Organisations Conflict Managing

Discuss the role of procedure in managing both individual and collective conflict in organisations.


Conflict is an essential force governing all aspects of life. It has always existed between individuals, groups and organisations. Understanding and managing conflict is a vital investment to improve organisational performance. Effective conflict management helps organisations to keep in touch with new developments and create suitable solutions for new threat and opportunities. Managing conflict like managing politics, is a way to improve organisational decision making and resource allocating, ultimately making the organisation more effective (Kabanoff, 1991).Therefore, this paper is an attempt to explore the procedures in managing both individual and collective conflict in organisations with considering the advantages and disadvantages of the different procedural approach to managing the employee relationship.

Conflict can be defined as disagreement between two or more parties as for example, individuals, groups, departments, organisations, countries – who perceive that they have incompatible concerns (Bloisi, 2007). Conflicts present whenever an action by one party is perceived as preventing or interfering with the goals, needs, or actions of another. Conflict can be regarded as a reality of management and organisational behaviour which is related to power and politics. According to Mullins (2005) conflict is a behaviour intended to obstruct the achievement of some other person’s goals which is based on the incompatibility of goals and arises from opposing behaviours. Modern theories of conflict emphasize that it is a process which involves the perceptions, thoughts, feelings and intentions of all participants (Furnham, 2005). Conflict in organisations stems from both organisations based and interpersonal factors. Organisational based factors include competition over scarce resources, uncertainty over responsibility or jurisdiction, inter-dependence, reward system that pit people or against one another, and power differentials. Interpersonal factors include attributional errors, faulty communications and personal characteristics or traits.

Differing perspectives on conflicts

Conflict in the employment relationship has an important influence on theories of industrial relations. It has been interpreted differently at different times-i.e. the unitary, pluralist, and interactionist perspectives.

The traditional view of conflict is that it is associated with negative features and situations which give rise to inefficiency, ineffectiveness or dysfunctional consequences which is ultimately a bad thing for organisations (Mullins, 2005). Unitary perspective is the early interpretation of conflict which amounted to a definition of a process that was harmful and should be avoided. According to this view conflict was seen as a negative outcome of poor communication, lack of openness and trust between people, and the inability of superiors to respond to the needs and aspirations of subordinates.

While conflict often consider as harmful, and thus something to avoid, it can also sometimes beneficial. A total absence of conflict can lead to apathy and lethargy (Moorhead and Griffin, 1992). According to the pluralist perspective, conflict is a natural phenomenon which is inevitable, occasionally even desirable, because it supports evolutionary change (Furnham, 2005). This outlook claims that conflict is stimulating and beneficial because it challenges the apathetic, the groups which are not responding to the change. In fact, pluralists argue that conflict often brings about necessary change, increase cohesiveness and improves organisational effectiveness. It is the device which brings change in individual and organisational life.

According to the interactionist perspective, harmony, peace, tranquility, and cooperation might create apathy and produce too great a tolerance of the status quo, with a lack of responsiveness to the need for change and innovation. Hence, the interactionist ideology is that conflict should not only be tolerated but encourages the adoption of a minimum level of conflict -that is enough level of conflict to make sure the group is viable, self critical, and creative( Mckenna,2003). Interactionists described conflict as functional or constructive and is said to facilitate the attainment of the group’s goals and to improve performance. Therefore, organisational conflict can be considered as legitimate and unavoidable which is a positive indicator of effective organisational management and conflict within certain limits is essential to productivity (Rahim, 2001). The interactionist believes that just as the level of conflict may be too high and requires a reduction and it is also often too low and in need of increased intensity because organizations that do not stimulate conflict increase the probability of stagnant thinking, poor decisions, and at the extreme, organizational failure (Robbins,1974).

According to the radical view, organisation is one of the theatres of war. This view emphasises the disparity of power between the owners of the means of production (managers) and the workers. Conflict is about professional values, limited resources, career progress, and special privileges and so on. Therefore, Radical frame of reference on conflict views organisational conflict as an inevitable consequence of exploitative employment relations in a capitalist’s economy (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007).

Pondy’s model of organisational conflict

Louis Pondy (1967) developed one of the most widely accepted models of organisational conflict. According to his view conflict is a dynamic process that consists of five sequential stages. It is not a matter how or why conflict arises in an organisation, manager can use Pondy’s model to analyse a conflict and guide their attempts to manage it (George & Jones, 2005).

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Latent conflict, the first stage of Pondy’s model often arises when a change occurs. Conflict might be caused by a budget cutback, a change in organisational direction, a change in a personal goal, the assignment of a new project to an already overload workforce, or an expected occurrence that doesn’t happen.

The stage of perceived conflict begins when one party-individual or group-becomes aware that its goals are being thwarted by the actions of another party. This is the point at which members become aware of problem. At this point, however, no one feels that anything they care about is actually being overtly threatened (Bloisi, 2007). During the stage of felt conflict, the parties in conflict develop negative feelings about each other. Here the parties become emotionally involved and begin to focus on differences of opinion and opposing interests, sharpening perceived conflict.

Figure 1: Pondy’s Model of Organisational Conflict

Stage 1

Latent conflict

Stage 2

Perceived conflict

Stage 3

Felt Conflict

Stage 4

Manifest conflict

Stage 5

Conflict aftermath

Source: Adapted from George & Jones (2005)

In the stage of manifest conflict, one party decides how to react to or deal with party that it sees the source of the conflict, and both parties try to hurt each other and frustrate each other’s goals. Manifest conflict also takes the form of a lack of cooperation between people or functions, a result that can seriously hurt an organisation. Every conflict episode leaves a conflict “aftermath” that affects the way both parties perceive and respond to future episodes. If conflict can be resolved by compromise or collaboration before it progress to the manifest stage, the conflict aftermath will promote good future working relationships (George & Jones, 2005).

It is found from the above part of this paper that conflict has many faces and it is a constant challenge for managers who are responsible for achieving organisational goal. Given the potentially disruptive effects of conflict, managers need to be sensitive to how it can be managed. When a potentially harmful conflict situation exists, a manager needs to engage in conflict resolution. Attention of this paper now turns to the active management of both functional and dysfunctional conflict.

Managing conflict

According to management perspective conflict should be avoided at all costs and ultimately should be managed by the resolution of any conflict (Robbins, 1974). Managing conflict has now become a complex issue because it involves the recognition, interpretation, encouragement and/or discouragement of conflict in order to influence appropriate outcomes whereas resolution simply involves in reduction and elimination (Amason, 1996; Rahim, Garrett and Buntzman, 1992). Although conflict enhanced individual, group and organisational effectiveness, management of conflict cannot be ignoring (Rahim, 2001). In addition, Pawlak (1998) suggests managing conflict has an important role in private, public and political organizations, as well as in judicial and work disputes, in military operations and many other situations.

Stimulating functional conflict

As discussed earlier, the current view is that in certain circumstances stimulating a degree of conflict within organisation can be beneficial (Amason, 1996). But in this situation, the matter needs to be handled in a very careful and controlled way so that the matters do not go beyond control and result in something that is highly dysfunctional.

Collective conflict management

Collective conflict management is about changing the attitudes and behaviours of groups and departments in conflict. Bargaining or negotiation is the most common procedure for resolving organisational conflicts. Third party intervention also can be helpful in these areas.


Negotiation is a form of problem solving where two groups with conflicting interests exchange things in order to reach a mutually agreeable resolution (Bloisi, 2007). Hence, negotiation involves an element of power, as each party involved in negotiation will want to exert some influence or pressure on the other. Negotiation experts distinguish negotiation between two types- distributive and integrative. Distributive negotiation involves traditional win-lose thinking, whereas integrative involves win-win strategy (Fisher and Ury, 1981).

According to Thomas (1992) there are five forms that negotiation may take as a group handle conflict with others: compromise, collaboration, accommodation, avoidance and competition. Compromise usually involves bargaining and negotiation to reach a solution that is acceptable to both parties. Compromise may be the best hope for leaving the both parties in relatively satisfactory positions when a manager is dealing with an opponent of equal power who is strongly committed to a mutually exclusive goal. It is also wise when a temporary settlement needs to be achieved. It can be useful for gracefully getting out of mutually destructive situations. But on the other hand, too much compromising might cause to lose sight of principles that are more important, values and long term objectives and can also create a cynical climate of gamesmanship (Bloisi, 2007). Sometimes the parties in dispute use collaboration to find a solution, which means each side tries to satisfy not only its own goals but also the goals of other side. Collaboration is a necessary when the concerns of both parties are too important to be compromised.

Accommodation is a style for handling conflict in which one party allows the other to achieve its goals. It consists of unassertive and co-operative behaviour. It is an appropriate strategy when the issue at stake is much more important to the other person. It helps to maintain a co-operative relationship, building up social credits for use in later conflicts. However, too much accommodation can deprive others of someone’s personal contributions and viewpoint. Avoidance is unassertive and uncooperative behaviour. In this conflict management style, both parties refuse to recognise the real source of the problems and act as there were no problems. It is appropriate when the issue involved is relatively unimportant. In addition, if one party has little power or in a situation that is very difficult to change, avoiding may be the best choice.

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Figure 2: Interpersonal conflict management styles

Competing Collaborative

Avoidance Accommodating




Unco-operative co-operative

Source: adapted from Thomas (1992).

Competition is assertive and uncooperative behaviour where each party is looking out for its own interests and has little interest in understanding the other’s positions or taking the other’s needs in to account. It can be beneficial when quick, action is vital, as in emergencies. But sometimes this style illuminates the source of important information.

According to George & Jones (2005), there are five specific tactics which help managers to structure the negotiation and bargaining process to make compromise and collaboration more likely: emphasise common goals; focus on the problem, not the people; focus on interests, not demand; create opportunities for joint gain; and focus on what is fair. They also suggest that if a manager pursue those five strategies and encourage other members of the organisation to do so, they are more likely to resolve their conflicts effectively through negotiation and bargaining. Then managers can use conflict to help increase a company’s performance and avoid destructive fights that harm the people involved in conflict as well as the organisation.

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining is specifically an industrial relations mechanism or tool, and is an aspect of negotiation and applicable to the employment relationship (Silva, 1996).

Bratton & Gold (2007) define collective bargaining as an institutional system of negotiation in which the making, interpretation and administration of rules, as well as the application of statutory controls affecting the employment relationship, are decided within union-management negotiating committees. The structure of collective bargaining is the frame work within which negotiations take place and defines the scope of employers and employees covered by the collective agreement. Collective bargaining is

Figure 3: Strategic model of collective bargaining




Bargaining process

Union Management


Outline pressures



Public Sentiment

Source: Miner & Crame (1995).

conducted at several levels: at the workplace, corporate or industry level. The collective bargaining structures are closely linked with business structures and “profit centres” (Bratton & Gold, 2007). It has the advantage of settlement through dialogue and consensus rather than through conflict and confrontation.

Third- party intervention

Third- party interventions are necessary when conflicting parties are unwilling or unable to engage in conflict resolution or integrative negotiation. Integrative or added value negotiation is most appropriate for intergroup and inter-organisational conflict. The two most common forms of third party assistance are mediation and arbitration (Bloisi, 2007). Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party to the conflict assist in the achievement of a negotiated solution by using reason, persuasion and the presentation of the alternatives and on the other hand arbitration is a process in which a third party to a conflict has the authority to impose an agreement that is binding on the parties in conflict (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). Which approach is best depends upon the specific conflict situation. Mediation provides the greatest potential when dealing with minor conflicts because it allows the parties more responsibility in determining the outcome. Arbitration is usually most appropriate when the parties are at a definite stalemate because its structured rules and processes provide the best sense of fairness.

Individual level conflict management

Individual level conflict management is aimed at changing the attitudes or behaviours of those in the conflict. Disciplinary and grievance are formal mechanisms for resolving individual conflict and represent positive opportunities for corrective action and concern resolution. If the conflict is due to a clash of personalities and the parties in conflict do not understand one another’s point of view, the organisation can help the people involved by bringing in outside help to give advice and counsel and if the clash is due to workforce diversity, the organisation can use education and training to help employees appreciate the differences in their attitudes and avoid or successfully resolve conflict (George & Jones, 2005).


When employee voice mechanisms fail to create or reinforce desirable employee attitudes and behaviours, manager may resort to disciplinary action (Bratton & Gold, 2007). According to ACAS (1987), “Discipline is about maintaining standards of behaviour and performance. The best way to do this is to: agree standards and make sure all staff know what these are; have rules and procedures in place to enable employer to deal with unacceptable behaviour and unsatisfactory performance within the workplace. The emphasis is on maintaining standards, not punishment.” Disciplinary practices, ranging from oral warning to termination of the employment relationship, aim to make worker’s behaviour acceptable. But according to Mabey, Skinner and Clark (1998), workers had negative perceptions of total quality management because of a culture incorporating the excessive use of disciplinary actions against individuals.

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According to ACAS (1987), “Grievance is a problem or concern somebody may have about their work, working conditions or relationships with colleagues. Therefore, it is important that organisation has.” Grievance is a formally presented complaint to a management representative or to a union official (Pigors and Myers, 1977). If there were no procedure for raising and resolving grievances, it would be likely that employees would grumble to colleagues, and as a result not only their work but the work of the department would be suffer (Foot & Hook,2005).

According to the above discussion, disciplinary action is normally initiated by management to express dissatisfaction with, and bring about changes in, employee behaviour; grievance, on the other hand, is normally initiated by employees for similar reasons, but in respect of management’s, or perhaps co-workers’, behaviour. But fairness and justice is essential in both procedures although they are initiated by different parties.


This paper tried to analyse the procedures in managing both individual and collective conflict in organisations with considering difference frame of references. As noted earlier, conflict is natural to any organisation and as according to some researchers like Bloisi (2007), Amason (1996) it can never be completely eliminated, nor should it be, if conflict not manage properly, conflict can be dysfunctional and lead to undesirable consequences like hostility, lack of cooperation, violence, destroyed relationships and even organisation failure. On the other hand, when conflict managed effectively, conflict can stimulate creativity, innovation and change, and build better relationship. Therefore, it is very essential for an organisation to manage conflict effectively. A variety of conflict management techniques have been developed to help resolve conflicts and deal with the kinds of negative effects just described in this paper. In general, Bargaining or negotiation is the most common procedure for resolving organisational conflicts and disciplinary and grievance are two main mechanisms for resolving individual conflict in organisations. A positive approach to resolving conflict is possible if discipline is viewed as opportunity for corrective action and grievance is viewed as an opportunity for the resolution of employee concerns (Pilbeam & Corbridge, 2002).


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