Organizational conflict can slow productivity to a standstill and make your employees dread coming to work, but internal tensions can also challenge your staff to find creative solutions and take your business to the next level. The traditional view of conflict in organizations emphasizes the importance of easing tensions and keeping difficulties from coming to a boil. However, contemporary theories of conflict transformation actually view conflict as a potentially positive situation that can bring difficulties to light, keep you from becoming complacent and help your business to build a strong team.


The traditional view of organizational conflict sees difficulty and tension as a problem to be overcome.

Views on Conflict Theory

  • Traditional. The traditional view of organizational conflict stresses its negative aspects. According to this view, conflict causes difficulties and should therefore be avoided. Traditional conflict theory is oriented toward solutions or moving toward situations where conflict is not present.

  • Human relations. According to this view of organizational conflict, which was in vogue from the 1940s to the 1970s, some degree of conflict can never be altogether avoided and should be treated as a necessary part of running an organization. Conflict can even become beneficial to an organization if parties work together to achieve positive outcomes.

  • Interactionist view. This approach to organizational conflict takes the human relations view one step further by seeing conflict as something that can have a positive outcome from time to time and serve as a necessary part of organizational development. Not all conflicts are created equal, however. Some types are destructive and dysfunctional, while others are important and healthy, bringing to light issues that need to be resolved through creative collaboration.

Causes of Conflict

The psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart identified eight common reasons for conflict within an organization or workplace. These include competition for resources, or the need to fairly distribute what is available. Different styles and perspectives also come into play as staff and management approach diverse situations with different behaviors and see them through different frameworks. Any view of conflict management would also be incomplete without a discussion of conflicting goals or individuals working at cross purposes because they are interested in achieving divergent outcomes.

Conflict can also be caused by conflicting roles and conflicting pressures, such as the tension between a boss who bears responsibility for meeting a deadline and an employee who is worn out from family pressures and simply wants to do enough to collect a paycheck.

Personal values may come into play, such as if someone is asked to award a contract to a specific party because of relationships rather than merit. Organizational dysfunction reflected in unpredictable policies is another cause of conflict, causing tension as workers try to meet expectations that are regularly shifting.

The Conflict Resolution Process

The traditional view of the conflict process recognizes two primary ways of addressing discord. Conflict management recognizes or assumes that certain difficulties cannot be resolved, so they should be addressed using strategies that keep them from developing into crises. Conflict management strategies include accommodating, compromising and collaborating.

Conflict resolution seeks to forge outcomes that move beyond a conflict. Strategies include mediation, negotiation and diplomacy. The rationale behind these approaches lies in the belief that effective intervention and communication can eliminate conflicts or at least temper them to the point where they no longer cause ongoing difficulties.

Conflict transformation goes beyond resolution efforts and actually uses conflict as a tool to bring about deep change. Instead of seeking a surface solution that allows the parties to share spaces or resources without open tension, this approach attempts to dig into the root causes of the conflict to create lasting and satisfying solutions.