Conflict in the Workplace

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1. Abstract Interpersonal conflicts in the workplace are very common because they inevitably arise when groups or teams perform. This essay critically discusses the view that these conflicts can in certain circumstances be a positive factor in improving the individual performance. The approach used to address this issue is a combination of literature review and interviews of employees working at the chosen business, which is the PTA GmbH.

T he four levels of conflict in the workplace and the explanation of the traditional, behavioural and interactionist views of conflict are identified. C onflicts are classified using two approaches: First, they are grouped into relationship and task conflicts. Second, they are categorised by distinguishing between competitive and cooperative conflicts. Seven circumstances are identified and explained in which conflict in the workplace can be a positive factor in improving the individual performance.

Conflict in the workplace

1.1. Levels of conflict Conflict in the workplace occurs when two or more people disagree over issues of organisational substance and / or experience some emotional antagonism with one another (Wood et al., 2003, p. 597). In general, it can be explained as perceived incompatible differences regarding interests or ideas that result in interference or opposition (Esquivel & Kleiner, 1996). Four levels of conflict can be identified (Wood et al., 2003, pp. 598-599):

§ Interorganisational conflict is conflict that occurs between organisations.

§ Intergroup conflict is conflict that occurs between groups in an organisation.

§ Intrapersonal conflict is conflict that occurs within the individual as a result of actual or perceived pressures from incompatible goals or expectations.

§ Interpersonal conflict is conflict that occurs between two or more individuals that work together in groups or teams (Wood et al., 2003, p. 598). Here a link can be made to the organisational behaviour theme ‘groups and teams'. As a group performs its assigned tasks, conflicts inevitably arise (Robbins et al., 2003, p. 421). Groups and teams must contend, among other issues, with conflicts over effective and fair distribution of work and rewards, social loafing, and the best ways to accomplish their goals (Alper et al., 2000).

Interpersonal conflicts are natural and can actually spur creativity and performance of the participating individuals. This level of conflict will be the focus of the entire essay because it is the most frequently found kind of conflict in the workplace. Among the common reasons for this level of conflict are differences in personal beliefs and values (Wood et al., 2003, p. 596). Figure 1 summarises the major reasons for its occurrence.

Sources of



Communication Problems







Different Values

and Beliefs



Figure 1 : Sources of interpersonal conflict in the workplace (McShane & Von Glinow, 2003, p. 390)

1.2. The recent perspective of interpersonal conflict Three different views regarding interpersonal conflict can be found in the literature (Robbins et al., 2003, pp. 421 - 422 Tjosvold et al., 2003):

§ The traditional view argues that conflict must be avoided because it indicates problems.

§ The behavioural view sees conflict as a natural and inevitable outcome when people work together in groups and teams and need not be negative. Rather it has the potential to be a positive force in contributing to the performance of the individuals.

§ The interactionist view proposes not only that conflict is a positive force but also that some conflict is necessary for an individual to perform effectively. Resolving conflicts means challenging normal processes and procedures in an effort to improve individual productivity or introduce innovative systems. This represents the most recent perspective...
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