Causes of Group Conflict

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 8: Group Dynamics

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4


Causes of Group Conflict

1. Competition for resources

When demand for a resource exceeds its supply, conflict occurs. This often true in organization, especially when there is not enough money, space, personnel or equipment to satisfy the needs of every group.

2. Task interdependence

Task interdependence, comes when the performance of some group members depends on the performance of the other group members. E.g. a group is assigned to telecast news on the television. But it the group which is responsible to write the news does not do the job correctly or in time, it may lead to conflict between the two groups.

3. Jurisdictional ambiguity

Jurisdictional ambiguity is found when geographical boundaries or lines of authority are unclear. E.g. in case of Functional Foremen of F.W. Taylor, to clearly define the authority or 8 foremen may be difficult and thus result in conflict between them.

4. Communication barriers

The barriers to interpersonal communication can be physical, such as separate locations on different floors or different buildings, cultural, such as different languages or different customs, or psychological, such as different styles or personalities. 

5. Beliefs

Conflict is most likely to occur when individuals or groups believe that they

(i) Are superiors to the other people or groups

(ii) Have been mistreated by other

(iii) Are vulnerable to others

(iv) Cannot trust others

(v) Are helpless or powerless

A Model for Conflict Outcomes

Conflict arises from many sources and directions. It also varies in the speed of its emergencies and in the degree of its predictability. Sometimes, it smolders for a long time and then springs life like a flame. Other times, it simply seems to explode without warning. Conflict can be constructive or destructive. Therefore, managers must know when to stimulate conflict and when to resolve it.

Part of the answer to this question is shown in the figure below which portrays the conflict resolution process. The various sources of conflict give rise to constructive or destructive conflict. If conflict will be harmful, managers need to apply a conflict resolution strategy to prevent, diminish or remove it. Then the outcomes of conflict (winning or losing) must be evaluated from the perspectives of both parties.

Conflict may produce four distinct outcomes, depending on the approaches taken by the people involved.

Possible outcomes of conflict

  1. The 1st Quadrant termed “Lose Lose”, depicts a situation in which a conflict deteriorates to the position that both parties are worse off than they were before. An extreme example is the case of an executive who fires the only person who knows the secret formula for the organization’s most successful product. 
  2. The 2nd Quadrant is “Lose Win”, a situation in which one person (Individual A) is defeated while the other one (Individual B) is Victorious.
  3. In quarter 3 (“Win Lose”), the situation reversed with B losing to A.
  4. The 4th quadrant is the “Win Win” outcome of the conflict, in which both parties perceive that they are in a better position than they were before the conflict began. This is the preferred outcome to try to achieve in ongoing relationships, such as with suppliers, customers and employees. Although it may be an unrealistic ideal in some situations, it is the fundamental organizational behaviour perspective towards all parties should aim. 

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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