Conflict at Work

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Definition of Conflict
“Interpersonal Conflict occurs between two or more persons when attitudes, motives, values, expectations or activities are incompatible and if those people perceive themselves to be in disagreement” (John Hunt, 1982)

Conflict Theory
Conflict theory talks about why people think and act the way they do and what conditions and causes influence a certain response in human behaviour.  While there have been many different views on conflict theory and it has taken a multitude of different forms, it often seems that the Marxian theory is the one that represents the predominant example of conflict theory in sociological literature. The Marxist theory of conflict argues that  there is a huge difference between social classes; the wealthy and the poor and that power plays a significant role in initiating conflicts as the powerful groups use their power in order to exploit groups with less power.

What leads to conflict?
Value Differences : Values are beliefs that help people make decisions about what is right or wrong, good or bad, and normal or not normal. People always have different life experiences, so ultimately different sets of values and beliefs guide their decisions and behaviour. People struggle over religion, politics, race, humanitarian issues, ethics and morals, abortion, sex, and more. Based on different beliefs, the value system is a strong driver of behaviour and a frequent source of conflict in general.

Misinterpretations/lack of communication: Instructions are often misinterpreted.  The ability to communicate is one of the most commonly used skills. As such, sometimes communication is taken for granted so the words that are used do not always clearly state the picture in people’s minds. When this occurs, errors often result that lead to frustration. Depending on a multitude of factors (stress level for one), the error sometimes results in conflict if neither person is willing to accept responsibility for it.  If tasks are not clearly defined or delegated, it normally leads to conflict. For example, based on a survey we carried out at the residential at North Hampton, the main reason for conflict was the ‘lack of communication’.

Competition for resources: Conflicts arise when people are competing for the same resources (such as territory, jobs and income, housing) when they are not fairly distributed or when there are not enough to go round. The same applies to natural resources (cultivable land, fresh water). Therefore, because resources are scarce, people have no choice but to compete leading to conflict.

Personality conflict: People are different and thus have different personalities. Some people naturally behave or handle a situation in a certain manner. It is because of this difference that personalities ‘clash’ which leads to a conflict. Experts say that our personalities are genetically determined resulting in different sets of preferred behaviours.  

Lack of Cooperation: The lack of cooperation could also lead to conflict when one person’s progress is dependent on the other. A person's job could depend on someone else's co-operation, output or input. For example if a sales-person is constantly late inputting the monthly sales figures, it would cause the accountant to be late with the reports.

Goal differences: Many people have different motives, therefore this may affect the decisions they make. When goals differ between individuals, teams or entities, it affects overall progress which eventually leads to conflict. How to deal with Conflict?

The Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode Instrument (TKI), introduced in 1974 by Kenneth W.Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann, is a self-scoring exercise that has been the leader in conflict resolution assessment for more than 30 years. The TKI model helps people to identify their normal behavior in conflict situations. For conflict situations, the TKI describes an individual's behavior along two basic dimensions: assertiveness, the extent to...
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