Over time, conflict within organizations may be inevitable. As people compete within the organization, they can come into conflict with the goals, procedures, authority figures and individuals in the organization. Conflict can be detrimental, but surprisingly, it can have some advantages, also.

What is Conflict?

Conflict can crop up in organizations whenever people have contact. People might disagree about facts or about the soundness of opinions expressed by those in authority. There might be what we commonly call a “personality conflict,” with one group member making negative remarks about another, or avoiding that person altogether.

Another form of conflict occurs when people within an organization agree on the goals, but they disagree on the procedures needed to reach those goals. Rivalries, power struggles and disagreements about an individual’s role in the organization are common forms of organizational conflict.

Can Conflict be an Advantage?

The word “conflict” has negative connotations in common use, so we tend to think that conflict can only be a disadvantage in an organization. This is not necessarily true. Task conflict, where people disagree about the essence of the discussion or the directives of a figure in authority, can be constructive. By hearing conflicting sides, people within the organization may think more carefully about the issues and make better decisions. People in organizations who disagree about procedures to accomplish a goal may come up with new and better procedures. Or, after discussion, group members might feel that the goal itself might have to be modified.

On the other hand, conflict can have detrimental effects in an organization. It may be harmful to individuals; weaken or destroy a group; increase tension between groups; or disrupt normal channels of cooperation. In extreme cases, conflict can lead to violence. Conflict can prevent members of an organization from focusing on tasks and goals.

Managing Conflict

Some conflict within an organization may be inevitable, but it is important to acknowledge that it exists in order to resolve the issues. To put an effective program of conflict resolution in place, it is important to analyze the situation to learn what the conflict is really about. Is it a struggle over goals, territory, or values? How are the individuals in conflict behaving?

Once the problem is identified, the lines of communication must be open to allow all parties to express their views. A tactful manager will allow for both sides to “save face” or embarrassment. Finally, negotiation toward a solution that everyone can live with will forward the goals of the organization.