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Group work and interaction play a vital role in our society today. Pondering about all the different groups in the world, including religious, military, music and education, one will notice that a majority of work is accomplished in groups. Many factors including different types of conflict and competition within a group can disrupt or hinder the group’s ultimate goal. In order to overcome these obstacles, a resolution must be found. Within a group’s dynamic, conflicts may exist that could greatly effect the achievement of the final goal.
When people with different personalities and ideas cooperate to achieve one goal, conflicts arise. Conflict carries with it a negative connotation that members of a group may only be able to view as a hindrance in achieving their goal. To the contrary, friction within a group can be very healthy, as evidenced when Tubbs states, “Some would even go as far as to say that a conflict-free relationship is probably a sign that you really have no relationship at all”(Tubbs p. 277). Within a group environment, hostility is not necessarily the problem; it is trying to expose the source of the strife that can be the obstacle.
As group tasks and activities begin, it is almost inevitable that problems of one kind or another will arise. These may be internal problems (intrapersonal) such as absenteeism, a small group problem (intragroup) where there may be dominance by a few members, unresolved conflict in discussion, lack of contribution by some group members, or a conflict between two or more people (interpersonal) where individual personalities may clash. A conflict between two separate groups may occur (intergroup) when two groups may have a problem communicating appropriate information. Internal problems are usually the main causes of many group conflicts. Tubbs states, “Conflicts may originate from a number of different sources, including (1) differences in information, beliefs, values, interests, or desires; (2) a scarcity of some resources, such as money, power, time, space, or position; and (3) rivalries in which one person or group competes with another”(Tubbs p. 278). Out of all these different conflicts that can occur; Individuals who are said to be “problematic” and often viewed as ineffective “followers” become a major obstacle for a group to overcome.
Hostility occurring within a person is known as an Interpersonal conflict. For instance, a member of the group might show nonverbal signs, such as wringing his/her hands or shielding his/her eyes, which suggest an internal struggle. Perhaps he/she is struggling with whether to disclose to the group his/her feelings of inadequacy regarding a work task to which he/she has been assigned. Internal conflicts, if left unnoticed, can lead to an intragroup conflict.
When an intragroup conflict occurs, it becomes a conflict involving members with each other or members with the leader(s). For instance, one member may erupt, saying, “I wish the leader would stop being so nasty to everyone in here!” This is an intragroup conflict-laden moment that challenges the capacity of all to respond. Some participants may be much less direct in expressing feelings than the previous example. For instance, another may communicate his/her displeasure by ignoring others, that is by not looking at, listening to, or approaching the other colleagues in any way. In an extreme case, one of the workers might stop attending to group meetings because of his/her disaffection with others’ behavior and his/her own inability to deal with it directly. There are different ways to deal with these conflicts. One in particular has members taking an inventory to see if personalities will conflict within a group.
The Strength Deployment Inventory is a tool that helps one look at understanding his/her behavior and motivations. This tool has four basic patterns of motivation that can characterize an individual, Altruistic-Nurturing, Assertive-Directing, Analytic-Autonomizing, and the Hub which is a mixture of all traits. In the classroom, we completed a questionnaire on ourselves to be able to determine one’s personality type. Outside the classroom, an associate filled out a questionnaire on his/her views of another. By plotting the scores on a triangular graph we are then able to understand what category we fall into. This inventory is extremely helpful by showing personality differences by color coding the personality types. By taking this inventory, I find that I am Assertive-Directing. Being labeled Assertive-Directing, I am task-oriented in my home, social and business endeavors. At home, I tend to take charge instantly when a family decision needs to be made. In the social environment, I am direct and straight-forward when talking with people I have just met. In the work environment a team concept approach is utilized, and I find myself becoming frustrated when others do not have the same goal-setting approach. When this lack of fulfillment climaxes, a conflict is sure to emanate. In Evaluating my inventory it helps me to have a better understanding of my behaviors and motivational patterns when I am confronted with a group activity. This is not to say that disharmony will not arise, but I can now turn it from a negative to a desirable conflict.
Positive contention within a unit can be nourishing in the group’s procedures. According to Ramundo, “Conflict has other desirable functions, such as preventing stagnation; stimulating interest and curiosity; providing a medium through which problems can be aired and solutions arrived at; causing personal and social change?”(Tubbs p.278). I find in my personal relationships if there is not some antagonism, the connection then becomes vapid. Whenever I am among peers working together, there is always one person who says, “Let us try and make this friendly and try not to argue or fight”. By making this statement this member is already creating friction by blocking his/her peers from becoming free thinkers and speakers within the assemblage. By having desirable conflict it makes members think harder and more openly. But when looking at conflict, the type is important, because it could lead to undesirable conflict.
When dealing with conflict, there are two types, conflict of ideas or feelings. According to Alfred Sloan, “Idea conflict, however, can very easily turn into conflict of feelings” (Tubbs, p. 279). When disunity takes place, the first issue that must be resolved is determining from where this hostility is coming. If there is dissatisfaction with an idea, then that, and only that, is what is to be confronted. The conflict of ideas is complex. A member may be debating an idea, when unconsciously he/she is upset with another team member. An example of this miscommunication festers in my office. Whenever we have a group meeting to exchange ideas, one member would always dispute a certain co-worker’s suggestions. After digging further into the rift, it is not the ideas that this member is rejecting, it is a personal collision between these two colleagues. Since we are now able to detect where the quandary is from, we can deal with it and move on. There are also contentions that have no redeeming value which a co-worker might not be able to overcome.
Divorce, wars and fights can all be considered undesirable conflicts in the world because they never seems to end without people getting hurt. The same can take place within groups where there can be too much conflict preventing accomplishments. When this magnitude of disharmony occurs, it leaves a person feeling frustrated and disenchanted with the task at hand, Tubbs gives his own example of this by stating, ” I don’t even want to go to publication council meeting anymore. Every week it is just one hassle after another. Nothing ever gets accomplished because every time we end up arguing”(Tubbs p. 280). Tubbs shows that no matter how important the task is, if there is only chaos, this affects all members of a group and leads to the group’s losing sight of their goals and task. Another example is that of The Hunt for T-Rex which is a skill development simulation exercise. This exercise breaks the team into small units and has them answer questions to a hypothetical situation concerning the T-Rex situation. During the process of this, I found myself intertwined into a situation of undesirable conflict. I am in a group with a classmate who needs to feel like the leader; she dominates the group and hinders the actions by her incessant talking. Because she is a controlling group member, we do not have time to answer several questions causing other members to leave feeling frustrated. I left that exercise feeling animosity towards this member which can never be rectified. When this type of conflict arises, peers seem to compete against one another.
People always seem to confuse competition with conflict. This is not always the case. According to Stephen R. Robbins:
There existed rivalry between two or more parties to gain
advantage over another person or group, but not with
the ultimate aim of annihilating the rival. Can we then
say that all competitions are conflicts or that all conflicts
are competition? The terms are frequently used as synonyms
for each other, which is erroneous. There is a difference if all
competitions were conflicts, we would be saying that all
rivalries involved a form of opposition. Clearly, we can
cite numerous examples in which this requirement is not met
(Adult Learner Guide p.40).
I notice this in my work. Whenever there is an award to be given for performance, members of the team tend to stray away from the group’s achievement goal and aim at their own objective. This is not a conflict, it just shows that human nature and the need for personal gratification override the needs of the team.
However, conflict can stem from competition. Robbins states, “Intense competition can lead to conflict. We can expect this to occur when competition is based on scarcity of a resource-where one gains at another’s expense” (Robins p. 41). Working in the travel industry and having a passion for trekking around the world, I find that conflicts arise when an award is given to the highest sales person for that quarter. Conflict may come in the form of taking credit for another person’s sale when they have done all the leg work. When this type of disunity arises, actions need to be taken towards resolving the contention.
Working towards conflict resolution can be strenuous. “Two well-known psychologists (Blake & Mouton, 1970) have proposed a scheme whereby we can try to avoid win-lose situations and, when it is possible, apply a win-win approach”(Tubbs p.281). They call this a Conflict Grid. In this grid there are many different theories on how to handle conflict resolution.
One mode for instance is called “hands-off” style (Tubbs p.281). In this style the goal is to have an appearance of harmony within the group. This focus is towards people and does not really resolve any enigmas that might be plaguing the team. This style has a negative side that, if left to fester can develop into a critical situation. For example, I work for an organization that often handles situations like this. In my office a situation might arise that an employee is unpleasant to co-workers and customers which leads to bad employee moral. One employee for instance is so nasty that she has a file of customer complaints that could lead to her termination. Customers along with fellow employees have expressed their concerns regarding her actions. Management, when confronted with this issue, proceeds to tell the customer and other team members that everything is fine and they will talk to her. By having this slothful approach it is quite clear that management does not want to create waves and proceeds to act in an unprofessional fashion. This problem will continue until management comes to the realization that some disciplinary actions need to be taken. Finally they moved her out of the office, no not fired, they reallocated her to work out of her home. This decision now creates more uneasy feelings towards management. Nothing is accomplished, the problem is just covered up creating a facade of harmony within the team.
The other approaches towards conflict resolutions on the Conflict Grid would include compromising and the bullhead approach. According to the Conflict Grid the best approach is to be person and result-oriented. “Conflicts are not ignored, but the individuals don’t go around with a chip on their shoulder either”(Tubbs p.282). I find, when dealing with dilemmas, this is the foremost way of going about rectifying the situation. For instance, whenever I am in a disagreement with a co-worker, I do not let it linger. I confront the matter head on and face to face with the other person. Through dealing with predicaments in this manner, my peer and I are then able to come to an arrangement and no animosity is left lagging behind.
Throughout our society, group work is becoming the norm in our everyday function. When we are placed in a decision-making situation with other people with different personalities, ideas and beliefs in what the final outcome should be, conflict will arise. What we need to do is find out what the conflict truly is and deal with it accordingly. Our final goal as decision makers in a group is to work together to achieve the final purpose.
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