Organizations are made up of individuals with different beliefs, values and interests. The interactions among members of the organization often lead to disagreements on acceptable beliefs, norms, values or strategies. Thus, conflicts occur when individuals disagree on acceptable values, interests and beliefs (Gala and Garoupa, 2002, pp. 41-65).
Conflicts have both positive and negative influences on organizations. Hence, conflict management focuses on minimizing the negative effects of conflict and improving its positive effects. The sources of conflicts include cultural differences, organizational structure and the personality orientations of the employees. It is important to correctly identify the sources of conflicts within an organization in order to enhance conflict management.
Cultural conflicts can be reduced by promoting tolerance to cultural differences. Reviewing the organizational structure can help in identifying and resolving conflicts arising within the organization. Finally, counseling and enhancing job characteristics can help in minimizing personal conflicts.
Managing Conflict in People in Organizations
Organizational conflict is “a state of discord caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interest between people working together”. Conflict comprises different human affective states which include but not limited to anxiety, resistance, antagonistic interaction, as well as, hostility. Conflict develops in an environment where at least two individuals interact. Conflicts can be functional or dysfunctional.
Functional conflicts are normally beneficial to the organization. For instance, it can enable the organization to identify important problems that need urgent solutions. Additionally, functional conflicts provide information that facilitates consideration or reconsideration of decisions that affect various stakeholders in an organization. Dysfunctional conflicts, on the other hand, have negative effects to the organization.
In most cases, dysfunctional conflicts encourage hostilities, weaken group cohesion and divert energies. Conflict management focuses on reducing the negative effects of dysfunctional conflicts. It attempts to promote organizational learning, as well as, group outcomes such as employees’ performance. Conflicts emerge from different sources with an organization.
Thus, effective conflict management requires an “in-depth understanding of the nature and sources of conflicts within the organization”. This paper focuses on the sources of conflicts within organizations. The difficulties faced by managers in reducing conflicts will be highlighted. Additionally, recommendations for reducing conflict and its negative effects will be suggested.
Culture refers to “shared attributes, values, goals and practices that characterize an institution, organization or a group”. People tend to hold different values, beliefs and attitudes in different parts of the world.
Thus, culture varies from region to region. Cultural conflicts normally develop when members of a multicultural workforce can not tolerate each others culture. Intolerance to cultural differences can cause interpersonal and intergroup conflicts. It can also cause conflicts with groups in an organization. Cultural conflicts occur under the following circumstances.
First cultural conflicts can occur when members of the organization hold different values. People perceive the world according to their cultural orientations. Thus, the beliefs of a worker can conflict with those of her co-workers. Workers who can not accept opposing views will, thus, have trouble in working with colleagues.
For instance, workers and labor unions in America believe in negotiations as a way of solving organizational problems or conflicts. However, in Asia, most organizational problems are solved through a top-down decision making approach. Thus, conflict is likely to arise between American and Asian workers regarding the approach to solving an organizational problem.
Second, cultural conflicts can result from non-correspondence of behavior. The business culture in a given country determines the accepted level of employees’ effort, accountability, and leadership style. Thus, the behavior of employees will be based on their culture. For instance, leadership in Japan is associated with the male gender. Consequently, Japanese who can not tolerate cultural differences will find it difficult to obey a female leader.
Finally, cultural conflicts are caused by poor communication. People from different cultures normally speak different languages. Hence, conflicts arise if the language or communication channel used in the organization does not promote understanding among the employees.
Difficulties in Minimizing Cultural Conflicts
Lack of a clear understanding of cultural differences is the main challenge in minimizing cultural conflicts. A manager will not be able to identify and solve cultural conflicts if she does not understand the cultures of the employees. Learning the cultures of most employees is usually difficult since it involves a lot of time and commitment which most managers do not have.
Language barriers within the organization can prevent employees from channeling their grievances to the management. In some cases, language barriers limit the management’s ability to implement decisions that are meant to solve organizational conflicts. For example, a manager can decide to promote teamwork in order to enhance group cohesion. However, teamwork can be interpreted differently in different cultures, thereby limiting the chances of promoting team cohesion.
Incompatibility of staff expectations and the organization’s priorities is also an impediment in the process of cultural conflict resolution. In this context, the employees might not accept the approach used by the organization to manage cultural conflicts. In such circumstances, the conflict between the employees is likely to continue instead of reducing.
Finally, managers might not be aware of the best strategies to solve cultural conflicts. The use of an inappropriate approach to conflict resolution can create new conflicts or worsen the existing conflicts in an organization.
Addressing Cultural Conflicts
Cultural conflicts can be managed effectively through a multi-dimensional approach. First, the concerned manager should attempt to learn and understand the cultures of his employees or team members. This can be achieved through culture immersion, as well as, learning new languages.
Cross-cultural competency will enable the manager to understand the employees from their cultural perspectives. Hence, the manager will be able to develop organizational policies that take into account employees’ cultural make-up in order to avoid conflicts. Second, cultural conflicts can be reduced through staff training and development. In a multicultural workforce, the employees must be trained on the business cultures associated with the organization and its subsidiaries.
For example, cohesion in a multinational corporation with its headquarters in America and subsidiaries in India and China can benefit from cross-cultural training. In this case, the employees in America will be trained on the business culture in India and China. The employees from China and India, on the other hand, will be trained on the business culture in America. Additionally, the training should be backed up with mentorship programs that promote teamwork and tolerance to diversity.
Third, cultural conflicts can be managed by adopting a cross-cultural communication policy or strategy. The strategy should define the most suitable language and communication channels to convey important messages within the organization (Kornberger and Pitsis, 2011, pp. 306-319). Additionally, the objectives of the communication strategy should enhance cultural tolerance and teamwork among employees.
Finally, adopting appropriate human resource management policies can help in reducing cultural conflicts. Employee selection process should be based on a predetermined criterion that defines the desired personality attributes in the workforce (Bambacas and Patrickson, 2009, pp. 109-120).
This will help in selecting the right employees who can tolerate cultural differences. Performance appraisal and remuneration policies should take into account the cultural make-up of employees in order to promote acceptance. In conclusion, managing cultural conflicts should be a teamwork that involves managers, employees and outside experts. Teamwork will enable the organization to identify several solutions and select the best alternative to manage cultural conflicts.
Conflict can arise from the organizational structure of a firm. Organizational structure refers to the activities such as coordinating production, supervising employees and allocating tasks; which are meant to achieve the objectives of the firm. Organizational structure can lead to conflicts under the following circumstances.
First, conflicts can arise if there is ambiguity in the organizational structure. Ambiguity in the purpose, as well as, the objectives of the organization can lead to divergent views on the best strategy to be pursued.
When the objectives of the organization are not clearly defined, each manager might have a different opinion on the best strategy to be pursued. Thus, there will be conflict of opinion at the management level. In some cases, the members of the organization may have the same objective, but different views on the best approach to achieve the objectives.
Second, role conflicts can arise if decision rights, task allocation and reporting relationships are not clearly defined (Leluch, Banthan and Kasouf, 2011, pp. 1082-1088). Decision rights define the authorities entrusted with the task of making important decisions in the organization. Conflict over the legitimacy of decisions can arise if there is no consensus on the individuals allowed to make certain decisions.
Role conflict arises when the job descriptions do not clearly specify the tasks allocated to each employee. Thus, employees and their supervisors may disagree on what they are supposed to do or not do. Finally, conflict can arise due to scarcity of resources (Shanon and Gent, 2011, pp. 124-144). Some departments or groups in the organization are likely to receive more resources than others if the resource allocation policies do not promote equity.
Inequality in resource allocation normally results into competition among members of the organization. Competition for scare resources can degenerate into hostility and confrontations. Additionally, competition for supremacy can result into conflicts. For example, two employees competing for promotion can resort to unorthodox means such as blackmail in order to outshine each other (Shanon and Gent, 2011, pp. 124-144).
Difficulties in Minimizing Conflicts Caused by Organizational Structure
Reviewing the organizational structure of a firm in order to identify the sources of conflict is usually very difficult. For example, reviewing the structure of a multinational corporation will require a lot of time and financial resources. Financially distressed organizations might not have the resources to devote to reviewing their structures.
Thus, identifying sources of conflicts and appropriate solutions becomes difficult. In small firms, the organizational structure can be easily reviewed and the sources of conflicts identified. However, the managers may disagree on how to restructure the organization in order to reduce conflicts.
Besides, the managers may lack the competence or skills required to restructure the organization. Finally, restructuring an organization involves significant changes in the organization’s processes. Most employees tend to fear change, especially, if such changes are likely to affect their work or roles within the organization. Consequently, restructuring the firm in order to eliminate sources of conflicts can, possibly, meet resistance from employees.
Strategies for Minimizing Organizational Conflicts
A review of the organizational structure should be done in order to identify the sources of conflicts (Hoogervrost, Koopman and Flier, 2004, pp. 288-311). Surveys, interviews, as well as, focus group discussions can be used to identify the sources of conflicts with the firm’s structure.
Alternatively, best practice can be used to predict sources of conflicts with the organization. In this case, the management will use predetermined standards to assess the effectiveness of the organization’s structure.
The following recommendations can, thus, be used to reduce conflicts arising from the structure of the firm. Ambiguity in the organizational structure can be eliminated by demarcating departments according to their objectives. Mutual dependence among departments should be promoted through appropriate teamwork policies.
Role conflicts can be reduced by accurately delineating and allocating responsibilities according to employees’ capabilities and qualifications. The tasks assigned to the employees should match their skills and competencies (Clare and Danislovic, 2010, pp. 3-27). Additionally, the human resources policies should clearly define the reporting structure and decision rights in the organization. Conflicts over scare resources can be addressed by enhancing employees’ satisfaction.
The resource and power distribution policy should encourage equity and fairness. Employees should be rewarded according to their efforts and contribution towards achievement of the organization’s goals. Additionally, functional conflicts can be achieved by encouraging every employee to express his opinion concerning the effectiveness of the organizational structure.
Personal conflicts refer “to an individual’s inner workings and personality problems”. Since personal conflict occurs at the individual level, it can also be referred to as intrapersonal conflict. Personal conflict occur when a person experiences difficulties when making a decision due to uncertainty.
In this context, personal conflict can take three forms which include the following. First, a person can experience an approach-approach conflict. This occurs when an individual is expected to make a choice between two equally attractive options. For example, a manager can be in an approach-approach conflict if he has to select one of two equally profitable investments.
Second, a person can experience an approach-avoidance conflict. In this case, the individual has to make a decision concerning a situation with both positive and negative aspects (Gala and Garoupa, 2002, pp. 41-65).This means that the individual experiences the same degree of attraction, as well as, repulsion towards competing goals.
For example, a manager is in an approach-avoidance conflict if he has to dismiss a high performing but rude sales executive. In this case, dismissing the sales executive has both negative and positive effects to the organization. Finally, an employee can experience avoidance-avoidance conflict (Gala and Garoupa, 2002, pp. 41-65). In this case, the individual has to choose between competing alternatives. However, both alternatives have negative consequences.
For example, a manager can experience an avoidance-avoidance conflict if he has to choose between resigning and accepting a demotion. Personal conflicts can also occur when an employee decides to pursue interests (personal goals and objectives) that are incompatible with those of the organization. In conclusion, personal conflicts can be attributed to personality orientation, goal incongruence and the expected level of performance.
Difficulties in Minimizing Personal Conflicts
Detecting personal conflicts is challenging due to the difficulty associated with predicting or understanding the personality of an employee. In most cases, self-reports are used to collect information about employees’ personality orientations. However, the inaccuracy of self-reports limits the usefulness of the information collected using them. Assessing an employee’s capability during recruitment is usually very difficult due to the subjective nature of the process.
An employee can be assigned too high or too low targets if his or her capability is not correctly gauged. In such circumstances, the management will not be able to understand the source of conflict that is facing the employee. A person can also experience personal conflicts due to his or her personal problems.
However, personal problems can not be understood by the management if such problems are not shared. Additionally, some employees tend to shy off from sharing their problems for fear of being rejected by their colleagues. Thus, the management will not be in a position to minimize the personal conflicts facing the employee.
Strategies for Managing Personal Conflicts
Counseling can be used when personal conflicts lead to frustrations and inefficiencies among employees. Counseling is an important method of dealing with personal conflicts since it enables the counselor to understand the personality and personal problems of the employee. Managers can be trained to offer basic counseling services to their employees, thereby eliminating the need to hire a professional counselor.
Personal conflicts can also be minimized by enhancing the job characteristics. For instance, employees entrusted with the role of making decisions should be trained on a variety of skills that will enable them to make the right decisions or choices. Employees who can not work without supervision should not be entrusted with tasks or jobs that provide great autonomy.
This is because such employees may fail to make the right decisions or they may use the freedom provided by their jobs to fulfill their personal interests. Other job characteristics that should be enhanced include task identity, and task significance. Enhancing these characteristics will help in avoiding role conflicts and promote employee satisfaction.
Conflicts occur when there is perceived or actual incompatibility of values, needs and interests among members of an organization. Conflicts have both positive and negative effects in organizations. The negative effects of conflict include poor team cohesion, hostility among members of an organization and reduced productivity. Consequently, conflict management focuses on reducing the negative effects of conflicts (Gala and Garoupa, 2002, pp. 41-65).
Sources of conflicts include organizational structure, cultural differences and personality orientation of employees. Understanding the cultures of employees is the main difficulty experienced by managers in their attempt to reduce cultural conflicts. Difficulty in understanding the personality orientation of employees limits the chances of reducing personal conflicts. Conflict management begins with identification of the sources of conflict. Appropriate strategies are then formulated to minimize the conflicts as discussed above.
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