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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
positive conflict in business, March 3, 2006, 2D.
the things that makes organizational study so interesting is
the diversity of organizations. Missions, goals,
strategies, sizes, and methods of operation are just a few
of the dimensions on which organizations differ.
Unfortunately, the diversity of organizations also sometimes
makes their study frustrating and difficult. What can be
shown true for one type of organization might be completely
opposite of what works best in another.
Sometimes even the concepts that we study seem riddled with
paradoxes. Conflict in organizations, for example, is one
of those concepts. Conflict arises from differing
viewpoints about expectations, beliefs, and processes. It
tends to emerge when people work together setting goals,
determining courses of action, or resolving problems.
traditional view of conflict in organizations has been that
conflict is dysfunctional and should be minimized or
eliminated. Because conflict tends to distract the minds
and energies of workers from the task at hand, it was
thought to be something that organizations should avoid.
However, research support for this viewpoint was mixed. In
some cases heightened organizational conflict was associated
with lower levels of organizational performance, but in
other cases the opposite held true.
further investigation, the apparent paradox was resolved
when it was determined that there are actually two types of
conflict—one associated with negative outcomes and the other
with positive outcomes. These two types were identified as
person-based and problem-based conflict.
Person-based conflict is harmful, emotional, and has little
or nothing to do with work or the task at hand. It
manifests itself through fighting with and personal attacks
on others and results in restricted communication,
hostility, fearfulness and distrust of others, and an
unwillingness to work together cooperatively. An
organization full of person-based conflict will see its
people nervous to offer new suggestions or ideas or to take
initiative to make new and better things happen.
Ultimately, communication, initiative, creativity, and
teamwork can be squelched by rampant person-based conflict.
Problem-based conflict is directed at solving organizational
problems. It involves examining problems from multiple and
perhaps differing viewpoints and requires people to
rationally analyze, critique, and weigh the merits of
suggested alternatives. This type of conflict is focused on
solving organizational problems without fear of personal
attack. Workers also understand that critiques and
rejection of their ideas are not personal rejections of them
as people, but important steps in the creative,
problem-solving process. To reap the benefits of
problem-based conflict, organizations must build cultures
that value trust, respect, risk-taking, diverse ideas,
initiative, ownership, and teamwork.
traditional view that all organizational conflict should be
eliminated seems unrealistic and undesirable.
Organizational conflict should be managed. Problem-based
conflict should be encouraged and person-based conflict
controlled as much as possible. Perhaps the greatest
responsibility of organizational leaders is creating a
culture that promotes positive conflict.
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