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Managing Conflict in Organizations

8 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008  

Martin N. Davidson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

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This note can be used in conjunction with any class session where the learning objective is understanding how to manage conflict within organizations. It focuses on interpersonal-conflict styles and offers prescriptions for what styles are appropriate for various conflict situations.




Managers often behave as though serious interpersonal confrontations are the result of personality defects. They label people who are frequently involved in conflicts “troublemakers” or “bad apples” and attempt to transfer or dismiss them as a way of resolving conflict. While some individuals seem to have a propensity for making trouble and appear to be cantankerous under even the best of circumstances, “sour dispositions” actually account for a small minority of the organizational conflicts that typically emerge.

This proposition is supported by research on performance appraisals. It has been shown that managers generally attribute poor performance to personal deficiencies in workers, such as laziness, lack of skill, or lack of motivation. However, when workers are asked the causes of their poor performance, they generally explain it in terms of problems in their environment, such as insufficient supplies or uncooperative coworkers. While some face-saving is obviously involved here, this line of research suggests that managers need to guard against the reflexive tendency to assume that bad behaviors imply bad people. In fact, aggressive or harsh behaviors sometimes observed in interpersonal confrontations often reflect the frustrations of people who have good intentions but are unskilled in handling intense, emotional experiences.

The Causes of Conflict

An alternative to the personality-defect theory of conflict is a “multiple sources” model of conflict that proposes three fundamental causes of conflict in organizations—identity-related differences, role incompatibility, and environmental stress.

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Keywords: Management Communications, conflict management, diversification, leadership, organizational behavior

Suggested Citation

Davidson, Martin N., Managing Conflict in Organizations. Darden Case No. UVA-OB-0743. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=911079

Martin N. Davidson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States
434-924-4483 (Phone)
434-243-5020 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/faculty/Davidson.htm

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