Essay on the Causes of Conflict in an Organization (1341)

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These categories deal with communicational, behavioural and structural aspects.

1. Communicational aspects of conflict:

Poor communication, though not reflecting substantive differences, can have a powerful effect in causing conflict. Misunderstood or partial information during the process of communication can make the difference between the success and the failure of a task and any such failure for which the responsibility becomes difficult to trace can cause conflict between the sender of the communication and the receiver of the communication.

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Thus the problems in the communication process, whether these problems relate to too much or too little communication, filtering of communication, semantic problems, noise and so on can act to retard collaboration and stimulate misunderstanding and conflict. The filtering process occurs when information is passed through many members of the group.

The amount of information is functional up to a point, beyond which it can become a source of conflict. Semantic difficulties arise due to differences in backgrounds, differences in training and experiences, selective perception and inadequate or incorrect information about others.

As an example, if a manager going on extended vacation fails to communicate properly with his subordinates as to who would be doing what; he will find these jobs only partially done with subordinates blaming each other for not completing the tasks as required. Accordingly, adequate, complete and correctly understood communication is very important in orderly completion of tasks thus reducing the chances of conflict.

2. Behavioural aspects of conflict:

These conflicts arise out of human thoughts and feelings, emotions and attitudes, values and perceptions and reflect some basic traits of a personality. Thus some people’s values and their perceptions of situations are likely to generate conflict with others who have different values and opposite perceptions of the same situations. For example, highly authoritarian and dogmatic persons are more prone to antagonize coworkers by highlighting minor differences that might exist. On the other hand, persons, with low self-esteem may feel threatened by others in simple matters and may over­react, thus causing a conflict.

Behavioural conflict may also be based on personal biases regarding such factors as religion, race, and sex and so on. Some men feel poorly about women workers. Religious conflicts have always been there throughout the recorded history of mankind.

Some families carry on enmity for generations. These conflicts are not about the correctness or incorrectness of issues, but about the emotions attached to such issues.

Behavioural conflict can also arise when beliefs and values held by a person are challenged. These values are often culturally based. For example, one manager may want to fire some workers to save costs while another manager may have human sensitivity and support other methods of cutting costs.

This can cause conflict between the two managers which is value based. As another example, a professor may value freedom of teaching methods so that a close supervision of his teaching technique is likely to induce a conflict.

Likert and Likert analyzed some general causes of conflict created by modern society which are behaviourally oriented. These include unrealized expectations and complexity of social and organizational systems.

The widening gap between “haves” and “have nots” causes considerable conflict between the two because the unprivileged believe that they are not given the same opportunities as the privileged. Thus the expectations of the unprivileged remain unrealized and this causes frustration and conflict.

Another cause of conflict is the discrepancy between the goals of the formal organization and the psychological growth of the individual. While the formal organization demands dependency, passivity and to some degree, obedience from its members, the psychologically mature individuals exhibit independence, creativity and desire to participate in decision making and decision implementing process. The needs of individuals and the formal organization being inconsistent with each other result in behavioural conflict.

3. Structural aspects of conflict:

These conflicts arise due to issues related to the structural design of the organization as a whole as well as the design of its sub-units. Some of the structurally related factors are:

i. Size of the organization:

The larger the size of the organization, the more basis for existence of conflict. Conflict is more likely because as the organization becomes larger, there is greater impersonal formality, less goal clarity, more supervisory levels and supervision and greater chance of information being diluted and distorted as it is passed along. All these factors are breeding grounds for conflict.

ii. Line-staff distinction:

One of the frequently mentioned and continuous sources of conflict is the distinction between the line and staff units within the organization. Line units are involved in operations that are directly related to the core activities of the organization.

For example, production department would be a line unit in a manufacturing organization and sales department would be considered a line unit in a customer oriented service organization. Staff units are generally in an advisory capacity and support the line function. Examples of staff departments are legal department, public relations, personnel and R&D.

The conflict between the two units arises because of different perceptions about their roles and responsibilities. Since staff generally advises and the line decides and acts, the staff often feels powerless and resents this lack of control. Similarly, line is resentful because of the status and prestige bestowed upon staff. These perceptions cause conflict between the two.

iii. Participation:

It is assumed that if the subordinates are not allowed to participate in the decision making process, then they will show resentment which will induce conflict. On the other hand, ironically, if subordinates are provided with greater participation opportunities, the levels of conflict also tend to be higher. This may be due to the fact that increased participation leads to greater awareness of individual differences. This conflict is further enhanced when individuals tend to enforce their points of view on others.

iv. Role ambiguity:

A role reflects a set of activities associated with a certain position in the organization. If these work activities are ill defined then the person who is carrying out these activities will not be able to perform as others expect him to, because his role is not clearly defined.

This will create conflict especially between this individual and those people who depend upon his activities. For example, a hospital or a medical clinic employing a number of physicians with overlapping specialties might cause conflict due to role ambiguity.

v. Design of work flow:

Poorly designed work flow structure and poorly planned coordination requirements lead to inter-group problems and conflicts, especially where tasks are interdependent. According to Sashkin and Morris, “organizations are made up of many different groups that must work together towards the accomplishment of common objectives.”

For example, in a hospital, the doctors and nurses must work together since their tasks are highly interdependent. If they do not coordinate their activities well, then there will be confusion and conflict. Similarly in a restaurant, the cook and the waiter depend upon each other for critical information and services. A poorly designed work flow and uncoordinated activities between the cook and the waiter would create problems and conflicts.

vi. Scarcity of resources:

When individuals and units must share such resources as capital, facilities, staff assistance and so on, and these resources are scarce and there is a severe competition to obtain these resources, then conflict can become quite intense.

This is especially true in declining organizations where resources become even more scarce due to cut back in personnel and services so that the concerned units become highly competitive for the shrinking pool of resources and this breeds conflict.

Furthermore, this scarcity may bring out some of the latent hostility among groups who may have put up a peaceful front at the time of abundance. For example, two research scientists who do not get along very well may not show their hostility until a reduction in laboratory space provokes each to protect his area.


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