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Conflicts are endemic to human society. Our workplace is so
often infected by grudges, rumours, grumbling, criticism, sarcasm,
unpleasant comments, gossips and politicking that it leads to an
atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and negativity. Sometimes, the
circumstances become so difficult that employees do not even like to see
each other’s face, leave aside work together. It spreads to the personal
level leading to the mixing of personal and professional lives and
annihilating the organizational harmony. Meanwhile, there are companies
where employees love to work because they can express their feelings to
their colleagues and trust their organization and its leadership. In such
places, mutual help takes top priority among employees. The bonding
becomes so strong the employees feel like a “family”. Such employees
make a better team as they respect their organizations and take utmost
interest in their tasks.

Conflict may be defined as a struggle or contest between
people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals. Conflict on
teams is inevitable; however, the results of conflict are not
predetermined. Conflict might escalate and lead to non-productive
results, or conflict can be beneficially resolved and lead to quality final
products. Therefore, learning to manage conflict is integral to a high-
performance team. Although very few people go looking for conflict,
more often than not, conflict results because of miscommunication
between people with regard to their needs, ideas, beliefs, goals, or values.

Conflict management is the principle that all conflicts cannot
necessarily be resolved, but learning how to manage conflicts can
decrease the odds of non-productive escalation. Conflict management
involves acquiring skills related to conflict resolution, self-awareness
about conflict modes, conflict communication skills, and establishing a
structure for management of conflict in your environment.


Listening, oral communication, interpersonal

communication, and teamwork rank near the top of skills that employers
seek in their new hires. When you learn to effectively manage and resolve
conflicts with others, then more opportunities for successful team
memberships are available to you. If we can learn to manage this highly
probable event called conflict (we average five conflicts per day), then we
are less apt to practice destructive behaviours that will negatively impact
our team.
Although conflict may be misunderstood and unappreciated,
research shows that unresolved conflict can lead to aggression. Most of
us use conflict skills that we observed growing up, unless we have made
a conscious effort to change our conflict management style. Some of us
observed good conflict management, while others observed faulty
conflict management. Most of us have several reasons to improve our
conflict-management skills.
Faculty members should help students develop their conflict
management skills. Most people do not resolve conflicts because they
either have a faulty skill set and/or because they do not know the
organization’s policy on conflict management. All team members need to
know their conflict styles, conflict intervention methods, and strategies
for conflict skill improvement.


Physiologically we respond to conflict in one of two ways—

we want to “get away from the conflict” or we are ready to “take on
anyone who comes our way.” Think for a moment about when you are in
conflict. Do you want to leave or do you want to fight when a conflict
presents itself? Neither physiological response is good or bad—it’s
personal response. What is important to learn, regardless of our initial
physiological response to conflict, is that we should intentionally choose
our response to conflict.
Whether we feel like we want to fight or flee when a conflict
arises, we can deliberately choose a conflict mode. By consciously
choosing a conflict mode instead of to conflict, we are more likely to
productively contribute to solving the problem at hand. Below are five
conflict response modes that can be used in conflict.


All people can benefit, both personally and professionally,

from learning conflict management skills. Typically we respond to
conflict by using one of five modes:
• Competing
• Avoiding
• Accommodating
• Compromising
• Collaborating
Each of these modes can be characterized by two scales:
assertiveness and cooperation. None of these modes is wrong to use, but
there are right and wrong times to use each. The following sections
describe the five modes. The information may help each team member to
characterize her/his model for conflict management.


The Thomas-Kidman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)5 is a

widely used assessment for determining conflict modes. The assessment
takes less than fifteen minutes to complete and yields conflict scores in
the areas of avoiding, competing, compromising, accommodating, and


The compromising mode is moderate assertiveness and

moderate cooperation. Some people define compromise as “giving up
more than you want,” while others see compromise as both parties
Times when the compromising mode is appropriate are when
you are dealing with issues of moderate importance, when you have equal
power status, or when you have a strong commitment for resolution.
Compromising mode can also be used as a temporary solution when there
are time constraints.

• Negotiating
• Finding a middle ground
• Assessing value
• Making concessions

The accommodating mode is low assertiveness and high
cooperation. Times when the accommodating mode is appropriate are to
show reasonableness, develop performance, create good will, or keep
peace. Some people use the accommodating mode when the issue or
outcome is of low importance to them.
The accommodating mode can be problematic when one
uses the mode to “keep a tally” or to be a martyr. For example, if you
keep a list of the number of times you have accommodated someone and
then you expect that person to realize, without your communicating to the
person, that she/he should now accommodate you.

• Forgetting your desires
• Selflessness
• Ability to yield
• Obeying orders

The competing conflict mode is high assertiveness and low
cooperation. Times when the competing mode is appropriate are when
quick action needs to be taken, when unpopular decisions need to be
made, when vital issues must be handled, or when one is protecting self-

Competing Skills
• Arguing or debating
• Using rank or influence
• Asserting your opinions and feelings
• Standing your ground
• Stating your position clearly

The avoiding mode is low assertiveness and low
cooperation. Many times people will avoid conflicts out of fear of
engaging in a conflict or because they do not have confidence in their
conflict management skills.
Times when the avoiding mode is appropriate are when you have issues
of low importance, to reduce tensions, to buy some time, or when you are
in a position of lower power.

Avoiding Skills
• Ability to withdraw
• Ability to sidestep issues
• Ability to leave things unresolved

Collaboration Skills
• Active listening
• No threatening confrontation
• Identifying concerns the collaborating mode is high assertiveness and
high cooperation. Collaboration has been described as “putting an idea on
top of an idea on top of an idea…in order to achieve the best solution to a
conflict.” The best solution is defined as a creative solution to the conflict
that would not have been generated by a single individual. With such a
positive outcome for collaboration, some people will profess that the
collaboration mode is always the best conflict mode to use. However,
collaborating takes a great deal of time and energy.
Therefore, the collaborating mode should be used when the
conflict warrants the time and energy. For example, if your team is
establishing initial parameters for how to work effectively together, then
using the collaborating mode could be quite useful. On the other hand, if
your team is in conflict about where to go to lunch today, the time and
energy necessary to collaboratively resolve the conflict is probably not
Times when the collaborative mode is appropriate are when
the conflict is important to the people who are constructing an integrative
solution, when the issues are too important to compromise, when merging
perspectives, when gaining commitment, when improving relationships,
or when learning.


Some factors that can impact how we respond to conflict are

listed below with explanations of how these factors might affect us.
• Gender- Some of us were socialized to use particular conflict modes
because of our gender. For example, some males, because they are male,
were taught “always stand up to someone, and, if you have to fight, then
fight.” If one was socialized this way he will be more likely to use
assertive conflict modes versus using cooperative modes.

• Self-concept -How we think and feel about ourselves affect how we

approach conflict. Do we think our thoughts, feelings, and opinions are
worth being heard by the person with whom we are in conflict?

• Expectations -Do we believe the other person or our team wants to

resolve the conflict?

• Situation- Where is the conflict occurring, do we know the person we

are in conflict with, and is the conflict personal or professional?

• Position (Power)- What is our power status relationship, (that is,

equal, more, or less) with the person with whom we are in conflict?

• Practice- Practice involves being able to use all five conflict modes
effectively, being able to determine what conflict mode would be most
effective to resolve the conflict, and the ability to change modes as
necessary while engaged in conflict.

• Determining the best mode- Through knowledge about conflict
and through practice we develop a “conflict management understanding”
and can, with ease and limited energy, determine what conflict mode to
use with the particular person with whom we are in conflict.

• Communication skills- The essence of conflict resolution and

conflict management is the ability to communicate effectively. People
who have and use effective communication will resolve their conflicts
with greater ease and success.

• Life experiences - Our life experiences, both personal and

professional, have taught us to frame conflict as either something positive
that can be worked through or something negative to be avoided and
ignored at all costs.


According to Oxford English Dictionary, conflict refers to a

series of disagreement or argument, incompatibility between opinions,
principles, etc. for example, “he had a dispute with his brother”, the
differences between political parties like “the familiar conflict between
the Congress and the BJP”. Use of words like dispute, disagreement,
incompatibility, and difference of opinion helps us to understand that
there is conflict. The core conflict lies in the opposite interests of the
involved parties. It is a state of disharmony between incompatible
persons, ideas or interests.
Conflicts are complex processes. There are three factors that
influence conflict. They are attitudes, behaviours and structures. Each
factor influences and is influenced by the others. Attitudes include the
parties’ perceptions and misperceptions of each other and of themselves.
These can be positive or negative. Behaviours can include co operation or
coercion, gestures signifying conciliation or hostility. Violent conflict
behaviour is characterized by threats, coercion and destructive attacks.
Structures refer to the organizational mechanisms, processes and groups
and influence recognition and identify needs.
Conflict is a dynamic process in which structure, behaviour and attitudes
are constantly changing and influencing each other.
A conflict exists when two people wish to carry out acts that
are mutually inconsistent. They may both want to do the same thing, such
as eat the same mango, or they may want to do different things where the
different things are mutually incompatible, such as they both want to stay
together but while one wants to go to the cinema hall the other wants to
go to the library.


Four different types of conflict are described as following:

Conflict arises when an individual selects or is assigned
goals that are incompatible with each other. Goal incompatibility refers to
the extent to which an individual’s or group’s goals are at odds with one
another. For example, a student may set goals of earning Rs. 500 a week
and achieving an 8-grade point average (on a ten point system) while
being enrolled full time during the coming semester. A month into the
semester, the student may realize that there aren’t enough hours in the
week to achieve both the goals. The student may then face a conflict
because of difficulty in achieving both the goals.

It can be explained as the incompatible feelings and
emotions within the individual or between individuals. Interpersonal
conflicts as well as antagonism between groups are examples of affective
conflict. Most affective conflict is focussed on personalized anger or
resentment. The causes of affective conflict may be- equity (fairness),
dissatisfaction of social needs such as inclusion, control and affection,
emotional states and perceptions. Low performing teams are often
crippled by affective conflict. It lowers team effectiveness.

It occurs when ideas and thoughts within an individual or
between individuals are incompatible. The effects of cognitive conflict
are mainly positive, like better higher productivity and more creativity.

Successful teams use a variety of techniques that help them
keep ideas separated from people. A hallmark of high performing teams
is their ability to critically consider and evaluate ideas.

Procedural conflict exists when group members disagree
about the procedures to be followed in accomplishing the group goal.
Union-management negotiations often involve procedural conflicts before
the negotiations actually begin. The parties may have procedural conflicts
over who will be involved in the negotiations, where will they take place,
and when will the sessions be held. After negotiations have been
concluded, different interpretations about how a grievance system is to
operate provide another example of procedural conflict.

Models of conflict help us to understand the processes and
factors involved in conflict episode. Researches on conflict highlight two
models- the process model and the structural model.
The process model views conflict between two or more
parties in terms of the internal dynamics of conflict episodes. Conflict
process follows five stages occurring sequentially one after other. They
are as follows-
This emotion arises when one party perceives the other party
as interfering with the satisfaction of his own needs, wants, objectives,
etc. There are three factors precipitating the condition for conflict in the
frustration stage. They are- a) Poor communication that arises from
semantic difficulties, misunderstandings and noise in the communication
b) the structure that includes variables like size, degree of specialization
in the task assigned to group members, member-goal compatibility,
leadership styles, reward systems, etc.
c) Personal variables that include individual value systems and the
personality characteristics that account for individual’s differences.

This stage focuses on the way each party understands and
perceives the situation. The parties involved define the conflict situation
and the salient alternatives available, which, in turn, affect the behaviour
of the other party.

Here one can observe the actions that result from the
perception of conflict that influences the behaviour of each party. These
influences affect the results in three areas- the orientation in handling
conflicts, the strategic objectives which match with orientation and the
tactical behaviour to achieve the objectives set.

The interaction between the two parties either escalates or de
escalates the conflict.

The structural model identifies the parameters that shape the
conflict episode. There are four such parameters described below-

This includes one party’s motives, abilities and personality.

The pressure arising from cultural values, organizational
work group norms, interest, etc.

The objective reality which gives rise to conflict viz.,
conflict of interests in competitive issues and common problems.

This parameter includes the decision making machinery, i.e.
decision rules, negotiation, and arbitration procedures, which constrain
and shape the behaviour of those conflicting parties.
The above models suggest that conflict can be defined as an
interpersonal dynamic which is shaped by the internal and external
environments of the parties involved and this dynamic is manifested in a
process which affects group performance either functionally or


Functional conflict is understood as the creation or
resolution of the conflict that often leads to constructive problem solving,
improving the quality of decisions, stimulating involvement in the
discussion and building group cohesion. This will result in clarification of
important problems and defining and sharpening of the issues as well. Of
course, introduction of conflict motivates individual to perform better and
work harder. It satisfies certain psychological needs like dominance,
aggression, esteem and ego, thereby, providing an opportunity for
constructive use and release of aggressive urges. In some cases, it
facilitates an understanding of the problem, people and inter relationship
that exist within them.
Within a group, conflict may define, maintain and strengthen
group boundaries, contributing to the group’s distinctiveness and
increasing group solidarity and cohesion. Many a time, it leads to
alliances with other groups, creating bonds between loosely structured
groups or bringing together different individuals and groups in a
community to fight a common threat.

Dysfunctional conflict can be understood as an undesirable
experience that is avoided. It has serious negative effects. It creates
difficulties in communication between individuals, breaks personal and
professional relationships and reduces effectiveness by causing tension,
anxiety and stress.

Intense conflict over a prolonged period affects individuals
emotionally and physically and this gives rise to psychosomatic disorders
and in some cases and a total breakdown of rules, undermining morale or
self concept of human existence. The various responses to conflict are
shown as below-
In an organizational set up, it is observed that conflict may
lead to work sabotage, lower employee morale and decline in the market
share of product/ services and consequent loss of productivity. Besides,
lack of trust and withholding of information lead to communication gap
and reduction of job performance in case the parties in conflict are
interdependent in completing their jobs.
Conflict based on competition among the co workers
becomes harmful when the goal of the organization is higher product
quality. Deep and lasting conflicts that are not addressed may even
trigger violence among employees or between employees and others.


As conflict intensity increases, so does the level of

performance. This, however, has a limit. After a certain point, increment
in conflict intensity badly affects performance. The graph can be divided
into three zones on the basis of level of conflict- Zone 1 (low level of
conflict), Zone 2 (optimum level of conflict), and Zone 3 (high level of
conflict). They are characterized as low motivational, effective, and
psychosomatic zones.


When the conflict level is low, the behaviour of the
employees is observed to be apathetic, stagnant and non-responsive. An
extremely low level of conflict can result in complacency and poor
performance due to lack of innovation. It may be due to low motivation.
If the group is in the low motivational zone then there is the necessity of
stimulating conflict in order to help the individual/ group move towards
the effective zone.


The behaviour of the employee is observed to be viable, self
critical and innovative. It is the effective zone leading to high
productivity outcome. Proper care should be taken to ensure that the level
of intensity does not cross the upper limit of the effective zone.
The upper limit of the effective zone varies from person to
person. It depends on the tolerance level of an individual and it is
determined by job compatibility, job experience, attitudinal framework,
personality framework, risk taking, optimism, etc.

It is expressed in terms of disruptive, chaotic and
uncooperative behaviour. It can be described as the psychosomatic zone.
The performance of the employee in this zone is badly affected and once
an employee reaches this stage, it is extremely difficult to retrieve him
back to the effective zone.
A manager needs a degree of creativity to determine
strategies and tactics for reducing or, if necessary, increasing the level of
A series of experiments have been conducted to examine the
relationship between the levels of different levels of conflict and team
performance, both in terms of the task and individual attitudes. It was
observed that the types of conflict determine the nature of relationship
with performance. Types of conflict can be affective conflict, task
conflict, process conflict.


Affective conflict focuses on interpersonal differences. It is a
perception of incompatibility that other members are preventing the
accomplishment of a goal. It is manifested by tension, argument and
withdrawal. The effects of this conflict include behaviours like distraction
in the members’ attention, reduction in their ability to think clearly and
encouragement of perceptions of hostile intentions in other’s actions. It
generally has a negative effect on team performance, as the team
members spend their time and energy focusing on each other rather than
on the task and therefore the information processing ability is limited.

Process conflict exists when team members disagree about
the procedures to be followed in accomplishing the team goal. As the
intensity of conflict increases, the performance of the team is adversely


Task conflict has generally been found to have a positive
effect on task performance, provided that the level of conflict is
appropriate to the complexity and uncertainty of the team’s work. Task
conflict may cause unease among individuals and weaken their
commitment towards the team. Team members have an opportunity to
express their own voice, opinions and perspectives.
Extremely high conflict may lead to member dissatisfaction
and low commitment to the team. Researches have shown that task
conflict was effective where decisions were made quickly but not when
the decisions were decided slowly.


A common form of intra-personal conflict in everyday life

involves choices between mutually exclusive goals or incompatible goals.
Women entrepreneurs may face the dilemma of being successful in
business as well as taking care of their families. While looking for the
success of their own business venture and balancing their family lives,
they often face this kind of conflict. An individual may experience
internal conflict due to the presence of:
 A number of competing needs and roles.
 A variety of different drives that compel the individual to act in a
certain way.
 Barriers that may come in between the drive and the goal
 Both positive and negative aspects attached to desired goals.
 Not having a clear understanding of what is expected from the job



Frustration occurs when a motivated drive is blocked before
a person reaches a desired goal. The barrier can be overt (physical) or
covert (mental-social-psychological). For example, consider an intelligent
but poor student who got selected in one of the top universities in the US
to pursue his Ph.D. degree. He can pursue his studies if he gets
scholarship. Financial help, if not received in time, can be major
hindrance in achieving his goal.

If he cannot get the scholarship, then it becomes a powerful
barrier towards attaining the goal. This creates a conflict within the
individual leading to frustration. His inner conflict can be expressed in
different types of behaviour such as aggression, withdrawal,
displacement, compromise and regression. The reactions or the
behavioural patterns of the employees when faced with a barrier are
described in the figure below:
Conflict occurs when an individual has to select one option
from among many alternatives. It can be selecting a job offer against
continuing research. Selection of one option eliminates other alternatives.
Intra-individual goal conflict can be identified depending on the nature of
the choices. It can be approach- approach, avoidance-avoidance, or

It arises when an individual has to choose between two
attractive alternatives. It is a conflict between two positive goals. For
example, an employer faces an approach-approach conflict when he/she
must choose between two highly qualified applicants for a single
position. Similarly, a job seeker must cope with an approach-approach
conflict while deciding which of two outstanding but equally appealing
jobs offers to accept. In social context, a conflict may arise when a person
wants to go to a friend’s house as well as to watch movie, both scheduled
for the same evening. Diagrammatically, it can be represented as:

Here, G1 and G2 stand for Goal 1 and Goal 2 respectively.
Here two attractive goals are before the individual and both have positive
valence for him. The person is initially caught between the two
alternatives. It is because the strength of each motive to approach a
desired goal is strong. This causes conflict within the individual as to
which one to go for i.e. G1 or G2.

It involves a choice between two equally unattractive
options. This is the case where two goals have negative valence and the
person has to decide on one of them. Consider these three cases- a person
has a physical illness that is very uncomfortable, such as ulcers, but he is
scared of getting operated, a woman has to decide between the task she
intensely dislikes or she loses her job, a student who is vegetarian has to
eat either chicken or fish during ragging period. The result in all the three
cases is that the person is caught between two unattractive options.
G1 and G2 stand for Goal 1 and Goal 2 respectively. Two
kinds of behaviour are likely to be conspicuous in avoidance-avoidance
conflicts. As one of the negative goals is approached, the person finds it
increasingly repellent and consequently retreats or withdraws from it.
After withdrawing from this goal, this person comes closer to the other
negative goal but finds out that this too is unbearably repelling.

In certain situations, the individual faces conflict when he
has to decide whether to approach or avoid a particular goal that has both
positive as well as negative qualities.
INDIVIDUAL------------------------G -----------------------
(+ve & -ve VALENCE)
This is not an uncommon situation in organizational
settings where many goals have mixed outcomes for an individual. A
student may face it while choosing a course that gives job assurance after
the course completion but involves uninteresting syllabus, or when an
employee is offered a promotion.


The sources of intra-personal conflict discussed here are
cognitive dissonance and neurotic tendencies within the individual.
Cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant state that
occurs when an individual discovers inconsistencies between two of their
attitudes or their behaviour. For example, “I am against prejudice” but “I
don’t want people of other religion living in my neighbourhood.”
Sometimes, our attitudes and behaviour are inconsistent, “I am on diet”
but “I am having an ice-cream”
To resolve the inconsistencies and discomfort,
individual either has to-
 Change his thoughts or behaviours.
 Obtain more information about the issue.

Neurotic tendencies are irrational personality
mechanisms that an individual uses, often unconsciously, that create
inner conflict. In turn, inner conflict often results in behaviours that
lead to conflict with other people. Managers having neurotic
personality use excessively tight organizational controls like budgets,
rules and regulations, monitoring systems etc. because they distrust
They are often fearful of uncertainty and risk, not just
distrustful of others. They rely on hunches and impressions rather than
available facts and advices. Such managers usually don’t use
participation and consultation in their decision-making unless asked to
do so by some higher authority.
Individuals with strong neurotic tendencies struggle
unsuccessfully with intra-personal conflict. They are unable to resolve
their conflicts. Their excessive distrust and urge to control triggers and
conflict with others, especially with subordinates who feel
micromanaged and distrusted. Subordinates, in turn, often try to even
secure and protect themselves from further abuse. These reactions of
the subordinates give the manager a stronger sense of employee
worthlessness. It convinces him to intensify his attempt to control and
punish subordinates.


It can be between co-workers, team members or room

mates. The nature of interpersonal conflict in organizations can be of
two types: substantive (content based) and emotional (emotion based)
conflict. Substantive conflicts arise due to work-related matters. For
example, differences in viewpoints and opinions pertaining to a group
task. Emotional conflicts tend to evolve when people do not
constructively deal with their frustration, anger, fear, distress or
resentment. It is otherwise called relationship conflict or affective
Managers should be able to identify whether a conflict
between two individuals has been helpful or harmful. It is beneficial if
the aftermath of the conflict reveals that-
(a) Both individuals are able to work better together.
(b) They feel better about each other and their own jobs.
(c) Both express satisfaction about the way the conflict was resolved.
(d) They consider their abilities to handle future conflicts improved.


There are three stages of interpersonal conflict. The
manager’s goal is to identify and manage conflict before it escalates to
physical aggression.Developing conflict stage – In initial stage of
conflict there are three levels. They are latent conflict, conflict
awareness and frustration in employees. Latent conflict is indicated by
characteristic behaviour changes such as isolation, self centred
behaviour, avoidance and denial. Conflict awareness stage can be
recognised by behaviour like complaints, gestures, stress and

difference of opinions. Tonality, physical signs, negativism,
withdrawal and over SENSITIVITY ARE THE symptoms of
frustration stage.
The recognisable behaviour that are generally
observed are tension, friction and frequent disagreement. Tension can
be recognised by distrust, anxiety, silence, poor communication and
unpredictable behaviour. Friction is one of the clear expression of
inter personal conflict that can be recognised by uncooperative,
nervous, anger , no communication and passive behaviour. Frequent
disagreement is expressed in behaviours like being negative,
arguments and blaming and resorting to use of power.
A manager would not like the conflict in his team to
reach this stage. Once it reaches this stage, it is almost difficult to
handle the conflict. Highest priority has to be applied to resolve the
matter, but could prove tuff. This stage is expressed in three sub stages
like verbal abuse, sarcasm, physical assault and threat. Verbal abuse is
identified in behaviours such as name calling, taunting, interrupting
and shouting. Physical threats can be observable in behaviours as
interfering into others space, physical posturing, clenching fist etc.
physical assault is expressed in behaviours like physical contact,
intense feelings, intention to harm and aggression.


 Body language
 Surprises
 Withholding bad news
 Open disagreement
 Fighting for certain specific goals
 Strong public statements
 Increasing lack of respect
 No discussion of progress


Our relationships are governed by a set of
informal rules, the behaviour most people thinks is appropriate or
inappropriate in a particular context. Four different types of relations
rules have being identified.
A ) Rules of support – this includes offering practical help on a work
related task, standing in for colleagues in their absence, giving advice ,
encouraging or guiding subordinates or clients so on.
B ) Rules of intimacy – this can be understood as respecting the other
persons privacy and refraining from engaging in sexual activity with
subordinates or within professional relationship.

C) Rules of relating to third parties – others not involved in our day
to day interactions can have a major effect on our immediate
relationships. One should not criticise others in public, nor should one
discuss with others what has being told to him or her in confidence.
D) Task related Rules – all professional relationships, whether
teacher -student or doctor-patient, are largely governed by rules which
relate to the completion of specific task. For example a teacher is
expected to prepare the lessons, plan and assigned work; a doctor is
expected to advice and treats the patient. In general, an understanding
of the rules is shared by both the parties or is clarified by the
professional concerned. The working relationships between employees
are affected when relationship rules are broken. Sometimes
misperception, misunderstanding or disagreements about the way the
work should be conducted becomes potential source of conflict.


A) Personality Clash- Interpersonal conflict may occur when two or
more persons come from different backgrounds, share different
experiences (upbringing, family traditions and socialisation process)
and hence may interpret the same facts differently. It may also be due
to difference in cultures or because of different values and beliefs they
hold. For example, someone who is very rigid in his way of working
would find It difficult to work with someone who is very flexible,
someone who is conscientious would find it difficult to work with a
person who is rather laid back in his approach.


Group conflicts, also called group intrigues, is where social

behavior causes groups of individuals to conflict with each other. It can
also refer to a conflict within these groups. This conflict is often caused
by differences in social norms, values, and religion. Both constructive
and destructive conflict occurs in most small groups. It is very important
to accentuate the constructive conflict and minimize the destructive
conflict. Conflict is bound to happen, but if we use it constructively then
it need not be a bad thing.

When destructive conflict is used in small groups, it is

counterproductive to the long term goal. It is much like poisoning the
goose that lays the golden eggs. In the case of small group
communication, destructive conflict creates hostility between the
members. This poisons group synergy and the results, the golden eggs if
you will, either cease being produced or are at least inferior in quality.

Using constructive conflict within small groups has the

opposite effect. It is much like nourishing the goose so that it continues to
produce the golden eggs, golden eggs which may be even better than
what the unnourished goose could have produced. In this sense, bringing
up problems and alternative solutions while still valuing others in small
groups allows the group to work forward.

Conflicts between people in work groups, committees, task

forces, and other organizational forms of face-to-face groups are
inevitable. As we have mentioned, these conflicts may be destructive as
well as constructive.

Conflict arises in groups because of the scarcity of freedom,
position, and resources. People who value independence tend to resist the
need for interdependence and, to some extent, conformity within a group.
People who seek power therefore struggle with others for position or
status within the group. Rewards and recognition are often perceived as
insufficient and improperly distributed, and members are inclined to
compete with each other for these prizes.

In western culture, winning is more acceptable than losing,

and competition is more prevalent than cooperation, all of which tends to
intensify intragroup conflict. Group meetings are often conducted in a
win-lose climate — that is, individual or subgroup interaction is
conducted for the purpose of determining a winner and a loser rather than
for achieving mutual problem solving.


Conflicts happen in groups for many reasons. Dee Kelsey

and Pam Plumb identify these sources of conflict:

• Miscommunication and misinformation

• Real or perceived differences in needs and priorities
• Real or perceived differences in values, perceptions, beliefs,
attitudes and culture
• Structural conditions

Each of these sources of conflict can be approached with

specific strategies. In general, conflicts arising from miscommunication
and misinformation are easier to resolve than those arising from
differences in needs and priorities.


Ethnic group conflicts are very real concerns that many

governments try to always deal with through peaceful means. The loyalty
to your ethnic heritage can be quite powerful to the point that it can drive
some people to doing things that may seem pointless and senseless. At
the core of every conflict is a fundamental misunderstanding on how
things are to be done in society.

For so long, the British territory of Northern Ireland has had

to contend with the warring factions of the Catholics and Protestants in
the area. Protestants have always been used to having better jobs and a
better state in life while the Catholics were usually relegated to menial
jobs. This has made the relationship of the two ethnic groups very
contentious but through the efforts of many groups from inside and
outside Great Britain, the armed uprising has been stemmed in recent

While the conditions still remain tense and there is still gross
inequality in the amount of opportunities that are available for different
people in society, this episode in history proves that despite the statistical
data that one might have, it's still possible to resolve misunderstandings
through a good conversation and a well moderated dialogue between
involved parties.

Africa has gotten the brunt of recent ethnic group violence.

The country of Sudan has been in the spotlight in recent years due to the
ongoing genocide that has been responsible for displacing millions of
Darfurians as well as the death of an untold number.

The conflict has been due to the inherent differences
between the more Arabic Sudanese from the north of the country to the
more Sub-Saharan African cultures to the south of the Khartoum - the
Sudanese capital. There are also other parts of Africa that are in current
unrest. The so-called "blood diamonds" - already a topic of critically-
acclaimed films, such as the one starring Leonardo di Caprio - are the
gems that have fueled the wars in the country of Liberia. While the rest of
the world gets something that could be used for a nice piece of jewelry,
many people in Liberia literally toil with blood, sweat and tears for these
embellishments to our jewelry pieces.

What makes Africa ground zero for ethnic conflict is the fact
that the Europeans arbitrarily divided the continent without really paying
attention to the various tribes that existed within the artificial
subdivisions that they've made. Now that most of the countries are
already starting to break away from the clutches of the colonizers, they
are left in a daze with a highly fragmented nation. It's almost like they
have nothing much in common.

Even their appreciations for silver jewelry or their cooking

technique are not alike - and believe it or not, these mundane things can
even lead to entire villages being razed. The Rwandan genocide of the
last decade went on largely ignored by the international community and
its basis was purely ethnic. Ethnic conflicts are a fact of life and they've
been going on and on for thousands of years. The challenge for the new
generation is to rise over the differences and make the world a more
peaceful place.


The win-lose conflict in groups may have some of the following negative

1. Divert time and energy from the main issues

2. Delay decisions
3. Create deadlocks

4. Drive unaggressive committee members to the sidelines

5. Interfere with listening
6. Obstruct exploration of more alternatives
7. Decrease or destroy sensitivity

8. Cause members to drop out or resign from committees

9. Arouse anger that disrupts a meeting
10. Interfere with empathy

11.Leave losers resentful

12. Incline underdogs to sabotage

13. Provoke personal abuse

14.Cause defensiveness

Results of group conflicts

Conflict in the group need not lead to negative results, however.

The presence of a dissenting member or subgroup often results in more
penetration of the group's problem and more creative solutions. This is
because disagreement forces the members to think harder in an attempt to
cope with what may be valid objections to general group opinion. But the
group must know how to deal with differences that may arise.


Conflict between groups is a sometimes necessary,

sometimes destructive, event that occurs at all levels and across all
functions in organizations. Intergroup conflict may help generate creative
tensions leading to more effective contributions to the organization's
goals, such as competition between sales districts for the highest sales. [3]
Intergroup conflict is destructive when it alienates groups that should be
working together, when it results in win-lose competition, and when it
leads to compromises that represent less-than-optimum outcomes.

Intergroup conflict occurs in two general forms. Horizontal

strain involves competition between functions: for example, sales versus
production, research and development versus engineering, purchasing
versus legal, line versus staff, and so on. Vertical strain involves
competition between hierarchical levels: for example, union versus
management, foremen versus middle management, shop workers versus

A struggle between a group of employees and management

is an example of vertical strain or conflict. A clash between a sales
department and production over inventory policy would be an example of
horizontal strain. Certain activities and attitudes are typical in groups
involved in a win-lose conflict. Each side closes ranks and prepares itself
for battle. Members show increased loyalty and support for their own

Minor differences between group members tend to be
smoothed over, and deviants are dealt with harshly. The level of morale
in the groups increases and infuses everyone with competitive spirit. The
power structure becomes better defined, as the "real" leaders come to the
surface and members rally around the "best" thinkers and talkers. In
addition, each group tends to distort both its own views and those of the
competing group.

What is perceived as "good" in one's own position is

emphasized, what is "bad" is ignored; the position of the other group is
assessed as uniformly "bad," with little "good" to be acknowledged or
accepted. Thus, the judgment and objectivity of both groups are impaired.
When such groups meet to "discuss" their differences, constructive,
rational behavior is severely inhibited.

Each side phrases its questions and answers in a way that

strengthens its own position and disparages the other's. Hostility between
the two groups increases; mutual understandings are buried in negative
stereotypes. It is easy to see that under the conditions described above,
mutual solutions to problems cannot be achieved. As a result, the side
having the greater power wins; the other side loses. Or the conflict may
go unresolved, and undesirable conditions or circumstances continue.

Or the conflict may be settled by a higher authority. None of

these outcomes is a happy one. Disputes settled on the basis of power,
such as through a strike or a lockout in a labor-management dispute, are
often deeply resented by the loser. Such settlements may be resisted and
the winner defeated in underground ways that are difficult to detect and to
counter. When this happens, neither side wins; both are losers.

Strategies for Managing Group Conflicts

• Avoidance - a management strategy which includes no attention

or creating a total separation of the combatants or a partial
separation that allows limited interaction
• Smoothing- technique which stresses the achievement of
harmony between disputants
• Dominance or Power Intervention - the imposition of a
solution by higher management, other than the level at which the
conflict exists
• Compromise - strategy that seeks a resolution which satisfies at
least part of the each party's position
• Confrontation - strategy featuring a thorough and frank
discussion of the sources and types of conflict and achieving a
resolution that is in the best interest of the group, but that may be at
the expense of one or all of the conflicting parties

A trained conflict resolver can begin with an economical

intervention, such as getting group members to clarify and reaffirm
shared goals. If necessary, he or she moves through a systematic series of
interventions, such as testing the members' ability and willingness to
compromise; resorting to confrontation, enforced counseling, and/or
termination as last resorts.


Those who study people and conflict have developed
theories about how we, as individuals and as members of groups, respond
to conflict. In general, we tend to get comfortable with one set of
responses, even though we can learn skills allowing us to respond to each
situation differently. Five common responses are listed below. Do you
recognize yourself in this list?

• I avoid conflict.
• I accommodate others to keep the peace.
• I compromise; find middle ground.
• I compete; try to win with my own solution.
• I collaborate; seek a better solution.

In truth, all of these conflict response styles work in some

situations and not so well in others. The choice for the individual and for
the group is what style best matches the situation and the desired

Personal and group skills for dealing with conflict

The basic skills for dealing with conflict have to do with

describing the conflict in such a way that people don’t feel personally
attacked. You can do this by asking questions to determine the sources of
the conflict and offering a description, testing it to see if others also see
things as you do. By continuing to question and test, the group will come
to understand what the conflict is about.

In order to do this work, the bedrock skill is listening—

listening for facts as well as feelings. You convey that you are listening

through the language of your body (by making eye contact, by smiling,
by leaning forward, by nodding) and by restating and summarizing what
someone have said. This kind of acknowledgement of another person is
often a powerful way to defuse situations that have become tense or

You also convey that you are listening fully by asking

questions that allow speakers to open up, allowing them to focus on what
they are feeling, thinking and wanting to happen. If you have listened
well, and have found agreement with your framing of the conflict, you
may be able to suggest a group process for finding a solution.


A facilitator in group conflict situations creates safe space for all

participants to feel fully heard, respected and supported. Safe space can
become creative space for finding solutions. Facilitators can help the
group establish ground rules and procedures that lead to conflict
resolution. Facilitators do not have a vested interest in a particular
solution; they do not take sides in a conflict. Facilitators act in service to
the group, helping the group be more effective, accomplish its work and
maintain relationships.

In addition to the skills of listening and questioning already noted,

a facilitator needs to develop skills to call the group’s attention to how it
is doing its work or how individual members are behaving, either to move
the group forward or to hold it back. These skills are like holding up a
mirror so that the group can observe itself and make changes.

Several experts have described the process of holding up the mirror

to the group, or intervening:

• Notice what is going on, both behaviour and its impact on the
• Decide whether what is going on needs to be mirrored to the group.
• If you decide it does, describe what you have noticed in a
nonblaming way.
• Test the impact you sense the behaviour is having on the group.
• Ask if the group wants to do anything differently, or suggest new
• Remind the group members that they can also hold the mirror.

This publication won’t make you an expert at dealing with

and resolving conflict in groups. However, it has provided some ideas
about where conflict comes from, ways that we tend to deal with conflict,
and a process for a group to use in conflict situations. If you are interested
in learning more and improving your skills as a facilitator, check out the
other publications in this series


Organizational conflict is a state of discord caused by the
actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests between
people working together. Conflict takes many forms in organizations.
There is the inevitable clash between formal authority and power and
those individuals and groups affected. There are disputes over how
revenues should be divided, how the work should be done and how long
and hard people should work.

There are jurisdictional disagreements among individuals,

departments, and between unions and management. There are subtler
forms of conflict involving rivalries, jealousies, personality clashes, role
definitions, and struggles for power and favor. There is also conflict
within individuals — between competing needs and demands — to which
individuals respond in different ways.

Top Ten reasons of organizational conflicts

1. Divisions and departments often have different objectives. If their

members cannot find common values and goals, they will not

2. Employees are more knowledgeable and comfortable being solo

contributors than being thorough members of a team, despite the
need for interdependency in most work. This is exaggerated when,
through their reward systems, organizations encourage employees
to compete with one another. Teamwork is a concept that must be
learned and applied throughout the organization.

3. Employees are neither trained nor prepared to negotiate shared

areas of responsibility and productivity gaps comfortably.

4. Supervisors may state their expectations of employee job
performance, but they usually do not know how to do so in a way
that can be heard and understood effectively.

5. Organizational problems and responsibilities are analyzed from

individual or departmental viewpoints, rather than from that of the
organization as a whole. Good decisions are further undermined by
a short-term, crisis approach to problem-solving.

6. Managers would rather do the work themselves than take

responsibility for motivating others to do their best work. To
motivate each employee to contribute maximum productivity,
managers must demonstrate insight, dedication and flexibility.

7. Executives need significant information from front-line employees

to make good decisions. Yet they seldom know how to ask for
meaningful information, input or feedback from employees.

8. Differences in personality, approach to tasks and individual values

create even more friction and tension than that caused by racial or
cultural background differences.

9. Good communication requires trust, a suspension of assumptions

and hard work, which most organizations do not demonstrate well

from executive level downward to front line employees.

10. Small and large changes occur constantly within organizations, but
the emotions these changes generate are seldom addressed.

The effective management of workplace conflict requires an

understanding of the nature and sources of conflict in the workplace.
Conflict occurs when there is a perception of incompatible interests

between workplace participants. This should be distinguished from
disputes. Disputes are merely a by-product of conflict. They are the
outward articulation of conflict. Typical disputes come in the form of
formal court cases, grievances, arguments, threats and counter threats etc.
Conflict can exist without disputes, but disputes do not exist without
conflict. Conflict, however, might not be so easily noticed. Much conflict
exists in every workplace without turning into disputes.

The first step in uncovering workplace conflict is to consider

the typical sources of conflict. There are a variety of sources of
workplace conflict including interpersonal, organizational, change
related, and external factors.


Interpersonal conflict is the most apparent form of conflict

for workplace participants. It is easy enough to observe the results of
office politics, gossip, and rumours. Also language and personality styles
often clash, creating a great deal of conflict in the workplace. In many
workplaces there are strong ethno-cultural and racial sources of conflict
as well as gender conflict.

This may lead to charges of harassment and discrimination

or at least the feeling that such things exist. People often bring their
stresses from home into the office leading to further conflict. An
additional source of workplace conflict can be found in varying ideas
about personal success.


There are a number of organizational sources of conflict.
Those relating to hierarchy and the inability to resolve conflicting
interests are quite predominant in most workplaces. Labour/management
and supervisor/employee tensions are heightened by power differences.
Differences in supervisory styles between departments can be a cause of
conflict. Also there can be work style clashes, seniority/juniority and pay
equity conflict.

Conflict can arise over resource allocation, the distribution

of duties, workload and benefits, different levels of tolerance for risk
taking, and varying views on accountability. In addition, conflict can
arise where there are perceived or actual differences in treatment between
departments or groups of employees. A thorough review of the workplace
is suggested for such sources of conflict.

Again surveys, interviews and focus groups can help reveal

these sources of conflict. Additionally, organizational sources of conflict
can be predicted based upon best practices from similar organizations. All
organizations experience such conflict. Much can be learned from the
lessons of similar organizations that have made a study of this source of


The modern workplace has significant levels of stress and conflict related
to change-management and downsizing. Technological change can cause
conflict, as can change work methodologies. Many workplaces suffer
from constant reorganization, leading to further stress and conflict.

In line with reorganization, many public and non-profit

organizations suffer from downloading of responsibilities from other

organizations. Workplace analysts should review the history of the
particular organization, reaching back as far as 10 years to determine the
level of churn that has taken place. Generally speaking, the more change
and the more recent the change, the more likely there will be significant

External Factors

External factors can also lead to conflict in the workplace.

Economic pressures are caused by recession, changing markets, domestic
and foreign competition, and the effects of Free Trade between countries.
Conflict arises with clients and suppliers effecting customer service and
delivery of goods. Also public and non-profit workplaces in particular
can face political pressures and demands from special interest groups.

A change in government can have a tremendous impact,

especially on public and non-profit organizations. Funding levels for
workplaces dependent upon government funding can change
dramatically. Public ideologies can have an impact on the way employees
are treated and viewed in such organizations. To look for external factors
of conflict, have a review of the relationships between the subject
organization and other organizations.

Companies or government departments that have constant

relationships with outside organizations will find this to be a major source
of conflict for workplace participants.


Conflict can occur in any situation where one person’s
concerns are different from another person’s. As a result, conflict
includes both heated arguments and simple differences of opinion.
Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing in the workplace; in fact, conflict
can often lead to increased effectiveness. Kenneth Thomas and Ralph
Kilmann have defined five different modes of dealing with conflict and
identified the situations in which each mode is most effective.

Most people have one or two conflict modes that come

naturally to them and are easy to use. For certain types of conflicts, their
natural approach may not be the most appropriate. The five conflict
handling modes are listed below along with the types of conflict for
which they are most effective.

1.COMPETING–“My way or the highway”
The competing mode is characterized by high assertiveness
and low cooperativeness, where the goal is to win. Some appropriate uses
for the competing mode are taking quick action, making unpopular
decisions, and discussing issues of critical importance when you know for
certain that your position is correct.

2. COLLABORATING– “Two heads are better than one”

The collaborating mode is characterized by high
assertiveness and high cooperativeness, where the goal is to work with
other people to find a win-win solution. Some appropriate uses for the
collaborating mode are integrating solutions, learning, merging
perspectives, gaining commitment, and improving relationships.

3.COMPROMISING– “Let’s make a deal”

The compromising mode is characterized by moderate
assertiveness and moderate cooperativeness, and involves negotiating or
splitting the difference in opinion. The goal is to find the middle ground.
Some appropriate uses for the compromising mode include issues of
moderate importance, developing temporary solutions, or when you are
under time constraints.

4.AVOIDING– “I’ll think about it tomorrow”

The avoiding mode is characterized by low assertiveness and
low cooperativeness, and means that neither parties concerns are
satisfied. The goal is to delay. Appropriate uses of the avoiding mode
include dealing with issues of little importance, reducing tensions, and
buying time.

5.ACCOMMODATING – “It would be my pleasure”
The accommodating mode is characterized by low
assertiveness and high cooperativeness, and can be acts of selfless
generosity or obeying orders. The goal is to yield. The accommodating
mode is useful for showing reasonableness, developing performance,
creating good will, and dealing with issues of low importance.

As mentioned earlier, each of these five modes of handling conflict

have strengths and weaknesses, making them more or less appropriate depending on
the situation. One of the most important steps in being able to recognize and apply the
most effective conflict mode is to be aware of what comes most naturally for yourself.
The Thomas- Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument can help people come to that


Maturity-immaturity theory

According to Maslow, Argyris, McGregor, Rogers, and

other writers of the so-called growth schools, there is a basic tendency in
the development of the human personality toward self-fulfillment, or self-
actualization. This implies that as an individual matures, he wants to be
given more responsibility, broader horizons, and the opportunity to
develop his personal potential. This process is interrupted whenever a
person's environment fails to encourage and nurture these desires.

Formal organizations are rational structures that, based on

their assumption of emotions, feelings, and irrationality as human
weaknesses, try to replace individual control with institutional control.
Thus the principle of task specialization is seen as a device that simplifies
tasks for the sake of efficiency. As a consequence, however, it uses only a
fraction of a person's capacity and ability. The principle of chain of
command centralizes authority but makes the individual more dependent
on his superiors.

The principle of normal span of control, which assigns a

maximum of six or seven subordinates to report to the chief executive,
reduces the number of individuals reporting to the head of the
organization or to the manager of any subunit. Although this simplifies
the job of control for the manager, it also creates more intensive
surveillance of the subordinate, and therefore permits him less freedom to
control himself.

Under such conditions, subordinates are bound to find
themselves in conflict with the formal organization, and sometimes with
each other. They advance up the narrowing hierarchy where jobs get
fewer, and "fewer" implies competing with others for the decreasing
number of openings. Task specialization tends to focus the subordinate's
attention on his own narrow function and divert him from thinking about
the organization as a whole.

This effect increases the need for coordination and leads to a

circular process of increasing the dependence on the leader. They may
respond to organizational pressures and threats by defensive reactions
such as aggression against their supervisors and co-workers, fixated
behavior or apathy, compromise and gamesmanship, or psychological
withdrawal and daydreaming. All of these defense mechanisms reduce a
person's potential for creative, constructive activity on the job.

Finally, employees may organize unions or unsanctioned

informal groups whose norms of behavior are opposed to many of the
organization's goals. As a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, all of these
reactions to the constraints of the formal organization merely serve to
reinforce and strengthen them. The conflict between the formal
organization and the individual will continue to exist wherever managers
remain ignorant of its causes or wherever the organizational structure and
the leadership style are allowed to become inconsistent with the
legitimate needs of the psychologically healthy individual.

Everyone recognizes the necessity for order and control in

organizations. Those of us who enter management, however, must learn
to recognize in addition that order and control can be achieved only at the
expense of individual freedom.


Get used to it! Conflict is everywhere. It is natural to

disagree, and conflict often results from the interaction of people and
groups with different values, perspectives and beliefs. It can be rooted in
factions or rivalries or in the polarized approaches of strong
personalities. Sometimes it can come from the frustration of trying to
discuss or resolve an issue before the time is right. Whatever the source
of your particular conflict, you cannot know how to handle these
confrontations without understanding their roots. Let’s break it down:

 We all have needs, and when someone ignores our needs, we

feel frustrated and argumentative. On the other hand, we may
withdraw, and try to undermine the process without confrontation.
Don’t confuse ‘needs’ with what you may ‘want’. They are two
different things. Nourishment is a basic ‘need’. Without food, we
cannot survive for long. However, if you said you ‘needed’
chocolate, I would argue that point.
 Reality is a strange thing! Ideally, it is the same for everyone, but
that is rarely the case. If you put a group of 10 people together,
and asked them about the weather, you would get differing
opinions on the severity, the temperature, the wind, the humidity.
We all ‘perceive’ things different and to the extent that we think
something is important or trivial, there is the potential for conflict.
 Each person has their own paradigm – a set of beliefs or
principles we hold as truth. When we talk about an issue with
someone who has incompatible or shifting values, there is the
potential for conflict, especially if we insist that ours is the only
correct opinion.

Just such a trigger has started many religious and political
wars! Human beings are emotional creatures. We depend on our
feelings to tell us what our ‘gut’ reaction is and sometimes we let them
loose under the wrong circumstances, when cooler heads should

 How one defines and uses power is important in conflict. Some

people feel that they must always come out on top in order to prove
their superiority or just because they are always right, while others
do not take confrontation well and they will give the power away
to the one who cries the loudest, without agreeing with their
position. These more passive people may still create problems but
quietly trying to undermine the solution that the stronger person
pushed through. So, be careful not to discount the quiet ones. This
power struggle scenario has a definite affect on how conflict is
managed. Conflicts arise when one or more people try to make
others change their mind and vote a certain way or when the
stronger party tries to take unfair advantage of the weaker party.
 However, conflict is not always negative. It can be healthy if it is
managed effectively. Putting people with diverse opinions in the
same room will bring forth a richer solution, but only if the conflict
is managed. This well-facilitated conflict can result in unexpected
growth, ingenious solutions to problems, new angles on solutions
and many more options from which to choose.
 When a group gets together, the first thing you need to think
about is whether you have the right people in the room to solve
a problem. There is nothing worse than being stuck in conflict
that the group cannot resolve because decision-makers are missing
from the room during the discussion.

 Write your ground rules on a board and refer to them if people
violate them. Everyone’s opinion counts. There are no stupid
ideas. We will hear and explore every idea that is presented. We
will not judge others or their opinions in advance based on what we
think we know of them, even if we work with them every day. We
will consider all ideas objectively and in a non-judgmental
manner. We will not engage in bullying behavior, or create or
encourage factions within the group. You get the idea. Come up
with your own ground rules and make it abundantly clear that this
group will play by the rules with NO exceptions. When conflict
does arise, you can use the following steps to manage the issue:
 Analyze the nature and type of conflict. Ask questions to better
understand the positions and give everyone a chance to talk. Write
the FACTS on a blackboard or flip chart and stay away from
emotional, subjective statements or inflammatory remarks. Just the
 Select a strategy to deal with the conflict. If you can’t resolve it
by taking it apart and carefully drawing conclusions, then consider
involving a neutral facilitator to get the group moving toward
consensus. If the group members are too familiar with each other
and know how to ‘push the buttons’ an outside may be the best
medicine and can provide a firm hand.
 Reinforce the collaborative approach and strive for a ‘win-win’
result. Use objective criteria for ranking ideas. Don’t just throw
out an idea because someone says, “That is stupid”.
 Keep your common interests in mind – not the methods by
which you will achieve the interests, but the vision or goal itself.
Don’t let the group be caught up in a power struggle over ‘how’.
Identify options so that everyone is involved and then let the group

discuss and recommend the best approach. You may be able to
make some trade-offs, or combine aspects from various options to
come up with something that everyone likes.
 Look for ways to compromise. Not everything is critical.
Encourage the team to give and take. I’ll accept this if you give me
that. Remember to focus on the result and the outcome. The group
is trying to accomplish a task or come up with a solution to a
problem. Don’t get so caught up in your conflict that the team
produces a poor solution – or no solution at all!
 Be sure that the entire group signs up for the solution you
choose. You may even want to have every group member sign a
commitment document.

Finally, monitor your team to ensure you are moving in the right direction
and keep an eye open for the following dynamic combinations. Any of
these can bring your team to its knees:

 Win/Lose – one person or group is determined to win, and does

not care about the input or concerns of the other person or group.
This happens when basic rights or values are at stake and it can
result in retaliation by the losers, and endless cycle of ‘one-
upsmanship’. You’ll never get anything done!
 Lose/Win – when an issue is more important to one group than to
another group or individual, the apathetic person or group may give
in just as a gesture of good will, thinking that the issue doesn’t
matter all that much anyway. If the topic is on the table for debate
and it is important to the business, then everyone HAS to care,
whether they want to, or not!
 Lose/Lose – if the issue is not important to anyone or there are
more critical things to think about, a person or group may make a

decision without any thought or focus. This scenario can also
occur when a confrontation could have devastating results or when
the group is making a decision without enough information or
without involving the right people. No one wins!


This advice is aimed primarily at resolving differences

between individuals, small groups and organisations, but many of the
same principles apply to the resolution of conflict between communities
and even nations.

Although the principles are listed separately, it is possible to

use one followed by another or to use two or more at the same time.
Regard this advice as a tool box - use whatever seems appropriate to your
situation and, if one technique does not work, try another.

• Be calm. Conflict usually engenders strong emotions and even

anger but, in such a state, you are unlikely to be particularly
rational or in the mood for compromise.

• Always show respect. However much you disagree with
someone, attack the argument, not the person. To use a sporting
metaphor: play the ball, not the man. As Nelson Mandela explained
in his autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom": "I defeated my
opponents without dishonouring them".
• Be magnanimous. In truth, most conflict is over matters of little
substance and often it is mostly pride or status that is at stake.
Consider conceding the point to your opponent. This will save you
time and energy and you can concentrate on the important issues of
difference rather than the smaller ones. Also, if your concession is
done with good grace and even some humour, it will disarm your
opponent and make him/her look small-minded by comparison.
• Discuss or debate. So often, conflict is created and/or
maintained because there is no real discussion or debate. We make
assumptions about the other person's point of view and willingness
to compromise which might be quite wrong. We avoid discussion
or debate either because we fear conflict (the situation will rarely
be as bad as you fear) or we worry about 'losing' (in which case,
you've already 'lost').
• Apply rationality. Much conflict is not about substance but
perception. Try to clear through the perception to discover and
agree on how things really are. You won't manage this without
discussion and you may need to research the facts and seek
evidence. What is really worrying the other person? Has another
person or company had a similar experience which might prove
revealing and helpful?

• Acknowledge emotions. Facts alone - however rational -
cannot resolve much conflict because how people perceive those
facts is coloured by their emotions. It's no good denying those
emotions, so make an effort to see the situation the way the other
person does and to acknowledge their emotions before
endeavouring to move beyond them. One way of doing this is to
use phrases such as "Let me try to explain how I see things" or
"Please allow me to explain why this is so important to me". Then
reverse these points: "I would like to understand better how you
see this situation" and "Please explain to me what is important to
you in this problem".
• Be aware of displacement. Especially where anger is
concerned, sometimes the source of a conflict is not what it appears
to be, as anger is displaced. In the domestic context, for instance,
an argument about the washing up could in fact be an argument
about lack of affection. It's not easy to spot displacement, but a
warning sign is when matters that do not normally because conflict
now appear to do so.
• Be precise. Someone might propose that something be done
"sooner rather than later". His colleague might react against this
assuming that we are talking of matter of weeks. When asked what
exactly is meant, it might be that the first person explains that he
had in mind a programme of several months - so, no argument. It
might be necessary to make savings in the family budget. Instead
of throwing everything into doubt and caused unnecessary upset,
be focused. Perhaps it will be necessary to cancel some
subscriptions or to postpone a planned holiday for a year.

• Think creatively. Try presenting different types of solution
from those so far rejected by one of the parties. For example, in the
Sunning dale talks on the future of Northern Ireland in 1973, the
British and Irish Governments both wanted their view on the
constitutional status of Northern Ireland to be stated first in the
agreement; the solution was to divide the page in two and present
the two statements side by side, so that they both had equal status.
In a particularly tough set of negotiations that I led as a national
trade union official, I would not accept certain words in the
proposed agreement but I allowed them to be used in the covering
letter to the agreement.
• Change the wording. It's amazing how often we disagree about
words and how a change of words can change how people view a
situation. Instead of criticising a work colleague for "a mistake",
perhaps you could invite him to discuss "a learning opportunity". If
two parties to a dispute don't like their eventual agreement to be
called an agreement, try calling it a settlement or a resolution or a
• Change the environment. It's no coincidence that some of the
toughest political negotiations of all times - for instance those
between the Israelis and the Palestinians - often take place in
locations like Camp David in the USA or a wood in Scandinavia. I
was a professional trade union official for 24 years and many of the
most productive negotiations between management and union took
place in a neutral venue like a hotel. Sometimes even simply
moving from an office to a coffee bar or from a house to a
restaurant can make all the difference.

• Compromise. This is an obvious point but frequently neglected.
If you can't agree on whether to see a romantic comedy or an action
thriller at the cinema, see one film this weekend and the other the
next weekend. If you can't agree on whether to have a city holiday
or a beach holiday, try a two-centre break.
• Consider staging. Much conflict is about change. Introducing
change in stages often makes it more palatable to the person
uncomfortable about it (and can make it more manageable for the
person promoting it).
• Consider sequencing. Much conflict is created and/or
aggravated by lack of trust. Building trust takes time and proof of
goodwill. So consider introducing an agreement in stages whereby
each action is dependent on another action.
• Experiment or test. Too often we argue in ignorance,
convinced that our prescription or proposal is the best with no real
evidence. Have a trial and review how things go or try two or three
ways of doing something and have an honest appraisal of what
works best.
• Seek mediation. This is a process whereby a neutral third party
consults with those involved in a conflict to see if the problem can
be presented in a way which facilitates a resolution. The mediator
may simply listen and ask questions or he/she may suggest other
ways of looking at the problem or even possible solutions.
Classically this is approach used in most relationship counselling.
• Seek conciliation. This is a similar process to mediation but a
little more activist on the part of the third party who will normally
attempt to find a solution by proposing a 'third way'.

• Seek arbitration. This is a process involving a third party who,
from the beginning, is invited by the conflicting parties to propose
a solution. The two parties may have originally agreed merely to
consider the proposed solution (non-binding arbitration) or they
may have agreed in advance to accept the decision of the arbitrator
(binding arbitration). This approach is often used in industrial
• If absolutely necessary, apply authority or force. If mediation,
conciliation and arbitration do not work or the parties are not
willing to try them, conflict can be resolved in a fashion by one
party imposing his/her solution through authority (she is the parent
or he is the line manager) or through force (calling in the police or
obtaining a legal injunction). Such a 'settlement' will cause
resentment in the party at the receiving end, but sometimes this is
the only way to resolve a conflict and move on. I can tell you - as a
former trade union negotiator - that sometimes people in conflict
want someone to impose a solution, not because they themselves
oppose the solution but because they do not want to lose 'face' or
be seen by their constituents to have 'given in'.
• If all else fails, wait. Most problems change over time. Either the
problem solves itself because circumstances change or one's
attitude to the problem changes as the heat dies down and other
matters assume more prominence. Therefore, if one cannot solve a
dispute and its resolution can wait, maybe the best approach is to
leave things alone for a while.
• Accept the situation. Conflict is not like mathematics. There is
not always a solution waiting to be found and, if there is a solution,
it is unlikely to be the only one. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung
once wrote that "The greatest and most important problems of life

are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only

Finally, although this advice is about resolving conflict, be

aware that conflict cannot always be avoided (especially when
fundamental differences, as opposed to perceived differences, are
involved) and not all conflict is negative (sometimes it 'clears the air').
The important thing is to keep wasteful and damaging conflict to a
minimum and, when it does occur, use the relevant techniques to resolve
or at least ease it.

Resolving conflict rationally and effectively

In many cases, conflict in the workplace just seems to be a

fact of life. We've all seen situations where different people with different
goals and needs have come into conflict. And we've all seen the often-
intense personal animosity that can result. The fact that conflict exists,
however, is not necessarily a bad thing: As long as it is resolved
effectively, it can lead to personal and professional growth.

In many cases, effective conflict resolution skills can make

the difference between positive and negative outcomes.

The good news is that by resolving conflict successfully, you

can solve many of the problems that it has brought to the surface, as well
as getting benefits that you might not at first expect:

• Increased understanding: The discussion needed to resolve conflict
expands people's awareness of the situation, giving them an insight
into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining
those of other people;
• Increased group cohesion: When conflict is resolved effectively,
team members can develop stronger mutual respect, and a renewed
faith in their ability to work together; and
• Improved self-knowledge: Conflict pushes individuals to examine
their goals in close detail, helping them understand the things that
are most important to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing
their effectiveness.

However, if conflict is not handled effectively, the results

can be damaging. Conflicting goals can quickly turn into personal dislike.
Teamwork breaks down. Talent is wasted as people disengage from their
work. And it's easy to end up in a vicious downward spiral of negativity
and recrimination. If you're to keep your team or organization working
effectively, you need to stop this downward spiral as soon as you can. To
do this, it helps to understand two of the theories that lie behind effective
conflict resolution techniques:


In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified

five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of

cooperativeness and assertiveness. They argued that people typically have
a preferred conflict resolution style. However they also noted that
different styles were most useful in different situations. The Thomas-
Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) helps you to identify which
style you tend towards when conflict arises.

Thomas and Kilmann's styles are:

1. Competitive: People who tend towards a competitive style take a

firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a
position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or
persuasive ability. This style can be useful when there is an emergency
and a decision needs to be make fast; when the decision is unpopular; or
when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation
selfishly. However it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and
resentful when used in less urgent situations.

2. Collaborative: People tending towards a collaborative style try to

meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly
assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and
acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when you
need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution;
when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the
situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

3. Compromising: People who prefer a compromising style try to find

a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is
expected to give up something and the compromiser him- or herself also
expects to relinquish something. Compromise is useful when the cost of
conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength

opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.

4. Accommodating: This style indicates a willingness to meet the

needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The
accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be
persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This
person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is
appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is
more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to
collect on this “favour” you gave. However people may not return
favours, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

5. Avoiding: People tending towards this style seek to evade the

conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial
decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s
feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the
controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to
solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and
ineffective approach to take.

Understanding the Theory: The "Interest-Based Relational


The second theory is commonly referred to as the "Interest-

Based Relational (IBR) Approach". This conflict resolution strategy

respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too
entrenched in a fixed position.

In resolving conflict using this approach, you follow these rules:

• Make sure that good relationships are the first priority:

As far as possible, make sure that you treat the other calmly and
that you try to build mutual respect. Do your best to be courteous
to one-another and remain constructive under pressure;
• Keep people and problems separate: Recognize that in
many cases the other person is not just "being difficult" – real and
valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating
the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without
damaging working relationships;
• Pay attention to the interests that are being presented:
By listening carefully you'll most-likely understand why the person
is adopting his or her position;
• Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively you
have to understand where the other person is coming from before
defending your own position;
• Set out the “Facts”: Agree and establish the objective,
observable elements that will have an impact on the decision; and

Using the Tool: A Conflict Resolution Process

Based on these approaches, a starting point for dealing with

conflict is to identify the overriding conflict style employed by yourself,
your team or your organization. Over time, people's conflict management

styles tend to mesh, and a “right” way to solve conflict emerges. It's good
to recognize when this style can be used effectively, however make sure
that people understand that different styles may suit different situations.

Look at the circumstances, and think about the style that may be
appropriate. Then use the process below to resolve conflict.


If appropriate to the situation, agree the rules of the IBR

Approach (or at least consider using the approach yourself.) Make sure
that people understand that the conflict may be a mutual problem, which
may be best resolved through discussion and negotiation rather than
through raw aggression.

If you are involved in the conflict, emphasize the fact that

you are presenting your perception of the problem. Use active listening
skills to ensure you hear and understand other’s positions and

• Restate
• Paraphrase
• Summarize

And make sure that when you talk, you're using an adult, assertive
approach rather than a submissive or aggressive style.


Here you are trying to get to the underlying interests, needs,

and concerns. Ask for the other person’s viewpoint and confirm that you

respect his or her opinion and need his or her cooperation to solve the
problem Try to understand his or her motivations and goals, and see how
your actions may be affecting these. Also, try to understand the conflict
in objective terms:

Is it affecting work performance? damaging the delivery to

the client? disrupting team work? hampering decision-making? or so on.
Be sure to focus on work issues and leave personalities out of the

• Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the other person’s
point of view
• Identify issues clearly and concisely
• Use “I” statements
• Remain flexible
• Clarify feelings


This sounds like an obvious step, but often different

underlying needs, interests and goals can cause people to perceive
problems very differently. You'll need to agree the problems that you are
trying to solve before you'll find a mutually acceptable solution.
Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems -
if you can't reach a common perception of the problem, then at the very
least, you need to understand what the other person sees as the problem.


If everyone is going to feel satisfied with the resolution, it
will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions.
Brainstorm possible solutions, and be open to all ideas, including ones
you never considered before.


By this stage, the conflict may be resolved: Both sides may

better understand the position of the other, and a mutually satisfactory
solution may be clear to all. However you may also have uncovered real
differences between your positions. This is where a technique like win-
win negotiation can be useful to find a solution that, at least to some
extent, satisfies everyone. There are three guiding principles here: Be
Calm, Be Patient, Have Respect…

Key Points

Conflict in the workplace can be incredibly destructive to

good teamwork. Managed in the wrong way, real and legitimate
differences between people can quickly spiral out of control, resulting in
situations where co-operation breaks down and the team's mission is
threatened. This is particularly the case where the wrong approaches to
conflict resolution are used.



“Avoidance is characterized by behaviour where one party
may recognise that a conflict exists but chooses to withdraw from it or to
suppress it. This style therefore involves ignoring conflicts in the hope
that they will go away; putting problems on hold, invoking slow
procedures to stifle contact, using secrecy to avoid confrontation and
appealing to bureaucratic rules to resolve conflict.
It is the desire to evade the overt demonstration of the
disagreement or indifference that can result in withdrawal. If withdrawal
is not possible or desirable, the individual may suppress it without airing
their differences. Avoidance can be considered as a powerful tool in
conflict resolution. At a superficial level it may appear that in seeking to
avoid contact with the perceived “opposition”/ situation pertaining to the
conflict, we are behaving in a non-assertive/ passive manner giving
control to the “opposition” and that we have “essentially given up
responsibility for ourselves and our actions.”
A more in-depth analysis reveals that some forms of
avoidance behaviour are distinctively active. Through avoidance one may
actively achieve one’s goals- although they may be distinct from the
goals of the organization/ individual one is opposing. RICHARDSON
has discussed a case to highlight that avoidance is an active mode of
conflict resolution. The case is follows:
The study was conducted in the Stapleton Educational
Institute (SEI), Singapore to understand avoidance as a mode of conflict
resolution and its effect on group dynamics.
The organization discussed here, offered degree courses on
management and economics to both full and part-time students. The
teacher-student ratio was unbalanced in the sense that the stag was less
compared to the large number of students. It resulted heavy work load for
lecturers and administrative staff. Since both, full and part-time courses

were offered (evenings and weekends), hours were long and the majority
of staffs worked six day a week.
To add to this, there were several intakes for courses, which
resulted in no clear terms or holiday periods- this was very different from
other educational institutions. The holiday issue was a source of much
contention between staff and management- the former having been
accustomed to the usual fixed holiday structure of academic employment.
Also, there was a cultural dimension to add to the existing difficulties.
The majority of the academic staff was expatriates recruited
on the ;principle that an expatriate lecturing team would be an excellent
marketing tool, which market research had proved correct. This, however,
brought with it specific difficulties, such as, cultural adaptation to
students and management strategy, higher salaries commanded by
expatriate staff. It led to heavy teaching loads/ limited vacation time.
Clearly there were a number of potential areas for conflict,
such as desire to earn more, heavy teaching loads and limited vacation
time. It was observed that lack of trust from management, administration/
faculty relations, general style of management were other issues leading
to a great deal of conflict within the organization.
The staff avoided overt demonstration of disagreement but
expressed in terms of appeals regarding time-off and lecturing hours were
done by making specific reference to bureaucratic rulers rather than by
open discussion.” Closed” discussions were held among staff about
management strategies and employee frustrations.
Secrecy was maintained where applications for posts
elsewhere were made and academic staff using the company’s facilities
provided extra tuition, but income was not declared. Informal staff
gatherings frequently resulted in airing grievances and complaints among

themselves rather than confronting management, which in some way
served as a release.
Senior academic staff adopted a different method of
avoidance for being apathetic and reluctant to be involved in new
projects. If required to do so as a result of contractual duties, they did so
with minimal interest. All staff demonstrated general characteristics of
avoidance as a means of resolving the conflict they experienced both as a
group and as individuals.
In this case, it was observed that the staffs were avoiding conflict
but their avoidance had positive outcomes for themselves as individuals
and for uniting them as a team. It gave them a common identity and sense
of unity. Collective avoidance, because of its positive outcomes, became
the impetus for increasing and maintaining group relations. But
avoidance as a method of conflict resolution is not recommended for the
development of a healthy organization.
In the case of SEI, staffs were avoiding and as a result,
cohesion and solidarity were increasing, but the avoidance and resultant
team building were detrimental to the well-being of the organization as a
whole. Ina positive sense, the group dynamic was becoming stronger- the
individual differences had been reconciled and replaced by a common
aim to help one another in terms of support for the present and future-but
the strengths and bonds created were then being used against the well-
being of the organization.


The classic view on conflict has always been that conflict in
any form is harmful and should be avoided at all cost. However, modern
scholars and the corporate world at large are fast realizing that conflict is
not as lethal as considered to be and if maintained within certain
parameters, it can actually boost a company’s growth.
This project tells exactly how and when a conflict can be
translated into a successful process and when it should be checked before
it spells trouble for the company. It covers cases from all the essential
areas of conflict and analytically discusses every aspect while striking a
clear balance between theory, concept and application.
This project is an attempt to expose varied perspectives, to
challenge their individual positions and ideologies, and to inspire, inform
and train them in the field.