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In most organizations, conflicts increase as employees assert their demands for an increased share in organizational rewards, such as position, acknowledgment, appreciation, monetary benefits and independence. Even management faces conflicts with many forces from outside the organization, such as government, unions and other coercive groups which may impose restrictions on managerial activities.

Conflicts emanate from more than one source, and so their true origin may be hard to identify. Important initiators of conflict situations include:

  • People disagree. People disagree for a number of reasons (De Bono, 1985).

(a) They see things differently because of differences in understanding and viewpoint. Most of these differences are usually not important. Personality differences or clashes in emotional needs may cause conflicts. Conflicts arise when two groups or individuals interacting in the same situation see the situation differently because of different sets of settings, information pertaining to the universe, awareness, background, disposition, reason or outlook. In a particular mood, individuals think and perceive in a certain manner. For example, the half-full glass of one individual can be half-empty to another. Obviously both individuals convey the same thing, but they do so differently owing to contrasting perceptions and dispositions.

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(b) People have different styles, principles, values and beliefs which determine their choices and objectives. When choices contradict, people want different things and that can create conflict situations. For example, a risk-taking manager would be in conflict with a risk-minimizing supervisor who believes in firm control and a well-kept routine.

(c) People have different ideological and philosophical outlooks, as in the case of different political parties. Their concepts, objectives and ways of reacting to various situations are different. This often creates conflicts among them.

(d) Conflict situations can arise because people have different status. When people at higher levels in the organization feel indignant about suggestions for change put forward from their subordinates or associates, it provokes conflict. By tolerating and allowing such suggestions, potential conflict can be prevented.

(e) People have different thinking styles, which encourages them to disagree, leading to conflict situations. Certain thinking styles may be useful for certain purposes, but ineffectual or even perilous in other situations (De Bono, 1985).


  • People are concerned with fear, force, fairness or funds (De Bono, 1985).

(a) Fear relates to imaginary concern about something which might happen in the future. One may fear setbacks, disgrace, reprisal or hindrances, which can lead to conflict situations.

(b) Force is a necessary ingredient of any conflict situation. Force may be ethical or emotional. It could be withdrawal of cooperation or approval. These forces are instrumental in generating, strengthening and terminating conflicts.

(c) Fairness refers to an individual’s sense of what is right and what is not right, a fundamental factor learnt in early childhood. This sense of fairness determines the moral values of an individual. People have different moral values and accordingly appreciate a situation in different ways, creating conflict situations.

(d) Funds or costs can cause conflict, but can also force a conclusion through acceptable to the conflicting parties. The cost of being in conflict may be measurable (in money terms) or immeasurable, being expressed in terms of human lives, suffering, diversion of skilled labour, neglect or loss of morale and self-esteem. (De Bono, 1985).

(An extract from Conflict Management Session Guide)

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