Home Programs Faculty Research Curriculum Center Public Resources My Account
Member Sign In
Shopping Cart  
My Account
My E-Packets
Browse Bibliography:
By Keywords:

By Type:
New/Updated Items
Popular Items
Background Notes
Primers and Books

By Functional Area:
Finance/Financial Management
Financial Accounting
Financial Analysis and Management
General Management
Management Accounting
Management Control Systems
Operations Management
Organizational Behavior

By Setting:
Developing Country
For Profit
Health Policy
Healthcare Management
Nonprofit Organization Management
Public Sector Management

Curriculum Center Browse Bibliography Build EPacket Pricing Structure Distribution Process Management Control in Nonprofit Organizations
Note on Conflict Management
Young, David W.
Functional Area(s):
   General Management
   Organizational Behavior
   For Profit
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Pages: 10
Teaching Note: Not Available. 
Copyright Clearance Fee:  $9.00  Sign in to find out if you are eligible for an Academic Price of $5.00 
Add Item to a new E-Packet

Add To Cart

Order an Free Inspection Copy

Back to Bibliography
First Page and the Assignment Questions:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt . . . attempted to generate information by recruiting strong personalities and structuring their work so that clashes would be certain. His favorite technique was to keep grants of authority incomplete, jurisdictions uncertain, and charters overlapping.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

     It is a well-known fact of organizational life that sales people think differently from manufacturing people. Similarly, doctors think differently from nurses, R&D engineers think differently from product line managers, professors think differently from deans, and basic researchers think differently from applied researchers. In part, these differences are personality driven, but in those instances where organizational (as distinct from interpersonal) conflict emerges, the participants usually are from different occupational groups. These groups have differing time horizons for measuring their performance, differing degrees of tolerance for ambiguity in their jobs, and, more generally, highly contrasting demands put upon them by their work environments. As a result, they approach organizational decision-making from vastly different perspectives.

     For example, a sales manager’s work environment may be driven by factors such as quarterly revenue quotas, shifting customer preferences, established customers who want preferential treatment, and potential new customers who may be testing the organization’s capabilities by, say, asking for a small order on a tight time schedule. Sales people also may deal with customers who are moving toward or have established just-in-time manufacturing or product availability strategies, and who therefore demand rapid delivery schedules. In short, sales managers and their staffs face an uncertain and frequently turbulent environment.

    By contrast, the typical plant manager’s environment is one of tight production schedules, machine performance concerns, externally imposed work standards, and a wide variety of cost and quality considerations. Plant managers tend to dislike turbulence, preferring instead predictability and order.

    When these worlds collide, as they do when, say, sales has a small rush order for a potentially valuable customer that will disrupt the plant’s schedule, there is certain to be friction. There also is friction when a physician wants time to do a thorough diagnostic workup on a patient while the nurse must respond to the family’s request for information on the patient’s condition. And there is friction when marketing wants to get a product to market quickly while R&D wants more time to perfect its features. The Microsoft mantra, “Can we ship it yet?” in reference to a new software product,2 is reflective of this tension.

    This is not interpersonal conflict, although it can become so at times. The sales and manufacturing managers may socialize after work and get together with their families on weekends. They may be great friends. Inside the organization, their heat-butting, and similar conflict among many other managers and professionals, is rooted in their occupational positions in the organization, their work environments, and the ensuing cognitive and emotional orientations that they bring to the decision-making table. Organizational, as opposed to interpersonal, conflict is the inevitable result.

    This kind of conflict also is desirable, as it can bring out the best in everyone. Managed properly, it can be a source of enormous strength. It can assist an organization to achieve previously unimagined levels of performance, whether that be in the form of a blockbuster movie, such as The Little Mermaid, at Disney Corporation, higher passenger loads at Virgin Air resulting from the novel idea of in-flight massages, or collaboration between two highly disparate entities, such as the aircraft engine and home appliance divisions at General Electric (which results from regular meetings to explore, discuss, and decide upon what GE calls “cross-business synergies”). Left unmanaged, or poorly managed, however, conflict can create organizational havoc.

    In 1967, Paul Lawrence and Jay Lorsch, both professors at the Harvard Business School, published a landmark book on conflict and conflict management, entitled Organization and Environment.3 The book made the then-novel point that organizational conflict arises because different functional specialists face different technical,