Conflict and Control in the Workplace

Conflict is an essential aspect of human interaction in society. This is a form of relationship between the potential or relevant social actors; the motivation is due to opposing values and norms, interests and needs. An essential aspect of a social conflict is the fact that these subjects operate within a broader system of relations that are modifying (reinforcing or destroying) under the impact of the conflict.

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Sociology of conflict comes from the fact that the conflict is a normal phenomenon of public life; the identification and development of the conflict is a useful and necessary business.  One should not mislead people with the myth of universal harmony interests. People reach better when they act. If not turn a blind eye to the conflict, it is necessary to follow certain rules aimed at regulating conflicts. The rules hold that, in order to regulate conflicts, one has to adhere to non-violence as a means of conflict resolution; find the means to break the deadlock in case violence is still committed and becomes a means of deepening conflict; achieve mutual understanding between the parties opposing the conflict.

Since every organization is a community of people who experience joint activities in the development of their internal relations, there are certain common features or attributes, the understanding of which is essential. One of these similarities is that every organization goes into its development through a series of internal conflicts; it cannot exist stress-free and without collisions between certain positions represented in it, between the groups of people and the so-called cliques.

There are different definitions of conflict, but all of them emphasize the presence of contradiction, which takes the form of differences when it comes to human interaction. Conflicts can be explicit or hidden, but they are always based on the lack of agreement. Therefore, conflict can be defined as a process of interaction between individuals or groups of subjects on the difference in their interests. The lack of agreement appears in a variety of views, opinions, ideas, interests, opinions, etc. However, it should not necessarily be an exact collision. As a rule, it happens when the existing differences and contradictions disrupt the normal interaction of people and impede the goal’s achievement. In such a case, people are just compelled with any tool to conquer their differences and come into the open conflict interaction. During the conflict interaction, participants have the opportunity to express different opinions and identify more alternatives when making decisions. This is the important positive sense of the conflict. This, of course, does not mean that the conflict is always positive.

There are four main types of conflict: intrapersonal, intergroup, between the individual and the group, interpersonal.

Interpersonal conflict is one of the most common types of conflict. In organizations, it is manifested in different ways. Many managers believe that the only reason for the conflicts is the diversity of characters. Indeed, there are people who hardly get along with each other because of the differences in their characters, viewpoints, behavior styles and so on. However, a closer look shows that the basis of such conflicts, as a rule, lies in objective reasons. For example, conflicts arise between managers and subordinates when a worker is convinced that the head makes him an exorbitant requirement, and managers believe that the worker does not want to work in full force.

There are the following types of interpersonal conflicts:
a) conflicts between rulers and ruled within the organization. Conflicts between managers and performers differ significantly from the conflicts between the manager and the firsthand lower-level managers;
b) conflicts between the average employees;
c) conflicts at the management level, i.e. conflicts between managers of the same rank.

Interpersonal conflict is closely related to other types of conflicts. Very often, the interpersonal conflict arises from intrapersonal one: controversial tendencies within the personality of the individual lead to confrontations with other people. As Klein (1959) stated, “group behavior was the result of an adaptation of individual defense mechanisms. Individual psychological processes have a strong impact on employee whether they are of negative or positive origin.” Having a low self-esteem or deep personal experiences of any kind, a man suggests that this is the fault of other people. Therefore, it gets him in trouble. He starts to behave inappropriately. He may set unfair claims to others taking those as valid, pester other people and put vague and unreasonable demands forward, as well. As a result, others do not understand the reasons of such a conduct. They come into conflict if it violates any of their interests. Thus, intrapersonal conflict turns into interpersonal with the stuff divided into different conflict groups. Diamond (1997) claims, “psychological defense mechanisms present in the workplace may assume the form of collective psychological splitting, some of the workers then gather around and make themselves join into a group differentiating them from others”. Then, this conflict will eventually lead to terrible verbal and physical attacks. Those employees who have psychological problems affect the workflow, generate difficulties in relationships and give rise to anger in the team. These people often have various complexes and display distinct character flaws, such as arrogance, excessive pride, or the presence of sarcasm. There are some negative consequences in terms of the interaction of the individual with others in the group. They are destruction of existing interpersonal relationships; alienation of the individual in the group; the silence of absence seizure; increased sensitivity to criticism; strife, a demonstration of his/her advantages; deviant behavior and inadequate response to the behavior of others; rigid formalism, pedantry, tracking for others; finger-pointing.

The most common cause of interpersonal conflict is “manager – subordinate” relations. The problem of the relationship between managers and subordinates is highly relevant to modern science and practice. In the focus, there is a good governance, leadership style, authority manager, optimizing social and psychological climate in the team. All this depends on the optimization of the relationship of the link manager-subordinate, i.e. “vertical” of conflicts. There is an objective contradiction between the functional and the personal side of the relationship of manager and the subordinate. The relations between them are characterized by the two sides - functional (formal) and personal (unofficial, informal). The functional side objectively means the link between people when one group of people directs the activities of subordinates, and subordinates fulfill orders. Personal content in the chain of “employer – employee” relations depends on individual psychological characteristics of participants in the interaction, their temperament, character, abilities, business and moral qualities, as well as mutual sympathy or antipathy.

The contradiction in the chain of "manager – subordinate” stands on the fact that the employer has quite a wide range of influence on subordinate’s life. The employee shall comply with the instructions and orders of the head, that is obey. Such a difference generates a conflict. Unequal treatment of employees is a common practice, as well. Almost every employer has a favorite employee among all the rest. This definitely leads to interpersonal conflicts and hostility. Employees can also be unequally treated by gender (a male employer does not give important tasks to a female employee because women are highly emotional in his eyes), and by age (an aged employer does not consider young employees as qualified as they really are). Anyway, mistreated employees often accumulate negative emotions. According to Folger and Baron (1996), “workers may turn out violent when they are mistreated by the management”.

The corporate culture is one more issue that affects the workers and create conflicts.  Under the corporate culture, people understand the system of values and beliefs that are shared by all the employees of the firm, which determines their behavior and character of life of the organization. The corporate culture adopts the main part of the collective organization, management philosophy and ideology, values, beliefs, expectations and norms, the relationships and interactions within the organization and beyond. The problems of external adaptation and survival should be considered in the analysis of the corporate culture, as well as internal integration. Basic assumptions that are held by members of the organization in their behavior and actions are used for the analysis of the corporate culture due to the vision of the environment (group, organization, society), the variables that control it (time, labor, etc.), value (value orientations) that are held by members of the collective. The values show what behavior is considered acceptable, and what not, and the symbolism by which value orientations are deposited. For example, some companies have special documents that describe value orientation. Such issues as orally transmitted legends and the company’s history and business development are of great importance. In the analysis of the corporate culture, it is necessary to consider the problems of external adaptation and survival, as well as internal integration. Internal integration is always more successful with the support of effective relationships between employees who share all aspects with the rest of the company employees, which determines their behavior and character of life of the organization. Parsons (1964) stated “personality structure is built up by not only moral standard, but also all the factors of common culture”.

Moreover, racial, religious, sexual prejudice and discrimination, hard expectation for some type of behavior from the people according to their status or position in society, which harms their dignity, difficulty of understanding of cultural differences and migration, etc. are also the cultural aspects that affect the stuff.

The person who joined or irritated the conflict is dealing with stress. The stress comes as a reason or result of conflict, as well. Stress is a set of defense reactions, the state of tension that occurs in difficult situations. Stress is often the result of several reasons, such as psychological pressure at work, poor working conditions, and the inability to effectively organize and manage time. In order to overcome stress, one needs to identify the cause. Stress can be short or long, easy or difficult. Effects of stress on the employee, above all, depend on the duration of the stress factors and their strength, as well as the resilience of the employee. A man can quickly cope with the stress of light and short nature, or at least recover. Accordingly, in case of a long-term stress, the individual’s problems will increase. Confronting stress weakens people both physically and psychologically. This condition is called exhaustion when workers move away emotionally drained from work feeling helpless. Some activities, such as the professions associated with different types of assistance (consultants, medical professionals, social workers), or with constant and high stress (air traffic controllers, employees serving clients, and traders) most often deplete their forces. The workers whose forces are exhausted prone to constant complaints associated with the actions of the mistakes of others. Alienation they experience encourages them to think about leaving the work to find new opportunities for the profession. In addition to increasing turnover, the exhaustion leads to an increase in absenteeism and loss of productivity. According to American institute of stress (Arellano, 2007, p. 8), “psychological conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression will decrease the productivity of workers today as well as tomorrow”.

The effective conflict management can play a positive role that becomes functional and contributes to further achievement of organizational goals. There are structural (institutional) and interpersonal control methods of conflict interaction.

In management, especially young one, the harmonious functioning of the organization is of great importance. Representatives of the administration direction supposed that the main idea is to find a good formula for governance, and then the organization will act as a well-oiled machine. With such directions, the structural methods of “management” of conflicts were developed.

Structural Conflict Management Methods

A Clear Statement of Requirements

 One of the best management practices that prevent dysfunctional conflict is to clarify the requirements to the results of each individual employee and the department as a whole; presence of clearly and unambiguously set of rights and obligations leaves little space for misunderstandings and conflicts.

The Usage of Coordination Mechanisms

 If employees have a disagreement on any production issues, they can refer to the “arbitrator” - their overall commander. There is special integration service group in some huge complex organizations, and its task is to link the various units with the target purposes. In this case, this service group will be the most vulnerable to conflict.

The Establishment of Common Values and Objectives

 This is facilitated awareness of all employees about the policy, strategy and prospects of the organization, as well as their awareness of the state of affairs in different divisions. It is very efficient to formulate organization goals at the level of society's goals. The presence of shared goals makes people understand how to behave in conflict.

The Reward System

The establishment of such performance criteria excludes the clash of interests of various departments and employees. For example, if to reward safety service group for the number of violations of safety rules, it will come to dysfunctional never-ending conflict with the industrial and operational services. If to encourage all employees for removal of violations, this will reduce the number of conflicts and improve security. Dealing with conflicts, of course, is not limited to the listed above methods. Other effective organizational methods of conflict interaction can be found according to the situation. There are four basic strategies of behavior in conflict situations.

Strategies of Behavior in Conflict Situations

Perseverance (coercion)

Those who adhere to this strategy are trying to force to accept their point of view at all costs: they do not care about the views and interests of others. In this case, the people either ignore the "price" in their relationship with a partner to be paid due to their actions, or simply do not think about it. It is generally accepted that the more long-term the relationships are (such as a family or organization), the more appropriate care, both for short-term gains and for the maintaining in whole, they require. Given style is associated with aggressive behavior, the use of power of coercion and traditional authority in order to influence other people. This style can be effective if it is used in a situation threatening the existence of the organization, and sometimes it simply must be persistent. A major shortcoming of this strategy is the suppression initiative of subordinates and the possibility of repeated outbreaks of conflict over the deterioration in relations.

Care (evasion)

 The man who supports this strategy tries to avoid conflict. This behavior may be appropriate if the subject of the controversy is of little value, and the situation can resolve itself. There are no conditions for a productive “resolution” of the conflict, but with time, they appear. This strategy is effective in case of unrealistic conflicts.


 This style is characterized by the adoption of a different part’s point of view but only to a certain extent. The ability to compromise in administrative situations is highly valued as it helps to overcome conflict relatively quickly. However, after a while, dysfunctional consequences of compromise, such as satisfaction may appear.

Cooperation (solution)

 This style is based on the conviction that the conflict takes when a difference in opinions is observed. According to this style, somebody’s opinioned should not be necessarily shared by others. With this strategy, the participants recognize each other's right to have their own opinions and are willing to accept it, which allows them to analyze the differences and find an acceptable way out.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that there is no universal way to overcome a conflict. To find the solution to a problem one needs to get an insight into the situation. Conflict resolution is only possible after answering these questions, understanding the essence of the organization, going deep in the current situation in the company to diagnose the conflict, and exploring its nature. Several steps, that is the main stages of the conflict, determine strategic intervention. These steps will be considered as kind items, which must be determined and made significant solutions - the appropriateness of interventions and their forms. Both parties should endeavor to resolve the conflict. For a consultant, it is important to establish a good relationship with both sides not giving preference to any of them because in this case, it does not work to be effective: to establish at an early stage of the relationship with the parties; to clarify their intentions with respect to this conflict; to provide support.

Unclear leadership, internal power struggle, an intense rivalry may be a significant obstacle to the resolution of the conflict. It is important to know opinion leaders and to know not only their opinion, but also their degree of readiness to the active complicity in the conflict.

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