Conflict can be a serious problem in any organization. It might not bring about the demise of a firm, but it certainly can hurt an organization's performance as well as lead to the loss of many good employees. However, as we show in this chapter, all conflicts aren't bad. Conflict has a positive side as well as a negative side. We explain the differences in this chapter and provide a guide to help you understand how conflicts develop. We also present other topics Ėnegotiation, and stress, which are closely related to conflict negotiation. But let's began by clarifying what we mean by conflict.
A Definitionof Conflict
There has been no shortage of definitions of conflict.2 Despite the divergent meanings the term has acquired, several common themes underlie most definitions. Conflict must be perceived by the parties to it; whether or not conflict exists is a perception issue. If no one is aware of a conflict, then it is generally agreed that no conflict exists. Additional commonalities in the definitions are opposition or incompatibility and some form of interaction.3 These factors set the conditions that determine the beginning point of the conflict process. We can define conflict, then, as a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something that the first party cares about.4
This definition is purposely broad. It describes that point in any ongoing activity when an interaction "crosses over" to become an interparty conflict. It encompasses the wide range of conflicts that people experience in organizations-incompatibility of goals, differences over interpretations of facts, disagreements based on behavioral expectations, and the like. Finally, our definition is flexible enough to cover the full range of conflict levels--from overt and violent acts to subtle forms of disagreement.
Transitions in Conflict Thought
It is entirely appropriate to say that there has been "conflict" over the role of conflict in groups and organizations. One school of thought has argued that conflict must be avoided--that it indicates a malfunctioning within the group. We call this the traditional view. Another school of thought, the human relations view, argues that conflict is a natural and inevitable outcome in any group and that it need not be evil, but rather has the potential to be a positive force in determining group performance. The third, and most recent, perspective proposes not only that conflict can be a positive force in a group but explicitly argues that some conflict is absolutely necessary for a group to perform effectively. We label this third school the interactionist approach. Let's take a closer look at each of these views.
The early approach to conflict assumed that all conflict was bad. Conflict was viewed negatively, and it was used synonymously with such terms as violence, destruction, and irrationality to reinforce its negative connotation. Conflict, by definition, was harmful and was to be avoided.
The traditional view was consistent with the attitudes that prevailed about group behavior in the 1930s and 1940s. Conflict was seen as a dysfunctional outcome resulting from poor communication, a lack of openness and trust between people, and the failure of managers to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of their employees.
The view that all conflict is bad certainly offers a simple approach to looking at the behavior of people who create conflict. Since all conflict is to be avoided, we need merely direct our attention to the causes of conflict and correct these malfunctionings in order to improve group and organizational performance. Although research studies now provide strong evidence to dispute that this approach to conflict reduction results in high group performance, many of us still evaluate conflict situations utilizing this outmoded standard. So, too, do many boards of directors.
The board of Sunbeam-Oster followed the traditional approach when they fired the company's chairman, Paul Kazarian, in 1993.5 Three years earlier, Kazarian took over the company when it was in bankruptcy. He sold off losing businesses, restructured the remaining appliance operation, and turned a $40 million loss in 1990 into a $47 million profit in 1991. A few days before he was fired, the company reported a 40 percent jump in quarterly profits. But Kazarian's "crime" was that he rubbed a lot of people in the company the wrong way. He aggressively confronted managers, employees, and suppliers. People complained that his style was abrasive. Kazarian, however, defended his actions as necessary: "You don't change a company in bankruptcy without making a few waves. I wasn't there to be a polite manager. I was there to create value for stockholders."
TheHuman Relations View
The human relations position argued that conflict was a natural occurrence in all groups and organizations. Since conflict was inevitable, the human relations school advocated acceptance of conflict. Proponents rationalized its existence: It cannot be eliminated, and there are even times when conflict may benefit a group's performance. The human relations view dominated conflict theory from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s.
While the human relations approach accepted conflict, the interactionist approach encourages conflict on the grounds that a harmonious, peaceful, tranquil, and cooperative group is prone to becoming static, apathetic, and nonresponsive to needs for change and innovation. The major contribution of the interactionist approach, therefore, is encouraging group leaders to maintain an ongoing minimum level of conflict--enough to keep the group viable, self-critical, and creative.
Given the interactionist view--and it is the one that we shall take in this chapter--it becomes evident that to say conflict is all good or bad is inappropriate and naive. Whether a conflict is good or bad depends on the type of conflict. Specifically, it's necessary to differentiate between functional and dysfunctional conflicts.
Functional vs. Dysfunctional Conflict
The interactionist view does not propose that all conflicts are good. Rather, some conflicts support the goals of the group and improve its performance; these are functional, constructive forms of conflict. Additionally, there are conflicts that hinder group performance; these are dysfunctional or destructive forms of conflict.
Of course, it is one thing to argue that conflict can be valuable for the group, and another to be able to tell if a conflict is functional or dysfunctional.6 The demarcation between functional and dysfunctional is neither clear nor precise. No one level of conflict can be adopted as acceptable or unacceptable under all conditions. The type and level of conflict that creates healthy and positive involvement toward one group's goals today may, in another group or in the same group at another time, be regarded as highly dysfunctional. The criterion that differentiates functional from dysfunctional conflict is group performance. Since groups exist to attain a goal or goals, it is the impact that the conflict has on the group, rather than on any individual member, that determines functionality. Of course, the impact of conflict on the individual and its impact on the group are rarely mutually exclusive, so the ways that individuals perceive a conflict may have an important influence on its effect on the group. However, this need not be the case, and when it is not, our focus will be on the group. So whether an individual group member perceives a given conflict as being personally disturbing or positive is irrelevant. For example, a group member may perceive an action as dysfunctional, in that the outcome is personally dissatisfying to him or her. However, for our analysis, that action would be functional if it furthers the objectives of the group. So while many people at Sunbeam-Oster thought the conflicts created by Paul Kazarian were dysfunctional, Kazarian was convinced they were functional because they improved Sunbeam's performance.
CAUSESOF ORGANIZATIONAL CONFLICT
It is possible to isolate a number of factors that contribute to organizational conflict.7
GroupIdentification and Intergroup Bias
An especially fascinating line of research has shown how identification with a particular group or class of people can set the stage for organizational conflict. in this research, people have typically assigned people to groups randomly or on the basis of some trivial characteristic, such as eye color. Even without interaction or cohesion, people have a tendency to develop a more positive view of their own "in-group" (be it a friendship group, a work group, or a department) and a less positive view of the "out-group" of which they are not a member.8 The ease with which this unwarranted intergroup bias develops is disturbing Why does intergroup bias occur? Self-esteem is probably a critical factor identifying with the successes of one's own group and disassociating oneself from out-group failures boosts self-esteem and provides comforting feelings of social solidarity. In my own research, for example, I found that people felt that their work group's attendance record was superior to that of their occupation in general (and, by extension, other work groups).9 Attributing positive behavior to your own work group should contribute to your self-esteem.
In organizations, there are a number of groups or classes with which people might identify. These might be based on personal characteristics (e.g., race or gender), job function (e.g., sales or production), or job level (e.g., manager or non manager). Furthermore, far from being random or trivial, differences between groups might be accentuated by real differences in power,
opportunity, clients serviced, and so on. the best prognosis is that people who identify with some groups will tend to be leery of out-group members. The likelihood of conflict increases as the factors we cover below enter into the relationship between groups.
The increased emphasis on teams in organizations generally places a high premium on getting employees to identify strongly with their team. The prevalence of intergroup bias suggests that organizations will have to pay special attention to managing relationships between these teams.
When individuals or subunits are mutually dependent upon each other to accomplish their own goals, the potential for conflict exists. For example, the sales staff is dependent upon the production department for the timely delivery of high-quality products. This is the only way sales can maintain the good will of its customers. On the other hand, production depends upon the sales staff to provide routine orders with adequate lead times. Custom-tailored emergency); orders will wreak havoc with production schedules and make the production department look bad. In contrast, the sales staff and the office maintenance staff are not highly interdependent. Salespeople are on the road a lot and should not make great demands on maintenance. Conversely, a dirty office probably won't lose a sale!
Interdependence can set the stage for conflict for two reasons. First, it necessitates interaction between the parties so that they can coordinate their interests. Conflict will not develop if the parties can "go it alone." Second, as we noted in the previous chapter interdependence implies that each party has some power over the other It is relatively easy for one side or the other to
abuse its power and create antagonism.
Interdependence does not always lead to conflict. In fact, it often provides a good basis for collaboration through mutual assistance. Whether interdependence prompts conflict depends upon the presence of other conditions, which we will now consider.
Differencesin Power. Status, and Culture
Conflict can erupt when parties differ significantly in power, status, or culture. Power. If dependence is not mutual, but one way, the potential for conflict increases. If party A needs the collaboration of party B to accomplish its goals, but B does not need Aís assistance, antagonism may develop. B has power over A, and A has nothing with which to bargain. A good example is the quality control system in many factories. Production workers might be highly dependent upon inspectors to approve their work, but this dependence is not reciprocated. The inspectors might have a separate boss, their own office, and their own circle of friends (other inspectors). In this case, production workers might begin to treat inspectors with hostility, one of the symptoms of conflict.
Status. Status differences provide little impetus for conflict when people of lower status are dependent upon those of higher status. This is the way organizations often work, and most members are socialized to expect it. However because of the design of the work, there are occasions when employees with technically lower status find themselves giving orders to, or controlling the tasks of, higher-status people . The restaurant business provides a good
example. In many restaurants, lower-status waiters and waitresses give orders and initiate queries to higher-status cooks or chefs. The latter might come to resent this reversal of usual lines of influence.10 The advent of the "electronic office" led to similar kinds of conflict. As secretaries mastered the complexities of electronic mail, they found themselves having to educate senior executives about the capabilities and limitations of such systems. Some executives are defensive about this reversal of roles.
Culture. When two or more very different cultures develop in an organization, the clash in beliefs and values can result in overt conflict. Hospital administrators who develop a strong culture centered on efficiency and cost effectiveness might find themselves in conflict with physicians who share a strong culture based on providing excellent patient care at any cost. A telling case of cultural conflict occurred when Apple Computer expanded and hired professionals away from several companies with their own strong cultures.
During the first couple of years Apple recruited heavily from Hewlett Packard, National Semiconductor and Intel, and the habits and differences in style among these companies were reflected in Cupertino. There was a general friction between the rough and tough ways of the semiconductor men (there were few women) and the people who made computers, calculators, and instruments at Hewlett-Packard some of the Hewlett-Packard men began to see themselves as civilizing influences and were horrified at the uncouth rough-and-tumble practices of the brutes from the semiconductor industry. Many of the men from National Semiconductor and other stern backgrounds harbored a similar contempt for the Hewlett Packard recruits. They came to look on them as prissy fusspots.11
Ambiguous goals, jurisdictions, or performance criteria can lead to conflict. Under such ambiguity the formal and informal rules that govern interaction break down. In addition, it might be difficult to accurately assign praise for good outcomes or blame for bad outcomes when it is hard to see who was responsible for what. For example, if sales drop following the introduction of a "new and improved" product, the design group might blame the marketing department for a poor advertising campaign. In response, the marketers might claim that the "improved" product is actually inferior to the old product.
Ambiguous jurisdictions are often revealed when new programs are introduced. This is a common occurrence in universities. For instance, the division of continuing education might initiate a series of management development seminars that compete with those the business school offers. Likewise, the political science department might wish to establish a master's degree in applied politics that is similar to a degree the school of public administration
offers. In both cases, charges of "poaching" are almost certain to occur. Ambiguous performance criteria are a frequent cause of conflict between superiors and subordinates. The basic scientist who is charged by a chemical company to "discover new knowledge" might react negatively when her boss informs her that her work is inadequate. This rather open-ended assignment is susceptible to a variety of interpretations.
In the previous chapter, we pointed out that differences in power are magnified when resources become scarce. This does not occur without a battle, however, and conflict often surfaces in the process of power jockeying. Limited budget money, secretarial support, or computer time can contribute to conflict. Consider the company that installs a new computer for administrative and research purposes. At first, there is plenty of computer time and space for both uses. However, as both factions make more and more use of the computer, access becomes a problem. Conflict may erupt at this point.
Scarcity has a way of turning latent or disguised conflict into overt conflict. Two scientists who don't get along very well may be able to put up a peaceful front until a reduction in laboratory space provokes each to protect his domain.
The conflict process can be seen as comprising five stages: potential opposition or incompatibility, cognition and personalization, intentions, behavior, and outcomes. The process is diagrammed in Exhibit 14-1.
StageI: Potential Opposition or Incompatibility
The first step in the conflict process is the presence of conditions that create opportunities for conflict to arise. They need not lead directly to conflict, but one of these conditions is necessary if conflict is to arise. For simplicity's sake, these conditions (which also may be looked at as causes or sources of conflict) have been condensed into three general categories: communication, structure, and personal variables.12
COMUNICATIONSusan had worked in purchasing at Bristol-Myers Squibb for three years. She enjoyed her work in large part because her boss, Tim McGuire, was a great guy to work for. Then Tim got promoted six months ago and Chuck Benson took his place. Susan says her job is a lot more frustrating now. "Tim and I were on the same wavelength. It's not that way with Chuck. He tells me something and I do it. Then he tells me I did it wrong. I think he means one thing but says something else. It's been like this since the day he arrived. I don't think a day goes by when he isn't yelling at me for something. You know, there are some people you just find it easy to communicate with. Well, Chuck isn't one of those!"
Susan's comments illustrate that communication can be a source of conflict. It represents those opposing forces that arise from semantic difficulties, misunderstandings, and "noise" in the communication channels. Much of this discussion can be related back to our comments on communication in chapter 9.
One of the major myths that most of us carry around with us is that poor communication is the reason for conflicts--"if we could just communicate with each other, we could eliminate our differences." Such a conclusion is not unreasonable, given the amount of time each of us spends communicating. But, of course, poor communication is certainly not the source of all conflicts, though there is considerable evidence to suggest that problems in the communication process act to retard collaboration and stimulate misunderstanding.
A review of the research suggests that semantic difficulties, insufficient exchange of information, and noise in the communication channel are all barriers to communication and potential antecedent conditions to conflict. Specifically, evidence demonstrates that semantic difficulties arise as a result of differences in training, selective perception, and inadequate information about others. Research has further demonstrated a surprising finding: The potential for conflict increases when either too little or too much communication takes place. Apparently, an increase in communication is functional up to a point, where upon it is possible to over communicate, with a resultant increase in the potential for conflict. Too much information as well as too little can lay the foundation for conflict.
Furthermore, the channel chosen for communicating can have an influence on stimulating opposition. The filtering process that occurs as information is passed between members and the divergence of communications from formal or previously established channels offer potential opportunities for conflict to arise.
STRUCTURE Charlotte and Teri both work at the Portland Furniture Mart--a large discount furniture retailer. Charlotte is a salesperson on the floor; Teri is the company credit manager. The two women have known each other for years and have much in common--they live within two blocks of each other, and their oldest daughters attend the same middle school and are best friends. In reality, if Charlotte and Teri had different jobs they might be best friends themselves, but these two women are consistently fighting battles with each other. Charlotte's job is to sell furniture and she does a heck of a job. But most of her sales are made on credit. Because Teri's job is to make sure the company minimizes credit losses, she regularly has to turn down the credit application of a customer to whom Charlotte has just closed a sale. It's nothing personal between Charlotte and Teri--the requirements of their jobs just bring them into conflict.
The conflicts between Charlotte and Teri are structural in nature. The term structure is used, in this context, to include variables such as size, degree of specialization in the tasks assigned to group members, jurisdictional clarity, member-goal compatibility, leadership styles, reward systems, and the degree of dependence between groups.
Research indicates that size and specialization act as forces to stimulate conflict. The larger the group and the more specialized its activities, the greater the likelihood of conflict. Tenure and conflict have been found to be inversely related. The potential for conflict tends to be greatest where group members are younger and where turnover is high.
The greater the ambiguity in precisely defining where responsibility for actions lies, the greater the potential for conflict to emerge. Such jurisdictional ambiguities increase intergroup fighting for control of resources and territory.
Groups within organizations have diverse goals. For instance, purchasing is concerned with the timely acquisition of inputs at low prices, marketing's goals concentrate on disposing of outputs and increasing revenues, quality control's attention is focused on improving quality and ensuring that the organization's products meet standards, and production units seek efficiency of operations by maintaining a steady production flow. This diversity of goals among groups is a major source of conflict. When groups within an organization seek diverse ends, some of which--like sales and credit at Portland Furniture Mart--are inherently at odds, there are increased opportunities for conflict.
There is some indication that a close style of leadership--tight and continuous observation with general control of others' behaviors--increases conflict potential, but the evidence is not particularly strong. Too much reliance on participation may also stimulate conflict. Research tends to confirm that participation and conflict are highly correlated, apparently because participation encourages the promotion of differences. Reward systems, too, are found to create conflict when one member's gain is at another's expense. Finally, if a group is dependent on another group (in contrast to the two being mutually independent) or if interdependence allows one group to gain at another's expense, opposing forces are stimulated.
PERSONAL VARIABLES Did you ever meet someone to whom you took an immediate disliking? Most of the opinions they expressed, you disagreed with. Even insignificant characteristics--the sound of their voice, the smirk when they smiled, their personality--annoyed you. We've all met people like that. When you have to work with such individuals, there is often the potential for conflict.
Our last category of potential sources of conflict is personal variables. As indicated, they include the individual value systems that each person has and the personality characteristics that account for individual idiosyncrasies and differences.
The evidence indicates that certain personality types--for example, individuals who are highly authoritarian and dogmatic, and who demonstrate low esteem--lead to potential conflict. Most important, and probably the most overlooked variable in the study of social conflict, is differing value systems. Value differences, for example, are the best explanation of such diverse issues as prejudice, disagreements over one's contribution to the group and the rewards one deserves, and assessments of whether this particular book is any good. That John dislikes African-Americans and Dana believes John's position indicates his ignorance, that an employee thinks he is worth $45,000 a year but his boss believes him to be worth $40,000, and that Ann thinks this book is interesting to read while Jennifer views it as trash are all value judgments. And differences in value systems are important sources for creating the potential for conflict.
Stage II: Cognitionand Personalization
If the conditions cited in Stage I negatively affect something that one party cares about, then the potential for opposition or incompatibility becomes actualized in the second stage. The antecedent conditions can only lead to conflict when one or more of the parties are affected by, and aware of, the conflict.
As we noted in our definition of conflict, perception is required. Therefore, one or more of the parties must be aware of the existence of the antecedent conditions. However, because a conflict is perceived does not mean that it is personalized. In other words, "A may be aware that B and A are in serious disagreement ... but it may not make A tense or anxious, and it may have no effect whatsoever on A's affection toward B.13 It is at the felt level, when individuals become emotionally involved, that parties experience anxiety, tension, frustration, or hostility.
Keep in mind two points. First, Stage II is important because it's where conflict issues tend to be defined. This is the place in the process where the parties decide what the conflict is about.14 And in turn, this "sense making" is critical because the way a conflict is defined goes a long way toward establishing the sort of outcomes that might settle it. For instance, if I define our salary
disagreement as a zero-sum situation--that is, if you get the increase in pay you want, there will be just that amount less for me--I am going to be far less willing to compromise than if I frame the conflict as a potential win-win situation (i.e., the dollars in the salary pool might be increased so that both of us could get the added pay we want). So the definition of a conflict is important, for it typically delineates the set of possible settlements. Our second point is
that emotions play a major role in shaping perceptions.15 For example, negative emotions have been found to produce oversimplification of issues, reductions in trust, and negative interpretations of the other party's behavior.16 In contrast, positive feelings have been found to increase the tendency to see potential relationships among the elements of a problem, to take a broader view of the situation, and to develop more innovative solutions.17
Intentions intervene between people's perceptions and emotions and their overt behavior. These intentions are decisions to act in a given way.18 Why are intentions separated out as a distinct stage? You have to infer the other's intent in order to know how to respond to that other's behavior. A lot of conflicts are escalated merely by one party attributing the wrong intentions to the other party. Additionally, there is typically a great deal of slippage between intentions and behavior, so that behavior does not always accurately reflect a person's intentions.
Exhibit 14-2 represents one author's effort to identify the primary conflict-handling intentions. Using two dimensions-cooperativeness (the degree to which one party attempts to satisfy the other party's concerns) and assertivness (the degree to which one party attempts to satisfy his or her own concerns)--five conflict-handling intentions can be identified: competing (assertive and uncooperative), collaborating (assertive and cooperative), avoiding (unassertive and uncooperative), accommodating (unassertive and cooperative), and compromising (midrange on both assertiveness and cooperativeness).19
COMPETING When one person seeks to satisfy his or her own interests, regardless of the impact on the other parties to the conflict, he or she is competing. Examples include intending to achieve your goal at the sacrifice of the other's goal, attempting to convince another that your conclusion is correct and his or hers is mistaken, and trying to make someone else accept blame for a problem.
COLLABORATING When the parties to conflict each desire to fully satisfy the concerns of all parties, we have cooperation and the search for a mutually beneficial outcome. In collaborating, the intention of the parties is to solve the problem by clarifying differences rather than by accommodating various points of view. Examples include attempting to find a win-win solution that allows both parties' goals to be completely achieved and seeking a conclusion that incorporates the valid insights of both parties.
AVOIDING A person may recognize that a conflict exists and want to withdraw from it or suppress it. Examples of avoiding include trying to just ignore a conflict and avoiding others with whom you disagree.
ACCOMMODATING When one party seeks to appease an opponent, that party may be willing to place the opponent's interests above his or her own. In other words, in order for the relationship to be maintained, one party is willing to be self-sacrificing. We refer to this intention as accommodating. Examples are a willingness to sacrifice your goal so the other party's goal can be attained, supporting someone else's opinion despite your reservations about it, and forgiving someone for an infraction and allowing subsequent ones.
COMPROMISING When each party to the conflict seeks to give up something, sharing occurs, resulting in a compromised outcome. In compromising, there is no clear winner or loser. Rather, there is a willingness to ration the object of the conflict and accept a solution that provides incomplete satisfaction of both parties' concerns. The distinguishing characteristic of compromising, therefore, is that each party intends to give up something. Examples might be willingness to accept a raise of $1 an hour rather than $2, to acknowledge partial agreement with a specific viewpoint, and to take partial blame for an infraction.
Intentions provide general guidelines for parties in a conflict situation. They define each party's purpose. Yet, people's intentions are not fixed. During the course of a conflict, they might change because of reconceptualization or because of an emotional reaction to the behavior of the other party. However, research indicates that people have an underlying disposition to handle conflicts in certain ways.20 Specifically, individuals have preferences among the five conflict-handling intentions just described; these preferences tend to be relied upon quite consistently, and a person's intentions can be predicted rather well from a combination of intellectual and personality characteristics. So it may be more appropriate to view the five conflict-handling intentions as relatively fixed rather than as a set of options from which individuals choose to fit an appropriate situation. That is, when confronting a conflict situation, some people want to win it all at any cost, some want to find an optimum solution, some want to run away, others want to be obliging, and still others want to "split the difference."
Stage IV: Behavior
When most people think of conflict situations, they tend to focus on Stage IV. Why? Because this is where conflicts become visible. The behavior stage includes the statements, actions, and reactions made by the conflicting parties.
These conflict behaviors are usually overt attempts to implement each party's intentions. But these behaviors have a stimulus quality that is separate from intentions. As a result of miscalculations or unskilled enactments, overt behaviors sometimes deviate from original intention .21
It helps to think of Stage IV as a dynamic process of interaction. For example, you make a demand on me; I respond by arguing; you threaten me; I threaten you back; and so on. Exhibit 14-3 provides a way of visualizing conflict behavior. All conflicts exist somewhere along this continuum. At the lower part of the continuum, we have conflicts characterized by subtle, indirect, and highly controlled forms of tension. An illustration might be a student questioning in class a point the instructor has just made. Conflict intensities escalate as they move upward along the continuum until they become highly destructive. Strikes, riots, and wars clearly fall in this upper range. For the most part, you should assume that conflicts that reach the upper ranges of the continuum are almost always dysfunctional. Functional conflicts are typically confined to the lower range of the continuum.
If a conflict is dysfunctional, what can the parties do to deescalate it? Or, conversely, what options exist if conflict is too low and needs to be increased? This brings us to conflict management techniques. Exhibit 14-4 lists the major resolution and stimulation techniques that allow managers to control conflict levels. Notice that several of the resolution techniques were earlier described as conflict-handling intentions. This, of course, shouldn't be surprising. Under ideal conditions, a person's intentions should translate into comparable behaviors.
The action-reaction interplay between the conflicting parties results in consequences. As our model (see Exhibit 14-1) demonstrates, these outcomes may be functional in that the conflict results in an improvement in the group's performance, or dysfunctional in that it hinders group performance.
FUNCTIONAL OUTCOMES How might conflict act as a force to increase group performance? It is hard to visualize a situation where open or violent aggression could be functional. But there are a number of instances where it is possible to envision how low or moderate levels of conflict could improve the effectiveness of a group. Because people often find it difficult to think of in-
stances where conflict can be constructive, let's consider some examples and then review the research evidence.
Conflict is constructive when it improves the quality of decisions, stimulates creativity and innovation, encourages interest and curiosity among group members, provides the medium through which problems can be aired and tensions released, and fosters an environment of self-evaluation and change. The evidence suggests that conflict can improve the quality of decision making by allowing all points, particularly the ones that are unusual or held by a minority, to be weighed in important decisions.22 Conflict is an antidote for groupthink. It doesn't allow the group passively to "rubber-stamp" decisions that may be based on weak assumptions, inadequate consideration of relevant alternatives, or other debilities. Conflict challenges the status quo and therefore furthers the creation of new ideas, promotes reassessment of group goals and activities, and increases the probability that the group will respond to change. For examples of companies that have suffered because they had too little functional conflict, you don't have to look further than Sears, Roebuck and General Motors.23 Much of the problems that beset both of these companies throughout the 1970s and 1980s can be traced to a lack of functional conflict. They hired and promoted individuals who were "yes men," loyal to the organization to the point of never questioning company actions. Managers were, for the most part, conservative white Anglo-Saxon males raised in the mid western United States who resisted change--they preferred looking back to past successes rather than forward to new challenges. Moreover, both firms kept their senior executives sheltered in their respective Chicago and Detroit headquarters' offices, protected from hearing anything they didn't want to hear and a "world away" from the changes that were dramatically altering the retailing and automobile industries. Research studies in diverse settings confirm the functionality of conflict. Consider the following findings. The comparison of six major decisions made during the administration
of four different U.S. presidents found that conflict reduced the chance that groupthink would overpower policy decisions. The comparisons demonstrated that conformity among presidential advisors was related to poor decisions, while an atmosphere of constructive conflict and critical thinking surrounded the well-developed decisions.24
There is evidence indicating that conflict can also be positively related to productivity. For instance, it was demonstrated that, among established groups, performance tended to improve more when there was conflict among members than when there was fairly close agreement. The investigators observed that when groups analyzed decisions that had been made by the individual members of that group, the average improvement among the high-conflict groups was 73 percent greater than was that of those groups characterized by low-conflict conditions.20 Others have found similar results: Groups composed of members with different interests tend to produce higher-quality solutions to a variety of problems than do homogeneous groups.25
The preceding leads us to predict that the increasing cultural diversity of the workforce should provide benefits to organizations. And that's what the evidence indicates. Research demonstrates that heterogeneity among group and organization members can increase creativity, improve the quality of decisions, and facilitate change by enhancing member flexibility.26 For example, researchers compared decision-making groups composed of all-Angle individuals with groups that also contained members from Asian, Hispanic, and black ethnic groups. The ethnically diverse groups produced more effective and more feasible ideas and the unique ideas they generated tended to be of higher quality than the unique ideas produced by the all-Angle group.
Similarly, studies of professionals-systems analysts and research and development scientists--support the constructive value of conflict. An investigation of 22 teams of systems analysts found that the more incompatible groups were likely to be more productive.27 Research and development scientists have been found to be most productive where there is a certain amount of intellectual conflict.28
Conflict can even be constructive on sports teams and in unions. Studies of sports teams indicate that moderate levels of group conflict contribute to team effectiveness and provide an additional stimulus for high achievement.29 An examination of local unions found that conflict between members of the local was positively related to the union's power and to member loyalty and participation in union affairs.30 These findings might suggest that conflict within a group indicates strength rather than, as in the traditional view, weakness.
DYSFUNCTIONAL OUTCOMES The destructive consequences of conflict upon a group or organization's performance are generally well known. A reasonable summary might state: Uncontrolled opposition breeds discontent, which acts to dissolve common ties, and eventually leads to the destruction of the group. And, of course, there is a substantial body of literature to document how conflict--the dysfunctional varieties--can reduce group effectiveness.31
Among the more undesirable consequences are a retarding of communication, reductions in group cohesiveness, and subordination of group goals to the primacy of infighting between members. At the extreme, conflict can bring group functioning to a halt and potentially threaten the group's survival. This discussion has again returned us to the issue of what is functional
and what is dysfunctional. Research on conflict has yet to clearly identify those situations where conflict is more likely to be constructive than destructive. However, there is growing evidence that the type of group activity is a significant factor determining funaionality.32 The more non routine the tasks of the group, the greater the probability that internal conflict will be constructive. Groups that are required to tackle problems demanding new and novel
approaches--as in research, advertising, and other professional activities--will benefit more from conflict than will groups performing highly routine activities-for instance, those of work teams on an automobile assembly line.
CREATING FUNCTIONAL CONFLICT We briefly mentioned conflict stimulation as part of Stage IV of the conflict process. Since the topic of conflict stimulation is relatively new and somewhat controversial, you might be wondering: If managers accept the interactionist view toward conflict, what can they do to encourage functional conflict in their organizations.
There seems to be general agreement that creating functional conflict is a tough job, particularly in large American corporations. As one consultant put it, "A high proportion of people who get to the top are conflict avoiders. They don't like hearing negatives, they don't like saying or thinking negative things. They frequently make it up the ladder in part because they don't
irritate people on the way up." Another suggests that at least seven out of ten people in American business hush up when their opinions are at odds with those of their superiors, allowing bosses to make mistakes even when they know better. Such anticonflict cultures may have been tolerable in the past but not in today's fiercely competitive global economy. Those organizations that don't encourage and support dissent may not survive into the twenty-first century.
Let's look at some of the approaches organizations are taking to encourage their people to challenge the system and develop fresh ideas. Hewlett-Packard rewards dissenters by recognizing go-against-the-grain types, or people who stay with the ideas they believe in even when those ideas are rejected by management. Herman Miller Inc., an office-furniture manufacturer, has a formal system in which employees evaluate and criticize their bosses. IBM also has a formal system that encourages dissension. Employees can question their boss with impunity. If the disagreement can't be resolved, the system provides a third party for counsel. Royal Dutch Shell Group, General Electric, and Anheuser-Busch build devil's advocates into the decision process. For instance, when the policy committee at Anheuser-Busch considers a major move, such as getting into or out of a business or making a major capital expenditure, it often assigns teams to make the case for each side of the question. This process frequently results in decisions and alternatives that previously hadn't been considered.
The governor of Maryland stimulates conflict and invigorates his organization by requiring state cabinet officials to swap jobs for one month every year, then write reports and suggestions based on their experiences. One common ingredient in organizations that successfully create functional conflict is that they reward dissent and punish conflict avoiders. The president of Innovis Interactive Technologies, for instance, fired a top executive who refused to dissent. His explanation: "He was the ultimate yes-man. In this organization, I can't afford to pay someone to hear my own opinion." But the real challenge for managers is when they hear news that they don't want to hear. The news may make their blood boil or their hopes collapse, but they can't show it. They have to learn to take the bad news without flinching. No tirades, no
tight-lipped sarcasm, no eyes rolling upward, no gritting of teeth. Rather, managers should ask calm, even-tempered questions: "Can you tell me more about what happened?" "What do you think we ought to do?" A sincere "Thank you for bringing this to my attention" will probably reduce the likelihood that managers will be cut off from similar communications in the future.
MANAGING CONFLICT WITH NEGOTIATION
Many people stereotype negotiation as a formal process of bargaining between labor and management or buyer and seller. However, negotiating is much more, job applicants negotiate for starting salaries, employees negotiate for better job assignments, and people with sick kids negotiate to leave work early. To encompass all of these situations, we might define negotiation as "a decision-making process among interdependent parties who do not share identical preferences." 33 Negotiation constitutes conflict management in that it is an attempt either to prevent conflict or to resolve existing conflict. Negotiation is an attempt to reach a satisfactory exchange among or between the parties. Successful negotiating requires a strong knowledge of techniques. It is a mistake to assume that because a person has good communication or "people" skills, he or she is therefore a good negotiator. Although those abilities will allow you to be a better negotiator, you are not a good negotiator simply because you are personable and outgoing. 34 There are two common negotiation tactics.35 The first is known as distributive negotiation; this assumes a zero-sum, win-lose situation in which a fixed pie is divided up between the parties. Parties will more or less tend toward some compromise. The other is known as integrative negotiation, which assumes that mutual problem solving can result in a win-win situation in which the pie is actually enlarged before distribution. Integrative negotiation occurs between avoiding and collaborating, ideally tending toward the latter. Distributive and integrative negotiation can take place simultaneously. We'll discuss them separately for pedagogical purposes.
Distributive Negotiation Tactics
Distributive negotiation is essentially single-issue negotiation. Many potential conflict situations fit this scenario. For example, suppose you find a new car that you really like. Now, things boil down to price. You want to lease the car for the minimum reasonable price, while the seller wants to get the maximum reasonable price. The essence of the problem is shown in Exhibit 14.5. Party is a consulting firm who would like to win a contract to do an attitude survey in Other's firm. Party would like to make $90,000 for the job (Party's target) but would settle for $70,000, a figure chat provides for minimal acceptable profit (Party's resistance point). Other thinks that the survey could be done for as little as $60,000 (Other's target) but would be willing to spend up to $80,000 for a good job (Other's resistance point). Theoretically, an offer in the Settlement range between $70,000 and $80,000 should clinch the deal if the negotiators can get into this range. Notice that every dollar that Party earns is a dollar's worth of cost for other. How will they reach a settlement? 36
Threats and Promises. Threat consists of implying that you will punish the other party if he or she does not concede to your position. For example, the other firm might imply that it would terminate its other business with the consulting company if it does not lower its price on the attitude survey job. Promises are pledges that concessions will lead to rewards in the future. For example, Other might promise future-consulting contracts if Party agrees to do the survey at a lower price. Of course, the difference between a threat and a promise can be subtle, as when the promise implies a threat if no concession is made. Threat has some merit as a bargaining tactic if one party has power over the other that corresponds to the nature of the threat, especially if no future negotiations are expected or if the threat can be posed in a civil and subtle way.37 If power is more balanced and the threat is crude, a counterthreat could scuttle the negotiations, despite the fact that both parries could be satisfied in the Settlement range. Promises have merit when your side lacks power and anticipates future negotiations with the other side. Both threat and promises work best when they send interpretable signals to the other side about your true position, what really matters to you. Careful timing is critical.
Firmness versus Concessions. How about refusing to compromise-sticking to your target position, offering few concessions, and waiting for the other party to give in! Research shows that such a tactic is likely to be reciprocated by the other party, thus increasing the chances of a deadlock.38 On the other hand, a series of small concessions early in the negotiation will often be matched. Good negotiators often use face-saving techniques to explain concessions. For example, the consulting firm might claim that it could reduce the cost of the survey by printing it on cheaper paper.
Persuasion. Verbal persuasion or debate is common in negotiations. Often, it takes a two-pronged attack. One prong asserts the technical merits of the party's position. For example, the consulting firm might justify its target price by saying, "We have the most qualified staff. We do the most reliable surveys." The other prong asserts the fairness of the target position. Here, the negotiator might make a speech about the expenses the company would incur in doing the survey. Verbal persuasion is an attempt to change the attitudes of the other party toward your target position. The obvious problem in distributive negotiations is bias--each party knows the other is self-interested. One way to deal with this is to introduce some unbiased parries. For example, the consulting firm might produce testimony from satisfied survey clients. Also, disputants often bring third parties into negotiations on the assumption that they will process argumentation in an unbiased manner.
Before continuing, consider the "In Focus: Why Do Women Earn Less? Gender Differences in Salary Negotiation" which discusses salary negotiation, a traditional example of distributive bargaining.
In todayís telecom marketplace virtually anything you want-equipment, service, maintenance or installation-is available from multiple suppliers. And everything is negotiable.39 In this era of the Internet, ATM and pocket PCs, itís sometimes difficult to remember the fundamentals of the process-acquisition begins with a request for proposal and ends with negotiation. And the process takes a certain amount of time; you canít rush it. 40
Integrative Negotiation Tactics
As we noted earlier, integrative negotiation rejects a fixed pie assumption and strives for collaborative problem solving that advances the interests of both parties. At the outset, it's useful but sobering to realize that people have a decided bias for fixed-pie thinking. A good example is seen in the North American manufacturing sector, where such thinking by both unions and management badly damaged the global competitiveness of manufacturing firms.41 Why the bias for fixed-pie thinking? First, integrative negotiation requires a degree of creativity. Most people are not especially creative, and the stress of typical negotiation does not provide the best climate for creativity in any event. This means that many of the role models that negotiators have e.g., following labor negotiations on TV) are more likely to use distributive than integrative tactics. To complicate matters, if you are negotiating for constituents, they are also more likely to be exposed to distributive tactics and likely to pressure you to use them. Nevertheless, attempts at integrative negotiation can be well worth the effort.42
Copious Information Exchange. Most of the information exchanged in distributive bargaining is concerned with attacking the other party's position and trying to persuade them of the correctness of yours. Otherwise, mum's the word. A freer flow of information is critical to finding an integrative settlement. The problem, of course, is that we all tend to be a bit paranoid about information being used against us in bargaining situations. This means that trust must be built slowly. One way to proceed is to give away some noncritical information to the other party to get the ball rolling. As we noted earlier, much negotiation behavior tends to be reciprocated. Also, ask the other parry a lot of questions, and listen to their responses. This is at odds with the tell- and-sell approach in most distributive negotiations. If all goes well, both par- ties will begin to reveal their true interests, not just their current positions.
Framing Differences As Opportunities. Parties in a negotiation often differ in their preferences for everything from the timing of a deal to the degree of risk that each party wants to assume. Traditionally, such differences are framed as barriers to negotiations. However, such differences can often serve as a basis for integrative agreements because again, they contain information that can telegraph each parry's real interests. For instance, imagine that two co-workers are negotiating for the finishing date of a project that they have to complete by a certain deadline. Due to competing demands, one wants to finish it early, and the other wants to just make the deadline. In the course of the discussion, they realize that they can divide the labor such that one begins the project while the other finishes it, satisfying both parties fully (notice that this isn't a compromise).
Cutting Costs. If you can somehow cut the costs that the other parry associates with an agreement, the chance of an integrative settlement increases. For example, suppose that you are negotiating with your boss for a new, more interesting job assignment, but she doesn't like the idea because she relies on your excellent skills on your current assignment. Asking good questions (see above) you find out that she is ultimately worried about the job being done properly nor about you leaving it. You take the opportunity to inform her that you have groomed a subordinate to do your current job. This reduces the costs of her letting you assume the new assignment. Integrative solutions are especially attractive when they reduce costs for all parties in a dispute. For example, firms in the computer and acoustics industries have joined together to support basic research on technology of interest to all firms. This reduces costly competition to perfect a technology that all parties need anyway.
Increasing Resources. Increasing available resources is a very literal way of getting around the fixed-pie syndrome. This isn't as unlikely as it sounds when you realize that two parties, working together, might have access to twice as many resources as one party. I once saw two academic departments squabbling to get the approval to recruit one new faculty member for whom there was a budget line. Seeing this as a fixed pie leads to one department winning all or to the impossible compromise of half a recruit for each department. The chairs of the two departments used their combined political clout to get the dean to promise that they could also have exclusive access to one budget line the following near. The chairs then flipped a coin to see who would recruit immediately and who would wait a year. This minor compromise on time was less critical than the firm guarantee of a budget line.
Introducing Superordinate Goals. Superordinate goals are attractive outcomes that can be achieved only by collaboration.43 Neither party can attain the goal on its own. Superordinate goals probably represent the best example of creativity in integrative negotiation because they change the entire landscape of the negotiation episode. Given its recent success, you might be surprised to know that Chrysler Corporation almost went broke in 1980. With the prospect of bankruptcy and massive unemployment looming large, the United AutoWorkers and Chrysler management collaborated on a scheme to renew the company. This collaboration was far removed from the auto industry's traditional fixed-pie, distributive bargaining.
Third Party Involvement Sometimes, third parties come into play to intervene between negotiating parties. Often, this happens when the parties reach a deadlock argument. For example, a manager might have to step into a conflict between two employees or even between two departments. In other cases, third party involvement exists right from the start of the negotiation. For example, real estate agents serve as an interface between home sellers and buyers.
Mediation. The process of mediation occurs when a neutral third party helps to facilitate a negotiated agreement. Mediators have played a key role in reconciling seemingly impossible international conflicts for centuries. The U.S. role in Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations, for instance, is one of mediation. 44
Mediators are not often used in buy-sell negotiations. But they should be. The concept of mediation is certainly as applicable to business as it is to diplomacy. Here are just a few of the things that mediators can do that buyers or sellers may find difficult:
Mediators may come from inside or outside the organization. The best mediators are usually outside parties who possess sufficient social skill, knowledge, and charisma to win respect. People within an organization also can take the part of mediator if not involved directly in the conflict. 45
Arbitration. The process of arbitration occurs when a third party is given the authority to dictate the terms of settlement of a conflict. Although disputing par ties sometimes agree to arbitration, it can also be mandated formally by law or informally by upper management or parents. The key point is that negotiation has broken down, and the negotiator has to make a final distributive allocation--this isn't the way to integrative solutions. Arbitration provides a private and confidential forum for dispute resolution. 46
In conventional arbitration, the arbitrator can choose any outcome, such as splitting the difference between the two parties. In final offer arbitration, each party makes a final offer, and the arbitrator chooses one of them. This latter invention was devised to motivate the two parties to make sensible offers that have a chance of being upheld. Also, fear of the all-or-nothing aspect of final arbitration seems to motivate more negotiated agreement.47
One of the most commonly arbitrated disputes between employers and employees is dismissal for excessive absenteeism. One study found that the arbitrators sided with the company in over half of such cases, especially when the company could show evidence of a fair and consistently applied absentee policy.48
Some Final Words on Negotiation
ALL STRESSED OUT?
Stress! Everyone has it, nobody wants it, yet none of us can escape it!
Human beings must tolerate a wide variety of environmental pressures in their day to day lives. These pressures can inflict stress upon the individuals. We can define stress as the interaction between an individual and their environment, which is characterized by the emotional strains that are affecting a personís physical and/or mental condition.50 Stress is a psychological reaction to the demands inherent in a stressor that has the potential to make a person feel tense or anxious because the person does not feel capable of coping with the demands. 51
Stressors are the precursors of stress. Stressors are environmental events or conditions that gave the potential to induce stress. 52 Stressors can create the feelings and inflict a state of diequillibrium within an individual. The major stressors in life can be psychological, as well as physical and the major factors of stressful situations are those pressures that are necessary in the perils of day to day life. The environmental sources of stress, such as overcrowding in cities, air pollution, traffic and noise, as well as the physiological factors of stress, such as occupational and job stress, family, and financial stress are amongst the most major stressors for individuals. Nearly every human being has to deal with these items on a daily basis. Most individuals of today have to deal with the ever-growing human population and overcrowding situations in the workplace, on the way to the workplace, as well as at home. Therefore, one of the most prominent stressors in todayís world is the almost continuous contact and interaction with other people. This continuous contact with others (many of whom are strangers), in the workplace typically has a chain effect in that it causes stress from the job or work environment to be carried over into the private, and personal home life of the individual. People allow stress to be tied to on the job activities and to the events that occur away from work because they typically do not allow themselves to completely separate their work and their job from their personal life. Because of this, the stressors and conflicts at the workplace, eventually cause a person to experience job burnout or feelings of being stressed out, which can then cause conflicts within the family or personal lives of the individuals struggling to juggle these obligations.
Stress reactions are the behavioral, psychological, and physiological consequences of stress. Some of these reactions are essentially passive responses over which the individual has little direct control, such as elevated blood pressure. Other reactions are active attempts to cope with some previous aspect of the stress episode. Overall, the former strategy has more potential for effectiveness than the latter because the chances of the stress episode being terminated are increased.
Personality and Stress
Personality can have an important influence on the stress experience.
Locus of Control
Locus of control is a set of cynical beliefs about whether oneís behavior is controlled mainly by internal or external controls. Internals believe that they control their own behavior, while externals believe that their behavior is controlled by luck, fate, or powerful people. Compared with internal, externals are more likely to feel anxious in the face of potential stressors. Externals, on the other hand, are anxious but donít feel that they are masters of their own fate.
Type A Behavior Pattern
Individuals who exhibit the Type A behavior pattern tend to be aggressive and ambitious. Their hostility is easily aroused, and they feel a great sense of time urgency. They are impatient, competitive, and preoccupied with their work. The type A individual can be contrasted with the Type B, who do not exhibit these extreme characteristics. Compared to Type B individuals, Type A people report heavier workloads, longer work hours, and more conflicting work demands. Type A people perform better than Type B in situations that call for persistence, endurance, or speed. They can ignore fatigue and distraction to accomplish their goals.
As research has accumulated, it has become increasingly clear that the major component of Type A behavior that contributes to adverse physiological reactions is hostility and regressed anger. This may also be accompanied by exaggerated cynicism and distrust of others. When these factors are prominent in a particular Type A individualís personality, stress is most likely to take its toll.
Job Related Stress
Stresses in Organizational Life
Some stressors can effect almost everyone in any organization, but some stressors seem to target people who perform particular roles in organizations. In many organizations the people who are most effected by stressores are those who are in a position to make decisions and direct the work of others.
Overtime, these pressures create stresses that can affect the health of the employees, as well as their productivity and satisfaction the workplace. It is known that individuals that are placed in high strain jobs are more likely to have incidences of chronic, high blood pressure, hypertension, ulcers, headaches, and chest pain. A study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded "that job strain may be a risk factor for both hypertension and structural changes of the heart in working men."53
Boundary Role Stressors and Burnout
Boundary roles are positions in which organizational members are required to interact with members of other organizations or with the public. Occupants of boundary role positions are especially likely to experience stress and they straddle the imaginary boundary between the organization and its environment. A particular form of stress experienced by some boundary role occupants is burnout. Burnout is a combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in the same capacity.54 Frequently, these other people are organizational clients who require special attention or who are experiencing sever problems. Thus, teachers, nurses, paramedics, social workers, and police are especially likely candidates for burnout.
Behavioral Reactions to Stress
In general, problem solving is directed toward terminating the stressor or reducing its potency, not toward simply making the person feel better in the short run.
These problem solving responses will often reduce stress and stimulate performance, benefiting both the individual and the organizationís bottom line.55
Withdrawal from the stressor is one of the most basic reactions to stress. Compared with problem solving reactions to stress, absenteeism fails to attack the stressor directly. Rather, the absent individual is simply trying to avoid the stress. When that person returns to their job the stress is still there. This absence is a dysfunctional reaction to stress for both the individual and the organization. 56
Use of Addictive Substances
Smoking, drinking, and drug use, represent the least beneficial way of dealing with stress. These activities fail to terminate the stress episodes, and they leave the employee less physically and mentally prepared to perform their jobs.57
Psychological Reactions to Stress
Psychological reactions to stress primarily involve emotions and thought processes, rather than overt behavior, although these reactions are frequently revealed in the individualís speech and actions. The most common psychological reaction to stress is the use of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are psychological attempts to reduce the anxiety associated with stress.58 Some common defense mechanisms include:
The occasional use of defense mechanisms in dealing with stress seems to be beneficial but the frequent use of defense mechanisms does not seem to solve the problem associated with the stressor.
Stress Management Programs
Though many occupations require the employee to adapt to the work place conditions, many organizations are realizing the importance of and have developed stress management programs to teach employees how to determine the negative effects of job related stress. A stress management program can generally be defined as any activity or program that attempts to reduce the causes of work related stressors and to help individuals to cope with the negative outcomes of the continuous exposures to stress. The programs are aimed at breaking unhealthful tension that goes along with the job and personal stressful situations.61 Though the sources of the stressors are not reduced nor terminated, the stress management programs help the employees to achieve greater control or at least learn the use of better control techniques in dealing with the day to day stressors in their lives.
Stress management programs use several methods, which include wellness programs, biofeedback, medication, career, and life planning techniques, stress management training, and job burnout seminars.
Reducing Or Coping With Stress
Take care of yourself. Eat well. Get plenty of sleep, and donít count on alcohol to ease stress-it may actually worsen it.62