People spend a large amount of time during the day at work and for this reason, any conflict in the office makes the lives of employees more complicated. Handling stressful situations is the task of the human resource department; good relationships in a team contribute to the effective performance of any organization. Conflicts and disputes usually disrupt the regular work of the team, making the execution of tasks impossible. That is why companies and managers need to make sure that the quality of interpersonal relationships between team members is good (Chung, 2015, p. 380). To resolve a conflict, an HR manager needs to know the causes of labor disputes and ways to fix them. It is vital to understand the role and essence of organizational conflict, although it seems to be a rather complicated task. Nevertheless, it is still possible to understand that sometimes conflict might have a positive impact on the organization.
The Negative Impact of Conflicts
Working with different employees can inevitably create conflicts. People spend most of their time at work, where they have to build relationships, interact in teams and manage various processes. While it may seem easy to find an approach to problems regarding the production process, it is more difficult in handling situations that involve communication. A researcher defines conflict as “a communication process and an inevitable consequence of transactional relationship manifesting in disagreement and dissonance with and between individuals and groups in the work-environment” (Longe, 2015, p. 83). In other words, conflict is a clash of opposing interests, views, and aspirations; it is a serious disagreement, a heated debate that sometimes even leads to a fight.
Conflict is one of the most critical aspects of communication between people; it is the essence of society. An essential factor about social disputes is that the participants operate within the framework of some broader system of ties that is modified under the influence of conflict. Therefore, conflicts and organizations belong together, and within the company, it can have a multitude of valuable and dysfunctional consequences both in the short-term and in the long run.
Some researchers say that conflicts in the organization are generally harmful, and that is why they must be eradicated by all possible means. They negatively affect the proper functioning of the organization, it destabilizes the work and leads to employee stress. According to a researcher, interpersonal conflict in the workplace is often recognized as a cause of anxiety and tension that may, in some instances, result in claims for psychological trauma (McKenzie, 2015). Other studies confirm that fact by saying that a “workplace conflict is commonly viewed in the literature as a symptom of management failure: the notion that conflict may be intrinsic to the nature of work because employees and managers have hard‐to‐reconcile competing interests is given short‐shrift” (Currie et al., 2017, p. 492). However, others believe that conflicts could have a positive impact on the firm’s activities since it allows the organization to develop ideas, enter new frontiers in the market. Moreover, conflicts also provide an opportunity for employees to grow professionally and spiritually.
It is difficult to imagine a company leader who has never faced the problem of resolving conflicts between employees. According to Harrington, Warren, and Rayner (2015, p. 1), “rather than being solely a phenomenon perpetrated by individuals, workplace bullying is often a symptom of managerial and capitalistic discourses of intensified performance management in organizations, reinforced by the embedding of existing professionalization discourses with the field of Human Resource Management in the UK”. Researchers note that, for example, a conflict in the nursing field is inevitable since staff members in this profession often encounter stress due to physical and emotional pressure (Afsar and Rehman, 2017, p. 93). As a rule, such situations are perceived as a malfunction in the organization’s work. They are seen as something out of the ordinary, a hindrance to normal activities. When managers are faced with a conflict situation, they tend to feel irritation and discontent. That is why they are not willing to deal with complicated discussions that may prevent the escalation of a conflict (Saundry et al., 2016). It can be explained by the fact that managers do not want to be distracted from direct tasks and spend valuable time settling conflicts.
In addition, the spontaneous development of conflict often leads to disruption of the normal functioning of the organization. It is usually accompanied by powerful negative emotions that the participants aggressively express to each other. These emotions hinder the search for a rational solution and form the image of the enemy, which must be defeated or destroyed at all costs. When the conflict reaches such a stage, it is already difficult to deal with such a situation. That is why it generally has a strong destructive charge. Nevertheless, whether it is pleasing or not, conflicts have to be dealt with as they are an integral part of the life of any organization. Moreover, in many cases, disagreements can serve as an indicator of the fact that the organization is developing and progressing. The real task of a manager is not to exclude conflicts from the life of the organization, but to develop ways of resolving them constructively.
The Positive Impact of Conflicts
As it was mentioned earlier, there is an opinion that conflict is a destructive force that should be avoided and prevented. This phenomenon is surrounded by negative stereotypes about fights, hostility, bullying, and aggression. For this reason, managers may feel like they should be resolved immediately as soon as they arise. However, several researchers emphasized the importance of conflicts in the harmonious functioning of the organization. Modern management theorists acknowledge that a complete absence of conflict within the team is a condition not only impossible but also undesirable.
Office conflicts are commonly condemned by both company leaders and employees; it is believed that those who tend to get into an argument are simply brawlers who cannot get along with other people. Meanwhile, conflict experts have long proved that without conflict, no social system, including a work team, can exist. Moreover, sometimes conflict becomes the driving force behind progress. For example, one department constantly quarrels with another because the necessary information is not transmitted on time, which hinders the work process. The result of the resolution of such a conflict could be the installation of new software for the data exchange. Unfortunately, not every dispute in the workplace can be resolved constructively. Therefore, some experts recommend that such situations should be prevented whenever possible, and in cases where they appear, managers need to learn how to resolve them with benefit.
An example of a conflict that is useful for a company can be the conflict when opposing goals are consciously formed in the organization’s structure for departments that result in a confrontation. Such a conflict makes it possible for managers to evaluate the actions of participants in an objective way since during the encounter, they are looking for more advanced arguments for developing new technologies. In other words, conflicts create constructive stress that is useful to the organization.
Moreover, researchers note that they do not necessarily hinder the performance of employees. For example, “conflict among Chinese team members does not necessarily produce a negative effect on team performance, as traditionally conceived” (Huang, 2012, p. 2140). Instead, these situations enable the practical completion of tasks. For this reason, it can be safely assumed that even in teams with effective management, some conflicts are not only possible but also desirable.
However, researchers believe that conflicts may interfere with getting work achievements. Moreover, discussions that occur during disputes cannot always produce positive outcomes since sometimes they can disturb the individual’s mental well-being (De Dreu, 2008). For example, an employee who argues at a meeting only because he wants to argue will undoubtedly reduce the degree of satisfaction for his colleagues. As a consequence, the group’s ability to make effective decisions may be reduced. The members of the group can accept the point of view of such a debater only to avoid the conflict and all the troubles associated with it. Nevertheless, in many cases, the conflict helps to identify a variety of points of view. Moreover, it provides additional information, helps to identify several alternatives or solutions to current problems. This makes the group decision-making process more efficient and also gives people the opportunity to express their thoughts and thereby satisfy their personal needs for respect and power. It can also lead to the practical implementation of plans, strategies, and projects since the discussions of different opinions take place before their actual application.
Nowadays, most researchers point out that the occurrence of conflicts in the organization is natural. Nevertheless, they always need to be resolved due to the likelihood of negative consequences for the company. This is justified from a management perspective since studies indicate that companies should invest time and finances in training HR professionals who have enough communication skills to support their employees (Liu et al., 2015). Conflict management is considered by many experts as its transfer to a logical channel of people’s activity, a meaningful impact on the conflict behavior of social actors of the conflict to achieve the desired results; confining confrontation with a constructive influence.
Conflict management includes many activities, such as predicting, regulating, preventing, stimulating, and suppressing conflicts. Studies note that the process of resolving a conflict is associated with such skills as social responsibility and impulse control (Hopkins and Yonker 2015). It is evident that to conduct such activities effectively, “besides the job training on mentoring diverse employees, managers need to take a step of empowering them to challenge discriminatory behaviors” (Prause and Mujtaba, 2015, p. 13). The result of conflict is called positive if it leads to an increase in the effectiveness of the organization.
Effective management includes changing all conflicts into functional ones. Therefore, “the sustainable management of staff teams for service delivery and successful project completion includes accessing tacit intellectual and emotional capital of teams as well as recognizing these elements when interacting with suppliers and clients” (Cockburn, Smith and Cockburn, 2019, p. 2). For this reason, researchers note that managers should secure “productivity improvements through selective co-operation, without necessarily offering unions a more constructive role even where co-operation is forthcoming” (Bacon and Blyton, 1999, p. 650). Nowadays, such issues are vital and relevant in the organizational environment. That is why human resource managers should also have proper training in interpersonal conflict management because this skill is a key that is essential for preventing any type of workplace harassment (Einarsen et al., 2018). Fortunately, special conflict management mechanisms are being developed continuously.
In conclusion, it would appear that conflicts can have both negative and positive consequences for the company. They become destructive in cases where they are saturated with emotions and turn into interpersonal tension and interpersonal conflict. Nevertheless, conflicts can also have a positive impact since they can provide new ideas and strategies. In addition, the complete absence of conflicts in the organization looks unnatural. The determining factor about disputes that affect competitiveness, economic growth, and production efficiency is the availability of human resources at the enterprise that can professionally solve such situations. For effective human resource management, a company needs a holistic system of work with personnel.
There is no doubt that all recommendations for managing conflicts in an organization are not universal; after all, it is a not “one size fits all” situation. An HR manager must apply his or her knowledge and communication skills creatively while taking into account all the factors of the conflict. However, proper training can help managers to find the right solutions and move conflicts into a safe and productive direction. Further research is needed to expand the understanding of how conflicts affect team composition and what are the methods that can diminish the adverse effects.
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