Causes of Conflict

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Organizational Structure

Conflict tends to take different forms, depending upon the organizational structure. For example, if a company uses a matrix structure as its organizational form, it will have decisional conflict built in, because the structure specifies that each manager report to two bosses. For example, global company ABB Inc. is organized around a matrix structure based on the dimensions of country and industry. This structure can lead to confusion as the company is divided geographically into 1,200 different units and by industry into 50 different units.

Limited Resources

Resources such as money, time, and equipment are often scarce. Competition among people or departments for limited resources is a frequent cause of conflict. For example, cutting-edge laptops and gadgets such as a BlackBerry or iPhone are expensive resources that may be allocated to employees on a need-to-have basis in some companies. When a group of employees have access to such resources while others do not, conflict may arise among employees or between employees and management.

Task Interdependence

Another cause of conflict is task interdependence; that is, when the accomplishment of your goal requires reliance on others to perform their tasks.

Incompatible Goals

Sometimes conflict arises when two parties think that their goals are mutually exclusive. Within an organization, incompatible goals often happen because of the different ways department managers are compensated.

Personality Differences

Personality differences among co-workers are common. By understanding some fundamental differences among the way people think and act, we can better understand how others see the world. Knowing that these differences are natural and normal lets us anticipate and remove interpersonal conflict—it’s often not about “you” but simply a different way of seeing and behaving. For example, Type A individuals have been found to have more conflicts with their co-workers than Type B individuals.

Communication Problems

Sometimes conflict arises simply out of a small, unintentional communication problem, such as lost e-mails or dealing with people who don’t return phone calls. Giving feedback is also a case in which the best intentions can quickly become a conflict situation. When communicating, be sure to focus on behaviour and its effects, not on the person.


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