Conflict—Many people try to avoid it while others seem to thrive on it.

Conflict—Many people try to avoid it while others seem to thrive on it. But how does conflict affect project teams and organizations? This is an important question that deserves an answer. There are at least three views on organizational conflict developed in Western Culture during the 20th century [1]. While each is distinct, as we will see, each has the potential to provide important insights that may benefit us and our organizations.

1. Traditional View On Conflict In Organizations
On this view, any conflict is by its very nature necessarily bad and harmful. It should be feared and managers must put an immediate end to any conflict. This is because conflict is a sign of a dysfunctional organization. Therefore, all conflict must be voided since it is just an unnecessary distraction. When conflict does arise, it is the result of communication problems, personality issues, or management problems. Conflict on this view is something to be avoided.

2. Behavioral View on Conflict in Organizations
This approach encourages the acceptance of conflict. It is viewed as vital part of organizations. In fact, conflict should not be regarded as necessarily bad. Rather, it should be expected. Although conflict is normally harmful, at times, it can be helpful. As a result, this view sees conflict in an organization as something that may actually be beneficial for the people involved and the organization.

3. Interactionist View on Conflict in Organizations
On this view, conflict is seen as a sign of vitality within the organization. It can lead to increased group performance and even more creativity from the team. This view rejects the idea that all conflict is good, but does accept that constructive conflict is good for the group.

The Important Take Away
Given these three views, how should organizations handle conflict? One way is to see conflict that leads to dysfunction and lower performance as something to be avoided. At the same time, conflict that adds to performance should be viewed as good and should be managed. One task for management may be to guide organizational conflict so that it can become a tool for improving overall performance.

[1] W.R. Plunkett, G.S. Allen, R.F. Attner, Management: Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations (Maxon, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning).

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