Transitions in conflict thought

It is entirely appropriate to say that there has been a conflict over the role of conflict itself in groups and organizations. One school of thought argues that conflict must be avoided—that it indicates a malfunctioning within the group .This is 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 is not necessarily evil, but rather has the potential to be a positive force in determining group performance. The third, and most recent perspective proposes that not only can conflict act as a positive force in a group but that some conflict is absolutely necessary for a group to perform effectively. We label this third school the interactionist approach. Let’s take a closer look at each of these views.


The earliest approach to conflict assumed that all conflict was bad. Conflict was viewed negatively, and it was used synonymously with such terms as violence, destruction, and irrationality to reinforce its negative connotation. Conflict, by definition, was harmful and was to be avoided. The American syndicate’s management and the yacht’s team members essentially subscribed to this view of conflict.

The traditional view was consistent with the attitudes that prevailed about group behavior in the 1930s and 1940s.Conflict was seen as a dysfunctional outcome resulting from poor communication, a 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 .Since all conflict is to be avoided, we need merely direct our attention to the causes of conflict and correct the malfunctionings in order to improve group and organizational performance. Although research studies now provide strong evidence to dispute that this approach to conflict reduction results in high group performance ,many of us still evaluate conflict situations using this outmoded standard. As well as many senior executives and board of directors.


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


While the human relations approach accepted conflict, the interactionist approach encourages conflict on the grounds that a harmonious peaceful, tranquil, and cooperative group is prone to becoming static, apathetic, and non responsive to change and innovation .The major contribution of the interactionist approach, therefore, is to encourage group leaders to maintain an on going minimum level of conflict—enough to keep the group viable, self-critical and creative.