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French Version

Contrast : More conflict for you ?

Conflict is defined as any situation in which there are incompatible goals, thoughts, or emotions, which lead to opposition and disagreement. It occurs when individuals have incompatible goals, and block each other’s efforts to attain those goals. Managers adopt one of three views towards conflict and harmony.

These views are the traditional, behavioral, and interactionist. The view a manager adopts dramatically affects the team members and the productivity of the organization. Managers who adopt the traditional view towards conflict feel that conflict is negative and must be avoided. They feel that it is part of the managers’ responsibilities to eliminate conflict at work. Therefore, the traditional manager works towards creating an environment without conflict. His view of conflict is the most common and, as the name implies, the most traditional.

The existing business culture prefers harmony to conflict. People traditionally believe that the best thing to do to ensure that work gets done properly is to silence conflict. Most bosses don’t encourage employees to share differences. Team members often worry that raising conflict will leave a bad impression, or they might lose others’ respect or risk rejection. The second view of conflict is the behavioral view. While still considering conflict as mainly negative, it is also considered natural and inevitable. Managers are encouraged to “manage” conflict, and not to try to eliminate it. Furthermore, the behavioral view accepts the fact that conflict can yield positive results if managed properly.

Still, according to the behavioral view, lower levels of conflict are welcomed, and not considered a problem. The last view of conflict is the interactionist. It is the most intriguing and controversial of the three. It goes against the traditional wisdom of avoiding conflict, by encouraging conflict up to a certain level, and stating that conflict is necessary to increase performance.

Based on the interactionist view, too little conflict is as bad, if not worse, than too much conflict. Under this view, harmony is looked at as the “enemy”, not conflict. In addition, managers adopting this view feel it is their duty to help create conflict in the organization, when levels of conflict are too low. The interactionist view is currently the most accepted of the three views. The reason is that low levels of conflict can lead to less innovation, less change, and less improvements for the organization. Conflict on the other hand, up to a certain level, drives the organization and its employees to search for answers to problems they are facing, leading to improvements. Too much harmony at the workplace leads people to try to maintain this harmony by not raising issues for fear of hurting each other’s feelings or their managers’ feelings. This leads to escalation of issues to dangerous levels. Conflict can be a source of creative energy, when handled in a constructive manner. The interactionist view towards conflict calls on managers to learn how to stimulate conflict, not only learn how to manage it.

The first step for managers is to determine if there is a dangerously low level of conflict in the organization. Managers can subjectively determine that by checking for symptoms of this situation. One of the symptoms managers need to look for is being surrounded by what is termed as “yes” people. If everyone around the manager always says yes to the manager’s idea, this can be a sign of too much harmony and not enough conflict. Another sign is when team members censor what they say so as not to hurt each other’s feelings. Also, if team members are not willing to admit feelings of uncertainty towards their tasks or organization, that is a sign of too little conflict. Other signs include: High resistance to change, low levels of turnover, low creativity, and high emphasis on compromise.

When interactionist managers see some or all of these symptoms at work, they stimulate conflict. There are different ways managers can stimulate conflict at the workplace. One of them is to bring in new individuals to the team known for independence and courage to raise conflict. Another method for raising conflict is to restructure the organization and to create more “checks and balances” between the different groups within the organization. Other methods include introducing competition among team members and groups, introducing a controversial issue, and creating organizational change. Conflicts are opportunities for improvements. They should be welcomed by managers, and used to the betterment of the organization and the workplace.

Amar Mango
The Star

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