MBA 669

Rick Marriner

Monday, Orange County

Winter, 1998

Stephen P. Robbins, 1998, Organizational Behavior - Chapter 12 "Conflict, Negotiation, and Intergroup Behavior," New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Objective Points

Subjective Review

Summary: The author, in this chapter, gives us a general definition of conflict and attempts to explain the worth of conflict in three viewpoints. The traditionalist, the human relations method and the interactionist. Each with increasing benefit viewed from conflict. He also explains the different types of conflict as functional, working towards the betterment of the group, and dysfunctional, working against the group. The last two items discussed are negotiation and the intergroup applications of understanding conflict and negotiation. In my experience, I have generally taken a traditionalist viewpoint towards conflict. Specifically, that conflict is always bad. I have also taken a rather masochistic viewpoint coupled with that viewpoint in that I believe conflict is inevitable in life. Thus, life is inevitably bad. Recently, due to the escalation of the number of conflicts I deal with on a daily basis, I am beginning to believe that conflict is not necessarily bad, just a pain. In some cases, conflict is even good in that it gives me a chance to solidify a case before bringing it out into the conflict. These are still rare occasions and most of the conflicts I have been dealing with are petty misunderstandings and personnel issue that has innumerable facets and variables. There is never an easy solution to the conflicts I deal with. The simplest solution, intuitively, would be firing them and even that could lead to more conflict. So I am beginning to come to a Human Relations viewpoint of conflict in which functional conflict is good and dysfunctional is bad.
Point 1: The author depicts a 5-stage process of conflict development. The stages include the potential for conflict stage, the cognition and personalization stage, the intention stage, and finally the behavior and outcome stages. I agree with the author in that the 5 stages are the best generalization of the conflict process I have read. However, I feel that he does not place enough emphasis on the personalization of the conflict as opposed to real life. The escalation of the conflict is in direct proportion to the internalization of the conflict goals, in my experience. These internalizations drive the intentions, behavior and even the outcome of many conflict that I have been part of.
Point 2: There is a short aside in the chapter regarding a firm that uses conflict in their official structure. The firm is a software design firm that uses competition and specific task forces to tear apart new ideas so that all the avenues are explored and new creative ides are tested. The innovation in the firm is supposedly substantial and the profits the firm has benefited from are shared with their innovators. All this is supposedly due to internal procedures for inciting conflict! In trying to think about this format for running our ships, I came to a difficult solution. Conflict costs money and like any resource it must be measured out table spoon by tablespoon until the marginal return from time spent in conflict no longer benefits at an acceptable level. (Where marginal cost = marginal benefits.) In the case of ship to shore relations, this amount is very small. Looking at the two extremes, we have good examples of what not to do. The first is the case where an officer never disagrees, and is obedient to the point of saying yes to a potential dangerous situation. On the other hand, we have the officer who are contrary on every point and who never willingly take an order without debating the merits of the modification. The first is too far off the spectrum average to be safe, the second does nothing but slow down the process and cost money. (Time=Money) Therefore, it is the moderation of conflict that we find true benefit. I am looking into standardizing a certain level of conflict in our new procedure manual and incenting intelligent dissent at all levels.
Point 3: The author discusses integrative and distributive negotiation scenarios and their benefits and detriments. People believe that the win-win situation, in the labor union sense, is impossible (based the reading that I have come across.) However, in the relations we have with our union I would argue that the pie has been divide such that we as management retain enough of the pie to make expansion worth something. In expanding our business the union and its members will benefit as will we all the while the pie will not simply be divided differently, rather it will get bigger. (read John Stewart Mill, it is not the case for distribution, but of expansion)
Question: Does competition and assertiveness inevitably lead to conflict? Moreover, if not how do those competitive and assertive people skirt it. Being competitive and assertive, I find myself in constant conflict with other people. Generally they are also competitive and assertive, but for the most part anyone who is in contact with me eventually runs into some sort of conflict with my competitiveness. I wonder if there are tactics for being less conflicting yet equally competitive.

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