Organizational Power And Conflict Dynamics

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Organizational Power and Conflict Dynamics

Organizational Power and Conflict Dynamics


Research into behaviour in organizations can be divided into two categories: normative and descriptive. Normative research is concerned with how things should be, whereas descriptive research addresses itself to what is - rather than what could or should be. This dual perspective is most apparent in approaches to the issues of conflict and conflict management in organizations. Normative approaches reflect attitudes and beliefs which identify all conflicts as destructive and promote conflict-elimination as the formula for organizational success. Descriptive approaches accept conflict as inevitable and consider its proper management the primary responsibility of all administrators. This paper pertains to the descriptive mode of inquiry in presenting a framework for the study of conflict in organizations. But it goes beyond this domain in suggesting that administrators must take the offensive and seek to manage conflict, and also in advocating that traditional methods of dealing with conflict be replaced by a new and more sophisticated approach.

Conflict: Towards a Definition

Conflict is endemic to all social life. It is an inevitable part of living because it is related to situations of scarce resources, division of functions, power relations and role-differentiation. Because of its ubiquity and pervasive nature, the concept has acquired a multitude of meanings and connotations presenting us with nothing short of a semantic jungle. Like other terms, conflict generates considerable ambivalence and leaves many scholars and administrators quite uncertain about (1) its meaning and relevance and (2) how best to cope with it.

The normative conception of conflict, strongly influenced by a preoccupation with stability and equilibrium in organizational design, links conflict to violence, destruction, inefficiency and irrationality.1 This form of intellectual myopia was especially invidious in suggesting that administrators have the responsibility of avoiding, controlling or eliminating conflict.2 Descriptive approaches challenge the whole basis and rationale of these assumptions. They permit us to depart from an outmoded paradigm by suggesting that any social interaction in which the parties (however they may be structured or defined) compete for scarce resources or values has the potential for conflict.3 Using the term in a broad sense we suggest that conflict refers to all kinds of antagonistic interactions. More specifically, it can be defined as a situation in which two or more parties have incompatible objectives and in which their perceptions and behaviour are commensurate with that incompatability.4

This definition is purposely broad. It suggests that conflict is a social phenomemon that is found in personal, group or organizational interactions.

As such it comprises several dimensions. Fink5 distinguishes between (1) antagonistic-psychological relations and (2) antagonistic behaviour, whereas Pondy6 observes that conflict is made up of (1) antecedent conditions, (2) affective conditions, (3) cognitive conditions and (4) behavioural conditions. We advance a conception of conflict which emphasizes its three, interrelated dimensions, namely: (1) conflict situation (the basic incompatibility), (2) conflict attitudes (range of psychological factors) and (3) conflict behaviour (set of related behaviour).7

Conflict refers to more than just overt behaviour. Concentrating only upon its behavioural manifestation is an ...
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