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How to manage conflict in an Organisation
Speech for Rotary club of Bombay Harbour Monday 29th Nov. 1999 at Indian Merchant Chamber Hall

What is a conflict & why does it occur ?
The oxford dictionary defines conflict as " disagreement between people with different ideas or beliefs, it also defines it as " a fight or a struggle". Having understood what is conflict, let us spend a bit of time to dwelve our thoughts on - Is conflict undesirable or bad ?. To my mind conflict is a natural part of life, I call it natural because no two individuals are same. An organisation, is but a collection of people from different cultural backgrounds, they have different sets of values and ideas. Individuals look at situations or probems in organisational life from their unique perspective, which is a result of the circumstances within which they have grown.

Causes of conflict :
  • Differing values (eg conservative v/s progressive minded)
  • Differing perspectives (eg limited v/s broad, domestic v/s international)
  • Differing ideas (creative v/s mundane)
  • Different styles of solving organisational problems.
  • Differing agendas (sometimes hidden ones)
  • Differing attitudes (rigid v/s flexible)
  • Differing objectives and goals.
  • Differing circumstances.
How to manage conflicts in an organisation :
Let us simulate the situations under which the conflicts occur in an organisation. Basically there could be three situations in an organisational context.

1. Conflict with the boss.
2. Conflict with colleagues/peers.
3. Conflict with subordinates

1. Managing conflict with the boss :
All of us have read the famous rule,
Rule no. 1 Boss is always right.
Rule no. 2 In case the boss is wrong see rule no. 1.

This is not to say that one has to be yes man all the time. When ever you face a conflict situation with your boss consider the following approaches.

(i) Appreciate wider perspective : The boss has wider perspective than you, therefore please consider whether there is
something you are not able to visualise that your boss has visualised?
(ii) Do not offend his authority : Every boss is sensitive to maintaining his authority. If you have a better idea, put it in a
manner of suggestion, avoid offending his authority.
(iii) Evaluate the impact : Very carefully evaluate the impact of the wrong decision of the boss on your position in particular
and on organisation in general. Do not challenge his decision unless you have to.
(iv) Avoid bitterness : If you have to differ with your boss, just register your point of view without making it bitter.

2. Managing conflict with peers/colleagues :

Most of the times the conflict between peers occurs because of the tendency of " One up manship". When ever you face a conflict situation with your colleagues, try some of the following approaches.
(i) Communicate: Most of the time your colleagues may be differing with you, either because they have not understood your point of view properly or you have not communicated clearly enough. Since you do not have any authority over them, enter into a dialogue and discuss the issue with an open mind.
(ii) Conflict to Co-operation : Work towards skillfully converting conflict in to a co-operation. Strive to appreciate their point of view. Find out the ways and means to create a 'win-win' situation. If need be ammend your approach and meet your colleagues midway.

3. Managing conflicts with the subordinates :
In this situation you have the authority, yet you have to be skillful in managing the conflict.
(i) Allow freedom to express : Give adequate freedom to your subordinates to express their views freely, be patient listen to them carefully.
(ii) Allow dissent : Dissent is natural, manage disagreement constructively
(iii) Build consensus : Identify the +ve minded persons in your team and convert them into the 'champions of causes' and let them reason it out with the ynical fellows. Provide right kind of support, intervene skillfully to build consensus.
(iv) Develop a common vision : Appreciate the fact that all your subordinates may not have the broad vision and perspective like yours. Its your responsibility to share your dreams and aspirations for the organisation with them and make them appreciate these. Through discussion, training and counseling develop a common vision.


1. Patient listening.
2. Empathy, understand other's point of view.
3. Avoid reacting strongly / avoid anger under all circumstances.
4. Evaluate your responses properly before responding.
5. Communicate, enter into a dialogue, convince or get convinced.
6. Choose the right time for dialogue, when the other person is in a receiving mood.
7. Avoid throwing your weight, even if you have the authority.
8. Allow dissent, manage disagreement constructively,
9. Build consensus, take people along.
10. Create a common vision if others do not have as broad a perspective as your, explain it to them with patience, train them & counsel them.
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