is unable to do what he wants to do he becomes frustrated. In this way the motivated drives of individuals are blocked before he reaches his goal. These blocks could be physical, psychological or social. Frustration leads to a defense mechanism and this defense mechanism or outcome of frustration is broadly classify under four heads: Aggression, withdrawal, fixation and compromise

(ii) Goal Conflict: The existence of two or more competing goals could be a cause of conflict in and individual. The conflict caused by competing goals could have both positive and negative features. It occurs when two or more motives block each other. This restricts an individual from taking a decision about the goal to be achieved either due to the positive or the negative features present in the goals. Three types of goal conflicts have been identified. These are: Approach-approach conflict, Approach avoidance conflict, Avoidance-avoidance approach.

(iii) Role conflict: An individual plays a number of roles in social and organizational situation but for the study of organizational behavior, the roles which he brings to organization are the most important. Every individual in the organization is expected to behave in a particular manner while performing a specific role. When the expected role is different or opposite from the behavior anticipated by the individual in that role; conflict arises because there is no way to meet one expectation without rejecting the other. In organizational setting everyone plays the role of a superior and subordinate. Whenever there is a difference expectations in relation to him and others, conflict ought to arise. Similarly, conflict may also arise whenever there is overlapping of the two roles played simultaneously by the same person. For example a superior is reprimanding his subordinate for the lapses and during this course his boss communicates with him. As he was so surcharged with anger on his subordinate that he failed to leave his role as superior and adopt the role of subordinate with the result that he lost temper with his boss also. This overlapping more often causes conflict to the individual owing to role performance. The role conflict has been classified into four types. These are:

(i) Intra-sender role conflict: The intra-sender role conflict arises when a person is asked to do a job within specified limits, which he is not capable of doing or time and resources are not sufficient to do the job. In this case, the expectations from a single member of a role are incompatible.

(ii) Inter-sender role conflict: In inter-sender role conflict, the expectations sent from one sender may be in conflict with those from one or more other senders.

(iii) Self-role conflict: Self role conflict occurs when a person is asked to do a job which is incompatible with his own value system. For example a manager may be asked to get a job done by bribing some public officials but his value system and conscience may not permit him to do so.

(iv) Inter role conflict: Inter role conflict when an individual occupies multiple and divergent roles simultaneously and the expectations associated with these different roles are incompatible.

Every person holding a particular position in the organization is expected to behave in a particular manner. This is known as the role expectation from that person. When the role expectations are not properly communicated to the individuals, it may result in-Role ambiguity, role conflict and role overload.

(2). Interpersonal conflict: The conflict at inter-personal level involves two or more individuals and is the most common and most recognized type of conflict. In a way all conflicts are interpersonal conflicts because most of them involve a conflict between a person in one organization or a group and another person in some other organization or a group. Every individual has a separate alternative course of action that is acceptable to him and different individuals prefer different alternatives. Sometimes the organizations also create such circumstances that two individuals find themselves in a situation of conflict. For example two mangers could be competing for the limited capital or man power resources. The other type of conflict is the disagreement over the goals and objectives of the organization. Four primary sources of interpersonal conflict are:

(i) Personal differences: This can be a major source of conflicts between individuals. Due to the difference in the up bringing, culture, education, experience, values and traditions and the family background of the individuals, an interpersonal conflict could arise.

(ii) Lack of Information: Another cause of inter-personal conflict could be the lack of information. This information deficiency is often a result of the communication break down in an organization.

Role in compatibility: Role in compatibility could also be a source of conflict as in the present day inter-functional organizations many managers are assigned task which are inter dependent and the individual’s roles of these managers may be incompatible.

Stress: Environmental stress in an organization can also cause inter-personal conflict. Such a stress is caused by a lack of resources, down sizing, competitive pressures and the high level of uncertainty among the employees of organization.

The inter-personal conflicts usually get resolved by themselves because the parties at conflict are not in a position to remain in a conflict for a long time. Time itself becomes a healing factor for the inter-personal conflicts. In case of the persisting inter-personal conflicts, these can be resolved with the help of counseling, effective communication and win-win negotiation. The management should look for the basic reason behind conflict and try to resolve them quickly so that an atmosphere of mutual trust and openness could be created and maintained in the organization.

(3) Group level conflict: There are two or more members in a group which has a well defined structure of role and status relations and also have a system of values and norms of behavior. The groups not only affect their members but have an impact on other groups and on the organization also. The members of a group regularly interact with each other and during this process of interaction; two types of conflict can arise. Intra-group conflict or inter-group conflict.

Intra-group conflict arises when there are differences between the members of group themselves. The members of a group may want to remain in the group but at the same time they may disagree with the methods adopted by the group.

An intra-group conflict usually arises in the following three ways.
(i) when the group faces a new problem,
(ii) when new values are imported into the group from the social environment or
(iii) when the extra group role of a person comes into a conflict with his intra-group role.

The intra-group conflict is somewhat similar to the inter-person conflict and the only difference is that the persons involved in the conflict are from a common group.

Inter-group conflict: The conflicts that take place between different groups in an organization are called inter-group conflicts. These conflicts may be caused by
(i) Absence of join decision making: Organization comprises of different groups. Each group puts its urgency for having maximum share in the limited resources and press for the acceptance of its own time schedule for the performance of a task. If the wishes of a group in respect of resources and time schedule are accepted, justice cannot be done to other groups, which will ultimately lead to organizational ineffectiveness. Joint decision making is the only solution to resolve the conflict. The conflicting parties may sit together and discuss their own needs in the overall organizational perspective.

(ii) Difference in goals: Conflicts can also arise among different groups in an organization because of the difference in their goals. The difference in the goals of the group is caused by (i) factors which affect the commonality within the organization such as heterogeneity in groups, (ii) factors that the clarity and consistency of reward structure and the comparability of reward structure.

(iii) Difference in perception: The difference in perception that can cause inter-group conflicts arises due to the difference sources of information of different members, different techniques adopted for processing the information and the difference in goals.

(4) Organization conflict
All the conflicts that have been discussed above relate to the conflicts within the organizational setting. Inter-organizational conflicts take place between the organizations that are dependent on each other in some way. The conflicts that take place at the individual level or the group level are all inherent in the organization level conflict. Such a conflict could be between the buyer and the seller organization, between the government agencies that regulate certain organizations and the organization that the affected by them or between the unions of workers and their organization. The organization level conflict should be properly handled so that it can play a constructive role in achieving the goals of the organization. It can act as a stimulus and provide a challenge and motivational force to keep the organization moving.

This article has been written by KJ Singh a MBA Graduate from a prestigious Business School In India
Article Published:September 17, 2012
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  • dixa September 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Thnks for da info. Its quite simple and helped me al lot.good job…

  • Omoyajowo Sunday Ajayi March 25, 2016 at 6:09 am

    Right information for MBA project. Thank you

  • Norbert odhiambo June 14, 2016 at 2:49 am

    Thank you for the simple explanation. Really had a problem understanding the levels of conflict within the organisation.

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