Methods to Resolve Group Conflict

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 8: Group Dynamics

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4


Resolving Conflicts

1. Prior to conflict occurring

An organization should have a formal policy on conflict handling. Such policy may state that employee should try to resolve their own conflicts, and if that is not successful, they should utilize a third-party intervention.

2. When conflict first occurs

When conflict first occurs between co-workers and between a supervisor and a subordinate, the two parties should be encouraged to use the conflict resolution skill they learned in training to resolve the conflict on their own. Those skills include expressing a desire for cooperation, offering compliments, avoiding negative interaction, emphasizing mutual similarities and pointing out common goals.

3. Third party intervention

If conflict cannot be resolved by the parties involved then third party intervention is preferred. This third party usually is provided through mediation, and if that doesn’t work, through arbitration. 

a. Mediation

When mediation, a neutral third party is asked to help both parties such a mutual agreeable solution to the conflict. Mediators do not make decisions rather their role is to facilitate the communication process by providing the parties with a safe and equitable venue so that they are more willing and able to reach a solution.

b. Arbitration

With arbitration, a neutral third-party listen to both sides’ arguments and then makes a decision. Within an organization this neutral party is often the manager of the two employees or HR personnel.


When the conflict has arisen whether intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup or intergroup in an organization, it must be resolved to attain organizational effectiveness. As we know, if conflict intensifies it adversely affects the performance. Some remedial measures need to be taken to keep the conflict at the optimum level in the organization. In order to resolve the conflict effectively the manager should handle the situation carefully and take the following steps 

  1. Preliminary steps – knowing the conflict 
  2. Diagnosing the issue 
  3. Applying any of the conflict handling mood

1. Preliminary step:

The 1st step in resolving the conflict is to know the full detail of the conflict. As soon as the supervisor becomes aware of the conflict, he should handle the conflict skillfully. 

In this step, the 1st thing the supervisor needs to identify is the stage of the conflict. If the conflict is in its initial stage, it will require less effort and much effort will be needed at the advanced stage of conflict. Even the strategies used may also differ from stage to stage though there is hardly a relationship between the stage of conflict and strategies used. 

Before analyzing the issues involved in the conflict, it should be considered that the person who is being given the responsibility to intervene and resolve the conflict, should be objective enough in handling the problem. Though it is difficult to keep emotions and sentiments out of the job and maintain absolute depersonalization, yet one can be objective if he keeps an open mind. Any kind of bias should not enter in the process of resolving the issue. 

2. Diagnosing the issue:

In diagnosing the issue or problem, the issue involved in the conflict should be analyzed properly. Attempt should be made to understand what the conflict is about. How far it has already evolved. Thus the nature of conflict should be found out. Generally conflict may arise due to facts, goals, methods and values. In other words, fact or information at the disposal of two parties may differ or their goals may differ or their method or way of doing a task may differ, or their views may differ. So, the person entrusted to handle the conflict must find out what conflict is about. 

The next thing in diagnosing the issue is to know what these differences between the two parties have arisen. The factors responsible for promoting the differences may be information perceptual, attitudinal role factors and life. At times the information received by the two parties may be different. Therefore they may draw different conclusions due to individual differences. People have different backgrounds and so they have different beliefs, values, attitudes and therefore, their perception or the way of seeing things may differ. An individual playing multiple roles may clash or the role of one individual may differ from the role of another individual. For example, a worker may not be giving his best on the job because he is suffering from stress resulting from his recent divorce and his supervisor may be expecting him to complete the given task. 

Once, the problem is identified and the reasons become known, the stage at which it has already reached can be properly understood. The next step is to develop a strategy to deal with the situation.

Conflict Handling Modes / Thomas Conflict Resolution Model

Thomas has identified 5 conflict resolution styles along two dimensions for prevention or resolving conflict.

The 1st dimension indicates the extent to which a party (individual, group, organization) is willing to satisfy its own needs and concerns (assertiveness). The second dimension represents the extent to which a party is willing to meet the needs and concerns of another individual or group (Cooperativeness). The 5 conflict-resolution styles include avoiding, competing, compromising, collaborating and accommodating. 

Figure shows that avoiding and accommodating styles are non-confrontational approaches. The competing style is a control approach and the collaborating and compromising style are solution oriented approaches. 

5 style of conflict management

Conflict Handling Style 

Appropriate Conditions


  1. When quick, decisive action is vital (eg. emergencies).
  2. On important issues when unpopular actions need implementing (cost-cutting, enforcing unpopular rules, discipline).
  3. On issues vital to company welfare when you know you are right.
  4. Against people who take advantage of non-competitive behaviour.


  1. To find an integrative solution when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised. 
  2. When your objective is to learn.
  3. To merge insights from people with different perspectives.
  4. To gain commitment by incorporating concerns into a consensus.
  5. To work through feelings that have interfered with a relationship.


  1. When goals are important but not worth the effort or potential disruptive to more assertive modes.
  2. When opponents with equal power are committed to mutually exclusive goals.
  3. To achieve temporary settlements to complex issues.
  4. To arrive at an expedient solution under time pressures.
  5. As a backup when collaboration, competition is Unsuccessful.


  1. When an issue is trivial or more important issues are pressing.
  2. When you perceive no chance of satisfying your concern.
  3. When potential disruption outweighs the benefit of resolution.
  4. To let people cool down and regain perspective.
  5. When gathering information supersedes immediate decision.
  6. When others can resolve the conflict more effectively.
  7. When issues seem to be tangential or symptomatic of other issues.


  1. When you find you are wrong – to allow a better position to be heard, to learn and to show your reasonableness.
  2. When issues are more important to others then to yourself to satisfy others and maintain cooperation.
  3. To build social credit for later issues.
  4. To minimize loss when you are outmatched and losing.
  5. When harmony and stability are especially important.
  6. To allow employees to develop by learning from mistakes. 


Strategies for Resolving Conflict

Constructive or functional conflicts need to be stimulated. But negative or destructive conflict must be eliminated through preventive and curative measures. Thus, there can be three different Strategies for handling conflict:

  1. Conflict Stimulation
  2. Conflict Prevention
  3. Conflict Resolution

I. Stimulation of conflicts:

Conflict may be stimulated when there is too much lethargy and conformity in an organization. The the following methods may be used by management to simulate conflict:

1. Reorganization:

Changing the structure of an organization is an effective method of stimulating conflict. When work groups and departments are reorganized new relations and responsibilities arise. Members try to re-adjust themselves and in this process improved methods of operations may develop.

2. Use of informal communication:

Managers may manipulate messages in such a way as to stimulate conflict ambiguous or threatening messages example a department is to be abolished can reduce Apathy Stimulate new ideas and force revaluation of existing practices humorous maybe intelligently planted in the informal communication system conflict can also be stimulated by redirecting messages and altering channels of communication.

3. Encouraging competition:

Healthy competition between individuals and groups may be stimulated through properly administered incentives. Bonuses, incentive pay and reward for excellent performance can foster competitive spirit in the organization. As one group struggles hard to outperform the other, constructive conflict will occur. 

4. Bringing in Qualities:

Management may shake-up a stagnated organization by bringing in people whose attitudes, values and styles differ significantly from the prevailing norms. When such heterogeneous persons join an organization, the status quotient is disturbed. Divergent opinions, innovative ideas and originality can be developed.

II. Prevention of Conflicts

To prevent conflicts, the following strategies may be employed:

1. Reducing interdependence:

The potential for conflict is very high when two or more departments are interdependent and share scarce resources. Therefore, conflict may be minimized by reducing interdependence among departments. Each department may be provided with resources independent of other departments.

2. Rotation of Personnel:

Rotation of employees between interdependent departments can improve perception and mutual understanding. Employees may see the big pictures and exchange views with one another. Narrow perspectives, departmental loyalties and misunderstandings created by the organizational boundaries are reduced. Employees become more considerate and cooperative.

3. Establishing Superordinate Goals:

Differences in goals is a common cause of conflict in organizations. Goal differences can be avoided by establishing mutually agreed goals. Another effective method is reference to superordinate goals. A superordinate goal is a common goal that appeals to all the parties and cannot be achieved by the resources of any single party. In order to achieve the superordinate goal, conflicting parties sink their differences and cooperate together. For example, Severe competition may force different departments to work together to ensure the survival and growth of the organization. Thus a common threat or enemy may act as a great unifying force.

4. Creation of Mutual Trust and Communication:

The greater the trust among the members of the unit, the more open and honest the communication will be. Individuals and groups should be encouraged to communicate openly with each other, so that misunderstanding can be removed and they are in a position to understand the problems of each other.

III. Curative Techniques (Resolution of Conflict)

While preventive measures help to minimize the occurrence of conflict, curative measures are useful in resolving the conflicts amicably. Some of the common approaches towards conflict resolution are as under:

1. Compromise:

This is a traditional method for resolving conflict. It is a process of bargaining wherein the parties negotiate on the basis of give and take to arrive at some agreements. There is no distinct winner or loser because each party is expected to sacrifice something in exchange for a concession. Compromise is commonly used where the conflict involves differences in goals, values and attitudes. It is effective when the sought-after goal, for example, resources can be divided between the parties.

2. Smoothing:

It is a process of suppressing differences existing between parties to the conflict and emphasizing common interests, sharing of opinions removes misunderstanding and both parties realize that they are not far apart. Smoothening or accommodating may be useful when the conflict is associated with aggressive feelings among the parties. However, it can be used only as a short-term measure for resolving conflicts.

3. Problem solving:

In this technique, an attempt is made to bring the conflicting parties together and to share the mutual problems. The focus is on sharing information to avoid misunderstanding and to find out the areas of common interest. Question of who is right or who is wrong is avoided. This method is suitable for resolving conflicts arising out of misunderstanding.

4. Dominance or confrontation:

In this technique, parties to the conflict are left free to settle their score by mobilizing their strength and capitalizing on the weakness of others. Parties use weapons like fights, arguments and intimidation to win over each other. One party’s gain is another party’s loss. This technique is adopted when both the parties adopt a very rigid stand. Confrontation may aggravate the struggle and contribute little to finding out innovative or constructive solutions acceptable to all. The stronger party ultimately dominates the weaker party. 

5. Involvement of third party:

Intermediaries acceptable to interdependent units may be appointed to mediate or arbitrate between the warring groups. A liaison officer has no vested interest and can speak the language of both the parties. He can rally the fighting groups towards a mutually agreeable solution. Sometimes third party consultants may be appointed to change attitudes of the conflicting groups and thus resolve conflict.

Benefit of Resolving Conflicts

1. Increased understanding: The discussion needed to resolve conflict expands people’s awareness of the situation, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people. 

2. Increased performance, productivity and motivation

3. More effective leadership

4. Increased trust

5. Creation of effective working relationships

6. Employee retention

7. Reduced stress, absenteeism, presenteeism

8. Enhanced workplace communication, team functioning and effectiveness

9. Development of conflict resolution skills.

Group think

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Group think most often occurs when the group:

  • Is cohesive
  • Is insulated 
  • Has an illusion of invulnerability, infallibility or both.
  • Believes that it is morally superior to its adversaries
  • Is under great pressure to conform 
  • Has a leads who promotes a favourite solution.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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