Organizational power, politics and conflict

The project work is all about organizational Power, Politics & Conflict theses three words seems to be very simple but have major impact on organization. To understand these three first it is needed to understand what organization is.

Social unit of people systematically arranged and managed to meet a need or to pursue collective goals on a continuing basis. All organizations have a management structure that determines relationships between functions and positions, and subdivides and delegates roles, responsibilities, and authority to carry out defined tasks.

In simple word organization is a group of people which come together for the common motive and goal. Their structure leads to the flow of power, authority and responsibility.

  1. Power is said to be like love, impossible to define but easy enough to recognize (Martin 1977)
  2. Everyone know what power is until they come to define it (Bierstedt 1950)

Both the authors mean to say it is difficult to define power but it is easy to recognise it. What I understood is that “Power is capability of one to compel other to do something willingly or unwillingly”. Whereas Compulsion can be there due to various reasons like authority, knowledge, experience, coercion, control, etc.

These sources of power can be divided into five groups:-

Legitimate Power: – In this form power comes with your designation and which is being accepted by the members of the organization. It is required and agreed by others, to carry out certain function and role you need to have required amount of power one of the example of legitimate power is power of Judiciary.

Rewards Power: – It is the capability to reward or fulfil some ones interest. This can be better understand by an example a manager has power to reward other in the form of pay, promotion, time off, etc where as an employee have power in for 360 degree appraisal, producing desired production, etc.

Coercive Power: – In simple word it is the ability to punish someone. This form of power is required to maintain proper flow of work and discipline in the organization or the work place. Examples for such coercive power of manager are fine, demotion, over time, etc where as strikes is the one of the example of coercive power of employees.

Expert Power: – It is the ability of one to influence others on the basis of his own interpersonal skills like knowledge, thoughts, expertise, etc. It helps a person to build up real image in front of other and help to gain real good power over others.

Referent Power: – It is refer to the interpersonal relationship or the image of a person among the people. This can be derived in the form of respect, love, affection, etc. This type of power usually develops slowly and helps to portrait your image in front of other.

Authority is being more recognized and knows by the people as a source of power due to its existence in the social structure of the organization and legitimate form of power. But there is difference between the authority and the other form of power, when you get power through authority the power goes as authority goes where as in the other forms of power like knowledge & experience power stays no matter whether you have authority or not, the another major difference is power through authority flows in one direction only (downwards) where in other form power moves in different directions as well (upward, downward, parallel sides) example: even the president of the country follows security chief when it come to their security or security of others not because of authority but because of their experience & skills.

Steven Lukes, a British political and social theorist, claimed that power has Three Faces: –

Decision Making: – In this face of power the member or the groups participates evenly in the decision making process. Views of all the members are welcomed and the decision is taken after on the bases of common view.

Non Decision Making: – In this face of power the members or the groups who have power won’t allow the less powerful group to participate in the decision making process, particularly when some manipulation done by a group or an individual is being discussed.

Ability to shape preferences and perception: – This is a very radical face of power where individuals or groups try to limits the freedom of other and treat other badly. This is because of difference in the view point, goals and principles. In this face there is no freedom to discuss your view point and suggestions.

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Information also plays an important role in organizational power. By controlling the flow of information one can gain power and being able to deal with the uncertainties related to the organization goals and objectives. Where networking plays a very important role in the flow of information, for the good flow of information in the organization good networking is required, networking means crating social relationship with other to accomplish one’s goal. This activity increases an individual’s expert and referent power as well as visibility and possibly centrality. However, networking can restrict or limits the opportunities for those who are outside this network. Which is an lag for networking itself and problem form an organizational point of view.

Organizational Politics

The concept of organizational politics evolved during 1990’s and considered to the primary component in contemporary business practices [6]. Politics means: –

Behaviours that others perceive as self-service tactics for personal gain at the expense of other people and possibly organization

The theoretical view of organization politics is that politics has no place in the organization. Organizations work on with the principal to maximizing utility and to achieve organizational goals. But in actual world such theory’s hardly applies, an organization is group of people with different objective and different viewpoints to achieve those objectives which results fight to move forward and prove own self right where the politics generally comes into picture, [8] Disagreement is one of the core reason behind the politics if everyone in the organization agree all the time to a single thing then there would be no need for politics. Whereas one of the major factor for disagreement is Diversities. As I have mention before that organization consist of different members and groups out of which some of them are more power full then others with varied motives and viewpoints and this develops a favourable condition for politics. Scarcity and Interest also leads to organization politics scarcity of some resource can leads to the competition between two groups or members within the organization which can lead to politics an example development allowance it found that most of the time there is conflict occur among the different departments with the division of development allowance which is limited . Where Interest is the one of the major factor for organization politics, it happen most of the time where the interest of different groups or members clashes with each other’s which lead to the politics and conflict in the organization best example for this is “employee of the month” only one person can become the employee of the month so generally there are fights for such reward in the organization which again leads to politics. Here interest can be classified into three parts which are: –

Task: – This type of interest is concern with work of a member in the organization. This form of interest leads to things like organizational goals, profit maximization, targeting market and all other source of organizational interest.

External: – This type of interest develops due to the factors outside the organization. This type of interest develops due to domestic pressure, social and professional obligations like relationship with subordinates and trade union, etc. this type of interest can be there for organizational or personal benefits.

Career: – When it comes to career interest person my take decisions which does not involves the best interest of the organization. Is such a interest people give much priority of their own interest and own good as compare to the organizational interest.

Politics have various negative effects on the organization which includes violation chain of command, throwing temper and aggressively to others, saying no to the top level management, upstaging your supervisor, etc politics leads to make imbalance in the organization it can misbalance the functional approach of the organization and affect the harmony in the organization it can leads to the division of organization in different groups which can hamper the organizational growth. However if the politics is being practice properly it could benefit the organization be as link between the management and the workers, it can promote the work environment by managing and balancing the need of both managers and the employee.


Conflict is nothing but the clashing of opposite interest. In simple words it is the stage where two different view point clashes or can say as stage opposition. Organizational conflict is being viewed different by various organizational theories, Some say conflict is not need in the organization and should be removed with compliance and control where as some theory says conflict is the normal part of organization life. [9]

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The first theory is known as traditional theory it say that conflicts are bad, are caused by trouble maker, and should be subdued. [10]

The second theory is known as contemporary theory says that the conflict between the humans is unavoidable. They emerge as a natural result of change and can be beneficial to the organization, if managed efficiently. According to this theory it helps to develop new ideas and leads to innovations which may help the organization to function in a better way [10].

In my view second theory is correct. Even I feel conflicts are good if managed efficiently, if conflict goes out of restrictions and control then it harms the organization, until and unless conflicts have no interest other then the organizational goals it will benefits the organization. As other interest moves in it would not be there for the best interest of the organization and there it goes wrong for the organization.

There are various reasons behind the conflicts in the organization which all can be summarized in the following category: –

Incompatible Goals: – This is the one of main source of organization conflict in the organization, it happens when the goal of one group or member’s goals seem to interfere with other group or member, which mostly happen in the organizations. The common task and common goals mostly leads to such type of conflict.

Differentiation: – when there is differentiation in the organization in the form of views, value, believes, experiences, training, treatment, etc then such conflict arises. This type of conflict generally found in the organization after mergers and accusation of organizations.

Task Interdependence: – Wherever the input of one process is depended on the output of another before the finished product is complete the potential for conflict is high. If Interdependence between the tasks then conflict tend to happen. It happens when the team members are sharing same resources or involve in a same kind of task. Higher the task interdependency greater the risk of conflicts because there is a higher possibility that one member may interrupt in the goals of other.

Scarce Resources: – Scarcity prompts to conflicts, due to scarcity people tend to compete with each other which result in conflict with the other needy people in the organization. Whereas scarcity is need to maintain completion level in the organization and to make everyone performing well.

Ambiguous Rules: – When there are ambiguous or double meanings rules and policies argument, confusion and wasted resources happen which leads to conflict. It also encourage the politics in the organization, when thing are not define properly and it leads to two different prospective the conflict may arises.

Communication Problems: – Miscommunication leads to lot many conflict in the organization. It happen most of the time something asked and something else presented due to lack of communication, if command, motive, goals, opportunity, etc are not communicated properly then it may leads to the loss of organization leads to conflicts. Miscommunications happen due to three reasons lack of opportunity, ability and motivation to communicate effectively. Lack of opportunity means, missed the opportunity of communication which leads to the stereotype communication where stereotype is not capable to delivering expression and the meaning of the communication cannot be delivered properly which leads to perceptions and assumption which can be wrong then conflict may happen. Where lack of ability means poor of communication skills which can be there due to various reasons like linguistic barriers, poor inter personal skills (poor of expressions, sound modulation, body language, etc) because of which miscommunication tends to happen and lead to conflict. When a person is not fairly motivated for communication and does not communicate much with other then even other don’t feel like communicating with the person which lead to the less communication and which is also less interactive and information flow hampers which creates condition for conflict.

Unresolved conflict: – when some small conflict is neglected and allowed to continues then it over comes the boundaries of control and then it is not there for the best interest of the organization and develop a point of concern.

Conflicts can have positive as well as negative effect on the organization depending on the situation and the level of conflict the effect of conflict is very much depend on way manager deals with it. Conflict should be resolve or to be used effectively for organization if this doesn’t happen then it will harm the organization. Following are the positive effects of conflicts as well as negative effects of conflicts

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Positive effects of conflicts

Diffusion of conflicts: -Diffusion or flow of conflict shows that people are working and thing in the organization. It shows that they are no monotonously working like a machine and behaving more like a human. It is a good sign from the organizational point that people are not satisfied and they are actively working in the organization.

Stimulation of a search for new facts or resolutions: -When two parties know and respect each other has came into conflict situation then while resolving it they both have to arrive to a common point which is accepted by both of them, to reach that point they have to search for facts to support their finding.

Increase in group cohesion and performance: – Due to the conflict situation a competitive environment is being developed between the parties which generally enhance the performance of the members, both the parties try to give maximum output and get motivated by looking others performances and conflict get resolved and when both the parties agree to a single point then there relationships improves.

Assessment of power and ability: -Power and ability of an individual can be clearly identified from a conflict situation. It can be clearly seen and assessed how an individual is dealing and tackling the situation and managing its surroundings this help the manger to delicate authority and responsibility efficient people.

Negative effects of conflicts

Impediments to smooth working: – Conflict leads may affect the smooth working in the organization. Because of conflict employees lose concentration in their work and get carried away with the situation.

Diminishing output: – Due to the conflict output can get affected. Conflict may misbalance the work environment which lead to the loss of organizational work apart from this sometimes it happen that organizational conflict turn out to be a personal fight and then the steps taken by parties may not follows the best interest of organization.

Obstructions in the decision making process: – Conflict some time place as an obstruction while taking a decision. It happen when two or more parties have disagreement on a single thing which can be there because of various reasons as mention in the above part of easy and until that conflict is not being resolved the decision cannot be taken forward leads to delaying the process.

Increase in the possibilities of violent conflict: – As I have mention above If conflict dose not resolve or not be kept in the controlled environment it will harm the organization. If conflict is not being resolved timely and not being managed properly the situation may became violent and such conflict may lay down the entire organization.

The overall result of such negative effects is to reduce employees’ commitment to organizational goals and organizational efficiency (Kirchoff and Adams, 1982). These negative effects of conflict can lead to disintegration. So, importance must be
given to timely interventions to resolve conflict.

Power, Politics & Conflict if carried properly in the organization then it can make the work environment healthy and leads to the increase in productivity of the organization. They should be practice in the controlled manner which helps to maintain or balance the work situation. If manager manage theses thing properly in the work environment then it can make the positive changes in the growth of the organization. Through the networking and information flow in the organization manager can keep a track on thing going around. By managing conflicts he can make the environment more competitive which can lead to high productivity of work and can grow the organization to an indefinite extent.

Bibliography: –

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  3. Organizational behaviour Mcshane, Von Linow page 359
  4. Organization theory Hatch, Mary Jo 2006 page 267
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  6. {page 3 on 28/11/2009}
  7. Organizational behaviour Mcshane, Von Linow page 375
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  9. Lecture PPD by Catherin Casey
  10. {on 1/12/2009}
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  12. {on 1/12/2009}
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