Theory-Based Measures of Conflict Management

Managing Human Resources

Change and conflict are some of the manager’s current challenges. This thesis tries to inquire into the change processes and managers response to conflicts that arise as a result of change resistance. The manifestation of conflict and the impact of conflict are also discussed. The thesis also looks into the different theories formulated to explain change process and their relationship to conflict management. Also covered is the way decision makers can mitigate conflict and bring sanity in their organizations.

Today’s managers are faced with the trade off between change and conflict. Change has become an irresistible part of organization and managers must therefore come up withy strategies and policies of managing change in an order to reduce conflict that may hinder the performance and also to reduce performance gap.


Conflict is bound to occur when different individuals have different perception, opinion, ideas and thought. Change and conflicts are two things that unfold at the same time. Change is indispensable in any organization that aspires to attain its objectives and the management must strive to ensure that change is realized in a manner that leads the organization to success (Paton, Paton, & McCalman, 2008). Various names have been given to the term like reengineering, transformation, restructuring and right sizing but what remains is that all of them represents change. Change can be defined as the alteration of the status quo. Others may define change as the creation of new structures and processes with the intention of achieving better results (Paton, Paton, & McCalman, 2008). The driving force for change is the realization of performance gap i.e. When an organization realizes that it can achieve higher results, it restructures in order to maximize its turnover.

On the other hand conflict can be defined as the clashing of opinions and the incompatibility of the wishes and needs of individuals to frustrate him/her (Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). It may also be defined as disagreement opposing behavior or antagonisms between people. Conflict begins when one party begins to feel that the other is frustrating or about Conflict must be experienced in all organization as participants have diverse and conflicting opinions in similar matter. What is of importance is how a manager deals with the conflict in order to avoid it becoming personal and hindering the organizational performance. Conflict creates tension and causes suspicion that may lead to the disintegration of an organization and can adversely result in underproduction (Humphreys, 2005). In as much as can be viewed negatively, there is no time in which no element of conflict can be absent in an organization.

There are various levels of conflict. The first is the intra-individual conflict that occurs when there is opposing sub-system within a person. It may be caused by stress that arises from response to the environment. The next level of conflict is the interpersonal conflict that arises when there are differences between individuals as a result of different opinions or thoughts. The last level of conflict is the inter-group conflict. This level is characterized by differences between groups of people who collectively interact with one another. The three levels of conflict remains the challenge that management must overcome for organizational objective to be accomplished (Kotter, 1995). The positive part of conflict is that it enables an organization to come up with new ideas thus making it a source of creativity. Managers and administrators therefore stand a test of making a tradeoff between change and conflict (Paton, Paton, & McCalman, 2008). The performance of the organization is therefore pegged on how well the trade off is realized.

Organization change

No organization can exist without changing their processes, structures, management and products in order to suit the market demand (Humphreys, 2005). Managers realize that change is needed when they see an opportunity of increasing their results. Organization change is either planned or unplanned. Planned change is aimed at increasing the efficiency and effective of the organization whereas unplanned change is caused by the ever changing and unpredictable external environment. Planned change is can also be described as pro-active change and forced change can be called the reactive change as the organization reacts to the changing circumstances.

There are two sources of organization change: internal factors/endogenous factors and external/exogenous factors. Internal factors are those that are within the organization power to influence i.e. increasing the number of employees, expanding operations or even increasing the numbers of suppliers and products (Kindler, 2005). Internal factors for change leads to planned change and managers are always capable of controlling or limiting the conflicts that arise from these factors to avoid the trouble of decreasing the returns of an organization.

The external factors on the contrary are as a result of the unpredictable, turbulent and uncontrollable external environment. External environment consist of the factors like competition, legislation changes, government, technology and changes in the societal needs. These factors cause the greatest problem to managers and are always resisted given that their timing and impacts may not be conceptualized by the management (Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). External factors are responsible for the collapse of many organizations. Employees are bound to resist most of the decisions that arise as a result of the external factors and may try to sabotage the managers’ decisions.

Irrespective of the source of change, organizations must come up with strategies that are aimed at ensuring their continued existence and penetration in the market. Conceptual skills rather than technical knowledge must thus be applied when coming up with the decisions. Most of these change decisions are intended to ensure that organizations adapt and survive (Knudsen, 2003). In a bid to minimize the conflicts that arise from the change process, various theories have been formulated to explain the change process.

The first theory by Kurt Lewis describes the three phases of change management. The first phase is the stage of unfreezing the unrequited behavior. At this stage the managers’ interest is discouraging the current behavior by attempting to explain to the employees the consequences of such action (Kotter, 1995). Second phase is the changing stage where the organization introduces the new expectation and explains the requirements for change process to be further achieved. It is also at this stage that the organization continues to discourage the company’s norms and unnecessary trends. Last is the refreezing stage. At this stage the concern is to ensure the employees adapt and continue to abide by the new and required norms and standards. In the process new culture and practices is instilled in the organization. When change is introduced in this manner, the organization is able to minimize the resistance that is likely to arise in the work place and avoid hindering the performance (Kindler, 2005).

The other theory of change process is the Mintberg four phase model. In this model the first phase entails the identification of the need for change followed by the identification of the alternatives. The third stage is the evaluation of the alternative with an objective of choosing the best course of action. The final phase is the implementation stage where the alternative picked is put into action. There is also the Greiners six phase model. The model commences with pressure on the management. Due to this an outsider will intervene to bring at one point the diverse opinions. The next stage in this model is the fact finding exercise where all stakeholders are involved with an intention of finding the real problem. After the fact finding exercise is the innovation and commitment phase where the outsider together with the relevant parties comes up with the problem solving strategy which is then experimented. At the experimental stage, the resolution is implemented in small scale before the final implementation in the whole organization. All this change processes move from these stages in order to create awareness and implement the change process in a gradual manner to reduce organizational conflict.

There are three ways of change management; authoritative, consultative and participative ways (Knudsen, 2003). The authoritarian way is where the management just comes up with the ideas and reads to the subordinate for them to implement. In the consultative model, the opinion of the subordinate is sought but the final decision rests with the managers. Finally, the participative way is where the subordinates are involved in the change process and take part in the decision making.

The second model of change management by Handy is that change cannot be managed but can be cultivated within the individuals. This model is in tandem with the participative approach of change model where all stakeholders are brought on board. This models argues that when the support staff are involved in the change process they get the feeling that the decision is theirs and are therefore not in a position of criticizing their own decisions hence minimizing conflict. It is majorly used by the participative management style users.

What human beings need to realize is that change is continuous and irresistible when its time has come and that at no moment will they realize a stable organization. Change is different from the natural biological processes that don’t require the effort of an individual; the changes that occur to the body tissues are not within the control of any individual. Human resistance to change is justified because of the fear of the unknown and that the management should mitigate the impacts of the conflicts and tension that arise from the change processes. It is therefore necessary for the organization managers to understand deeply the change processes if the conflicts must be eradicated

In the process of change, conflict arises because of several reasons. These factors should be clearly integrated in the organizational learning process through the participative approach. Conflict will begin when different opinions are held with the various participants. The sources of conflict during the change process are:

Fear of the unknown

Human beings are naturally known to have feared if they are unaware of the Impact of the change process. There is therefore preference to the status quo. This will thus make individuals resist in any manner within their means and cause conflict. The other cause of conflict is the changes in the roles and responsibilities. For instance, when an organization is restructuring to have a lean staff, the different roles will change and other positions will be relinquished. The office bearers are likely to cause a conflict with those introducing the change process. The ambiguity of roles will as well cause confusion hence causing conflict in duty.

Different norms and values is also a potential cause of conflict. Individuals with different attitudes, beliefs, norms and practices are likely to cause conflict between the various groups for example the beliefs of people from various race, communities, age and sex are likely to influence their opinions and cause conflict in the organization.

The third conflict cause is the sharing of resources. Where different departments share resources; there will be a likely conflict given that the resources may not be sufficient for all of the users. There is thus competition which if not well controlled would cause conflict. The interdependence of various partners will also cause conflict as one department may be a barrier to the achievement of the vision of another organization. The interdependent departments should have clear guidelines and coordination with the intention to minimize the conflict.

Communication is the passing of information from one person / group to the other. When the channels used in relaying the communication is not properly monitored, information is likely to be distorted and this might be a source of organizational conflict.

Organizational conflicts are also as a result of the political interest. Organizational conflicts are deemed to lead to political differences that are likely to cause conflicts if not well controlled. It is therefore necessary for the politics in the organization to be based on ideas and objectives rather than be personal, racial or tribal (Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). For example the politics of employee elevation should be pegged on the organizations policy rather than the proximity to the appointing authority.

Conflict manifestation

Some of the symptoms of intra-personal conflicts are cardio vascular system problems, muscular problems and digestive problem (Knudsen, 2003). Interpersonal and intergroup conflict is manifested through fights, increase in competition, reduced efficiency, fault finding, poor communication and unnecessary breakages or accidents.

Management’s response to conflict

As previously stated, no organization can survive without experiencing conflicts and that the type of conflict should be the managements concern. Conflicts that result in creativity are important and should be encouraged as is results in innovation and creativity (Kotter, 1995). The management concern is the conflict level that may bar an organization from attaining the vision. The first level of conflict management is thus the maintaining of the desired level of conflict.

The second way of management response to conflict is the participation of the subordinates in the change process. Since change causes conflicts, those to be affected by the management decision should be cooperated in the decision making process and their opinions considered before coming up with the final decision. The participative approach must not compromise on the quality of decision made while subordinates proposal should be dropped after necessary explanations are given.

Another way of minimizing conflict is by having a clear vision, mission and objectives. These should be clearly communicated to the subordinates in order for them to have a clear way of action (Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). If properly communicated, there will be clear guidelines and relevant courses of actions will be taken. Clear vision will also ensure that there are clear parameters of quantifying output and taking control through comparison with the set targets.

Moreover organization conflict can also be resolved through collaboration. In collaboration, the different parties work together and the organizational interest put forward when making negotiations for the company (Vliert & Kabanoff, 1990). It is also important as it will tend to make people from the different departments have similar opinion on matters hence reducing the conflict cases. A wide view of the organizations demands and priorities will be achieved. Where there are conflicting matters the organization can mitigate the conflict by the adoption of the following strategies.

The first can be the lose-lose strategy in which all the demands of the conflicting parties is not fully satisfied. In this strategy the methods used in this includes avoidance, compromise and smoothing. In avoidance the parties will tend to reduce their conflicting matters (Kotter, 1995). For compromise, the parties will use negotiation and bargaining to reduce conflict. In smoothing, the emphasis would be on the similarities of the conflicting parties. The parties therefore view themselves as a unit rather than different entities.

The second strategy is the win -lose method of conflict reduction. In this case the demands of one party will be met at the expense of the other. Majority rule, dominance and authority command are situations in which its application is feasible (Humphreys, 2005). This strategy is fast as the managers can make the decision unilaterally. This strategy would require one party to accommodate the other party in order to avoid continued conflict. The last method is the win- win strategy in which both parties’ wants are satisfied. Its best used in circumstances that there is super ordinate goals, that is; the goal is for the benefit of the conflicting parties. If profit maximization is necessary for salary increment to all the parties. Win- win strategy can also be applied in problem solving and integration. The strategy to be adopted fully depends on the conditions and organization.


Change will ever remain an issue that every manager and their respective subordinate must see how to embrace if they are to survive in the turbulent and volatile market. Change introduction must be done in phases and objectively if conflict and resistance is to be overcome. Organizations that cannon come up with conflict resolution strategies will continue to experience inefficiency and performance gap that is uncalled for. The need for conflict resolution and conceptual skills by decision makers is thus important and desired.


Knudsen T.(2003).Human Capital Management: New Possibilities in People Management. Journal of Business Ethics, 21(2),42-45.

Humphreys, M. (2005). Natural Resources, Conflict, and Conflict Resolution: Uncovering the Mechanisms. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49 (4), 23-36.

Kindler, H.S. (2005). Conflict Management: Resolving Disagreements in the Workplace. London: Thomson/Course Technology.

Kotter, J. (1995, march-april). Leading Change:Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Havard Business School Review, 59-67.

Paton, R.A., Paton, R., & McCalman, J. (2008). Change and Change Management: A Guide to Effective Management.Sage.

Vliert, E. v., & Kabanoff, B. (1990). Toward Theory-Based Measures of Conflict Management. The Academy of Management Journal, 33 (1), 199-209.

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