© Research Academy of Social Sciences – International Journal of Management Sciences

Conflict is a natural, everyday phenomenon in all private and working spheres. “Conflict” can be seen as a difference in wants, needs, or expectations. The workplace is always filled with people who have differences of want, needs, desires and expectations. So, definitely conflicts will occur. These conflicts can be an asset to the organization. They may be opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and improvement.

It is an unavoidable component of human activity (Brahnam et al., 2005, 204) that may be viewed as a situation in which the concerns of two or more individuals appear to be incompatible (Darling & Fogliasso, 1999, 394), and which tends to occur when individuals or groups perceive that others are preventing them from attaining their goals (Antonioni, 1998, 336). More broadly, conflict is an interactive process manifested in incompatibility, disagreement, or dissonance within or between social entities (i.e., individual, group, organization, etc.) (Rahim, 2002, 207). Conflict can be thought as a question or series of questions that need an answer or multiple answers. To solve a problem one needs to come up with an answer and to achieve this they must apply sound problem-solving skills. Interpersonal employee differences or organizational problems or a mix of both cause workplace conflicts. The supervisor or manager needs to discern what type of conflict he is dealing with before coming up with a resolution strategy.

Conflict can also be very costly to an organization. The trouble isn’t necessarily the fact that conflict exists. Its how we deal with those conflicts or what happens when they aren’t resolved. The impact of conflict in the workplace can be devastating – to the parties involved, to colleagues and teams, to clients, and to the business as a whole. Some of the results of unresolved conflict in the workplace include:

  • Employee turnover
  • Less productivity & creativity
  • Stress, frustration and anxiety
  • Strained relationships
  • Personal grudges towards others
  • Loss of sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Absenteeism
  • Sick leave
  • Sabotage
  • Disrespect for Boss and colleagues
  • Zero results

These symptoms of unresolved conflict are a significant cost factor in organizations. Few consequences of conflict at workplace are highlighted below:

“Employees in high pressure/low control situations or high effort/low reward situations have much greater risks to their physical and mental well being. (Tangri, Ravi, Stress Costs – Stress Cures: How to recover productivity lost to stress, 2003.). “Job stress is a key driver of health care costs. According to the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers reporting high levels of stress.”(Corbitt Clark, Mary, [online], The Cost of Job Stress, mediate.com)

A 2005 UK survey by Roffey Park found that “78% of managers are suffering from work-related stress, 52% have experienced harassment, 46% have seen an increase in conflict at work.” (Roffey Park [online], Failure to manage change heightens stress, harassment and conflict at work, survey reveals, Jan. 05). An estimated 16% of employees feel that poor interpersonal relations are a source of stress at work. (Warren Shepel (online), Health & Wellness Research Database, 2005).

Chronic unresolved conflict acts as a decisive factor in at least 50 % of departures. Conflict accounts for up to 90 % of involuntary departures, with the possible exception of staff reductions due to downsizing and restructuring.

A team – member’s commitment to the team and the team mission can decrease if intra- team conflict remains unresolved. If unhealthy conflict goes unresolved for too long, team members are likely to leave the company or use valuable time to search for alternatives. Tension and stress reduce motivation and disturb concentration. A loss of simple productivity of 25% (doing things other than work related activities, such as discussing the dispute, playing computer games, finding reasons to get out of the area) reduces an average work week to fewer than 20 hours.

“Conflict is a good example of how harm can be produced in the workplace and of how this harm “spills over” into families and communities.” Such harm includes both inner-directed harm (suicidal behavior, recklessness, agitated depression and abuse of alcohol, drugs) and outer-directed expressions (threatening behavior, emotional and/or verbal abuse, bullying, harassment, assault, domestic violence, road rage), Health Canada, Best Advice on Stress Risk Management in the Workplace, 2000, pp 15-16.).

Workplace conflict is an unavoidable consequence of professional life. Some people are magnets for conflict, while others manage to avoid at work tangles with co-workers for years. Eventually, everyone has run-ins with someone on the job. Conflict is anything but rare. Some sources indicate that human resource mangers spend 25 to 60 percent of their time working through employee conflicts and a University of North Carolina study showed that more than half of workers said anxiety about a past or present conflict with a co-worker cost them time while they were on the clock.

More than a quarter of workers expresses they are less productive because they spend time trying to avoid a confrontation with a co-worker. Below are some of the types of conflicts that may be seen at workplace.

  • Employee Conflict: When employees having problems relating and working together, the best course of action is to talk with each employee to find out the cause of the problems. While it takes two (or more) to create communication problems, it takes only one to stat it.
    A supervisor dealing with employee communication problems needs to find out what is (1) triggering the problems and (2) what is keeping them alive, so he can deal with each one accordingly.
  • Team Conflict: A team experiencing communication problems is no longer effective working towards a common goal. Misalignment, mistrust, argumentative behavior and defensiveness are symptoms that the team is no longer functional.
    Addressing communication problems in a team is a bit more complex that addressing problems between two employees. A team that is having communication problems may be the bellwether for the organization as a whole. Or it could be just a bad mix of personalities. The manager has first to determine why the team is having problems and then apply corrective measures as appropriate.
  • Organizational Conflict: Conflict in the workplace can expand beyond employees and teams to include the entire organization. While uncommon, it can happen if the cause that lead to communication problems are left unmanaged.
    Some people may start taking sides and an overall climate of distrust settles in. others will disengage or leave the organization altogether. Sometimes we fool ourselves thinking we have peace in the organization; when all we have done is avoid conflict, no resolve it. We do have peace, but it is fake and superficial. Below the surface, undercurrents of hostility run deep, but people treat each other nicely. This can be a recipe for organizational disaster. Failing to address interpersonal problems leads to loss of productivity and low morale, among other costs of conflict. Resentment builds and once it is in place, it is hard to get rid of it. Resentment can grow to a point of no return. At that point, the only solution is for the person causing the resentment to leave or “be punished”. As an example, when favoritism towards an employee takes place, others are likely to feel jealousy toward the favored employee. They may turn to spreading rumors or gossip about the employee, which in turn may lead to conflict in the workplace. According to Robin (2002), there are five conflict resolution styles namely confront compromise, collaborate, accommodate and avoid.
  • Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other professionals WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in.
    The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few 11/26/2013obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
  • Confront: This approach directly addresses the conflict. A confrontational style usually involves high emotional levels, clear clarity of goals, weak relationship, and low concern for formalities or fear of punishment, moderate concerns for traditions and a moderate self-concept.
  • Compromise: Compromise involves bargaining and mutually giving up something to reach a settlement. It can be used to get a quick resolution, with the prevention of further escalation (Robin, 2002). Compromise usually involves high to moderate emotional levels, high to low skill levels, moderate clarity of both goals, moderate status of the relationship, win-win attitude toward authority, moderate concern for traditions and moderate fear of punishment.
  • Collaborate: This involves working together to generate win-win alternatives for resolving issues. Collaborating involves high to moderate skill levels of parties, clear clarity of both goals, strong status of relationships, win-win attitude toward authority, low concerns for formalities and traditions and a high self-concept.
  • Accommodate: This involves listening and accepting without resistance. This style is characterized by suppressed emotional levels, a high to low skill level of parties, a moderate clarity of goals of both, a weak status of relationships, a lose-win attitude toward authority, high concerns for formalities, a moderate self-concept, and a high fear of punishment.
  • Avoid: – This involves not addressing the conflict. Avoidance is characterized by a controlled emotional level, a high to low skill levels of parties, a lose-win attitude toward authority, high concern for formalities and traditions, a low self concept, and a high fear of punishment. Mangers should always know that they should not avoid the conflict hoping it will go away, not meet separately with people in conflict as you risk polarizing their positions and do not believe, for even a moment that the only people who are affected by the conflict are the participants. Otherwise you need to approach it with an open mind to manage it.
  • View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity. Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like minds can’t even imagine. Smart leaders look for the upside in all differing opinions.

International Journal of Management Sciences
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