Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the global best-seller book Good Business, conducted deep interviews with several leaders of internationally successful, and sustainable organizations. He found that these successfully created Flow-promoting Organizations and implemented the Flow-Leadership style. Together with him, our team at Aleas Sims/FLIGBY has identified a core of 29 management and leadership skills.
In cooperation with Corvinus Business School, the leading business school in the Central European region for over 25 years, and with the CEMS, the global alliance of leading business school, and the supervision of Dr. Zoltan Buzady, Director of the Leadership & Flow Global Research Network, fresh graduates of this prestigious Masters in Global Management program have prepared short guides on the various FLIGBY skills.
Here is the first
Conflict management is one of skill that every person, group and organization need to possess.
As conflicts will inevitably arise, managing them can make or break a company. In the following blog posting we will explore different types and sources of conflict, then propose different strategies for dealing with conflict within small groups.
So what is conflict management?
In FLIGBY, our online serious game for developing Flow-promoting leadership skills, the following definition is given:
“Conflict management is the practice of identifying and handling conflicts in a sensible, fair, and efficient manner. Conflict management is the principle that all conflicts cannot necessarily be resolved, but learning how to manage conflicts can decrease the odds of nonproductive escalation”.
As the definition highlights, not all conflicts can be resolved, but managing them still remains crucial. This is important, as not all conflicts have a negative effect on organizational performance. Quite to the contrary, the majority of research suggests that conflict and corporate performance are closely linked until the level or type of conflict reaches a dysfunctional level (Alper et al., 2000; Jehn et al., 1999; Jehn and Mannix, 2001). Robbins & Junge (2013) argue that functional conflict supports the goals of the group and thus improves group performance, while dysfunctional conflict hinders it. This gives us the insight that neither too low nor too high conflict level results in optimal performance. However, the question arises: what types of conflict are there and how does their effect differ regarding group performance?
A substantial body of literature offers various classifications for determining different types of conflicts. In the following paragraph, we will discuss conflict types based on the research of Proksch (2016). Based on this, six different types of conflict can be differentiated:
- Inner conflicts
- Circumstantial conflicts
- Conflicts of interest
- Relationship conflicts
- Conflict of values
- Structural conflicts
Inner conflicts refer to conflicts that are intrapersonal, as they exist inside the person. This can arise when trade-offs need to be made in connection with satisfying different desires. Circumstantial conflicts arise when the quality, quantity or interpretation of information creates tension. Conflicts of interest consist of situations when the parties involved have differing interests. Relationship conflicts are founded on emotions, such as fear, envy or contempt towards the other person or the situation itself. Conflict of values happens when the principles of the involved parties contradict each other. Finally, structural conflicts arise from contrasting structural factors (Proksch, 2016).
Conflict Management Strategy in Practice
Now we will also write about how people should handle conflicts in several situations, how they can develop a conflict management strategy and we will also elaborate on group conflicts.
It’s never easy to speak up against other people, not just because one has to focus as strongly as possible on the person they talk to, but also because it’s very hard to form well-built and structured sentences which make them think and accept another point of view. Nonetheless, people can prepare for debates by learning useful tools. In our opinion, there are three tools, which are essential for successful conflict management: categorizing conflict levels, the Thomas-Kilmann conflict categories and techniques, which help to prevent and defuse the conflicts themselves.
One can differentiate four conflict levels: intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup and intergroup levels. Intrapersonal conflicts happen when you’re debating with yourself, e.g. when you have to choose among different options. The interpersonal level is when the conflict is between two individuals. The intragroup level means that the conflict is within a group of people e.g. when there is a debate in the management of a company or in a class of a school. Finally, when two or more groups of people have a conflict with each other it is called the intergroup level. This is important because one might have different conflict management strategies on each level, therefore categorising conflict levels help people react faster to specific situations.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument was originally developed as a research tool by Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann in the early 1970s. The model was intended as a research tool, however, it quickly became apparent that the TKI assessment was also a training tool – which helps people categorize their conflict behaviour. In this short description, we would like to present the research tool itself instead of the assessment. The model identifies two dimensions of conflict behaviour – the first is assertiveness (note by dr. Buzady: also a FLIGBY skill!), which means how much do you want to satisfy your own goals during the conflict; and the second is cooperativeness (note by dr. Buzady: also a FLIGBY skill), which is the measure of how much do you want to satisfy the other individuals’ goals.
Given these dimensions, one can differentiate five major conflict-handling modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. Each of these modes has their strengths and weaknesses, but the one who makes a better decision about which behaviour to choose in specific circumstances has the competitive advantage in each conflict management situations. It is also useful to categorize other people, e.g. which mode do they typically use in conflicting situations. This might help you debate better in different cases.
Finally, there are several ways and conflict handling techniques what one can do before or during conflicts.
These techniques can be categorized into two groups. “The non-transformative techniques do not touch the conflict itself. They impede escalation and facilitate a constructive continuation of the debate. The transformative techniques intervene in the conflict itself or alter the way of looking at the conflict or the attitude towards it and can de-escalate the situation.” (Porksch, 2016)
Some of the non-transformative techniques are:
- active listening – when you concentrate precisely on your partner, who you are debating with, listen carefully and paying extra attention, even asking questions to clarify everything
- paraphrasing – it “is the repetition of what you have heard, using your own words, … it also enables you to help the speaker to better understand herself and her own needs and goals”
- sending I-messages – these sentences describe same situations but instead of expressing something about the other party, you describe your own perception
And the most useful transformative techniques are
- change of perspective – people switch their point of view and try to take a look at the problem in another way
- feedback – this is when you give some direct advice to other people in order to effect on their conflict behaviour and perspective; people usually give feedbacks after a conflicting situation, they do not usually use the technique in the middle of a debate
- reformulation – a mediator is needed to use this technique; her task is to translate destructive sentences into constructive ones (this technique helps a lot when there is a need to keep a conflict calm and organized).
These three models are important in every situation where there is a conflict, but there are some specific issues regarding group conflict.
Conflicts in Small Groups
When we are talking about group conflicts a lot of real-life examples are coming to our mind. We can categorize them into three main groups: (1) task conflicts, (2) relationship conflicts and (3) process conflicts (Behfar et al., 2010).
The task conflict is “an awareness of differences in viewpoints regarding the group’s task” (Behfar et al., 2010, pp 158). This could have advantages and disadvantages as well, but in our view discussing all the aspects of a question and thinking about other possible solutions are the good side of the task conflict. A discussion like this can be healthy and constructive. The second kind of conflicts are the relationship conflicts, which is “an awareness of interpersonal incompatibilities, including feelings of tension and friction” (Behfar et al., 2010, pp 159). These are usually not professional conflicts but more likely personal ones which usually have bad effects on the way of finding a solution. If two people in a group have a conflict of interest and cannot work together, the business is always suffering at the end because the team cannot act proactively and cannot have a consensus on the key decisions. The process conflicts are “disagreements about assignments of duties and resources” (Jehn, 1997, p. 540). The key issue in the question of process conflict is related to the group’s coordination and performance. the dissatisfaction of the members and the negative attitudes in the group are more common if the conditions are not clear and people are not aware of the deadlines, resources and milestones.
Summing up, in a nutshell, we can say that relationship conflicts are always bad, however, the task conflicts and the process conflicts can lead to a better understanding of the topic and to find a more viable solution which is widely accepted by the key and relevant stakeholders.
Quick Techniques for Conflicts
Let us briefly introduce several techniques that should be used by the managers not to spread the disagreement in the team. These ideas were listed by a Stanford Associate Professor, Lindred Greer. His four findings are the followings: (1) Managers should intervene when other team members are brought in for reasons other than task opinions, as they have tremendous potential to spread to other members of the team. (2) Understand what the real issue at hand is before getting involved and what people’s conflict intentions are. (3) Finding out the true reasons for conflict allows for integrative problem-solving approaches. (4) Managers should be aware of their own biases. People often side with one party to a conflict, which might harm the effectiveness of the team and can even exacerbate the conflict. (Greer, 2014). As a result, managers should be aware of their own biases and potentially delegate the conflict resolution to someone that is better positioned to do so.
Finally, we would like to introduce a possible solution what you, as a team member can do, in order not to spread the disagreement in the team:
Process conflict management is about following some rules to create and maintain a good working environment where people can do their best without putting limits on them. It can help to maximize the group utility and to empower people to act proactively and find a viable solution as a team. The three key – almost obvious – round of the duties are the followings: (1) put clear parameters around work roles, (2) discuss how resources could be used more effectively and (3) plan proactively around temporal milestones, such as deadlines. Applying them to the daily life can help the groups to avoid process conflicts and keep the resources for the responsible decision making. (Behfar et al., 2011).
We hope you like our overview. Share with us your opinion or more resources and links in the comments sections below.
Donát Rigó is currently finishing his Finance MSc studies at Corvinus University of Budapest, and he is also a member of the CEMS MIM double-degree program. His interests include corporate strategy, finance, venture capital and filmmaking.
Bence Szabó is currently a Finance Master student at the Corvinus University of Budapest and spent his abroad semester at the Universität zu Köln in Germany. Topics like corporate finance, financial advisory and supply chain strategy are his favorites.
András Zsakó is diligent and ambitious CEMS MIM and Finance Master student at the Corvinus Business School. He is interested in banking, corporate finance, M&A transactions, consulting and playing basketball in his free time.
Alper, S., Tjosvold, D., & Law, K. S. (2000). Conflict management, efficacy, and performance in organizational teams. Personnel Psychology, 53(3), 625-642.
Greer L. (2014): How to Manage Conflict, Insights by Stanford Business
Jehn, K. A., Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1999). Why differences make a difference: A field study of diversity, conflict and performance in workgroups. Administrative science quarterly, 44(4), 741-763.
Jehn, K. A., & Mannix, E. A. (2001). The dynamic nature of conflict: A longitudinal study of intragroup conflict and group performance. Academy of management journal, 44(2), 238-251.
Kristin J. Behfar, Elizabeth A. Mannix, Randall S. Peterson, and William M. Trochim, 2011 – Conflict in Small Groups: The Meaning and Consequences of Process Conflict. Small Group Research Vol 42, Issue 2, pp. 127 – 176
Marer, P., Buzady, Z. & Vecsey, Z. (2017). Missing Link Discovered. Aleas Sims Hungary-USA (Publisher)
Proksch, S., 2016. Conflict Management. Springer International Publishing
Robbins, S.P., & Judge, T.A. 2013. Organizational Behavior (15th Edition). New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc.
Career Assessment Site: The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument Test (TKI Test), downloaded: 25/03/2018