Levels of conflict. Functional and dysfunctional conflict. Impact on organisations
Conflict is an inevitable part of the organisational lifecycle. Conflict can be defined as a deep disagreement as regards some interests, aims, opinion and actions. The conflict arises as a result of interdependent relationships that are quite common within organisations. Lewicki et al. (2010) identify such levels of conflict as intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup and intergroup. Intrapersonal conflicts appear within a person and involve the divergence of ideas, emotions, opinions, values and so on.
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Interpersonal conflicts occur between individuals. As regards organisations, they may appear between colleagues, the subordinate and supervisor and so on. Intragroup conflicts take place within a group. These involve conflicts between members of teams, employees working in the same department and so on. Intergroup conflicts occur between groups. For example, these can be conflicts between organisations, between the organisation and the authority, and even between nations.
The conflict may be manifested in different ways. Within the organisation, the conflict can be based on the diverging interests as regards the power, responsibilities, wage-effort agreement, peer pressure, culture and so on. When it comes to organisations, the first three types of conflict are common.
Ethical issues and the need to adhere to the ethical code of the company may lead to the intrapersonal conflict. Interpersonal conflicts often occur in companies as employees may have different interests with their supervisors or even colleagues. The lack of communication and description of responsibilities can lead to this type of conflicts. Intragroup conflicts often occur within departments or teams as the members of the group may have different views and interests.
The conflict can have dysfunctional and functional characteristics. The dysfunctional features include the impairment of communication as the conflict often leads to a decrease in trust and information sharing. The conflict may often result in win-lose situations, which means that one of the parties loses and develops quite a negative attitude towards the situation. Another dysfunctional characteristic is that the conflict may result in the so-called black and white thinking.
Finally, the conflict often escalates that leads to unresolved issues within the organisation. As for functional features, the primary benefit of conflict is its impact on the development as it often unveils the need for change. Conflicts also help employees to raise awareness of selves and their peers. Personal development is also positively affected. Finally, the conflict often positively affects the development of the relationships as employees work together to solve issues.
Unitarist and pluralist perspectives to organisational conflict
Unitarist and pluralist paradigms differently see the conflict and ways to resolve it. According to the unitarist perspective, the conflict is dysfunctional since it decreases loyalty and may pose threats to the relationships within the organisation. It is believed that the organisation is the system where employees form strong relationships and strive for reaching the organisational goals. The pluralist paradigm sees conflict as an inevitable part of the organisation’s life cycle.
It is believed that employees and different groups within the organisation have different (and often opposing) interests. In terms of the unitarist perspective, management plays a key role in the development of proper relationships within the organisation and the prevention of conflicts. It is believed that proper communication and effective management (including efficient leadership) can prevent conflicts. According to the pluralist paradigm, the role of management can be that of the mediator. Importantly, the unitarist approach sees unions as non-legitimate bodies that should not interfere as the organisation can resolve its conflicts without any interference. On the contrary, the pluralist perspective sees unions as important advocates and mediators that protect employees’ rights and ensures that public interests are met.
The two approaches are associated with different conflict resolution methods. The unitarist approach implies the use of negotiation and mediation. Negotiation is the process that involves the discussion of the existing issues between the conflicting parties as well as the discussion of possible compromises. It is believed that employees will find the necessary compromises as they focus on the development of the organisation rather than particular interests.
Mediation is the negotiation that is guided and facilitated by the impartial third party. The supervisor can be the mediator who guides and improves the communication that (as believed) leads to the resolution of the conflict. At that, job redesign, motivation and training are seen as potent tools to resolve existing conflicts. The pluralist paradigm is associated with the use of the third party. Such strategies as advocacy or arbitration are utilised. Advocacy implies the presence of a third party. However, this is not an impartial third party but a promoter of the interests of one of the parties. When unions are addressed, these entities become advocates of employees whose rights may have been violated. Arbitration implies the resolution of the conflict by a third party that makes the decision based on the materials provided by the parties.
Advantages and disadvantages of on-line mediation in resolving the conflict between staff in the workplace
E-mediation can be an effective tool, especially when it comes to conflicts involving parties situated in different geographic locations. This option can facilitate the discussion and save time as well as funds since parties will not have to travel to a particular place.
More so, e-mediation implies different types and levels of communication. It can involve sharing documents and memos especially during the initial stage of the process when the materials concerning the case are being collected. Another advantage of this is that all the documents are stored and can be viewed at any time by any participant of the discussion. Instant messaging can also be a part of the process. The advantage of this tool is that each participant can consult various sources (online materials, colleagues and supervisors and so on) to support his/her claim. Furthermore, the parties can focus on long-term benefits instead of focusing on some interests or positions. Admittedly, face-to-face discussions often end up in arguments.
One of the limitations of this method is the lack of face-to-face communication as the rapport can be hardly created. More so, written communication can be distorted, and some points can be misinterpreted. Non-verbal communication cannot be used, which can be a significant disadvantage. In some cases, mistrust can appear as sometimes it can be unclear who exactly is communicating. Another limitation of e-mediation is that all the documents, materials and even notes can be saved and used later. Each word should be weighed properly before sending as some conflicts can be aggravated in the process.
Therefore, it is always necessary to take into account the benefits and disadvantages of this method. It can be effective to combine online mediation with face-to-face discussions. For serious conflicts, it can be beneficial to use conventional mediation and resort to e-mediation on the initial stage of the process (collecting and sharing data).
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Lewicki, R., Barry, B., & Saunders, D. (2010). Essentials of negotiation. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill-Irwin. Web.