Is Conflict Destructive to Your Organization?
While internal conflict and friction can be healthy for an organization – in that it can channel that energy into creative and innovative solutions – there are times when managers must understand that conflict can be costly, especially if personal interests and agendas are placed above the needs of the organization.
Inherent in any conflict is the base struggle for survival. It may be the survival of one’s point of view, perspective or power base. In other instances, it may be the struggle of one group or department over another. In all cases, this struggle must be recognized and balanced against the needs of the organization.
By definition, managers are concerned with the entire organization, not just their own personal spheres of influence. Managers must rise above the desire to attain a power base or advance an agenda. They must direct any conflict resolution toward creating and crafting the best possible solution for the entire organization.
While conflict is healthy in most working environments, there are two general areas where conflict can be damaging and destructive to the entire organization.
Personal Agendas and Perspectives
One of the most problematic areas of conflict resolution is the application of personal agendas and perspectives to conflict resolution. A natural tendency in all individuals, this can cause difficulties if the personal agenda of one or more members of a group overpower the needs of the organization. This is especially problematic when someone senior to the rest of the group members is advancing their personal agenda. The areas where individual personal agendas can be damaging include:
Biased Assimilation of Information
How a problem or conflict is perceived and defined impacts its resolution. Personal agendas and perceptions can create a bias that adversely affects the definition of the problem and, ultimately, the solution. This misstep occurs when information and data is received from an external source and processed with a lack of understanding or adequate background information. Additionally, the information can be processed using incorrect assumptions, perceptions or decision making norms to frame the issue; this ultimately impacts the formation of the solution in regard to conclusions and the actions caused by them.
When personal agendas strongly influence a group—either in the form of intimidation or by the use of power over the group—there is a reluctance to question the information and perspectives being presented. The group assumes a smoothing and avoiding conflict resolution style that allows these differences in opinion and perspective to be both minimized and glossed over. When a wrong decision is made that impacts the organization, the primary influencer can disclaim any exclusive association by pointing out the group nature of the decision. This tactic serves to mask any personal agenda at play, often to extremely destructive effect.
Research has demonstrated that there is an unconscious tendency in individuals to enhance their own side of a conflict, portraying it as more insightful, honest and morally upright. An associated phenomenon is the tendency to vilify the opposition, portraying them as both unscrupulous and vile. These two phenomena have dominated research on inter-group relations for over 40 years. In more recent studies, the insidious and involuntary nature of partisan tactics has become more apparent, as it affects the nature of conflict and the specific manners in which the resolution process is undermined.
When applied to the aforementioned concept of biased assimilation of information, it is obvious how conflict intensifies when one group strongly believes in their viewpoints while simultaneously vilifying their opponents’. Organizations feel the impact as the conflict degenerates into personal battles and animosities that can endure for prolonged periods of time. This partisanship poisons the workplace environment to the point that satisfactory resolution becomes nearly impossible without outside intervention.
The other major source of internal conflict within organizations is the battle between groups and departments over the utilization of limited resources. This situation readily surfaces when organizations lack clear direction.
In certain circumstances, larger and more powerful departments are able to dominate this battle and intimidate smaller and less influential groups. While this “survival of the fittest” confrontation might be considered productive by some members of management, it is ultimately unhealthy and damaging if badly needed resources are diverted away from those areas of the organization most in need of them or from those who can put them to the most productive use.
Excerpt: Conflict Resolution – Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series (Majorium Business Press – Stevens Point, WI, 2011)
If you would like to learn more about conflict resolution techniques in the workplace, refer to Conflict Resolution – Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.
Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved