Transitions in Conflict Thought

It is entirely appropriate to say that there has been “conflict over the role of conflict” in groups and organizations. One school of thought has argued that conflict must be avoided that it indicates a mal functioning within the group. We call this the traditional view. Another school of thought the human relations view, argues that conflict is a natural and inevitable outcome in any group and that it need not be evil, but rather has potential to be a positive force in determining group performance The third, and most recent, perspective proposes not only that conflict can be a positive force in a group but explicitly argues that some conflict is absolutely necessary for a group outperform effectively. We label this third school the interactions view. Let’s take a closer look at each of these views.

The traditional View:

The early approach to conflict assumed that all conflict was bad. Conflict was viewed negatively and it was used synonymous with such terms as violence, destruction and irrationality to reinforce its negative connotation. Conflict by definition, was harmful and was to be avoided. The traditional view was consistent with attitudes that prevailed about group behavior in the 1930s and 1940s. Conflict was seen as a dysfunctional outcome resulting from poor communication, lack of openness and trust between people and the failure of managers to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of their employees.

The view that all conflict is bad certainly offers a simple approach to looking at the behavior of people who create conflict. Because all conflict is to be avoided, we need merely direct our attention to the causes of conflict and correct these mal-functioning’s to improve group and organizational performance. Although research studies do not provide strong evidence to dispute that this approach to conflict reduction result in high group performance, many of us still evaluate conflict situations using this outmoded standard.

The Human Relations View:

The human relations view argued that conflict was a natural occurrence in all groups and organizations. Because conflict was inevitable, the human relations school advocated acceptance of conflict. Proponents rationalized its existence. It cannot be eliminated, and there are times when conflict may benefit a group’s performance. The human relations view dominated conflict theory from the late 1940 through the mid-1970s.

The Interaction view:

While the human relations view accepted conflict, the interactionist view encourage conflicts on the grounds that a harmonious, peaceful, tranquil, and cooperative group is prone to becoming static apathetic and non-responsive to needs for change in innovation. The major contribution of the ineteractionist view therefore is encouraging group leaders to maintain an ongoing minimum level of conflict enough to keep the group viable, self critical and creative.

The inetractionist’s view does not purpose that all conflicts are good. Rather some conflicts support the goals of the group and improve its performance these are functional constructive firms of conflict. In addition, there are conflicts that hinder group performance these are dysfunctional or destructive of destructive forms of conflict. What differentiates functional for, dysfunctional conflicts? The evidence indicates that you need to look at the type of conflict. Specifically there are three types: Task, relationship and process.

Task conflict relates to the content and goals of the work. Relationship conflict focuses on interpersonal relationships. Process conflict relates to how the work gets done. Studies demonstrate that relationship conflicts are almost dysfunctional. Why? It appears that the friction and inter personal hostilities inherent in relationship conflicts increase personality clashes and decrease mutual understanding, which hinders the completion of the organizational tasks However, low level of process conflict and low-to-moderate levels of task conflict are functional. For process conflict to be productive, it must be kept low. Intense arguments about who should do what become dysfunctional when they create uncertainty about task roles increase the time to complete tasks and lead to members working at cross purposes. Low to moderate levels of task conflict consistently demonstrates a positive effect on group performance because it stimulates discussion of ideas that helps groups perform better.