Conflict Process (or) Stages in Conflict

In 1967, Pondy developed a process model of conflict which is very useful in understanding how conflict starts and what stages it goes through. Pondy identifies five stages in what he calls a "conflict episode".

1. Latent conflict => 2. Perceived conflict => 3. Felt conflict =>4. Manifest conflict => 5. Conflict aftermath


Fig. 6.4: Pondy's Conflict Episode Concept.

This model is portrayed in the following figure :

1. Latent Conflict : Latent conflict is the stage in which factors exist in the situation which could become potential conflict inducing forces. Four basic types of latent conflict are :

(i) Competition for scarce resources

(ii) Drive for autonomy

(iii) Divergence of goals

(iv) Role conflict.

2. Perceived Conflict : Conflicts may, sometimes, arise even if no conditions of latent conflict exist. This is the stage when one party perceives the other to be likely to thwart or frustrate his or her goals. The case in which conflict is perceived when no latent conflict arises, is said to result from the parties misunderstanding each other's true position. Such conflict can be resolved by improving communication between the groups.

3. Felt Conflict : Felt conflict is the stage when the conflict is not only perceived but actually felt and cognized. For example, A may be aware that he is in serious argument with B over some policy. But this may not make A tense or anxious and it may have no effect, whatsoever, on A's affection towards B. The personalization of conflict is the mechanism which causes many people to be concerned with dysfunctions of conflict. In other words, it makes them feel the conflict. There are two reasons for the personalization of the conflict:

(i) the inconsistent demands on efficient organization and individual growth which is caused within the individual. Anxieties may also result from crisis or from extra-organizational pressures. Individual need to vent these anxieties in order to maintain internal equilibrium.

(ii) Conflict becomes personalized when the whole personality of the individual is involved in the relationship. Hostile feelings are most common in the intimate relations that characterize various institutions and residential colleges.

4. Manifest Conflict : Manifest conflict is the stage when the two parties engage in behaviours which evoke responses from each other. The most obvious of these responses are open aggression, apathy, sabotage, withdrawal and perfect obedience to rules. Except for prison riots, political revolutions and extreme labour unrest, violence as a form of manifest conflict is rare. The motives towards violence may remain but they tend to be expressed in less violent forms.

5. Conflict Aftermath : The aftermath of a conflict may have positive or negative repercussions for the organization depending upon how the conflict is resolved. If the conflict is genuinely resolved to the satisfaction of all participants, the basis for a more co-operative relationship may be laid; or the participants in their drive for a more ordered relationship may focus on latent conflicts not previously perceived and dealt with. On the other hand, if the conflict is merely suppressed but not resolved, the latent conditions of conflict may be aggravated and explode in a more serious form until they are rectified. This conflict episode is called 'conflict aftermath'.

Conflict resolution has been added as an additional box in the figure to elucidate that conflict aftermath is a direct function of the results of the conflict resolution style adopted and exercised in any given situation.

Conflict Management : Several styles or techniques have been suggested for managing conflict. Based on styles' assertiveness (the extent to which one's goals met) and co-cooperativeness (the extent to which one wants to see the other party's concerns met). Thomas has classified conflict management styles into five style; avoiding, accommodating, competing, compromising and collaborating. Following Fig. 6.5 graphs these five conflict management styles using these two dimensions.

Conflict Management Styles.

Fig. 6.5: Conflict Management Styles.

There may be two approaches for managing the organizational conflict (i) Preventive measures and (ii) Curative measures. In the preventive measures, the management tries to create a situation or environment where dysfunctional aspects of conflicts do not take place. As in most of the cases, conflict is destructive in nature, it should be resolved as soon, after it has developed, as possible, but all efforts should be made to prevent it from developing. Both these measures are explained as follows :

A. Preventive Measures

Some of the preventive measures which the management can take to manage the organizational conflicts are :

1. Establishing Common Goals : The major reason for the development of conflict is the incompatible goals. This is particularly true in case of conflict among groups and between individuals and organization. The basic strategy of reducing the conflict should be to find common goals upon which groups can agree and to re-establish valid communication between the groups. The mutual dependence of groups can be brought through the super ordinate goals because they are the goals which are of high value to the group. Super ordinate goals are those that take precedence over other goals that may separate the conflicting parties. Group conflicts can also be reduced through the use of incentive systems designed to reward the activities that benefit the larger system, as opposed to those which are primarily in the interest of subunits.

2. Reduction in Interdependence : The main reason for inter-group conflict is interdependence among them, e.g., line and staff managers. As such, less the interdependence, less will be the amount of conflict among them. In organizations, such interdependence cannot be altogether avoided. However, instead of separating the units organizationally, they can be separated physically. The physical separation, is not a permanent measure of managing conflict.

3. Reduction in Shared Resources : Another reason of inter-group conflict is sharing of the scarce resources by the groups. The management of conflict suggests reducing the sharing. One technique for this can be increasing the resources, so that each unit is independent in using them. But as the resources are scarce, they cannot always be increased. Thus, the best possible alternative is optimum allocation of the scarce resources.

4. Trust and Communication : The greater the trust among the members of the unit, the more open and honest the communication will be. Individuals and groups should be encouraged to communicate openly with each other, so that misunderstandings can be removed and they are in a position to understand the problems of each other when necessary.

5. Co-ordination : After communication, the next step should be proper coordination. Properly co-ordinated activities reduce the conflict. Wherever there are problems in co-ordination, a special liaison office should be established to deal with these problems.

6. Exchange of Personnel : Another method of reducing and managing conflict is that personnel of conflicting groups may be exchanged for a specified period. Exchange of people is very similar to role reversal. It is aimed at greater understanding between people by forcing each to present and defend the other's position.

7. Use of Superior Authority : If conflict cannot be resolved by two organizational members or by two groups, it may be referred to a common superior, who will resolve the conflict by giving a decision. Such a decision may not necessarily bring agreement, but it will usually be accepted because of the recognised superior authority of high ranking official.

8. Reorganization of Groups : A manager can prevent the occurrence of many conflicts by reorganizing the groups. People who have got something in common will be placed in one group. Because of something in common, these people tend to see things in the same perspective, to have common interest and objective, to approach problems in much the same way. The behaviour of such groups is more predictable and it is easy for the manager to avoid conflicts.

B. Curative Measures (or) Resolving Behavioural Conflict

The curative measures include the resolution of conflicts when they take place and become dysfunctional in the organization. Two questions are involved in this : (i) What are the different conflict resolution modes? and (ii) How can the manager know which type of conflict resolution style should be adopted under what kinds of circumstances? Thomas has offered a contingency approach to resolving conflicts which we will illustrate now :

Example : If two groups or parties X and Y experience conflict, each could be more concerned about their own self or they could experience more concern for the other. When concern for the self is very low, they could be very unassertive and if concern for the self is high, they could be very assertive. If their concern for the other is low they would tend to be uncooperative and if it is high, they would be very cooperative. This could be depicted with the help of the following figure :

Conflict Resolution Model.

Fig. 6.6: Conflict Resolution Model.

1. Avoidance : At first glance, an avoiding style may appear to have no value as a mode of managing conflict. An avoiding style may reflect a failure to address important issues and a tendency to remain neutral when there is a need to take a position. An avoider may also exhibit detachment from the conflict and a readiness to comply or conform, based on indifference. Avoiding is, thus, advisable in the following situations :

(a) When you desire that people should cool down, so that they regain their composure and perspective, after which, the tension may be handled more productively.

(b) When more information is needed to made a good decision.

(c) When someone else can resolve the conflict more effectively.

(d) When the issue which provokes the conflicts is symptomatic of another more basic underlying matter and attempting to resolve the surface issue will not help the situation.

If, in a conflicting situation, party X is concerned neither about himself nor the other, X is likely to avoid facing or handling the conflict. When the situation is, thus, ignored or neglected, then Y might just get the better of X by taking advantage of X's avoidance behaviour.

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