Conflicts in the Workplace

Last Updated: 27 Jul 2020
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The nature of human beings is that they differ in perceptions, reactions to different situations and in their relations with others. These characteristics are likely to be exhibited in the workplace. Whenever there is interaction between people, conflicts are bound to occur naturally. Conflict begins when individuals or groups feel that the other is not treating them as they should (DiPaola, 2001: 238-239; Allan, McPhail andWilkinson, 2008: 5-12). Conflicts between managers and employees over certain issues at the workplace from time to time is therefore inevitable (Bacal, 1998: 8-9).

Differences in points of view, poor communication, personal differences and duties at the workplace are usually the major causes of conflicts. More often than not, managers and employees may differ on certain procedures to be used in achieving a desired goal (Pondy, 1989: 95-98). Every other day employees may feel that the managers are putting them under so much pressure or constantly dictating what they should do or not. These may lead to tension which may finally erupt into conflicts.

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Delays in pay and extension of working hours even when the circumstances at the workplace call for such actions may also cause conflicts at the workplace (Gennard and Judge, 2000: 217). Interdependence relationships where the manager is dependent on his subordinates for certain procedures are a constant source of conflicts. For example compiling the payroll by the accountant before it is signed by the manager and the checks dispatched may cause conflict if the accountant does not deliver the payroll in time.

Conflicts in everyday workplace situations sometimes serve to positively transform the organization as employees express their points of view (Folger et al, 2001: 45-52; Denning, 2000: 120-135). It is quite normal for people to express their views on certain issues within the workplace and trying to convince others to see their point of view. The more managers accept this the greater will be the ability of turning conflicts into benefits (Bacal, 1998: 31). Some conflicts at the workplace might prove exceptionally difficult to resolve even with application of well known conflict solving techniques available to managers.

Some colleagues are just generally difficult to deal with and minor issues lead to eruption of conflicts and misunderstandings. Relationship conflicts or conflicts caused by personality differences between individuals for example may prove hard to resolve and especially where the two conflicting individuals have to work together (Wilmot and Hocker, 2001: 52-59). The fact that emotions such as resentment, anger, and dislike are usually present makes it hard for the parties involved to behave in a rational manner. Even when the problem is solved they may still find themselves fighting again due to the personal grudges that may result.

Conflicts that have been present in the organization for sometime without being resolved may pose a challenge to the management when trying to solve them. Such conflicts may have led to division of the organization with different groups supporting different ideas such that getting people to get along well again proves difficult. Conflicts that exist between different age groups may also be difficult to solve especially where an older party feels that the younger one should respect their point of view based on their age or experience in the field (Turner and Weed, 1983: 102-130).

An effort to reconcile the two would need a lot of convincing and dialogue especially if the older party has a difficult character. Likewise, the young party may be of the opinion that his or her education is more recent and therefore more applicable to the situation. However, with proper understanding of behavior and major causes of conflicts, the management should be able to resolve all conflicts facing the organization (Dana, 2000: 211-245). When conflict occurs, it may take several forms and discussed hereafter are the reasons why conflict may at times be overt, covert, individual, collective, proactive and sometimes defensive.

Overt conflicts occur when intentional actions are taken by the employees or employers. All parties involved in overt conflicts are aware of what is happening and consequently know the reason for the conflict between them (Bray, Waring and Cooper, 2009: 349). It represents conflict that is open and observable. For example, two secretaries sharing a printer and who are conflicting because one of them spent a lot of time on the printer denying the other a chance to print is an overt conflict since both secretaries are aware of the conflict between them.

Covert conflicts may not be intended and are usually not very visible. Covert conflicts usually take the form of coldness or unpleasant actions towards the other person without necessarily disclosing reasons for your behavior (Bray, Waring and Cooper, 2009: 349; Salamon, 2000: 87-96). Examples are individuals who do not complain publicly but instead internalize the grudges and act in ways to undermine others or the company. It is mostly associated with emotions where a person feels that his or her goals are being interfered with leading to a certain ill feeling about another person.

This kind of conflict can cause emotional disturbance as only one party knows the reason for the conflict while the opposite party knows nothing. Individual conflicts occur where two persons fail to get along such that quarrels and even physical conflicts become evident between the two (Bray, Waring and Cooper, 2009: 349; Hix-Sykes, 2001: 12-29). Individuals are likely to collide over sharing of duties, differences in opinions or social issues mostly to do with individual background and desire to defend their race and culture.

Individual conflicts must be solved because they can lead to emotional distress and trauma at the workplace leading to less productivity. Conflict may at times be collective especially where groups are involved such as when workers disagree with the management over payment. Collective conflicts involve more than one party against another (Bray, Waring and Cooper, 2009: 349). Unions may guide employees against distrustful management and non-satisfactory working conditions causing conflict between the workers and the management.

This is a form of collective conflict (Denning, 2000: 63). Proactive conflicts are likely to occur to members who have already learnt each other's behaviour such that they can predict when a conflict is about to arise. Teicher, Holland, and Gough, (2006: 89-101) note that proactive conflicts usually occur when one person acts before the conflict actually arises following signs of a potential conflict. This is especially so if such conflicts are common (Bray, Waring and Cooper, 2009).

Conflicts can be defensive where one or more parties involved are so keen in defending their position (Bray, Waring and Cooper, 2009: 349; Bacal, 1998: 31). Most defensive statements in a conflict are likely to start with the word why. A person who constantly asks 'why should I do this or that' during an a conflict is most likely being defensive or trying to remove the blame from his or her side. (Word Count: 1153) Reference List. Allan, C. , McPhail, R. and Wilkinson, A. (2008) Introduction to Employment Relations.

Sydney: Pearson Bacal, R. (1998). Conflict Prevention in the Workplace: Using Cooperative Communication. Ontario, Canada: Bacal ; Associates. Bray, M. , Waring, P. , and Cooper, R. (2009). Employment Relations: Theory and Practice. Sydney, Australia: MC Graw-Hill. Dana, D. (2000). Conflict Resolution: Mediation Tools for Everyday Worklife. New York: McGraw- Hill Professional. Denning, S. L (2000). The practice of workplace participation: management-Employee Relations at Three Participatory Firms. London: IAP

DiPaola, M. , and W. Hoy. ( 2001). Formalization, conflict, and change: constructive and destructive consequences in schools, The International Journal of Educational Management 15(5):238- 244. Folger, J. , et al (2001). Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc. Gennard, J. and Judge, G. (2000). Employee relations. Broadway, London: CIPD Publishing. Hix-Sykes, D. (2001). Workplace Conflict. Wisconsin: Association of Legal Administrators.

Class Action, Summer 2001 Issue. Pondy, L. (1989). Reflections on organizational conflict. Journal of Organizational Change Management 2:94-8. Salamon, M. , (2000) Industrial Relations: Theory and Practice 4th ed. London: Prentice Hall. Teicher, J. , Holland, P. and Gough, R. (eds) (2006) Employee Relations Management, (2nd ed. ), Sydney, Pearson. Turner. S. ; Weed. F. (1983). Conflict in Organizations. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc. , Wilmot, W. , ; Hocker, J. (2001). Interpersonal Conflict. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc

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