Workplace conflict is almost a fact of organizational life. It manifests as interpersonal, intergroup, and role conflicts. (Feigenbaum, n.d.), task conflict, relationship conflict and process conflict. (Robbins & Judge, 2013). Theorists do not agree on whether conflict is inevitable, is an unwelcome guest, or beneficial. In the ensuing discussion we will describe the conflict process, identify and reflect on real-life workplace conflict situations.
The Conflict Process Stages
Robbins and Judge (2013) identify five stages in the conflict process, viz potential opposition/incompatibility, cognition and personalization, intentions, behaviors, outcomes. They characterize the stages as follows:
Conflict Antecedent Stage
During the potential opposition stage, the conflict antecedent conditions appear. These include job tasks, employee relationships, work processes, communication, and organizational structure which create potential for conflict. Task conditions include task content, goals, and procedures. Relationship conditions include personality clashes, idiosyncrasies, attitudes and values. Process conditions relate to how the work is organized and done. Communication conditions include channels, and barriers. Structural conditions relate to size of organization, reporting relationships, chain of command, span of control, etc.
Conflict Cognition in the Conflict Process
Cognition stage is when the conflict is perceived or felt. Parties become aware of disagreement. The perception may or may not be accompanied by negative feelings. Robbins and Judge (2013) suggest that when cognition is accompanied by negative emotions, it increases likelihood of negative outcomes of the conflict, and vice versa. They also observe that the framing of the conflict influences choice of conflict resolution strategy. Stangor (2011) also observes that negative feelings result in competitive behaviors while positive feelings lead to cooperation.
Conflict Intentions in the Conflict Process
Intentions stage relates to when conflict handling intentions are framed. Robbins and Judge (2013) identify five choices, viz competition, collaboration, avoidance, accommodation, and compromising. They further suggest that, at this stage, parties to a conflict infer the intention of the other. Based on their inference, they frame a matching response.
Overt Conflict Stage
Overt conflict stage is when the conflict festers into open conflict behaviors like actions, statements, reactions and counter actions. Robbins and Judge (2013) plot the festering conflict on a conflict intensity continuum, where the conflict starts as benign or functional escalating to dysfunctional conflict.
Conflict Outcomes Stage
Outcomes stage is when the conflict challenges the status quo, induces creative and innovative tension, checks group think, improves problem solving, increases quality of decisions, fosters self-evaluation as functional conflict outcomes; or breeds discontent, aggression, reduce communication, destroy cohesion, and uncontrolled opposition as dysfunctional conflict outcomes.