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Session 5. Conflict management

Session guide: Conflict management
Reading note: Conflict management



FORMAT Plenary participatory lecture



At the end of this session, participants should be able to understand and appreciate:
1. Why conflicts arise in organizations.
2. Conditions leading to conflict.
3. Effects of conflicts.
4. Elements and stages in the conflict process.
5. Ways to deal with conflict situations: response styles and conflict resolution behaviour.
6. Strategies for managing conflicts.


Exhibit 1

Why conflicts arise

Exhibit 2

Conditions leading to conflict situations in organizations

Exhibit 3

Effects of conflict

Exhibit 4

Stages in the conflict process

Exhibit 5

Elements of a conflict

Exhibit 6

Theories of conflict management

Exhibit 7

Ways to deal with conflict situations

Exhibit 8

Response styles to conflict situations

Exhibit 9

Conflict-resolution behaviour

Exhibit 10

Strategies for managing a conflict

Exhibit 11

Common types of conflict in research organizations

Exhibit 12

Sources of conflict in a research organization


Reading note: Conflict management




Overhead projector and chalkboard

Session guide: Conflict management

Ask participants: "What is a conflict?" "Why does it arise?" "How is it resolved?"

Encourage participants to share their experiences of different types of conflict in their organizations. Some of these may have been resolved, while others would have remained unresolved. What effects had these conflicts on the working of the organization? After a brief discussion on these issues, observe that, as interdependence increases, conflicts are bound to increase. There are several reasons for conflicts to arise. Some of these may be difficult to identify.

Conflict is a 'clash of interests, values, actions, views or directions.' Show EXHIBIT 1 and point out that disagreement among people is the underlying basis of conflict. People disagree because they see things differently, want different things, have thinking styles which encourage them to disagree, or are predisposed to disagree.

Conflict situations arise because of fear, force, fair or funds. Fear is an imaginary concern for future. Force of any kind initiates and concludes conflicts. Fair is the sense of fairness, which determines the moral values of an individual. Tangible as well as intangible costs may provoke conflict, and also help towards its resolution. Interpersonal conflicts arise because of differences in personality, perceptions, status and ideological and philosophical outlooks. Other causes of conflict can be communication gaps; personality differences; substandard performance; disputes over approaches, responsibility and authority; lack of cooperation; or competition for limited resources.

Show EXHIBIT 2 and discuss the main conditions which influence an organization towards conflict situations. Observe that very often these situations cannot be easily changed.

Show EXHIBIT 3 and discuss the effects of conflicts on an organization. Conflict situations result in negative and positive effects. They may help diffuse more serious conflicts, stimulate a search for new facts or resolution, increase group cohesion and performance, and demonstrate the power or ability of the conflicting parties. Conflicts could hinder smooth working or the decision making process, or create competing coalitions or reduce productivity.

Show EXHIBIT 4 and discuss the various stages - from inception to end - through which a conflict evolves.

Show EXHIBIT 5 and discuss elements of a conflict. Power, organizational demands and worth are three important elements of conflict. Power is the capacity and means to make people work. Organizational demands relate to job performance expectations. Worth is the self-esteem of an individual.

Show EXHIBIT 6. There are two theories of conflict management. Traditional theory considers people involved in conflict situations as trouble makers. Modern theory considers conflict as a natural and inevitable outcome of human interaction. Conflict situations often lead to the generation of new ideas and change.

From here on, the discussion should focus on conflict resolution. Show EXHIBIT 7. Fight, negotiation, problem solving and design are four ways of dealing with a conflict situation. Fight is not a healthy and positive approach. Negotiation is compromise, with a third party playing an important role. Problem solving entails identifying causes of conflict and removing them. The design approach uses conflict as a situation and attempts to resolve it through creativity.

Responses to conflict situations vary. Show EXHIBIT 8 and discuss the three main categories of response style. These are addressers, concealers or attackers. Addressers take risks and try to resolve conflicts. Addressers may be 'first steppers' or 'confronters,' depending upon the desire to resolve the conflict. Concealers conceal their feelings and do not work towards resolution of conflicts. They may be 'feeling swallowers,' 'subject changers' or 'avoiders.' Attackers attack either up-front or behind-the-back.

EXHIBIT 9 shows five different types of conflict handling behaviour: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. Competing has high concern for personal goals and low concern for relationships. Collaborating is the search for a mutually satisfactory solution. It involves high cooperation and low confrontation. Compromising is a mid-way solution, best suited to situations where the conflicting parties are relatively equal in power and have mutually independent goals. Avoiding is delaying or ignoring the conflict in the hope that over time the conflict situation will resolve itself. Accommodating is a search for common ground. It involves high cooperation and low confrontation.

Strategies for managing conflict include styles, improving organizational practices, special roles and structure, and confrontation techniques. Show EXHIBIT 10 and discuss each of these strategies. Show EXHIBIT 11 and discuss different types of conflicts in a research organization. Conflicts may arise because of goal incompatibility, barriers to goal achievement, competition for use of limited resources, inter-personal differences, project priorities, or other causes related to research activities (EXHIBIT 12). The underlying cause of most conflicts is lack of communication.

Before concluding the session, once again discuss conflicts in research organizations. Observe that when scientists face conflict situations, they tend to assert themselves through collaboration or competition. If assertion fails, they may attempt to compromise. If that too fails, they may either accommodate or avoid.

In order to prevent undesirable group behaviour, the research manager needs to promote organizational strategies such as establishing a committee of scientists that encourages cooperation.

Managing conflict is a major responsibility of managers. To create a dynamic and healthy environment in the organization, conducive to effective working, the research manager should deal skilfully with conflict situations. This can only be done if she or he understands the scientists fully, i.e., their problems, interests, limitations and the factors motivating them.


People differ, so they:

· see things differently
· want different things
· have different thinking styles, which prompts them to disagree
· are predisposed to disagree
· have different personalities
· have different status
· have ideological and philosophical differences
· have different goals
· have different approaches
· are influenced by fear, force, fairness or funds


Ambiguous jurisdictions

Conflict of interest

Communication barriers

Dependence on one party

Differentiation in organization

Association of the parties

Behaviour regulation

Performance expectations

Competition for limited resources

Lack of cooperation

Unresolved prior conflicts


Positive effects:

· Diffuses more serious conflicts
· Stimulates a search for new facts or resolutions
· Increases group cohesion and performance
· Demonstrates measure of power or ability

Negative effects:

· Hinders smooth working
· Hampers the decision making process
· Causes the formation of competing coalitions
· Reduces productivity

Source: Filley, 1975.


Conflict situation

Awareness of the situation

Realization Manifestation of conflict

Resolution or suppression of conflict

After-effects of the conflict situation






Traditional theory

· conflicts are caused by trouble-makers
· conflicts are bad
· conflicts should be avoided or suppressed

Contemporary theory

· conflicts are inevitable between human beings
· conflicts are often beneficial
· conflicts are the natural result of change
· conflicts can and should be managed

Source: Kirchoff and Adams, 1982.






Source: De Bono, 1985.



· First steppers
· Confronters


· Feeling swallowers
· Subject changers
· Avoiders


· Up-front
· Behind-the-back

Source: Turner and Weed, 1983.







Source: Thomas and Kilman, 1974.


· Styles
· Improving organizational practices
· Special roles and structure
· Confrontation techniques

Source: Tosi, Rizzo and Carroll, 1986.


Conflicts arise between:

· research and organizational goals
· research and administrative personnel
· scientists and management
· researchers and outside groups
· scientists (inter-personal)


Conflicts arise over:

· Goals
· Project priorities
· Interdependence in work
· Administrative procedures
· Technical opinions
· Performance trade-offs
· Use of limited resources, including human resources
· Costs
· Schedules
· Personalities
· Goal incompatibility and barriers to goal accomplishment
· Strong barriers to communication
· Past history

Source: Ivancevich, Szilagyi and Wallace, 1977.

Reading note: Conflict management

Why conflicts arise
Conditions creating conflict situations
Conflict as a process
Effects of conflicts
Elements of a conflict
Theory of conflict management
Response styles
Dealing with conflict
Ways to resolve conflict
Conflict-resolution behaviour
Strategies for managing conflicts
Conflicts in research organizations
Summing up

Conflict is a clash of interests, values, actions, views or directions (De Bono, 1985). Conflict refers to the existence of that clash. Conflict is initiated the instant clash occurs. Generally, there are diverse interests and contrary views behind a conflict, which are revealed when people look at a problem from their viewpoint alone. Conflict is an outcome of organizational intricacies, interactions and disagreements. It can be settled by identifying and neutralizing the etiological factors. Once conflict is concluded it can provoke a positive change in the organization.

When we recognize the potential for conflict, we implicitly indicate that there is already a conflict of direction, even though it may not have yet manifested itself as a clash. Confliction is the process of setting up, promoting, encouraging or designing conflict. It is a wilful process and refers to the real effort put into generating and instituting conflict. Deconfliction is the annihilation of conflict. It does not refer to negotiation or bargaining, or even to resolution of conflict: it is the effort required to eliminate the conflict.

Why conflicts arise

In most organizations, conflicts increase as employees assert their demands for an increased share in organizational rewards, such as position, acknowledgment, appreciation, monetary benefits and independence. Even management faces conflicts with many forces from outside the organization, such as government, unions and other coercive groups which may impose restrictions on managerial activities.

Conflicts emanate from more than one source, and so their true origin may be hard to identify. Important initiators of conflict situations include:

(i) People disagree. People disagree for a number of reasons (De Bono, 1985).

(a) They see things differently because of differences in understanding and viewpoint. Most of these differences are usually not important. Personality differences or clashes in emotional needs may cause conflicts. Conflicts arise when two groups or individuals interacting in the same situation see the situation differently because of different sets of settings, information pertaining to the universe, awareness, background, disposition, reason or outlook. In a particular mood, individuals think and perceive in a certain manner. For example, the half-full glass of one individual can be half-empty to another. Obviously both individuals convey the same thing, but they do so differently owing to contrasting perceptions and dispositions.

(b) People have different styles, principles, values, beliefs and slogans which determine their choices and objectives. When choices contradict, people want different things and that can create conflict situations. For example, a risk-taking manager would be in conflict with a risk-minimizing supervisor who believes in firm control and a well-kept routine.

(c) People have different ideological and philosophical outlooks, as in the case of different political parties. Their concepts, objectives and ways of reacting to various situations are different. This often creates conflicts among them.

(d) Conflict situations can arise because people have different status. When people at higher levels in the organization feel indignant about suggestions for change put forward from their subordinates or associates, it provokes conflict. By tolerating and allowing such suggestions, potential conflict can be prevented.

(e) People have different thinking styles, which encourages them to disagree, leading to conflict situations. Certain thinking styles may be useful for certain purposes, but ineffectual or even perilous in other situations (De Bono, 1985).

(f) People are supposed to disagree under particular circumstances, such as in sports. Here conflict is necessary, and even pleasurable.

(ii) People are concerned with fear, force, fairness or funds (De Bono, 1985).

(a) Fear relates to imaginary concern about something which might happen in the future. One may fear setbacks, disgrace, reprisal or hindrances, which can lead to conflict situations.

(b) Force is a necessary ingredient of any conflict situation. Force may be ethical or emotional. It could be withdrawal of cooperation or approval. These forces are instrumental in generating, strengthening and terminating conflicts.

(c) Fairness refers to an individual's sense of what is right and what is not right, a fundamental factor learnt in early childhood. This sense of fairness determines the moral values of an individual. People have different moral values and accordingly appreciate a situation in different ways, creating conflict situations.

(d) Funds or costs can cause conflict, but can also force a conclusion through acceptable to the conflicting parties. The cost of being in conflict may be measurable (in money terms) or immeasurable, being expressed in terms of human lives, suffering, diversion of skilled labour, neglect or loss of morale and self esteem. (De Bono, 1985).

Conditions creating conflict situations

According to Kirchoff and Adams (1982), there are four distinct conflict conditions, i.e., high stress environments, ambiguous roles and responsibilities, multiple boss situations, and prevalence of advanced technology.

Filley (1975) identified nine main conditions which could initiate conflict situations in an organization. These are:

(i) Ambiguous jurisdiction, which occurs when two individuals have responsibilities which are interdependent but whose work boundaries and role definitions are not clearly specified.

(ii) Goal incompatibility and conflict of interest refer to accomplishment of different but mutually conflicting goals by two individuals working together in an organization. Obstructions in accomplishing goals and lack of clarity on how to do a job may initiate conflicts. Barriers to goal accomplishment arise when goal attainment by an individual or group is seen as preventing another party achieving their goal.

(iii). Communication barriers, as difficulties in communicating can cause misunderstanding, which can then create conflict situations.

(iv) Dependence on one party by another group or individual.

(v) Differentiation in organization, where, within an organization, sub-units are made responsible for different, specialized tasks. This creates separation and introduces differentiation. Conflict situations could arise when actions of sub-units are not properly coordinated and integrated.

(vi) Association of the parties and specialization. When individuals specialized in different areas work in a group, they may disagree amongst themselves because they have different goals, views and methodologies owing to their various backgrounds, training and experiences.

(vii) Behaviour regulation. Organizations have to have firm regulations for individual behaviour to ensure protection and safety. Individuals may perceive these regulations differently, which can cause conflict and negatively affect output.

(viii) Unresolved prior conflicts which remain unsettled over time create anxiety and stress, which can further intensify existing conflicts. A manager's most important function is to avoid potential harmful results of conflict by regulating and directing it into areas beneficial for the organization.

Conflict as a process

Conflict is a dynamic process. In any organization a modest amount of conflict can be useful in increasing organizational effectiveness. Tosi, Rizzo and Carroll (1986) consider the stages involved in the conflict process, from inception to end, as sequential in nature, namely:

(i) the conflict situation,
(ii) awareness of the situation,
(iii) realization,
(iv) manifestation of conflict,
(v) resolution or suppression of conflict, and
(vi) after-effects of a conflict situation.

Effects of conflicts

Conflict situations should be either resolved or used beneficially. Conflicts can have positive or negative effects for the organization, depending upon the environment created by the manager as she or he manages and regulates the conflict situation.

Positive effects of conflicts

Some of the positive effects of conflict situations are (Filley, 1975):

· Diffusion of more serious conflicts. Games can be used to moderate the attitudes of people by providing a competitive situation which can liberate tension in the conflicting parties, as well as having some entertainment value. In organizations where members participate in decision making, disputes are usually minor and not acute as the closeness of members moderates belligerent and assertive behaviour into minor disagreements, which minimizes the likelihood of major fights.

· Stimulation of a search for new facts or resolutions. When two parties who respect each other face a conflict situation, the conflict resolution process may help in clarifying the facts and stimulating a search for mutually acceptable solutions.

· Increase in group cohesion and performance. When two or more parties are in conflict, the performance and cohesion of each party is likely to improve. In a conflict situation, an opponent's position is evaluated negatively, and group allegiance is strongly reinforced, leading to increased group effort and cohesion.

· Assessment of power or ability. In a conflict situation, the relative ability or power of the parties involved can be identified and measured.

Negative effects of conflicts

Destructive effects of conflicts include:

· impediments to smooth working,
· diminishing output,
· obstructions in the decision making process, and
· formation of competing affiliations within the organization.

The overall result of such negative effects is to reduce employees' commitment to organizational goals and organizational efficiency (Kirchoff and Adams, 1982).

Elements of a conflict

Organizational conflicts usually involve three elements, which have to be appropriately matched through necessary organizational arrangements in order to resolve the conflict (Turner and Weed, 1983).

· Power is the capacities and means that people have at their disposal to get work done. Power includes budgetary discretion, personal influence, information, time, space, staff size and dependence on others. If used efficiently, power creates an atmosphere of cooperation, but can generate conflicts when misused, withheld or amassed.

· Organizational demands are the people's expectations regarding a person's job performance. Usually such expectations are high, and making them rather unrealistic.

When these expectations are not fulfilled, people feel disheartened, angry, let down or cheated. Consequently, conflict situations can arise.

· Worth refers to a person's self-esteem. People want to prove their worth in the organization. Superiors control employees' pay, performance rating, performance and appraisal, etc. How much of these are received by a person reflects their worth. An individual may also feel loss of worth if some basic needs are not fulfilled. Generally, conflicts arise from mismatches between power, organizational demands and feelings of personal worth.

Theory of conflict management

Conflict is defined as disagreement between individuals. It can vary from a mild disagreement to a win-or-lose, emotion-packed, confrontation (Kirchoff and Adams, 1982). There are two theories of conflict management.

· The traditional theory is based on the assumption that conflicts are bad, are caused by trouble makers, and should be subdued.

· Contemporary theory recognizes that conflicts between human beings are unavoidable. They emerge as a natural result of change and can be beneficial to the organization, if managed efficiently. Current theory (Kirchoff and Adams, 1982) considers innovation as a mechanism for bringing together various ideas and viewpoints into a new and different fusion. An atmosphere of tension, and hence conflict, is thus essential in any organization committed to developing or working with new ideas.

Response styles

People may appreciate the same situation in different ways, and so respond differently. It is therefore necessary to understand the response styles of the people involved so as to manage conflicts properly. According to Turner and Weed (1983), responses can be classified as follows:

· Addressers are the people who are willing to take initiatives and risk to resolve conflicts by getting their opponents to agree with them on some issues. Addressers can either be first-steppers or confronters:

- First-steppers are those who believe that some trust has to be established to settle conflicts. They offer to make a gesture of affability, agreeableness or sympathy with the other person's views in exchange for a similar response.

- Confronters think that things are so bad that they have nothing to lose by a confrontation. They might be confronting because they have authority and a safe position, which reduces their vulnerability to any loss.

· Concealers take no risk and so say nothing. They conceal their views and feelings. Concealers can be of three kinds:

- Feeling-swallowers swallow their feelings. They smile even if the situation is causing them pain and distress. They behave thus because they consider the approval of other people important and feel that it would be dangerous to affront them by revealing their true feelings.

- Subject-changers find the real issue too difficult to handle. They change the topic by finding something on which there can be some agreement with the conflicting party. This response style usually does not solve the problem. Instead, it can create problems for the people who use this and for the organization in which such people are working.

- Avoiders often go out of their way to avoid conflicts.

· Attackers cannot keep their feelings to themselves. They are angry for one or another reason, even though it may not be anyone's fault. They express their feelings by attacking whatever they can even, though that may not be the cause of their distress. Attackers may be up-front or behind-the-back:

- Up-front attackers are the angry people who attack openly, they make work more pleasant for the person who is the target, since their attack usually generates sympathy, support and agreement for the target.

- Behind-the-back attackers are difficult to handle because the target person is not sure of the source of any criticism, nor even always sure that there is criticism.

Dealing with conflict

Conflicts are inescapable in an organization. However, conflicts can be used as motivators for healthy change. In today's environment, several factors create competition; they may be differing departmental objectives, individual objectives, competition for use of resources or differing viewpoints. These have to be integrated and exploited efficiently to achieve organizational objectives.

A manager should be able to see emerging conflicts and take appropriate pre-emptive action. The manager should understand the causes creating conflict, the outcome of conflict, and various methods by which conflict can be managed in the organization. With this understanding, the manager should evolve an approach for resolving conflicts before their disruptive repercussions have an impact on productivity and creativity. Therefore, a manager should possess special skills to react to conflict situations, and should create an open climate for communication between conflicting parties.

Ways to resolve conflict

When two groups or individuals face a conflict situation, they can react in four ways (De Bono, 1985). They can:

· Fight, which is not a beneficial, sound or gratifying approach to dealing with a conflict situation, as it involves 'tactics, strategies, offensive and defensive positions, losing and winning grounds, and exposure of weak points.' Fighting as a way of resolving a conflict can only be useful in courtroom situations, where winning and losing becomes a by-product of the judicial process.

· Negotiate, towards a settlement with the other party. Negotiations take place within the prevailing situation and do not involve problem solving or designing. Third-party roles are very important in bringing the conflicting parties together on some common ground for negotiations.

· Problem solve, which involves identifying and removing the cause of the conflict so as to make the situation normal again. However, this may not be easy. It is also possible that the situation may not become normal even after removing the identified cause, because of its influence on the situation.

· Design, which is an attempt towards creativity in making the conflict situation normal. It considers conflicts as situations rather than problems. Designing is not confined to what is already there, but attempts to reach what might be created given a proper understanding of the views and situations of the conflicting parties. The proposed idea should be appropriate and acceptable to the parties in conflict. A third party participates actively in the design process rather than being just a an umpire.

Conflict-resolution behaviour

Depending on their intentions in a given situation, the behaviour of conflicting parties can range from full cooperation to complete confrontation. Two intentions determining the type of conflict-handling behaviour are assertion and cooperation: assertion refers to an attempt to confront the other party; and cooperation refers to an attempt to find an agreeable solution.

Depending upon the degree of each intention involved, there can be five types of conflict handling behaviour (Thomas and Kilman, 1976). They are:

· Competition is a win-or-lose style of handling conflicts. It is asserting one's one viewpoint at the potential expense of another. Competing or forcing has high concern for personal goals and low concern for relationships. It is appropriate in dealing with conflicts which have no disagreements. It is also useful when unpopular but necessary decisions are to be made.

· Collaboration aims at finding some solution that can satisfy the conflicting parties. It is based on a willingness to accept as valid the interests of the other party whilst protecting one's own interests. Disagreement is addressed openly and alternatives are discussed to arrive at the best solution. This method therefore involves high cooperation and low confrontation. Collaboration is applicable when both parties desire to solve the problem and are willing to work together toward a mutually acceptable solution. Collaboration is the best method of handling conflicts, as it strives to satisfy the needs of both parties. It is integrative and has high concern for personal goals as well as relationship.

· Compromise is a common way of dealing with conflicts, particularly when the conflicting parties have relatively equal power and mutually independent goals. It is based on the belief that a middle route should be found to resolve the conflict situation, with concern for personal goals as well as relationships. In the process of compromise, there are gains and losses for each conflicting party.

· Avoidance is based on the belief that conflict is evil, unwanted or boorish. It should be delayed or ignored. Avoidance strategy has low cooperation and low confrontation. It is useful either when conflicts are insignificant or when the other party is unyielding because of rigid attitudes. By avoiding direct confrontation, parties in conflict get time to cool down.

· Accommodation involves high cooperation and low confrontation. It plays down differences and stresses commonalities. Accommodating can be a good strategy when one party accepts that it is wrong and has a lot to lose and little to gain. Consequently, they are willing to accommodate the wishes of the other party.

Strategies for managing conflicts

Tosi, Rizzo, and Carroll (1986) suggested four ways of managing conflicts, namely through:

· Styles. Conflict handling behaviour styles (such as competition, collaboration, compromise, avoidance or accommodation) may be suitably encouraged, depending upon the situation.

· Improving organizational practices. After identifying the reason for the conflict situation, suitable organizational practices can be used to resolve conflicts, including:

- establishing superordinate goals,
- reducing vagueness,
- minimizing authority- and domain-related disputes,
- improving policies, procedures and rules,
- re-apportioning existing resources or adding new,
- altering communications,
- movement of personnel, and
- changing reward systems.

· Special roles and structure. A manager has to

- initiate structural changes needed, including re-location or merging of specialized units,
- shoulder liaison functions, and
- act as an integrator to resolve conflicts.

A person with problem-solving skills and respected by the conflicting parties can be designated to de-fuse conflicts.

· Confrontation techniques. Confrontation techniques aim at finding a mutually acceptable and enduring solution through collaboration and compromise. It is done in the hope that conflicting parties are ready to face each other amicably, and entails intercession, bargaining, negotiation, mediation, attribution and application of the integrative decision method, which is a collaborative style based on the premise that there is a solution which can be accepted by both parties. It involves a process of defining the problem, searching for alternatives and their evaluation, and deciding by consensus.

Conflicts in research organizations

Conflict in a research organization, and for that matter in any other organization, may be between individuals, intra-group or inter-group, with conflict due to:

· research and organizational goals,
· research and administrative personnel,
· individual researchers,
· scientists and management, and
· researchers and client groups.

Such conflicts may arise for many reasons (Ivancevich, Szilagyi and Wallace, 1977):

· Within a research group, differences arise over project priorities, the sequence of activities and tasks.

· Administrative procedures and practices, which delay procurement of the necessary inputs and supplies required for research activities. Such conflicts get intensified because of the contradictory nature of personnel, dispersion of authority, deficient communication, and varying perceptions.

· Technical opinions, performance norms and related issues lead to disagreements. The more the uncertainty in any task, the greater is the need for further information. If information is withheld or controlled by one of the parties in an interacting group, suspicion is created and conflict generated.

· A very common cause of conflict in research organizations is competition between interacting groups over use of limited resources available for scientific work. Allocation of limited resources often generates conflict since one group is likely to feel that it is not receiving a fair share of organizational resources in comparison with other groups. Conflicts also arise over composition and staffing of research teams, particularly when personnel from other areas are to be included. Sometimes conflicts can arise over competing claims for use of land for experiments.

· Cost estimates from support areas regarding work, breakdown, use of structures, etc., can create conflict situations.

· A lengthy research process, where intermediate outputs of research are difficult to measure, conflicts over anticipations regarding performance are not uncommon. Disagreements over the timing, sequence and scheduling of project-related tasks and overall management of research are usual in research organizations.

· Disagreements over inter-personal issues caused by personality differences, particularly when interacting groups are highly inter-dependent, can lead to conflict situations. When one group fails to fulfil the expectations of the other group, or acts improperly, a conflict situation may arise.

· Past record of conflicts between the interacting groups, such as departmental rivalries.

Summing up

Conflicts are inevitable in any organization. A modest level of conflict can be useful in generating better ideas and methods, inspiring concern and ingenuity, and stimulating the emergence of long-suppressed problems.

Conflict management strategies should aim at keeping conflict at a level at which different ideas and viewpoints are fully voiced but unproductive conflicts are deterred. Stimulation of conflict situations is appropriate if the research manager identifies conditions of 'group-think.' Group-think is a situation where conflict rarely occurs because of high group cohesion, which results in poor decision and inadequate performance. Group-think prevails when there are lot of 'yes men' in a group, with the result that there is no serious appraisal of the situation and new ideas are not suggested. Group members attach greater importance to popularity, tranquillity and peace in the group rather than to technical ability and proficiency. Members are disinclined to verbalize their unbiased views in order to avoid hurting the feelings of other members of the group. Decisions are accepted as they are, adversely affecting organizational productivity. A manager can choose several remedies to avoid group-think (Irving, 1971).

A conflict situation can be induced by supporting individualistic thinking or favouring individual competition. Individualistic thinking can be initiated in the group by including some group members who can freely express their views, which can encourage and prod others to do the same. Competition between individuals can be enhanced by acknowledging and rewarding the better performers. Conflict situations can also be introduced by making some organizational changes, such as transferring some group members, redefining roles, and helping the emergence of new leadership. A manager can also create a conflict situation by delivering shocks, such as by reducing some existing perks of the members of the organization. After stimulating the conflict situation, a manager should:

· identify the likely source of the conflict situation,
· calibrate the productiveness of the situation, and
· neutralize the unproductive conflict situation.

Basic problems in inter-group behaviour are conflict of goals and communication failures, A basic tactic in resolving conflicts, therefore, is to find goals upon which scientists or groups can agree, and to ensure proper communication and interaction. Some conflicts arise because of simple misconceptions, which can be overcome by improved communication.

A manager should manage conflicts effectively rather than suppress or avoid them. To manage them, a manager needs to ask 'What?' and 'Why?' - and not 'Who?' - to get at the root of a problem. In the process of resolving conflicts, many problems can be identified and solved by removing obstacles and creating a new environment of individual growth. If conflicts are not managed properly, they can be damaging, as they waste a lot of energy and time, and invoke tension, which reduces the productivity and creativity of those involved.


De Bono, E. 1985. Conflicts: A Better Way to Resolve Them. London: Harrap.

Filley, A.C. 1975. Interpersonal Conflict Resolution. Glenview IL: Scott, Foresman.

House, R.J., & Rizzo, J.R. 1972. Conflict and ambiguity as critical variables in a model of organizational behaviour. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 7: 467-505.

Irving, J.L. 1971. Group think. Psychology Today, November.

Ivancevich, J.M., Szilagyi, A.D., Jr., & Wallace, M.J., Jr. 1977. Organizational Behavior and Performance. California, CA: Goodyear Publishing.

Kirchoff, N., & Adams, J.R. 1982. Conflict Management for Project Managers. Drexel Hill: Project Management Institute.

Thomas, K.W., & Kilman, R.H. 1974. Conflict Mode Instrument. Tuxedo, New York

NY: Xicom. Tosi, H.L., Rizzo, J.R., & Carroll, S.J. 1986. Organizational Behaviour. New York,

NY: Pitman. Turner, S., & Weed, F. 1983. Conflict in Organizations. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

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