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Organizational Behavior:
An Introduction to
Your Life in Organizations
Chapter 14
Conflicts Good and Bad
©2007 Prentice Hall
• What is conflict and why is it a major factor in
organizational life?
• In general, how do managers deal with conflict?
• How should you approach interpersonal conflicts?
• What should you do when your team members have a
• How should you intervene when teams are in conflict
with each other?
• What happens when employees have a conflict with their
• What are some cross-cultural differences in approaches
to conflict, and why do they matter?
©2007 Prentice Hall
What is conflict and why is it a major
factor in organizational life?
• Conflict is the awareness on the part of
two or more parties that they have
incompatible goals, and that one party
has, or will, negatively influence the
other’s pursuit of those goals
• Manifest conflict has been observed
• Latent conflict remains hidden
©2007 Prentice Hall
Types of conflict
• Relationship conflict: an awareness of
interpersonal incompatibilities that leads to
tension and friction
• Task conflict: an awareness of differences
of opinions and viewpoints while doing a
• Process conflict: an awareness of
differences of opinion about how a task
should be accomplished
©2007 Prentice Hall
Is conflict constructive or
• Constructive conflict:
 stimulates the search for new facts, methods or solutions
 increases the cohesiveness and performance within each group
 reduce perceived power differences and therefore improve
 reduces the probability of a more serious conflict
• Destructive conflict can result in:
 Conscious efforts by one party to block the goal achievement of
another party.
 Groups that are so intent on competing with each other that they
lose their focus on organizational goals.
 Emotions and attitudes that interfere with problem solving and
©2007 Prentice Hall
Recognize the myths about conflict
• There is always an answer or solution to a
• Managing conflict is primarily about doing
things differently
• Peace is the absence of conflict
• More communication always creates more
©2007 Prentice Hall
If the conflict is destructive,
reduce it
• Use behavioral interventions to help
individuals and groups learn strategies for
managing conflict
• Use structural interventions to redesign
how parties in conflict interact
©2007 Prentice Hall
If the conflict is constructive,
stimulate it
• Shake things up and energize the
 bring in employees with new views and styles
 alter key organizational structures to foster
more interdependence
 designate devil’s advocates to critique
majority opinions
 issue threatening or ambiguous messages
©2007 Prentice Hall
Recognize the sources of
interpersonal conflict
Resentments and differences
The belief that goals are competitive
Destructive criticism
©2007 Prentice Hall
• Reasons they occur:
 naïve realism: the belief that their own views
are objective and fact-based, while those of
others are not
 incompatibility error: the belief that the other
party’s interests are, inevitably, completely
opposed to one’s own
 transparency overestimation: the belief that
what we are saying is perfectly obvious to the
other party
©2007 Prentice Hall
Resentments and differences
• Resentments arise when people perceive
they are being treated unfairly
• Income inequality is a source of difference
that causes resentment and conflict
©2007 Prentice Hall
Destructive criticism
• Destructive criticism tears individuals
down and demeans them
• Destructive criticism globalizes the
problem or blames the whole person
• When individuals receive destructive
criticism they are likely to become angry
and tense
©2007 Prentice Hall
Should you help your subordinates
work through a conflict?
• Dialogue is the process in which two conflicting
parties “directly engage each other and focus on
the conflict between them”
• Factors arguing against using dialogue:
 only useful when co-workers believe their interaction
is more likely to be useful than stressful
 people avoid dialogue
 cognitive factors may impede a person’s ability to truly
understand what is going on
©2007 Prentice Hall
What happens when conflict occurs
between a boss and a subordinate?
• Conflicts that should be understood and
resolved are likely to turn into latent and
unresolved conflicts that affect productivity
• Bosses may abuse their power (bullying)
©2007 Prentice Hall
How can you deal with your anger?
• Recognize that you are angry
• Decide how to express your anger: where, how,
and why
• Recognize that the target of your anger will be
stressed by it
• Learn to express anger effectively:
 Describe your feelings and their causes. Be specific
about what behaviors have angered you
 Do not judge the other person. Be consistent in your
presentation: Avoid smiling while expressing anger
• Go out of your way to form strong relationships
that will allow direct discussions
©2007 Prentice Hall
How does task conflict affect team
• When conflict grows in intensity, it eventually
gets to a level that does reduce performance
• Task conflict is more useful in teams performing
complex tasks like project work and less useful,
and even counterproductive, in teams
performing routine tasks like production
• Teams that bring information diversity to the
table are likely to conflict and, because of this
conflict, improve their performance
©2007 Prentice Hall
How does relationship conflict affect
team performance?
• Relationship conflict occurs when people
in the team confront each other about
things not related to their work
• Relationship conflict within a group results
in friction, frustration and personality
• Relationship conflict strongly and
negatively affects team performance and
team member satisfaction
©2007 Prentice Hall
When is conflict useful to teams?
• Effective patterns of conflict:
 generally low levels of relationship conflict,
with a rise in relationship conflict near project
 moderate levels of task conflict at the
midpoint in the group’s interactions
 low but increasing levels of process conflict as
a project continues
©2007 Prentice Hall
How should you manage the
conflicts within your team?
• Discuss issues with others as you would like them to
discuss issues with you.
• Bring in a variety of relevant sources who are likely to
disagree with the group.
• Assign subgroups or individuals to play the role of
• Respect others by criticizing their ideas rather than their
motives, personality, intelligence, or integrity.
• Create solutions by combining ideas from more than one
• Establish norms of openness by which all group
members are encouraged to express opinions, doubts,
and half-formed ideas
• Protect group members’ right to dissent and free speech
©2007 Prentice Hall
How should you intervene when
teams are in conflict with each
• Intergroup conflict is a natural outcome of
competition for scarce resources
• Mere knowledge of another group’s
presence can be sufficient to trigger
intergroup discrimination
©2007 Prentice Hall
Why is intergroup conflict
• As in-group members develop loyalty to
one another, they stereotype and malign
• It can negatively affect some individuals in
the winning group
©2007 Prentice Hall
Why is intergroup conflict
• It encourages more communication
between teams and within teams, which
leads the teams to increase their
understanding of complex problems
• It sometimes motivates individual group
• May positively affect loafers
©2007 Prentice Hall
How should you, as a manager, deal
with intergroup conflict?
• A manager might choose to use:
 problem solving, which is developing a
solution that is acceptable to both parties,
 contention, which is imposing one group’s will
on the other,
 yielding, which is satisfying one group’s needs
at the expense of the other group, or
 avoidance, minimizing the importance of the
issues and evading participation in the
©2007 Prentice Hall
What are the most important
employee dispute resolution
• Disputes are often supervised by an
ombudsperson or administrator who is outside
the usual management hierarchy but who has a
direct link to upper management
• Mediation: when two parties engage a neutral
third party to help them negotiate an agreement
• Arbitration: when two parties submit their
grievance to a third party who makes the
decision for them
©2007 Prentice Hall
What is the role of labor unions?
• Labor unions are organizations of employees
formed to protect and advance their members’
• A union is established (certified) through an
NLRB-supervised secret ballot election among
qualifying employees
• It can be abolished (decertified) in a similar
• Once a union is certified, it is empowered to
engage in collective bargaining with
management to establish human resources
practices over the period of a contract
©2007 Prentice Hall
How do companies work with
dissent and whistle-blowing?
• Dissent is the expression of conflict between employees
and their organization
• Some companies try to reduce and, if possible, eliminate
• Others encourage dissent with an open door policy
• Whistle-blowing is the disclosure by former or current
organization members of illegal, immoral or illegitimate
practices under the control of their employers, to persons
or organizations that may be able to correct the
• It is desirable to encourage internal whistle-blowing while
avoiding the need for external whistle-blowing
©2007 Prentice Hall
Cross-cultural models of conflict
• Confrontation model: which emphasizes
individuality and allows for the aggressive
pursuit of individual goals (U.S.)
• Harmony model: best fit for cultures that
emphasize intragroup harmony, consensus, and
absence of conflict (Japan, China)
• Regulative model: cultures that are highly
individualistic and, at the same time, highly
motivated to avoid uncertainty (Germany)
©2007 Prentice Hall
Why do cultural differences matter?
• Misunderstandings between cultures can
reduce their ability to effectively negotiate
• Managers moving between cultures must
take attitudes toward conflict into account
• Conflict styles in other cultures may be
©2007 Prentice Hall
Apply what you have learned
• World Class Company: Southwest Airlines
and Continental Airlines
• Advice from the Pro’s
• Gain Experience
• Can you solve this manager’s problem?
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – What is conflict and why
is it a major factor in organizational
• Conflict is an awareness of incompatible
goals and the belief that one party will
negatively influence the other party’s
pursuit of their goals
• The three main spheres of conflict are
relationships, tasks and processes
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – In general, how do
managers deal with conflict?
• Managers:
 diagnose conflicts
 intervene to reduce unproductive conflicts
 sometimes intervene to stimulate conflict
• They also recognize common myths about
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – How should you
approach interpersonal conflicts?
• Main sources of interpersonal conflict in
organizational life are:
resentments and differences
the belief that goals are competitive
destructive criticism
• Dialoguing can be used to manage a conflict,
but only when the conflicting parties are effective
communicators and believe they can achieve
their mutual goals
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – What should you do
when your team members have a
• Some level of task conflict within a group
probably increases its performance
• Too much conflict, however, reduces
• Managers should take immediate steps to
reduce relationship conflict, but they
should evaluate a task conflict to see
whether or not it might be useful to the
group decision making
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – How should you
intervene when teams are in conflict
with each other?
• Groups conflict because of competition over
scarce resources, and because individuals
identify themselves with their group and want to
see themselves favorably in comparison with
• Intergroup conflict can may enhance intergroup
problem solving, and intragroup motivation and
performance, but it can also create suspicion
and stereotypes of the out-group and punish
individual members who sacrifice for their group
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – What happens when
employees have a conflict with their
• Companies use a variety of dispute resolution
techniques to avoid escalated disputes. These
include mediation, arbitration, and mediationarbitration
• In addition, labor unions protect and advance
their members’ interests in companies
• Whistle-blowers disclose immoral or illegitimate
practices under the control of their employers to
persons or organizations that may be able to
correct the wrongdoing
©2007 Prentice Hall
Summary – What are some crosscultural differences in approaches to
conflict, and why do they matter?
• Some cultures favor a confrontational
model, while others prefer a harmony
model or a regulative model
©2007 Prentice Hall