In my work, the issue that generates the most emotion and frustrated comments is conflict within the organization. We generally do not look at conflict as opportunity-we tend to think about conflict as unpleasant, counterproductive, and time consuming. Conflict that occurs in organizations need not be destructive, provided the energy associated with conflict is harnessed and directed toward problem solving and organizational improvement; however, managing conflict effectively requires that all parties understand the nature of conflict in the workplace.
Two Views: The Good, the Bad
There are two ways of looking at organizational conflict. Each of these ways is linked to a different set of assumptions about the purpose and function of organizations.
The dysfunctional view of organizational conflict is embedded in the notion that organizations are designed to achieve goals by creating structures that perfectly define job responsibilities, authorities, and other job functions. Like a clockwork watch, each "cog" knows where it fits, knows what it must do, and knows how it relates to other parts.
This traditional view of organizations values orderliness, stability, and the repression of any conflict that occurs. Using the timepiece analogy, we can see the sense in this. What would happen to time telling if the gears in our traditional watches decided to become less traditional and redefine their roles in the system?
To the "traditional" organizational thinker, conflict implies that the organization is not designed or structured correctly or adequately. Common remedies are to further elaborate job descriptions, authorities, and responsibilities; increase the use of central power (discipline); separate conflicting members; etc.
This view of organizations and conflict causes problems. Unfortunately, most of us, consciously or unconsciously, value some of the characteristics of this "orderly" environment. Problems arise when we do not realize that this way of looking at...