Nadeem Yousaf


Conflict is not a unique phenomenon therefore it can occur in all formal or informal social settings wherever human beings are interacting with each other. Organizations are no different from other social settings; they are a composition of formal and informal structures in which conflicts do take place. Since it is not possible to avoid conflicts in organizations so they should be managed for the sake of the organizational growth hence Yukl (1989) argues that phenomenon of conflict has among the central themes in the literature on organizations. The research shows that organizations invest heavily to enhance the capacity of their members to handle conflicts (Donnellon and Kolb1994). Studying conflicts in organizations has got central position because it influences organizational culture (Trompenaars 1993), especially due to globalization as work force is becoming increasingly diverse (Jehn, Northcraft and Neale 1999; Cox and Blake 1991). Cox and Blake (1991) argue that organizations that fail to make appropriate changes to keep employees from different backgrounds can expect to suffer a significant competitive disadvantage. However, diversity of employees becomes assets only if work teams manage differences (Cox and Blake 1991) and conflicts. Whether or not a work force is diverse, human beings are different from each other due to various reasons and carry different personality which influences perception. Perception of a situation is a key factor that affects choice of action. Thus, it is important to study a relationship between perception and choice of selecting strategy in resolving conflicts.

Literature Review

Conflict is viewed as a phenomenon which occurs between two people (parties) when, at least, one of the parties considers that his/her behaviors or views do not match with the other party and the other party has affected or has the potential to affect the interest of the second party (Carroll 1991; Chasnoff and Muniz 1985; Thomas 1976, 1992; Tjosvold 1993; Veliert 1984).

It is interesting to note that the word ‘conflict’ is over used in the studies. It denotes from a small argument to an intense disagreement. Although Pondy (1967) differentiated between conflict intensity in his discussion of stages of conflict, his views have got inadequate attention in the later studies.

The most popular research in the field of conflict resolution has been done by Blake & Mouton (1964), Thomas (1976) and Rahim (1985) in which five styles of handling conflicts were identified. Blake & Mouton (1964) theory is based on qualitative investigations in which they proposed that people handle conflicts in five ways, smoothing, forcing, problem solving, avoiding and compromising, depending upon where they fall on the two dimensions, namely, concern for others and concern for production. Similar to Blake and Mouton, Thomas (1976) agrees that individuals handle their conflicts in five ways: accommodating, collaborating, avoiding, compromising and competing. He also argues that individuals’ style of handling conflicts depends upon on the dimensions of cooperativeness and assertiveness. Likewise Rahim (1985) is of the opinion that the style of conflict depends upon the concern that individuals show for themselves and for others. He termed these styles as avoiding, integrating, compromising, obliging and dominating. Contrary to Blake and Mouton’s qualitative method, Thomas and Rahim employed a statistical method to study styles of conflict and developed inventories to measure individuals’ dominant style of handling conflict of an individual. Interestingly, all these researchers have used dichotomy of two traits –concern for others and concern for production; concern for self and concern for others; and cooperativeness and assertiveness – but very little information is given as to how these two factors should be measured; this issue will be critically reviewed at length in the body of the thesis. It is suffice to argue after reviewing the literature on conflict management that the adherents of dominating model of individuals’ style of handling conflicts have not addressed some of the key factors during the investigation on individual styles of resolving conflicts in organizations. As mentioned above, Pondy’s stages of conflict and Thomas’ types of conflicts are inadequately focused even in the recent studies on the topic. According to Pondy (1967), conflict has five stages: (1) latent conflict, (conditions); (2) perceived conflict (cognition); (3) felt conflict (4) manifest conflict (behavior); and (5) conflict aftermath (conditions). He contends that conflict traverse from one stage to another. Similarly, Thomas (1992) identifies three types of conflict: (1) Goal/Interest conflict which refers to a situation when conflicting parties have divergent or incompatible ends; (2) Judgment/Cognitive conflict which means differences over empirical or factual issues in which a party perceives that the other party has drawn incorrect conclusion from the empirical facts; and (3) Normative conflict which refers to disapproval, blame and anger that may be triggered when one party considers that the other party’s behavior does not match according to the normative standards of the given system or the society. It will be argued in the thesis that it is the perception that will decide the stage or type of the conflict which in return influences the choice of handling conflicting situation. It is individual perception that makes a conflicting situation mild or strong. A few studies now accept that individuals use different styles of handling conflict depending upon the situation and shifts from one style to another (Deutsch 1949; 1994; Thomas and Chia1992; Tjosvold 1993, Rahim 92; Veliert & 95 Vliert 99), still insufficient attention is paid how a conflicting situation is perceived before assessing the choice individual style of handling.

Moreover, the researchers during investigation have generally not explained the concept of conflict to the respondents so we do not know how they (the respondents) had interpreted the word ‘conflict’ while filling out the inventories. Without knowing respondents’ perception, it might be difficult to determine handling styles of conflict of individuals. Rahim (1992) and Elsayed-Ekhouly and Buda (1996) argument that dominating styles are more popular in collectivist societies without establishing respondents perception of a conflicting situation is open for debate as per the pilot study on perception of conflict conducted by the researcher.

Based on the above discussion, it may be appropriate to assume that human beings do not reveal the same behavior in all stages as suggested by Pondy. Hence, it may be plausible to contend that individuals use different strategies to handle conflicts depending on the perception of the situation. However, all conflict stages of Pondy are not in the interest of this study. One of the major interests of this study is to find out how individuals react at perceived and felt stages of conflicts, which are termed as mild and strong conflicts here:

Strong conflict situation is defined as a situation that creates a relatively strong (severe) degree of personal anxiety, tension, frustration, hostility and so on.

Mild conflict situation is defined as a situation between people where parties are aware of conflict but it creates a relatively weak (mild) degree of personal anxiety, tension, frustration, hostility and so on.

Tentative Objectives of the study

The objective is to study influence of perception on the choice of choosing a strategy for resolving conflict. Hence, perception of conflict intensity will be treated as independent variable and styles of resolving conflict as dependent variables.

1. It is hypothesized that individuals will either use avoiding or dominating strategies if a conflict situation is viewed as threatened and emotionally stressful.

1.b . It is hypothesized that superiors will use more dominating style if they view conflicting situation threatened and emotionally stressful.

1.c. Similarly, subordinates will prefer avoiding style in threatened and emotionally stressful conflicting situations.

2. It is hypothesized that individuals only adopt integrating and compromising styles of conflict if a conflicting situation is perceived mild irrespective of their hierarchical positions in the organization.


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