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What are the different approaches to role conflict from the view point of conflict in goals?

Three types of approaches are commonly identified in context of conflict related with goals of individuals and organizations. These are:-

(i) Approach-approach conflict: The approach-approach conflict arises when an individual is faced with two or more equally attractive but mutually exclusive goals. He feels it difficult to select the better one out of these goals. For example a person could have a choice between accepting a promotion in the present organization and taking another lucrative job in another organization. The approach-approach conflict can be resolved with the help of the cognitive dissonance theory of Leon Festinger The individual can reduce dissonance by cognition of a job which is decidedly better than the other. In this process he can manipulate the information by rationalizing the particular decision he takes, seek more information about the choice to be made and avoid the information that may cause dissonance.

(ii) Approach avoidance conflict: The approach avoidance conflict is a situation where a single goal has both positive and negative characteristics. An individual is motivated to approach the goal by the positive characteristics but at the same time the negative characteristics of the goal compel him to avoid it. An example could be given of a situation when a person is offered a promotion with higher salary but away from his home town. In such a situation that conflict is at its maximum. To resolve such a conflict the gradients of avoidance and approach elements are looked into. If the approach having positive elements over ways the avoidance gradient with negative elements the goal is accepted.

(iii) Avoidance-avoidance approach: This conflict arises when an individual is faced by two alternatives, both of which have negative aspects. Both the alternatives are equally unattractive for the individual. An example could be given of an individual who dislikes his present job but the alternative of resigning from job and looking for a new job is also equally unattractive for him. Under normal circumstances such conflict can be easily resolved by avoiding both the alternatives but in some situations it may not be possible to avoid both the alternatives. Under such a situation the goal that has lesser negative elements should be selected.

What are the different categories of conflict?

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.

What are the causes of Conflict?

The various causes of conflict can be broadly categorized into three categories based on the aspects of the conflict.

(a) Behavioral aspect of conflict: It arises from the human thoughts and feelings, their emotion and attitudes and their personality traits. Some of the causes of the behavioral aspect of conflict are :

(i) The values or the perception of situation by an individual could cause a conflict.
(ii) Personal biases related with religion race or sex can also generate conflict.
(iii) Different view points of individuals about the same thing can also generate conflict.
(iv) The increasing gap between the rich and the poor also causes conflict as the unrealized expectation of the under privileged causes frustration in their mind which leads to conflict among the different classes of societies.
(v) There could be a conflict between the organizational goals and the psychological needs of the individual employees. The in-consistency between the two can create conflict.

(b) Communicational aspect of conflict: It has often been seen that a lack of communication can cause conflict. The success of failure of a task depends on the method of communicating information to the employees. If the information is partial or misunderstood due to poor communication it can result in the failure of the task. It is very difficult to fix responsibility for the failure of a task due to lack of communication. The problems that arise during the process of communication can be attributed to :

(i) Problem of noise ,
(ii) Too much or too little communication
(iii) Passing of information through many levels or members. The information remains functional up to a certain point and after that it becomes a cause of conflict.
(iv) Problems in communication may also arise due to the difference in training, background or the selection process of the employees.

The problem in communication can cause misunderstanding among the members and if not cleared in time, these misunderstandings can result in conflict. Thus complete, adequate and correct communication of information is vital for the accomplishment of the task and also reduces the changes of the conflict.

(c) Structural aspect of conflict: Sometimes the structural designed of the organizations also causes conflict. Some of the factors of the structural designed of the organizations that can cause conflict are :

(i) The large size of an organization increases the chances of conflict.
(ii) Employee participation in the decision making process could also be a causes of conflict. If subordinates are not allowed to participate, they will show resentment, which will cause conflict. On the other hand, if greater participation opportunities are provided to the subordinates, the level of conflict will be even higher, because participation will create awareness about the individual differences. This conflict is further enhanced when individuals try to enforce their view points on others.
(iii) Role ambiguity is also a cause of conflict. When the role of an individual is not clearly defined, it will cause conflict especially between this individual and other people who depend on his activities.
(iv) The primary causes of inter group problems and conflicts are poorly designed work flow structure and poorly planned coordination requirements especially where tasks are interdependent.
(v) Scarcity of resources like capital, facilities, staff assistance etc. causes conflicts among the people and units who must share these and who have to compete for them. The scarcity may bring conflict among group who are otherwise peaceful at the time of abundance.

What are the different stages in a conflict?

There are five stages in a conflict. These are latent conflict, perceived conflict, felt conflict, manifest conflict, and conflict aftermath.

(i) Latent Conflict: The first stage of conflict is latent conflict in which the factors that could become a cause of potential conflict exist. These are the dry for autonomy, divergence of goals, role conflict and the competition for scarce resources.

(ii) Perceived conflict: Sometimes a conflict arises even if no latent conflict is present. In this stage one party perceived the others to be likely to thwart or frustrate his or her goals. The case, in which conflict is perceived when no latent conflict arises, is used to result from the parties misunderstanding each other’s true position. Such conflict can be resolved by improving communication between the groups.

(iii) Felt Conflict: Felt conflict is the stage when the conflict is not only perceived but actually felt and cognized. For example, A may be aware that he is in serious argument with B over some policy. But this may not make. A tense or anxious and it may have no effect, whatsoever, on A’s affection towards B. The personalization of conflict is the mechanism which causes many people to be concerned with dysfunctions of conflict. In other words, it makes them feel the conflict. There are two reasons for the personalization of the conflict:
(i) the inconsistent demands on efficient organization and individual growth which is caused within the individual. Anxieties may also result from crisis or from extra-organizational pressures. Individuals need to vent these anxieties in order to maintain equilibrium.
(ii) Conflict becomes personalized when the whole personality of the individual is involved in the relationship. Hostile feelings are most common in the intimate relations that characterize various institutions and residential colleges.

(iv) Manifest Conflict: Manifest conflict is the stage when the two parties engage in behavior which evokes response from each other. The most obvious of these responses are open aggression, apathy, sabotage, withdrawal and perfect obedience to rules. Except for prison riots, political revolutions and extreme labor unrest, violence as a form of manifest conflict is rare. The motives towards violence may remain they tend to be expressed in less violent forms.

(v) Conflict Aftermath: The aftermath of a conflict may have positive or negative repercussion for the organization depending upon the how conflict is resolved. If the conflict is genuinely resolved to the satisfaction of all participants, the basis for more cooperative relationship may be laid or the participants in their drive for a more ordered relationship may focus on latent conflicts not previously perceived and dealt with. On the other hand, if the conflict is merely suppressed but not resolved, the latent conditions of conflict may be aggravated and explode in a more serious from until they are rectified. This conflict episode is called conflict aftermath.

What is dysfunctional conflict?

The conflict which obstructs the achievement of the goals of a group is called a dysfunctional or destructive conflict. The characteristics of a dysfunction conflict are:

(i) Increased tension: a dysfunctional conflict can cause high level of tension among the members of a group and in some cases it becomes difficult for the management to resolve such a conflict. This increased tension may result in anxiety uncertainty, hostility and frustration among the members of a group.

(ii) High rate of employee turn over: Dysfunctional conflicts can cause some employees to leave the organization if they are not able to resolve the conflict in their favor. In such a case it is the organization that has to suffer to loss of its valuable employees.

(iii) Increased dissatisfaction: Dissatisfaction can be increased among the members of the party that looses in conflict. This struggle during conflict also results in decreased concentration on the job and in this way it can also adversely affect the productivity of the whole group.

(iv) Distrust: Conflict can result in a climate of distrust among the members of a group and also in the organization. It can decrease the level of cohesiveness among the group members who will have negative feelings towards other members of the group and avoid interaction with them.

(v) Distraction from organizational goals : Conflicts can distract the members of a group from the organizational goals they are supposed to achieved but during a conflict the members may waste their time and energy in making efforts for emerging as winners in the on-going conflict in the group and their attention from the organizational goals may be diverted. Personal victory becomes more important for the members involved in the conflict and the organizational goals take a back seat.

Conflicts may cost dearly
The cost for a conflict is not only paid by individuals but they can weaken the organization also. In case the management fails to handle conflicts efficiently and tries to suppress them, conflicts can acquire huge proportions later on. Thus it is important that the management should interfere in the conflicts at an earlier stage otherwise unnecessary troubles can be created at a later stage. The organization may have to suffer as some of its valuable employees may leave the organization or a feeling of distrust that is generated among the employees could have a negative impact on the productivity.

What is functional conflict?

The conflict which supports the goals of a group and also improves it performance is known as a functional or a positive conflict. The functional conflict is helpful in the achievement of the goals of a group as it aids in –

(i) Analytical thinking: During a conflict the members of a group display analytical thinking in identifying various alternatives. In absence of conflict, they might not have been creative or even might have been lethargic. The conflicts may include challenge to such views, rules, policies, purpose and plans which entail a significant analysis so as to justify these groups as they are or make other alterations that may be necessary.

(ii) Diffusing tension among the members of the group: When conflict is allowed to express openly it can help in reducing the tension among the members of the group which would otherwise remain suppressed. Suppression of tension can lead to imaginative distortion of truth, sense of frustration and tension, high mental exaggerations and biased opinions resulting in fear and distrust. When members express themselves, they get some psychological satisfaction. This also leads to reduction of stress among the involved members.

(iii) Promote Competition: Conflicts results in increase competition and this increased competition in turn results in more efforts. Some persons are highly motivated by conflict and service competition. Such conflict and competition can result in increased effort and output.

(iv.) Promote group cohesiveness: Some experts believe that conflict creates solidarity among the members of the group it also increases loyalty in the members of the group and inculcates a feeling of group identity as the members of a group compete with outsiders. This increased group cohesiveness can help the management in achieving the organizational goals effectively.

(v) Facing challenges: The abilities of individuals as well as groups can be tested during conflict. Conflict creates challenges for them and to face these challenges individual and group to need to be creative and dynamic. When they are able overcome these challenges successfully it leads to a search for the alternatives to the present methods which results in organizational development.

(vi.) Organizational change: It has been seen that some times conflict stimulates change among the members of a group. Whenever people are faced with conflict, there is a change in their attitudes and they become ready for the change to meet the requirements of the situation

(vii) Increased awareness: Conflict creates an increased awareness about the problems faced by the group. The group members also become aware of the members involved in the problem and the methods adopted to solve the problem.

(viii) Quality of decision: Conflict result s in high quality decisions taken by the members of a group. During the conflict, the members express the opposing views and perspective which results in some high quality decisions. The members share the information and examine the reasoning of other members to develop new decisions.

(ix) Identification of weakness: The weaknesses of a group and its members can be identified easily during the conflict. It becomes easier for the management to remove these weaknesses once it becomes aware of these.

What is the role of conflict in groups and organizations?

The experts have been divided over the role of conflict in organizations and groups. However there are mainly three schools of thought that emphasize the different roles of conflict in the organizations. These three schools of thought present the traditional view, the human relation view and the interaction view.

(i) The traditional view: The traditional view believed that conflict is harmful for the organization. This view considered conflict as a totally negative phenomenon and considered it synonymous with violence and destruction. In the traditional view conflict was believed to be a dysfunction outcome of factors like poor communication, lack of trust among the employees and a failure of the management to respond to the needs and desired of the employees. It was believed that conflict could cause a loss in productivity and too much conflict at the work place could also distract the managers from efficiently discharging their duties. In this way we see that the traditional view considered conflict as a totally bad thing and advocated its complete avoidance. This sometime resulted in a tendency to suppress the conflict and push it under the carpet. By ignoring the presence of conflict, we somehow try to wish it away. Both the scientific management approach and the administrative school of management related heavily on developing such organizational structures that would specify task, rules, regulations procedures and authority relationships so that if a conflict develops, then these inbuilt rules will identify and correct problems of such conflict. Thus, through proper management techniques and attention to the causes of conflict, it could be eliminated and organizational performance improved.

(ii) Human Relation View: The proponents of human relations view believe that conflict was a natural occurrence in all groups and organizations and the management should accept conflict at work place. This theory says that conflict is avoidable by creating an environment of goodwill and trust. But still conflicts are bound to happen due to differences in opinions, faulty policies and procedures, lack of cooperation, allocation of resources which will lead to distortion and blockage in communication. Accordingly, management should always be concerned with avoiding conflict if possible and resolving it soon if possible, in the interests of the organizations and the individuals.

(iii) The Interactions view: The inter-actionist approach went a step further from the human relations approach which accepted conflict but the inter-actionist view in fact encouraged conflict. This view is based on a belief that conflict could be a positive force in a group but it is even necessary for a group to perform efficiently. Thus this approach encourages conflict as these approaches believes that if there is harmony, peace and co-operation in a group it can become static and non-responsive towards the needs for change and innovation. Therefore it becomes imperative that the leader of the group allows some conflict in the group so that it remains creative viable and self critical. This conflict however should be kept under control at all times so that the dysfunction consequences of conflict avoided.

What is conflict?

Conflict is present in everyday life of individual as well as organizations. We can say that wherever there is an interaction, there is conflict. Conflict influences is the behavior, performance and satisfaction of the employees and is a major challenge for the managers when they have to deal with differences among the employees or groups at work. The conflicts pose regular challenges for the managers thus it becomes important for the managers to understand the concept of conflict and also the ways to handle to conflict effectively. There are many ways to define the conflict it has been considered as an expression of hostility antagonism aggression rivalry and negative attitude. It is also linked with situations which involve the contradictory or irreconcilable interests between two opposite parties. Louis R Pondy has given a comprehensive definition of conflict in which he says that the term conflict is used in four different ways:

(i) Antecedent conditions of conflict-full behavior such as scarcity of resources or policy differences.
(ii) Affective states of individuals involved such as stress, tension, hostility anxiety etc.
(iii) Cognitive state of individuals, that is their perception or awareness of conflict situation; and
(iv.) Conflict behavior ranging from passive resistance to over aggression.

Thus we see that conflict is a predictable social phenomenon which can be channelized to used purposes by the managers. From the organizational point of view conflict has following features:

(i) Conflict arises when individual are not able to select the available courses of action

(ii) A conflict between two individuals means that they have contradictory values, perception and goals.

(iii) Conflict involves a series of events and is a dynamic process. Every conflict is made up of a series of inter connected episodes.

(iv.) A conflict should be perceived by the parties involved in it if the parties are not aware of the conflict it is commonly assumed that there is no conflict between the parties.


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