Organizational Conflict

Levels of Organizational Conflict

Organizational ConflictOpens in new window is central to incompatibility regarding many different issues in the organizational setting. Conflicts in the organization usually occurs at a variety of five levels. Thus, the management of organizational conflict involves the maintenance of a moderate amount of conflict at intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, intergroup, and intraorganizational levels.

It has been found appropriate to classify organizational conflicts on the basis of these levels for proper understanding of its nature and implications. The levels of conflict are briefly described as follows.

  1. Intrapersonal conflict
    Intrapersonal conflictOpens in new window occurs within an individual and is characterized by cognitive and/or affective dimensions. This usually involves two competing desires or goals, but in this case the desires or goals are competing within the same person. A decision about whether to report a colleague’s inappropriate financial practices, for example, may generate an intrapersonal conflict between a value for justice and accountability and a value for loyalty and friendship toward the colleague.

    Intrapersonal conflict can take one of several forms: approach-approach, approach-avoidance, and avoidance-avoidance. We look at the central features of each one by one hereOpens in new window.
  2. Interpersonal conflict
    Interpersonal conflictOpens in new window refers to the manifestation of incompatibility, inconsistency, or disagreement in a social context between individuals—for example, conflicts between peers or between superiors and subordinate in the workplace.

    Interpersonal conflict contexts may include the study of conflicts in acquaintanceship, friendship, dating, marital relationship, family socialization, health care, workplace, life span, and/or intercultural context. Learn more hereOpens in new window
  3. Intragroup conflict
    Intragroup conflictOpens in new window as defined by Rahim (2001) “refers to the incompatibility, incongruence, or disagreement among the members of a group or its subgroups regarding goals, functions, or activities of the group” (p. 143).

    Some examples include conflict among coaches in an athletics department, conflict among cardiology faculty in a university hospital, and conflict among students who are members of an undergraduate student senate. The conflict is centered within the group and may have few consequences for those who are not members of that group, although such conflicts could have a detrimental impact on overall organizational effectiveness if they are not managed well.

    Intragroup conflict is often about how problems should be solved and how scarce resources should be allocated. Learn more hereOpens in new window
  4. Intergroup conflict
    Intergroup conflictOpens in new window considers aggregates of people within an organization (e.g., work teams, departments) as parties in the conflict. As an illustration, two divisions fighting over scarce fiscal resources are involved in intergroup conflict.

    Not surprisingly, intergroup conflictOpens in new window can become complicated when members of a single group hold varying views about the conflict. For example, in labor negotiations, dissension often occurs among members of the union or members of the management team regarding how the conflict should be resolved.
  5. Intraorganizational conflict
    Intraorganizational conflict involves disagreements between (rather than within) organizational subsystems. Cardiology faculty may disagree with pediatrics faculty regarding priorities for ordering new medical equipment. In this case, the conflict involves multiple departments or units of the organization.

    Colleges and universities often have formal venues for addressing intraorganizational conflict. Budget committees, for example, can adjudicate conflicting claims for resources. In other instances, however, intraorganizational conflict remains unregulated—sometimes with damaging consequences.

Most managers will tell you that not all conflict in teams and organizations can be resolved by getting the people involved to adopt new attitudes, behaviors, and stances toward one another. Truth is there are likely to be times when personalities and emotions prove irreconcilable. In such cases indirect or structural approach to conflict can often help. This takes us to the next entry where we discuss Indirect & Direct Conflict Management StrategiesOpens in new window.