Organizational Behavior

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Not all conflict is bad. In fact, managers may prefer some conflict. Why?

Quick answer:

Conflict can be helpful for a manager because it can help to motivate employees to work harder. Conflict arising from different opinions can also help a manager to see a project from different viewpoints, and therefore it will be helpful to make a more informed decision.

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This is a very interesting question. As you imply in your question yourself, conflict is often seen as something negative, yet it can actually also have positive aspects for a manager.

To answer your question, you might want to point out that conflict often arises when employees try to be at their best at work. If employees are very strongly motivated and driven, they will usually work extremely hard to reach their target. This can create conflict with other colleagues who are equally trying to meet their target, and who might feel threatened by a different person's efforts and hard work. Whilst this conflict could potentially lead to a negative atmosphere, it could also work out for the better: the employees in question might begin to work even harder to be successful in their quest to make their target. This increased effort and motivation, caused by conflict, could well work out to the manager's advantage, as it may well improve the employees productivity.

Another possible conflict you might want to mention is a conflict arising from different opinions regarding a project, for example. Whilst arguing about different points of view with regard to a client or a job could be seen as negative and counterproductive, it may actually allow a manager to see things from various different angles. As a result, the manager might be able to weigh up the options in more detail and then go ahead with whichever decision seems to be the best for the current situation.

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Conflict in a company can encourage growth. When handled correctly, conflicts encourage innovation and often result in ways to streamline the company's operations. It is best when employees do not internalize conflicts but use the conflicts in order to try to make themselves and the company better.

Conflicts encourage employees to go beyond their job description in order to either prove a point or to succeed at the highest levels. If handled professionally, conflicts allow for a diverse group of voices to change the company for the better. Conflict can drive people to be better at their jobs and thus create greater ownership in the work. This leads to greater worker-engagement and higher levels of retention in the business.

The important aspects of conflict are that they are not internalized and that they have a resolution. Conflicts can allow for both a company's and an employee's growth; however, when conflicts become personal and internalized, they create a toxic work environment.

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Although conflict in organizations is often seen in a negative light, it is not always dysfunctional. Sometimes conflict is even encouraged by managers for a number of reasons.

For instance, people who avoid conflict generally go along with the status quo, but differences in points of view provoke original thinking. Only if there is conflict with existing ideas can new and perhaps better possibilities be explored. Organizations that discourage conflict invite stagnation.

Without conflict, critical questions leading to the uncovering of inherent problems may not be asked. Conflict creates an atmosphere of innovation. The creative thinking that conflict encourages can assist organizations in remaining competitive under rapidly-changing modern circumstances.

Learning to resolve conflicts by listening and reacting to the ideas and opinions of others is a vital aspect of leadership training. Only a person who has practiced the skills of listening, negotiating, and compromising will be able to function effectively as a leader both within and outside of an organization. If approached in a constructive manner, conflict can actually strengthen relationships and foster cohesion among teams. It builds energy and arouses creativity and imagination.

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Many managers will prefer to have some conflict because some conflict can be useful in creating a productive and creative workforce.  When there is no conflict, no one is being pushed to have new ideas or to work in new ways. 

In today’s business world, firms need to be constantly changing and improving themselves.  It is very difficult to a firm to succeed by simply continuing to do what it has always done.  Instead, the firm needs to constantly seek more efficiency and better products. 

This process is very difficult to do without conflict.  If a firm is searching for ways to improve efficiency, it will be necessary almost by definition to get some people to change the way they are doing things at work.  If people are asked to change, and particularly if they are being told that their way of doing things is holding the company back, there is likely to be conflict.  Conflict will also arise as people disagree about how to improve the company.  This conflict is important because it forces everyone to think hard to try to prove that their ideas are the best. 

In these ways, conflict can be very good for a firm as it allows the firm to improve in ways that would be impossible if there were no conflict.

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