Power And Conflict In The Workplace Management Essay

For at least the past century, experts have been debating whether power and conflict are good or bad for organisational effectiveness. The purpose of this report is to highlight the importance of conflict and power by identifying the types, and clarifying the effects it has on an organisation. Conflict researchers propose that task conflict tend to have a positive relationship with performance while relationship conflict tends to have a negative relationship with performance. Furthermore, it will explain how power can be beneficial for an organisation, and how it can also destroy it. This report will give an understanding of both negative and positive sides of power and conflict.

Introduction

The purpose of this report is to identify how power and conflict can negatively affect modern workplaces, and how it can be seen as a positive for the organisation. Past studies have had many discussions on whether these two factors actually benefit the organisation, or affects in a negative way. Regardless, in today’s society, being at work requires you to interact and communicate with others in the workplace; therefore understanding workplace conflict and conflict resolution theories is an important concern for many organisations. For a better understanding, this report will explain in depth what conflict and power is, then following; the causes and types of power and conflict. This can help organisations by identifying the causes of conflict; it can help find the best approach to resolve it. For example, having scarce resources; this can help organisations ensure that there are enough resources available for employees before any conflict arises. Preventing the situation before it arises is the best approach as minor situations can escalate into major conflict. In relation to power, this report will explain how it will benefit the organisation by providing direction and better team work. Furthermore it will discuss how it will affect the organisation if it is misused, and how to prevent this from occurring.

What is Power?

“Power, defined as the capability of one party to exert influence on another to act in a prescribed manner is often a function of both dependence and the use of that dependence as leverage.” (Panteli, N & Tucker, R 2009, p.113). The most basic prerequisite of power is that one person or group believes it is dependent on another person or group for a resource of value; for example, having power over others by controlling a desired job assignment, useful information, important resources or even the privilege of being associated with you. (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 382). Generally, power can be categorised in five sources.

Legitimate Power

Refers to an agreement among organisational members that people in certain roles can request certain behaviours of others ( McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 383). This associates with having a position of power in an organisation such as a manager. This power comes when employees in the organisation recognises the authority of the individual.

Reward Power

Reward power is conveyed from the person’s ability to control the allocation of rewards valued by others and to remove negative sanctions. (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 384).This can be done by giving bonuses, promotions and raises, extra time off work and so on.

Coercive Power

“Coercive Power is the ability to apply punishment.” (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 385). This type of power is conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, receiving a poor performance review, being demoted, having projects delegated to someone else etc

Expert Power

This type of power refers to ‘an individual’s or work unit’s capacity to influence others by possessing knowledge or skills that they value. Employees are gaining expert power as our society moves from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. The reason is that employee knowledge becomes the means of production and is ultimately outside the control of those who own the company’ (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 385).

Referent Power

Referent Power refers to ‘the capacity to influence others on the basis of an identification with and respect for the powerholder. It is largely a function of the person’s interpersonal skills and tends to develop slowly. (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 386).

In addition, it is evident that legitimate, reward and coercive power originate from the position. In contrast, expert and referent power comes from within the person (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 385).

2.0 How can Power negativity affect modern workplaces?

The misuse of power or the lack thereof also results in an organization that is unresponsive to innovation and change and usually relatively powerless. (Seperich, G.J & McCalley, R.W 2006, p.15). In today’s society, people’s use of power can revolve around trying to use power they don’t have and using the wrong kind of power to achieve results. In most cases, people misuse their power due to the fact that they have it and aren’t aware of it. As a manager or leader, it is important to know how to correctly use the power. Misuse of power can lead to employees feeling stressed, if there is the delegation of work-overload, which can eventually lead to high levels of absenteeism, turnovers, resignations, low performance levels and low job satisfaction. All these events will affect modern workplaces as they will have to spend time and money in order to resolve the situation. In addition, organisations that ensure their power is not misused, they adopt behaviours that build healthy relationships. This can be justified by not only having the ability to get the job done, but also having a positive behaviour and attitude around co-workers. Another tactic is to not play favourites. This can be seen as unfair to employees. Also being a good role model for your organisation is also very important. To have a respectable and good behavioural team, management and leaders need to set a good example. Lastly, those who’s got the power should know that with great power come great responsibilities. This includes dealing with hard conversations. Management should use compassion to deliver hard messages, in which this comes back to making employees feel comfortable and building healthy relationships.

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3.0 How can Power be seen as a positive?

Power is seen to play a major role in team dynamics and interactions. According to Niki Panteli and Robert Tucker, a study of 18 distributed teams within an organisation was established in order to encourage the interviewees to recall their experiences from working in a team. Open-ended questions were asked to explore the background of the team, the performance levels, the distribution of power amongst the team members, the levels of trust within the team, and how trust changed over time. The interview also enabled the members to judge and describe whether they ‘worked well’, or ‘did not work well’ in teams. Results showed that 11 teams worked well, 7 had good trust relationships, 7 did not work well and lastly, 4 teams developed trust over time. During the interview, power differentials were acknowledged in all of the teams; including those who considered themselves to have worked well. This isn’t necessarily a negative action for the team. What differentiates the teams that worked well against collocated teams in terms of how the power differentials were used is that the team used it to their advantage; by having shared goals in order to create a higher level or an overriding goal or vision. These goals were focused on the success of the team as a whole; enabling the members to not feel like they are in a position to alter the power due to the situation. Therefore, allowing time to look for something that was more important than their individual needs. The study also found that in the high trust teams, power differentials does not disappear, however it shifts from one member to another. Power can originate from knowledge, therefore at any given point in time; the most powerful was the individual with the most relevant information (cited in Panteli, N & Tucker, R 2009, p. 114). In this case, it is expert power that is being established. In modern workplaces, this is seen a positive due to the reason that power tends to move based on whatever the activity is going at that time. This will lead the power following those that are most knowledgably at any point in time; providing the organisation with the most efficient information, from those who expertises in that department. Generally, having power within a team or organisation can be very beneficial, not only can it voice expert power and opinions, but it can also provide direction. For example, when working in teams, there can be individuals who feel lost and unaware of what to do, therefore by having power, it can give the individual a sense of direction as they know who to report to and discuss their issues with. It can also help with quick decision making. For example, when a quick decision is to be made, power can speed up the process as generally, individuals who have legitimate, expert and referent power automatically have authority to make the decision, rather than having to discuss with other co-workers. “Everyone recognizes the need to be organized in order to plan activities, assign responsibilities, and identify a common goal to be reached. Once everything is in place, power must be used to give direction and control the process.” (Seperich, G.J & McCalley, R.W 2006, p.14). Furthermore the power in an organization must be used as a resource to stimulate intelligent decision making, encourage problem solving, motivate sustained energy in its people, and foster the pursuit of excellence (Seperich, G.J & McCalley, R.W 2006, p.15)

What is Conflict?

“Conflict is a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party.” (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 414). “Disagreement or conflict, risk, and time can be either assets or liabilities depending on how they are managed by you and the members of your team.” (Troester, R & Mester, C 2007, p.185). ‘Personality of managers affects their managerial style and their conflict management method’ (Salimi, S.H & Karaminia, R & Esmaeili, A.A 2011, p.11), therefore styles should be thoroughly assessed in which the appropriate method should be chosen. When managing conflict, it is important to work together as it is extremely common for conflicts to escalate regardless of what type of conflict. Generally, there are three types of different conflict; Task conflicts, Relationship conflicts and Process conflicts. Torrance refers task conflict as primarily related to performing tasks, which is often proposed to improve the quality of group work by encouraging more alternative ideas and to help a group avoid ”conformity traps” (cited in Choi, K & Cho, B 2011, p.1106), while “relationship conflict refers to the types of conflicts in which people focus on the characteristics of other individuals, rather than on the issues, as the source of conflict. They are not task-related; they focus on personal values, gossip, individuals’ styles or personality and personal tastes.” (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 416). Last of all, Jehn describes process con¬‚icts as arguments about logistics (how to best achieve the agreed-upon solution to a work problem) and delegation (how and to whom to delegate which tasks)- (cited in Romer, M et al. 2012, p. 255). ‘Managing conflict in organizations has long been a topic of interest to researchers because of its impact on performance, whether it’s a negative, positive impact, or both (Williams, F 2011, p. 148). Though, as mentioned earlier, if possible, it is best to prevent the overall conflict before it escaluates. ‘Conflict prevention refers to actions seeking to address the underlying permissive conditions to prevent a conflict from turning violent in the first place.’ (Rodt, A.P 2012, 378). It is just as important to prevent the issue as well resolving it. However the six main conditions that cause conflict in organisational settings are incompatible goals, value differences, interdependence, scarce resources, ambiguous rules and communication problems

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Incompatible Goals

‘Goal incompatibility is where the goals of one person or department seem to interfere with another person’s or department’s goals – can be a source of conflict in organisations’ (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 418).

Differentiation

This refers to the differences among people, departments and other entities regarding their training, values, beliefs and experiences. Differentiation and incompatible goals can be linked together as two people or departments may agree on a common goal but have profound differences in how to achieve the goal. (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 418).

Interdependence

‘Interdependence exists when team members must share common inputs to their individual tasks, need to interact in the process of executing their work, or receive outcomes (such as rewards) that are partly determined by the performance of others. Higher interdependence increases the risk of conflict because there is a greater chance that each side will disrupt ot interfere with the other side’s goal’ (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 418).

Scarce Resource

This refers to the availability of resources. Scarce resources causes conflict between each person or unit requiring the same resource necessarily undermines others who also need that resource to fulfil the their goals. For that reason, these conflicts occur simply because there isn’t enough financial, human capital and other resources for everyone to accomplish their goals, therefore employees need to justify why they should receive the resources. Furthermore, the more resources one project receives, the fewer resources another project will have available to complete its goals. (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 419).

Ambiguous Rules

Ambiguous Rules refers to the complete lack of rules in which it causes conflict. This occurs due to the reason that uncertainty increases the risk that one party intends to interfere with other party’s goal. Nevertheless, when clear rules exist, employees know what to expect from each other and have agreed to abide by those rules (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 419).

Communication Problems

In terms of communication problems, there are three factors that can cause conflict; lack of opportunity, ability and motivation. When parties lack the opportunity to communicate, they tend to reply on stereotyping. This can negatively distort the meaning of an opponent’s actions, escalating perceptions of conflicts. Furthermore, when parties lack the skills to communicate in a diplomatic manner, the opposing party can view the situation differently in which it will likely heighten their perception to conflict. Lastly, it is in our nature as humans to feel uncomfortable when interacting with others in a conflicting relationship. Therefore avoiding the situation and distinguishing minimal communication can further escalate the conflict.

How can Conflict negatively affect modern workplace?

According to a survey by Pace, “85% of employees deal with conflict to some degree, 49% believe that the primary causes of workplace conflict are the personality clashes and warring egos between employees, 34% (believe that the conflict is) related to stress and 33% (consider it to be) due to heavy workloads” (cited in Singleton et al. 2011, p.149). Therefore it is highly recommended to study workplace conflict, conflict management theories, and how organisational leaders can control conflict as a stimulus to creativity which causes their organisations to thrive (Singleton et al. 2011, p.149). As a result, it is evident that conflict not only affects the organisation, but the employees and their psychological well-being. What is most alarming is that workplace conflicts may have a long-lasting effect on individuals and the organisation, even after they have left. Past studies show that conflict increases negative emotions, affecting the well being of individuals, withdrawing satisfaction and causing emotional exhaustion. What is seen to be affecting the individual, is also affecting the organisation. This emotional exhaustion from employees can lead to increase of absenteeism and employee turnover. “Turnover is the rate at which an employer gains and loses employees.” (Vijaya, T.G & Hemamalini, R 2012, p. 577). Although all types of conflicts are associated with decreased well-being, past studies show that relationship conflicts seem to do more negative and detrimental effects on individual well-being; this is due to the fact that it affects morale which is likely to result in decreased satisfaction with the job, group and organisation as well as threatening one’s identity, self-esteem and generating more intense emotion (Romer, M et al. 2012, p. 256). In terms of performance and team satisfaction relationship conflicts have a bigger impact than task relationships. For these reasons, it is why relationship conflicts are seen as always dysfunctional and more difficult to resolve.

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How can it be seen as a positive?

In today’s society, despite which career path is taken, it is important to understand conflict and conflict resolution as everyone in the workplace needs to work and interact with others in the organisation. Conflict is part of the normality and is manifested with varying degrees of intensity, occurring when people feel they have created inconsistencies between their goals, aspirations and expectations (Cojocaru, C 2010, p.429). Conflict is unavoidable whether it is in the workplace, or in social life. Hatch and Cunliffe states that learning to deal effectively with conflict and making it functional is a critical investment for good intrapersonal and interpersonal relations in organizations well as setting the tone for a positive climate and culture for success (cited in Judonoo, E & Schroeder, K & Boysen-Rotelli, S 2012, p.52). It is beneficial for organisations to promote a culture of healthy conflicts by creating the right atmosphere. This is the best approach for organisations as conflict will occur regardless, in which time and money are spent in resolving them. However, in today’s society, modern workplaces can sometimes see conflict as a positive. According to the ‘Model of the Conflict Process’ the positive conflict outcomes include better decisions, responsive organisation and team cohesion (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione 2010, p. 415). In modern workplaces, conflict can be seen as having a lack of understanding about differing needs. This can result in disagreements and arguments. Furthermore, this is not necessarily negative. When organisations recognize the conflict, they become willing to examine the situation and environment, in a more compassionate manner, understanding all options. This conflict can be an asset for organisations as it gives the opportunity to discuss and explore other options while opening pathways to different ways of problem solving and team building. Conflict can be beneficial for organisations as it enables individuals to discuss the pros and cons of each scenario or situation; in which it will provide the organisation with the most relevant and important information. Therefore, if conflict hadn’t occurred, further discussions and research wouldn’t have been accomplished, leaving the organisation with limited options. Jehn states that ‘task conflicts, on the contrary, are thought to benefit performance by leading to deep thinking and thorough consideration of information'(cited in Long, C & Zhong-Ming, W & Wei, Z 2011, p. 191). Lastly, another important positive factor of conflict is improved relationships. Although this factor mainly benefits individuals, it is also evident that it also positively affects the organisation. When individuals have a positive relationship with co-workers, the organisation benefits from this as there will be an increase of high performance, decrease employee stress and decrease turnover and absenteeism. In modern workplace, conflicts may lead to an awareness of many important issues in an organisation, and thus, a search for solutions, development of creative and new ideas and formations as well as effective and permanent decisions. The diverse and complicated nature of conflicts imposes a critical and important role on conflict management due to the fact that conflicts may contribute to the improvement of organizational effectiveness when they are managed well. (Altun, O.S & Argon, G 2011, p.725)

Conclusion

The most obvious finding to emerge from this study is that it is important for managers to put effort when dealing with power and conflict. As mentioned earlier, minor conflict can easily be escalated into a major situation. Furthermore in relation to power, organisations need to recognise that the misuse of power can be easily adopted, even without realisation.

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