Different Views of Conflict

Let's first explain what we mean by "conflict." Conflict is a perception of thoughts. When no one is aware of the conflict, it is generally believed that no conflict exists. So conflict is a process that begins when one side perceives that the other side has or is about to negatively affect something that the first party cares about.

Examples of conflict in an organisation

Incompatibility of goals

Differences in the interpretation of factors

Disagreement based on behavioural expectations

It is right to say there has been a lot of controversy over the role of conflict in different types of groups and organisations. One school of conflict theory says that it must be avoided because it creates a layer of dysfunction within a group or organisation.

Another school of thought says that conflict has a positive impact on a group and is essential for its effective performance. Finally, recent research argues that rather than naming it as "good conflict" or "bad conflict," it is essential to resolve naturally occurring conflicts productively.

So let's view all these views of conflict in detail −

The traditional view of the conflict

Early approaches to conflict always believed that conflict was bad and must be avoided. It was viewed as a negative sign in an organisation and was termed violent, destructive, and irrational. There was always a negative connotation attached to that.

The traditional view of the conflict was consistent with the nature of group behaviour prevalent in the 1930s and 1940s. The conflict was a dysfunctional outcome that was a result of bad communication, a lack of openness and trust between people, and the failure of higher-level managers to be attentive to the needs and aspirations of their employees.

Merits of the view

  • It provides a simple approach to looking at the behaviour of people who create conflict.

  • In this view, we can direct our attention to the causes of conflict and correct those causes.

  • We can improve group and organisational performance through this.

Demerit of the view

This lacks the long-time approach to conflict as researchers believed and argued that some conflicts are inevitable.

The interactionist view of the conflict

This view argues that an all-time harmonious, peaceful, tranquil, and cooperative group ends up becoming static, apathetic, and unresponsive to the need for change and innovation. The major contribution of this view is that a mere minimal level of conflict is necessary to keep a group viable, self-critical, and creative.

However, it does not demonstrate or propose that all conflicts are good. Here, we have to understand two types of conflict. The first is functional conflict. A conflict that accelerates group performance is functional, while one that hinders group performance is a dysfunctional conflict. Now, what is the major difference between functional and dysfunctional conflict? For that, we have to learn about the three major types of conflict in an organisation.

  • Task conflict − It relates to the content and goals of the work.

  • Relationship conflict − It focuses on interpersonal relationships.

  • Process conflict − It describes how a task is done.

Studies show that interpersonal conflicts are always dysfunctional. It increased personality clashes and hindered the completion of organisational tasks. One study says that managers spend 18 per cent of their time resolving personality conflicts.

However, in contrast, low levels of process conflict and low to moderate levels of task conflict seem to be good and functional, but only in specific cases. Recent studies have shown that task conflicts are the same as relationship conflicts. Process conflict must be kept low for it to be productive. Intensified arguments about who would perform what types of roles often lead to members working against each other.

Low to mediocre levels of task conflict stimulate discussion of ideas. This identifies that task conflict can bring change and innovation and remove routine, boring task performance. Organisations that perform routine work will not benefit from task conflict. Moreover, organisations that are already engaged in active discussion will not benefit from task conflict. Task conflict will lead to positive outcomes only when all the members of the organisation share the same ambition or goal and a high level of trust among themselves.

A resolution-focused view of the conflict

Researchers and practitioners who have strongly believed and advocated the interactionist view have begun to recognise some problems while emphasising conflict. There are rarely any cases where conflict seems to be beneficial. However, workplace conflicts are not productive at all. The conflict gets out of hand with anger and frustration, and they take time away from job tasks. People seldom wall off their feelings into categories of either task disagreements or relationship disagreements. So task conflict often escalates into relationship conflict.

Long-time research on conflict led to the fact that conflicts reduce trust, respect, and attention among the group, which reduces their long-term occurrence and viability. So the researchers are now focusing on how to manage the conflict. They are researching the whole context in which it occurs. A growing body of researchers is focusing on how to eliminate the negative impact of conflict by making employees prepare for it, developing resolution strategies, and facilitating open discussion.


In summary, we can say that the traditional view took a narrow view in assuming all conflict should be eliminated. The interactionist view argues that conflict can stimulate active discussion. The. The most recent view of conflict believes that conflict is an inevitable part of the organisation and productive resolution of the conflict is a must. The researchers have made a cycle and pattern right from eliminating it to using it and then making a constructive resolution of the same.

Updated on: 13-Apr-2023


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