Dysfunctional Conflict in Organizations – How to Identify and Resolve it Quickly

Getting to know the ambit of Dysfunctional Conflict

What Is Dysfunctional Conflict?

Dysfunctional conflict is conflict that leads to an overall decline in communication or performance of a group. Technically, dysfunctional conflict can be an overabundance of conflict or a lack of sufficient motivating conflict.

How dysfunctional conflict arise?

Conflicts that arise out of employee egos, increased work stress, dissatisfaction with the job role, and difference in opinions and beliefs is a dysfunctional conflict. Unlike functional conflicts, such conflicts are neither healthy nor constructive.

What is Organizational Dysfunctional Conflict?

Dysfunctional conflict within an organization usually arises out of egos of employees with competing ambitions. Higher degrees of stress and employee burn out are the usual outcomes. Employees end up with lower satisfaction levels and less loyalty to the organization.

What are the Stages of Dysfunctional Conflict?

There are four stages of dysfunctional conflict. Incompatibility is the source of conflict: misunderstandings and lack of communication. Recognition is the process by which employees internalize the conflict that affects their behavior. Intention is the process by which employees’ behavior changes due to the conflict. Perceived behavior refers to slights and reactions that play into creating conflict, while results are effects of the conflict on a group.

Dysfunctional conflicts do not just come in the way of the employee’s progress, but also negatively impact organizational interests and growth.
It is advisable to watch early signs of such conflicts and take measures to resolve them at the earliest.

How do you identify dysfunctional conflicts?

It is not very difficult for a manager or team lead to sense tension among his group members. Various actions and reactions on the part of the employees would help the manager understand whether the cause of such tension is a dysfunctional conflict.

  • Lack of communication:

When employees in an organization choose to ignore free communication, thus preventing a vital piece of information from reaching its destination, this may be a matter of concern. Such employees will close down all channels of communication and will turn a blind eye to both incoming and outgoing data.

  • Drop in Performance:

When a group starts to put up poor performance rather consistently, this may be due to disagreements within the group. For instance, there may be ego clashes based on seniority and experience, with employees refraining from doing their routine tasks efficiently.

  • Poor focus:

When employees are physically present at their workplace but unable to focus and concentrate, they may be victims of a dysfunctional conflict. Such employees showcase signs of anxiety, fear, hostility, and frustration.

How do you resolve Dysfunctional Conflicts?

A leader must resolve a conflict by recognizing ambitions and abilities of employees and attempt to motivate and stimulate employees when there is too little conflict or calm employees’ tempers and bringing them to work together more effectively when there is too much conflict.

The characteristics of a dysfunction conflict are:

(i) Increased tension: A dysfunctional conflict can cause a high level of tension among the members of a group and in some cases it becomes difficult for the management to resolve such a conflict. This increased tension may result in anxiety uncertainty, hostility and frustration among the members of a group.

(ii) High rate of employee turnover: Dysfunctional conflicts can cause some employees to leave the organization if they are not able to resolve the conflict in their favor. In such a case it is an organization that has to suffer to loss of its valuable employees.

(iii) Increased dissatisfaction: Dissatisfaction can be increased among the members of the party that loses in conflict. This struggle during conflict also results in decreased concentration on the job and in this way it can also adversely affect the productivity of the whole group.

(iv) Distrust: Conflict can result in a climate of distrust among the members of a group and also in the organization. It can decrease the level of cohesiveness among the group members who will have negative feelings towards other members of the group and avoid interaction with them.

(v) Distraction from organizational goals : Conflicts can distract the members of a group from the organizational goals they are supposed to achieve but during a conflict the members may waste their time and energy in making efforts for emerging as winners in the on-going conflict in the group and their attention from the organizational goals may be diverted. Personal victory becomes more important for the members involved in the conflict and the organizational goals take a back seat.

Functional Conflict

Judie Carlson is a VP in a real estate development firm called Astor Development. She has worked hard to cultivate a relationship with a local town regarding an available piece of land. Judie would like to purchase the land to build town homes for sale. She has developed an excellent relationship with the town politicians and community members.

An issue has developed over the planned usage of the land, though. The town will sell the land to Judie’s company but feels that town homes would be bad for the overall community. They’re concerned with the additional cost and burden of kids that the town homes would bring into the community. Judie understands the community’s concern and wants a win-win situation to occur. She feels that this issue will be a functional conflict due to the fact that the disagreement will bring a positive end result to both parties. Positive results of functional conflict include:

  • Awareness of both sides of issues
  • Improvement of working conditions due to accomplishing solutions together
  • Solving issues together to improve overall morale
  • Making innovations and improvements within an organization

In Judie’s case, constructive criticism and discussion resulted in a compromise and a solution between the parties. Judie understood the town’s concern but needed to find something to build that would bring revenue for the company. Through their joint meetings, the end solution was for Astor Development to build a retirement community, which would only have citizens 55 and over living in the town. This would eliminate the issue of having more young people come into town and burden the school system.

Dysfunctional Conflict

Sometimes, conflict can be a very negative experience for companies. Judie’s colleague, Tucker Stevens, is also a VP of development at Astor. He also has a major conflict regarding a construction project. He is looking to build a nuclear power plant in an East Coast town. The town is vehemently against having a power plant, and the discussions have been heated in conflict. This is a win-lose situation, or a dysfunctional conflict. Most dysfunctional conflicts are unhealthy and stem from emotional or behavioral origins.

The town is very emotional over the fact that a possible nuclear power plant could be built in their neighborhood. They are extremely concerned with the danger and health issues. Tucker Stevens has had to use threats, personal attacks and deception in order to get his power plant plans passed by the town.

Managing Dysfunctional Conflict Framework

Conversely, sometimes functional conflict degenerates into dysfunctional conflict. This change occurs when technical disagreements evolve into irrational personality clashes or when failure to resolve an issue causes unnecessary delays in critical project work.

The second major difficulty managers face is that there is often no easy solution to dysfunctional conflict. Project managers have to decide among a number of different strategies to manage it; here are five possibilities:

Mediate the conflict:

The manager intervenes and tries to negotiate a resolution by using reasoning and persuasion, suggesting alternatives and the like. One of the keys is trying to find common ground. In some cases the project manager can make the argument that the win/lose interchange has escalated to the point that it has become loose/lose for everyone and now is the time to make concessions to resolve the dysfunctional conflict.

Arbitrate the conflict:

The manager imposes a solution to the dysfunctional conflict after listening to each party. The goal is not to decide who wins but to have the project win. In doing so, it is important to seek a solution that allows each party to save face; otherwise the decision may provide only momentary relief.

Control the conflict:

Reducing the intensity of the conflict by smoothing over differences or interjecting humor is an effective strategy. If feelings are escalating, the manager can adjourn the interaction and hope cooler heads prevail the next day. If the dysfunctional conflict continues to escalate, project assignments may need to be rearranged if possible so that two parties don’t have to work together.

Accept it:

In some cases the conflict will outlive the life of the project and, though a distraction, it is one the manager has to live with.

Eliminate the conflict:

Sometimes the dysfunctional conflict has escalated to the point that it is no longer tolerable. In this case the manager removes the members involved from the project. If there is a clear villain then only he or she should be removed.

How to resolve dysfunctional conflicts?

  • Mediation:

The manager or team in charge has to bring the conflicting parties to one place and hear their respective side of the stories. Next, he needs to come up with a fair and realistic solution.

  • Arbitration:

At this stage, the management takes harsh action for early resolution of the conflict. Here, organizational goals are placed over and above the employee’s interests.

  • Control:

Here, the manager tries to introduce humor or warnings to ensure that the employees cool down. In certain cases, parties involved may be given two choices, which are to either end the conflict or resign from the organization. 

  • Acceptance:

It is next to impossible to eliminate dysfunctional conflicts from an organization. Despite putting all measures to test, a certain level of conflict will exist. If such a conflict is not affecting organizational productivity, it is best to accept it and move forward.

  • Elimination:

Every manager tries his best to resolve dysfunctional conflicts at his level. However, when he fails to see results, he may escalate the matter to HR or his immediate higher-ups. This works as an indirect warning to other employees, who then choose to abide by workplace ethics and decorum.

Functional vs Dysfunctional Conflict

Functional conflicts and dysfunctional conflicts are the two outcomes of the conflicts. Functional conflict has positive effects on the organization whereas dysfunctional conflict has negative effects. Keep the following sequential points in mind:

Functional vs Dysfunctional Conflict

On a concluding note, it can be remarked that dysfunctional conflict is inevitable and does exist in every organization. In most cases, such conflicts are harmless and easily resolvable. However, in any case in which the disagreement is grave, immediate redressal is necessary.

How do you handle Dysfunctional Conflict
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How do you handle Dysfunctional Conflict
Dysfunctional conflict is conflict that leads to a decline in communication or the performance of a group. Dysfunctional conflict can be an overabundance of conflict or a lack of sufficient motivating conflict. Dysfunctional conflict within an organization usually arises out of egos of employees with competing ambitions. Higher degrees of stress and employee burn out are the usual outcomes. Employees end up with lower satisfaction levels and less loyalty to the organization.
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