10.2 Understanding Conflict | organizational behavior (2023)

learning goals

  1. define conflict.
  2. Understand different types of conflict.
  3. Address whether conflicts are always negative.

Let's take a closer look at these social issues like conflict to understand how it can derail businesses and individuals alike - and what to do to prevent such consequences from happening to you. In this chapter you will see that both conflict resolution and participating in effective negotiations are key to effective organizational behavior within organizations and in everyday life. Conflicts range from minor annoyances to outright violence. For example, in the United States alone, one million workers (18,000 people per week) are assaulted at work.One of the most important ways to avoid conflict escalating at these levels is to understand the causes of the conflict and develop methods for dealing with potential negative consequences. Negotiation is one of the most effective ways to reduce conflict and is also explored in detail in this chapter.

Much like conflicts can range from small to large, negotiations differ in terms of their consequences. A high-stakes negotiation in the workplace can mean the difference between surviving and failing a business. On the other end of the spectrum, we regularly deal with smaller negotiations, like negotiating with a colleague about which film we should see. You might make a concession: "Okay, we'll watch what you want, but I choose where we eat." You might be adamant, "I don't want to see anything but comedy." You might even seek a third option that would satisfy both sides. Regardless of the level, conflict management and negotiation tactics are important skills to learn. First, let's take a deeper look at conflict.

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Conflictis a process in which people have different opinions. Researchers have found that conflict is like catching a cold. Everyone knows what it is, but understanding its causes and how to treat it is much more difficult. As previously mentioned, conflicts can range from minor disagreements to workplace violence. In addition, there are three types of conflicts that can arise within organizations. Let's take a look at each of them in turn.

types of conflicts

intrapersonal conflict

internal conflictarises in a person. For example, when you are unsure of what is expected or desired, or when you feel unable to complete a task, you are experiencing intrapersonal conflict. Intrapersonal conflicts can arise due to role differences. A manager may want to supervise a subordinate's work because he believes that such supervision is a necessary part of the job. The subordinate, on the other hand, may view such extensive oversight as micromanagement or evidence of a lack of trust. Role conflict, another type of intrapersonal conflict, involves two different job descriptions that appear to be mutually exclusive. This type of conflict can arise when you are the leader of one team but also a member of another team. A third type of intrapersonal conflict involves role ambiguity. Perhaps you have been given the task of finding a trainer for a company's business writing training program. You may be unsure what type of person to hire - a well-known but expensive trainer or a local, unknown but inexpensive trainer. If you haven't been given guidelines on what to expect, you may be wrestling with several options.

interpersonal conflict

10.2 Understanding Conflict | organizational behavior (1)

Figure 10.2Regarding the conflict between Michael Dell (pictured here) and Steve Jobs, David Yoffie, a Harvard Business School professor who follows the computer industry closely, notes that the conflict may stem from their differences in how they come from different generations and have different leadership styles.Those: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Michael_Dell,_square_crop.jpg.

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interpersonal conflictis among individuals such as colleagues, a manager and an employee, or CEOs and their employees. For example, in 2006 Airbus S.A.S. CEO Christian Streiff resigned over his conflict with the board of directors over issues such as the company's restructuring.The Airbus CEO's resignation reflects the company's deep structural problems.This example may reflect a well-known trend among CEOs. According to one estimate, 31.9% of CEOs quit their jobs because of conflicts with the board. CEOs of competing companies can also have public conflicts. In 1997, Michael Dell was asked what he would do about Apple Computer. "What would I do? I would shut it down and give the money back to shareholders." Ten years later, Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs indicated that he clearly harbored resentments when he wrote in an email fired his employees back at Dell: "Team, it turns out Michael Dell wasn't perfect at predicting the future. Based on today's stock market close, Apple is worth more than Dell." Conflicts often arise because of competition, as shown by the Dell/Apple example, or because of differences in personality or values.For example, one person's style may be to make decisions "with gut feeling" while another person may make decisions based on wants to make facts.These differences lead to conflicts when individuals reach different conclusions.Many companies le ides among interpersonal conflicts. To avoid conflict escalation, it is important to center conflicts around ideas and not individual differences.

conflict between groups

10.2 Understanding Conflict | organizational behavior (2)

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Figure 10.3Conflicts like the Air Canada pilots' strike can have repercussions. For example, Air Canada's parent company threatened to cancel a $6.1 billion contract with Boeing for new planes if they couldn't negotiate an agreement with the pilots who would fly them. Consequences of conflict like this could affect those who work in this Boeing factory in Seattle, Washington.Those: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Boeing_Factory_2002.jpg.

conflicts between groupsis a conflict that takes place between different groups. Types of groups can include different departments or departments in a company, as well as employee unions and management, or competing companies that supply the same customers. Departments can fight over budget allocations; Unions and management can disagree over labor rules; Suppliers may conflict with each other over the quality of parts. Merging two groups can create friction between the groups - especially when there are scarce resources that need to be shared among the group. For example, Canadian Air and Air Canada pilots were embroiled in years of personal and legal conflicts on what has been called "the most difficult and hard-fought labor issue in an airline merger" when the two airlines' seniority lists were merged after the were merger. Seniority is a valuable and scarce resource for pilots because it helps determine who flies the newest and biggest aircraft, who gets the best routes, and who gets paid the most. In response to the loss of seniority, former Canadian Air pilots went on strike at shareholders' meetings, threatened to call in sick, and had ongoing conflicts with Air Canada pilots. The conflicts with pilots continue to this day. The history of past conflicts between organizations and employees makes new business challenging.

Is conflict always bad?

Conflict is uncomfortable for most people, but is conflict always bad? Conflict can be dysfunctional when it cripples an organization, leads to less than optimal performance, or, in the worst cases, leads to workplace violence. Surprisingly, a moderate level of conflict can actually be a healthy (and necessary) part of organizational life. To understand how to arrive at a positive level of conflict, we need to know its root causes, consequences, and tools to manage it. The effects of too many or too few conflicts can affect performance. If the contention is too low, performance is low. If the contention is too high, then performance tends to be low as well. The goal is to keep conflict levels in the middle of this range. While it may seem odd to want a specific level of conflict, a medium level of task-related conflict is often considered optimal as it represents a situation in which there is a healthy debate of ideas.

Task conflicts can be good in certain circumstances, e.g. B. in the early stages of decision-making, as they stimulate creativity. With complex tasks, however, it can be annoying in the long run. Personal conflicts such as B. Personal attacks are never healthy because they cause stress and stress, which undermines performance. The worst cases of personal conflict can lead to workplace bullying. At Intel Corporation, all new hires go through a 4-hour training module to learn 'constructive confrontation'. The content of the training program includes dealing positively with others, persuading others with facts rather than opinions, and focusing on the problem rather than the people involved. "We don't spend time being defensive or taking things personally. We cut through all of that and get to the problems,” notes an Intel University trainer. The success of the training remains unclear, but the existence of this program shows that Intel understands the potentially positive impact of a moderate level of conflict. Research focusing on effective teams over time found that they were characterized by a low but increasing level of process conflict (how do we get things done?), a low level of relationship conflict with an increase towards the end of the project (personal disagreements between team members) and moderate task conflicts in the middle of the task timeline.

key to take away

Conflict can be a problem for individuals and organizations. There are different types of conflict, including intrapersonal, interpersonal, and interpersonal conflict. Moderate conflict can be a healthy and necessary part of organizational life.


  1. What types of conflicts can individuals have at work? What kind did you experience the most?
  2. What are some major causes of conflict in the workplace?
  3. Explain how misunderstandings can be related to a conflict at work.
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What are the 5 main causes for conflict? ›

There are five main causes of conflict: information conflicts, values conflicts, interest conflicts, relationship conflicts, and structural conflicts. Information conflicts arise when people have different or insufficient information, or disagree over what data is relevant.

What are 5 common types of workplace conflict? ›

5 examples of conflict in the workplace
  • Interdependence conflict. Interdependence is when two or more people rely on one another to complete a task or reach a goal. ...
  • Leadership conflict. ...
  • Working style conflict. ...
  • Personality conflict. ...
  • Background-based conflict.
Sep 13, 2021

What is an example of conflict in the workplace? ›

One Employee Has Been Accused of Harassing or Discriminating Another. Another common workplace conflict situation is addressing the opposite part of a complaint, the person to who the complaint was made against.

How to manage conflict? ›

Tips for Managing Conflict
  1. Accept conflict. Remember that conflict is natural and happens in every ongoing relationship. ...
  2. Be a calming agent. ...
  3. Listen actively. ...
  4. Analyze the conflict. ...
  5. Model neutral language. ...
  6. Separate the person from the problem. ...
  7. Work together. ...
  8. Agree to disagree.

What is the best conflict strategy? ›

The Top 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies
  1. Don't Ignore Conflict. ...
  2. Clarify What the Issue Is. ...
  3. Bring Involved Parties Together to Talk. ...
  4. Identify a Solution. ...
  5. Continue to Monitor and Follow Up on the Conflict.

What are the 3 main causes of conflict? ›

What causes conflict?
  • Information – Something was missing, incomplete or ambiguous.
  • Environment – Something in the environment leads to the conflict.
  • Skills – People lack the appropriate skills for doing their work.
  • Values – A clash of personal values leads to conflict.
May 22, 2021

How do you handle conflict with coworkers? ›

How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace
  1. Talk with the other person. ...
  2. Focus on behavior and events, not on personalities. ...
  3. Listen carefully. ...
  4. Identify points of agreement and disagreement. ...
  5. Prioritize the areas of conflict. ...
  6. Develop a plan to work on each conflict. ...
  7. Follow through on your plan. ...
  8. Build on your success.
Jan 5, 2018

What is a good example of conflict? ›

A good example of a conflict at work would be when poor communication between employees resulted in a mistake. Poor communication is one of the most common conflicts in the workplace. To help poor communication conflicts, it's important to address the situation immediately with those who are involved.

How do you handle conflict simple answer? ›

Top Traits to Show When Answering Questions About Conflict Resolution
  1. Show them that you stay calm and that you try to understand the other person's perspective. ...
  2. Show them that you think logically and don't take things personally or get too emotional. ...
  3. Show them that you keep the company's best interests in mind.

How do you handle conflict in the workplace interview answer? ›

Remember these three steps and you'll be well on your way to thoroughly impressing your interviewer:
  1. Context: Describe the workplace issue briefly and set the scene for a relevant example.
  2. Action: Explain the actions you took to address the conflict. ...
  3. Result: Detail the outcome of your action.
Jul 11, 2022

How to avoid conflict? ›

How to stop conflict before it starts
  1. Know your conflict style. When you have a disagreement with someone, what do you do? ...
  2. Form connections with others. Strengthening your relationships with others can help with preventing conflict. ...
  3. Communicate effectively. ...
  4. Reach out for help.
Apr 10, 2019

What causes conflict? ›

Conflict has many causes, including organizational structures, limitations on resources, task interdependence, goal incompatibility, personality differences, and communication challenges.

What are the 5 C's of conflict? ›

Specifically, I'm talking about a constellation of qualities I call the “5 C's”—competence, communication, conflict (the ability to handle it, that is), confidence, and conscience.

What are the 7 common causes of conflict? ›

Let's dig a little deeper and let's take a look at seven possible root causes for conflict at work.
  • Personality Clashes.
  • Protection Response.
  • Pressure Points.
  • Previous Experiences.
  • Personal Problems.
  • Points Of Principle.
  • Panic Stations!
Apr 17, 2013

What are 6 common conflict causes? ›

Conflict and its causes
  • Misunderstandings. Conflict can arise from misunderstandings about: ...
  • Poor communication. Communication relies on clear and complete messages being sent as well as being received. ...
  • Lack of planning. ...
  • Poor staff selection. ...
  • Frustration, stress and burnout.

What are 3 common causes of conflict? ›

What causes conflict?
  • Information – Something was missing, incomplete or ambiguous.
  • Environment – Something in the environment leads to the conflict.
  • Skills – People lack the appropriate skills for doing their work.
  • Values – A clash of personal values leads to conflict.
May 22, 2021


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