Concept Of Conflict In Organisational Behaviour, Types And Sources Of Conflict


The topic of conflict in organizational behavior is very important for the management students as the adept handling of conflicts is very imperative for the sound functioning and growth of any organization. This article discusses the concept of conflict and throws light on various types of conflicts along with the sources or elements of conflicts.

The word conflict, in general, has got many meanings ranging from simple disagreement to argument and even quarrel. But, when we talk about conflict in the perspective of organizational behavior, its definition changes completely. It incorporates broader meaning.

Concept of conflict


According to Robbins, Conflict is a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affects, something that the 1st party cares about.

Similarly, Greenberg and Baron define conflict as a process in which one party perceives that another party has taken or will take actions that are incompatible with one's own interests.

Conflict is, in general, perceived as something negative and detrimental to any organization. This is true to a large extent but is not the absolute truth. To understand conflict in organizational behavior, first of all we need to understand various approaches or point of views towards conflict.

There are three different point of view, or we can say approaches, as far as conflict is concerned. They are as follows:-

1. The traditional view: It suggests that any type of conflict is bad and so must be avoided. This term had a negative connotation in the traditional view. It was largely seen as an outcome of lack of good communication and trust between people as well as inability of the managers to comprehend and respond to the need of the employees under them.

2. The human relations view: As per this approach, conflict is a natural inevitable phenomenon and, so can't be eliminated completely from any organization. Here, conflict was seen in a positive light as it was suggested that conflict may lead to an improvement in a group's performance.

3. Interactionist view: The most recent approach i.e. the interactionist view says that some level of conflict is very much necessary for a group to perform effectively. A harmonious and cooperative group can be rendered static, indifferent and nonresponsive to the needs for change and innovation. As per this view, conflicts can be divided into two categories:-

a) Functional form of conflict – This is also called constructive form of conflict as it supports the goals and objectives of the group.

b) Dysfunctional form of conflict – It is also called destructive form of conflict as this kind of conflict negatively affects a group's performance, which in turn impacts the organization in a direct or indirect way.

Functional form of conflict can be differentiated from dysfunctional form of conflict on the basis of following three:

1. Task conflict – It is related to the content and goals of the work.
2. Relationship conflict – It is related to interpersonal relations.
3. Process conflict – It is related to how the work gets done

The various studies have revealed that:
a) Low-to-moderate levels of task conflict are healthy for the group and organization as it stimulates discussion of ideas which leads to better participation and outcome.
b) Low level of process conflict is also beneficial in getting the things done effectively.
c) In general, relationship conflicts have been found to be destructive. The ego clashes and rivalries between employees often do a lot of harm to the group as well as organization.

Levels of conflict


The level of conflict in organizational behavior varies between micro and macro level. At the micro level lies the intraindividual conflict i.e. conflict occurring within an individual due to various reasons. This is the most basic kind of conflict where an individual confronts no one but himself/herself.

Intraindividual conflict can arise due to following factors –

a) Due to frustration – Any sort of physical or mental obstruction in the path of a person's goals leads to frustration inside him/her. That frustration, if arising out of the job, may lead to aggression and violence at the workplace. The reasons may vary from an abusive supervisor to dead-end job with no growth opportunities.

The frustration may lead to positive results as well sometimes as the person may put in more efforts to reach his goals or bring changes to his goals as per the situation. But in most of the cases, frustration is not good and so organization should try to eliminate it.

b) Goal conflict – It results due to two or motives of an individual blocking one another. It happens when a person has –

• A goal with both positive and negative aspects
• Two or more positive, but mutually exclusive goals
• Two or more negative, but mutually exclusive goals that one tends to avoid

As per psychology, the positive features of an organizational goal are more dominant than the negative ones in the very beginning. But as the goal comes nearer, negative aspects begin to become more prominent for the person. The point, where approach equal avoidance, is where stress, indecision, depression or unwillingness and other such mixed feelings develop in the person which is damaging for him/her as well as organization.

c) Role conflict and ambiguity – Role is defined as a position that has expectations evolving from established norms. Different roles have different expectations and demands associated with them which sometimes lead to role conflict. There are three types of role conflict –

• Between person and the role – It refers to the differences between a person's personality attributes and expectations attached with the role.

• Intrarole – Due to contradictory expectations about how a given role should be played, an ambiguous situation arises for the person.

• Interrole – Due to differing requirements of 2 or more roles that must be played at the same time, interrole conflicts arise. This mostly happens in the case of work and non work roles. For example, a working mother has to play two separate roles at home and office.

Interactive conflict (macro level) – It includes conflict between individuals as well as groups.

1. Interpersonal conflict – the most common form of conflict in any organization is the one between two persons. There are four major reasons of interpersonal conflict

a) The differences between persons arising out of different cultural and family background, education, and values.
b) The communication breakdown in the organization.
c) The incompatible roles of the managers, in contrast to their functions and task which are interdependent.
d) An environment marred by work stress, downsizing, market competition, uncertainties also leads to conflict.

2. Intergroup behavior and conflict – It refers to the conflict between members of one group with those of the other groups. The reasons leading to these can be :-
a) Competition for organization's scarce resources like funds, space, work force etc.
b) Difference in their objectives and priorities.
c) Ambiguity on the part of the responsibility and authority of a group.
d) Envy between groups or unfair treatment of one group in terms of rewards, job assignments, working conditions, privileges etc.


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