Interpersonal Communication

Functions of Conflict Within an Organisational Structure

a) Conflict generates new values, norms, and subsystems within an organisation.
b) Conflict within bureaucratic structures provides the means for growing ritualism and stagnation that could threaten such structures.
c) Conflict could attack and overcome the resistance towards change and innovation, but may be a threat for people managing the organization.
d) Conflict has personal or social value within an organization. Interest and curiosity are stimulated, problems could be aired and timeous solutions arrived at. Suppressing or disregarding conflict within an organization could easily lead to an intensification of a more pronounced type of conflict.

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The Communication Channels

The communication channel selected for transmitting a message plays a significant role in maintaining the quality of the original message in its passage from the sender to receiver. The sender, given the opportunity to weigh the merits of using an oral or written communication, or a combination of the two, selects the most effective for the situation. Regardless of the communication channel selected, the sender will encounter obstacles. Considering the possible barriers, the sender must choose the channel which he feels will best guarantee transfer of the essence and meaning of his message without misunderstanding or distortion.

  • To counteract possible interference in the communication channel, the message should attract attention, contain redundancy, continue repetition, or use a combination of these approaches.
  • To attract attention, the message must be different from others competing for the recipient’s time. A short handwritten message instead of the usual typed message is one method that can attract attention.
  • To provide redundancy, the message must be rephrased several times (the technique used in newspaper articles), and/or summarized in the final paragraph. The sender should avoid too much redundancy because this tends to clutter the communication channel.
  • To provide repetition, the message must be transmitted through more than one channel, as in spoken and written form, or transmitted more than once through the same channel, as in TV advertising.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the basic communication channels within an organization. There are three channels: formal, informal, and unofficial.

1. Formal. The communication within the formal organizational structure that transmits goals, policies, procedures, and directions.
2. Informal. The communication outside the formal organizational structure that fills the organizational gaps, maintains the linkages, and handles the one-time situations.
3. Unofficial. The interpersonal communication within (or among) the social structure of the organization that serves as the vehicle for casual interpersonal exchanges, and transmittal of unofficial communications.

A more detailed examination of each of these communication channels will provide a better understanding of these functions.

Formal Communication

  • Formal communication – written or oral – follows the chain of command of the formal organization; the communication flows from the manager to his immediate subordinates. Each recipient then re-transmits the message in the selected form to the next lower level of management or to staff members, as appropriate. The message progresses down the chain of command, fanning out along the way, until all who have a need to know are informed. 
  • Formal communication also flows upward through the organization on the same basis. 
  • Formal communication normally encompasses the transmittal of goals, policies, instructions, memoranda, and reports; scheduled meetings; and supervisory-subordinate interviews.

Informal Communication

No organization operates in a completely formal or structured environment. Communication between operations depicted in an organizational chart do not function as smoothly or as trouble-free as the chart may imply. In most organizations operating effectively, channels of communication have developed outside the hierarchical structure.

  • The informal communication process supplements the formal process by filling the gaps and/or omissions. Successful managers encourage informal organizational linkages and, at the same time, recognize that circumvention of established lines of authority and communication is not a good regular practice. When lines of authority have been bypassed, the manager must assume responsibility for informing those normally in the chain of command of the action taken.
  • There is a fine line between using informal communications to expedite the work of the organization and the needless bypassing of the chain of command. The expediting process gets the job done, but bypassing the chain of command causes irritation and can lead to hard feelings.

To be effective, the manager must find a way to balance formal and informal communication processes.

Unofficial Communication

Astute program and functional managers recognize that a great deal of communication taking place within their organizations is interpersonal. News of revised policies and procedures, memoranda, and minutes of meetings are subjects of conversation throughout the organization. These subjects often share the floor with discussions of TV shows, sports news, politics, and gossip.

The “grapevine” is a part of the unofficial communication process in any organization. A grapevine arises because of lack of information employees consider important: organizational changes, jobs, or associates. This rumor mill transmits information of highly varying accuracy at a remarkable speed. Rumors tend to fall into three categories: those reflecting anxiety, those involving things hoped for, and those causing divisiveness in the organization. Some rumors fade with the passing of time; others die when certain events occur.

Employees take part in the grapevine process to the extent that they form groups. Any employee not considered a part of some group is apt to be left out of this unofficial communication process.

The grapevine is not necessarily good or bad. It serves a useful function when it acts as a barometer of employees’ feelings and attitudes. Unfortunately, the information traveling along the grapevine tends to become magnified or exaggerated. Employees then become alarmed unnecessarily by what they hear. It is imperative that a manager be continually alert to the circulation of false information. When discovered, positive steps should be taken to provide the correct information immediately.

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Importance of written communication:

Communication may be made through oral or written. In oral communication, listeners can make out what speakers is trying to say, but in written communication, text matter in the message is a reflection of your thinking. So, written communication or message should be clear, purposeful and concise with correct words, to avoid any misinterpretation of your message. Written communications provides a permanent record for future use and it also gives an opportunity to employees to put up their comments or suggestions in writing.

So, effective communication is very important for successful working of an organization. Business writing software with grammar checker and text enrichment tool, which enhances a simple sentence into more professional and sophisticated one, can be used for writing effective business communications.

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Importance of communication

For manager – employee relations:
Effective communication of information and decision is an essential component for management-employee relations. The manager cannot get the work done from employees unless they are communicated effectively of what he wants to be done? He should also be sure of some basic facts such as how to communicate and what results can be expected from that communication. Most of management problems arise because of lack of effective communication. Chances of misunderstanding and misrepresentation can be minimized with proper communication system.

For motivation and employee morale:
Communication is also a basic tool for motivation, which can improve morale of the employees in an organization. Inappropriate or faulty communication among employees or between manager and his subordinates is the major cause of conflict and low morale at work. Manager should clarify to employees about what is to be done, how well are they doing and what can be done for better performance to improve their motivation. He can prepare a written statement, clearly outlining the relationship between company objectives and personal objectives and integrating the interest of the two.

For increased productivity:
With effective communication, you can maintain a good human relation in the organization and by encouraging ideas or suggestions from employees or workers and implementing them whenever possible, you can also increase production at low cost.

For employees:
It is through the communication that employees submit their work reports, comments, grievances and suggestions to their seniors or management. Organization should have effective and speedy communication policy and procedures to avoid delays, misunderstandings, confusion or distortions of facts and to establish harmony among all the concerned people and departments.

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The Six Steps of Collaboration

The steps progress logically &should be departed from only to return to a previous step as a means to enhance the relationship & increasing understanding. Skipping steps reduces the chance for collaborative agreement and should be avoided. The six steps are as follows:

The Six Steps of Collaboration

1. Prepare for the Interaction.
2. Initiate the Exchange.
3. Facilitate the Relationship.
4. Understand the Interests.
5. Examine the Solutions.
6. Reach Consensus

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Resolving Conflict For Managers

The conflict resolution requires great managerial skills. Here we are trying to give a solution to a conflict turning it in a constructive side.

If one party exercises the principles of interaction, listens, and us the six steps of collaborative resolution, that party may be able to end the conflict constructively. At the very least, he or she may be able to prevent the conflict from turning into a fight by choosing an alternative to destructive interaction?”

There is a difference between resolving a conflict and managing conflict. Resolving a conflict ends the dispute by satisfying the interests of both parties. Managing a conflict contains specialized interaction that prevents a dispute from becoming a destructive battle. Managing a conflict attends to the personal issues so as to allow for a constructive relationship, even though the objective issues may not be resolvable. For example, the former Soviet Union and the United States managed their conflict during the Cold War by using a variety of mechanisms. The objective issues in the dispute were not resolved, and neither were the personal issues, which contained significant perceptual differences. However, both sides attended significantly to the relationship to keep the disagreement from turning into a destructive battle.

Our goal in conflict always should be to seek a resolution based on mutual gain. Realistically, however, resolution is not always possible. When this is the case, we must manage the conflict to ensure that the relationship is constructive and that open communication is maintained. We Listen to Conflict to understand the other party and demonstrate the acceptance required to maintain the relationship

1. The Framework for conflict resolution

When conflicts arise, we assess a variety of factors before selecting our approach to the situation. We may choose to compete, or dominate, where we try to impose our will on the other side through physical or psychological means, or we may choose to accommodate, or surrender, and cede victory to the other side.

Likewise, we may decide to withdraw by either doing nothing or refusing to participate in the conflict altogether, or we may collaborate and reach a constructive and mutually acceptable solution. And if none of those approaches proves effective, we might choose third-party intervention, a form of collaboration in which an individual or group external to the conflict intercedes to move both parties toward agreement.

While each of the above orientations represents a way to manage conflict, only two collaboration and third-party intervention-are, by definition, focused on mutual gain and resolution. These two approaches consider the interests of both parties and are most likely to use empathic listening as the primary tool to enhance understanding. The other methods deal unilaterally with the conflict and fail to manage the interdependence of the dispute.

In order to understand the mechanisms behind the four orientations to conflict, it is useful to examine how these orientations can be applied. The study of negotiation, one form of conflict resolution, provides two opposite approaches for dealing with disputes. Most often, we think of negotiation in the formal sense seen in the business or diplomatic environment, where two or more parties bargain to reach agreement. However, two types of negotiation, competitive bargaining and collaboration, also provide good models for understanding different ways of resolving our conflicts.

2. Competitive Bargaining

When most people think of negotiation, they think of competitive bargaining. In this type of negotiation, a seller asks for more than he expects and a buyer offers less than she is willing to pay. Then, through a series of concessions, the two sides meet somewhere in the middle where each side is reasonably satisfied. This form of negotiation also is frequently called distributive bargaining or concession-convergence. It maintains a competitive, win-lose orientation, with the goals of one party and the attainment of those goals in direct conflict with the goals of the other party. In other words, competitive bargaining is a positional conflict in which “winning” is determined by how much of the original position was obtained. The parties believe that resources are fixed and limited, and that they must battle to maximize their share of the wealth.

In competitive bargaining, each party uses strategy, tactics, and tricks to achieve its objective, and whether one of both parties will achieve their goal depends upon their ability to “play the game.” Each party seeks to extract information from the other party that will help in identifying appropriate counteroffers, while revealing as little accurate information as possible about its own preferences. The final agreement often depends on the willingness of one party to stake out a tough and extreme position that causes the other party to make concessions. Labor management disputes and international negotiations often use this model of conflict resolution.

The competitive bargaining process is unappealing to many of us and often produces unwise agreements. Some of us simply do not have the skills or the temperament to play the game. We see the process as being unnecessary tough, deceitful, or manipulative. Perceptions of power & control also are a significant factor in the effectiveness of competitive bargaining. If you do not have the power in the relationship, or if you perceive that you do not, you are more likely to obtain an unsatisfactory resolution. Your lack of power will prevent you from using authority or aggression to resolve, or win, the dispute. In competitive bargaining this form of aggression is often played as a trump card to achieve the win for the party who is able to acquire the most power.

The positional approach of competitive bargaining also causes unnecessary issue rigidity. Our egos become so invested in our positions that we are prevented from accepting alternatives. Therefore, even if a better solution is created, it is unlikely that we will back down. Another problem with competitive bargaining is that it often ignores the personal issues that affect the resolution process. In competitive bargaining, we care about the other party’s needs only as a means to identify an opportunity for trade. For example, we will trade one day at the beach (the other party’s need) for one day visiting museums (our need). But even if the trade satisfies one need, competitive bargaining still requires some amount of persuasion, deception, and manipulation if we are going to resolve all of the objective issues in a satisfactory manner. Over time, this usually breaks down the trust between the parties and places a significant strain on the relationship.

Competitive bargaining tends not to resolve conflict. It merely manages it for his short term. It is based on an attitude of limits and is fundamentally a process of reaching a settlement within a bargaining range. Both parties know that they are going to have to settle for something less than they would prefer, but they each hope that the deal will be better than their bottom line. Parties who do not think they got the best deal possible or who believe that they “lost” typically try to find ways to recoup their losses later. Even if one party believes that it “won,” it still knows that it left something on the bargaining table and will try to acquire it in future negotiations. Labor and management, for example, may reach an agreement, but it is not long before they are back at the bargaining table, renegotiating issues that one or both sides thought had been settled previously.
There is an alternative that breaks the destructive cycle of competitive bargaining. It builds relationships and opens the door to constructive resolution. The alternative not only helps you correctly identify the objective issues, but also manages, if not resolves, the personal issues in the dispute. It is based on principles of interaction that endeavor to understand all of the underlying interests that must be satisfied to reach sustained agreement.

3. Collaboration

The collaborative approach to conflict resolution, also called mutual gains or integrative bargaining, argues for the possibility of solutions that all sides find acceptable. It embodies the notion of “win-win,” a core component of our principle of mutual gain. Collaboration is about identifying a common, shared, or joint goal and developing a process to achieve it. It is a process in which both parties exchange information openly, defines their common problems, and creates options to solve these problems. And while the collaborative process cannot guarantee that agreement will always be reached, more often than not, the analysis of interests, needs, and desires helps the resolution process and ultimate agreement.

There are many reasons why people don’t pursue this model of conflict resolution. First, people in conflict often do not recognize the potential for collaboration. This often is the result of an attitude of limits, either-or thinking, or a fixed-pie mentality. When parties remain positional or see only a limited number of solutions that will satisfy their interests, they do not use their creativity to solve the problem.

The history of the relationship between the two parties also can prevent collaboration. Over time, destructive conflict can build resentment, if not contempt. And, as John Gottman notes in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994), contempt breeds the intent to “insult and psychologically abuse” the other party. This is not always major abuse; it may be small, nit-picking criticisms that add up over time. The personal issues become so overwhelming that the objective issues of the conflict cannot be examined, and parties often cannot be in the same room together, let alone identify ways of resolving the conflict.

Another barrier to collaboration relates to the complexity of most conflicts. Some elements are conducive to collaboration, and some elements require competitive bargaining. Each mode of conflict resolution requires different skill sets, and you can send mixed messages unless you handle them carefully.

Finally, people often have a lack of faith in their problem-solving ability. Parties that enter the resolution process believing that they can work together usually find a way to collaborate. Those who do not have a solid self-concept will be less willing to follow the Principles of interaction& use listening to seek collaborative resolution.

There are many obstacles that make collaboration more difficult. Given our inherent competitiveness and the various factors that surround many of our disputes, it is a wonder that constructive collaboration occurs at all. However, it does occur if one or both of the parties in conflict outcomes, the following conditions must be established at some point during the process:

  • Face-to-face interaction: The Listening to Conflict approach to dispute resolution requires developing an understanding of the total message another party is trying to communicate. The most effective way to accomplish this is through face-to-face interaction, where we can see the nonverbal expressions that give us clues to underlying emotional needs.
  • High acquaintance potential: Without the ability to accept and have positive regard for the other party, collaboration will not be possible. We have to like the person as a person and be willing to establish a relationship that goes beyond the issues of the dispute. This will allow the personal issues to be dealt with separately from the objective issues in the particular conflict so that we can explore options for mutual gain.
  • Constituency support: The parties in conflict will not be able to collaborate if outside constituencies try to force competitive and positional norms. Third parties must be supportive of the collaborative process or risk nullifying the positive steps taken toward collaboration by reneging on constructive agreements established between the two interacting parties. We must prevent or resolve any conflict with our constituencies prior to interacting with the other party in the primary dispute.
  • Cooperative tasks: Acceptance goes a long way toward diffusing head-to-head competition in conflict, but unless a joint or mutual task is established, there will be no need to collaborate. We at least must frame the conflict as a problem to be solved together in order to establish a collaborative environment.
  • Shared exploration: Sharing in the process of understanding the problem and creating solutions keeps both parties involved. This saves one party from the trap of inventing all of the solutions, and the inevitable dependence and resentment that accompanies that responsibility. When both parties are involved, there will be stronger commitment to the final solutions.
  • No fixed agenda: An agenda creates a positional interaction that is based on satisfying the needs of one party without understanding how the interests of both are related. Having an agenda sends the message that you are not interested in the other party’s issues and needs issues and needs. The only agenda should be to follow the steps of collaboration and work toward mutual gain.

Adherence to collaborative process steps. Successful resolution requires that we follow the steps of collaboration. If we skip a step, we risk sending the other party mixed signals that will; propel that party toward a defensive, competitive mode.

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Sources and Process of conflict

By evaluating a conflict according to the five categories below — relationship, data, interest, structural and value — we can begin to determine the causes of a conflict and design resolution strategies that will have a higher probability of success. 
Relationship Conflicts
Relationship conflicts occur because of the presence of strong negative emotions, mis-perceptions or stereotypes, poor communication or mis-communication, or repetitive negative behaviors. Relationship problems often fuel disputes and lead to an unnecessary escalating spiral of destructive conflict. Supporting the safe and balanced expression of perspectives and emotions for acknowledgment (not agreement) is one effective approach to managing relational conflict. 
Data Conflicts
Data conflicts occur when people lack information necessary to make wise decisions, are misinformed, disagree on which data is relevant, interpret information differently, or have competing assessment procedures. Some data conflicts may be unnecessary since they are caused by poor communication between the people in conflict. Other data conflicts may be genuine incompatibilities associated with data collection, interpretation or communication. Most data conflicts will have “data solutions.” 

Interest Conflicts
Interest conflicts are caused by competition over perceived incompatible needs. Conflicts of interest result when one or more of the parties believe that in order to satisfy his or her needs, the needs and interests of an opponent must be sacrificed. Interest-based conflict will commonly be expressed in positional terms. A variety of interests and intentions underlie and motivate positions in negotiation and must be addressed for maximized resolution. Interest-based conflicts may occur over substantive issues (such as money, physical resources, time, etc.); procedural issues (the way the dispute is to be resolved); and psychological issues (perceptions of trust, fairness, desire for participation, respect, etc.). For an interest-based dispute to be resolved, parties must be assisted to define and express their individual interests so that all of these interests may be jointly addressed. Interest-based conflict is best resolved through the maximizing integration of the parties’ respective interests, positive intentions and desired experiential outcomes. 

Structural Conflicts
Structural conflicts are caused by forces external to the people in dispute. Limited physical resources or authority, geographic constraints (distance or proximity), time (too little or too much), organizational changes, and so forth can make structural conflict seem like a crisis. It can be helpful to assist parties in conflict to appreciate the external forces and constraints bearing upon them. Structural conflicts will often have structural solutions. Parties’ appreciation that a conflict has an external source can have the effect of them coming to jointly address the imposed difficulties. 

Value Conflicts
Value conflicts are caused by perceived or actual incompatible belief systems. Values are beliefs that people use to give meaning to their lives. Values explain what is “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “just” or “unjust.” Differing values need not cause conflict. People can live together in harmony with different value systems. Value disputes arise only when people attempt to force one set of values on others or lay claim to exclusive value systems that do not allow for divergent beliefs. It is of no use to try to change value and belief systems during relatively short and strategic mediation interventions. It can, however, be helpful to support each participant’s expression of their values and beliefs for acknowledgment by the other party.

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Seven elements of the communication process

The seven elements of the communication process are:
(1) the communication source,
(2) the message,
(3) encoding,
(4) the channel,
(5) decoding,
(6) the receiver, and
(7) feedback.

Before communication can take place, a purpose, expressed as a message to be conveyed, must exist. It passes between a source (the sender) and a receiver. The message is converted to a symbolic form (called encoding) and passed by way of some medium (channel) to the receiver, who retranslates the sender’s message (called decoding).


The result is the transfer of meaning from one person to another. In addition, note that the entire process is susceptible to noise—disturbances that interfere with the transmission, receipt, or feedback of a message. Typical examples of noise include illegible print, phone static, inattention by the receiver, or background sounds of machinery or coworkers.

Anything that interferes with understanding can be noise, and noise can create distortion at any point in the communication process.

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The two best-known types of nonverbal communication

1.Body language  —  refers to gestures, facial expressions, and other body movements that convey meaning. A person frowning “says” something different from one who’s smiling. Hand motions, facial expressions, and other gestures can communicate emotions or temperaments such as aggression, fear, shyness, arrogance, joy, and anger.

2.Verbal intonation  —  refers to the emphasis someone gives to words or phrases that conveys meaning. To illustrate how intonations can change the meaning of a message, consider the student who asks the instructor a question. The instructor replies, “What do you mean by that?” The student’s reaction will vary, depending on the tone of the instructor’s response. A soft, smooth vocal tone conveys interest and creates a different meaning from one that is abrasive and puts a strong emphasis on saying the last word.

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Six barriers to effective communication that managers face

1. Filtering:  The deliberate manipulation of information to make it appear more favorable to the receiver. For example, when a person tells his or her manager what the manager wants to hear, that individual is filtering information. The extent of filtering tends to be a function of the number of vertical levels in the organization and the organizational culture. The more vertical levels there are in an organization, the more opportunities there are for filtering.
2. Emotions: How a receiver feels when a message is received influences how he or she interprets it. Extreme emotions are most likely to hinder effective communication. In such instances, people often disregard rational and objective thinking processes and substitute emotional judgments. 

3. Information overload: Occurs when the amount of information a person is required to work with exceeds that individual’s processing capacity. What happens when individuals have more information than they can sort or use? They tend to select out, ignore, pass over, or forget information. Or, they may put off further processing until the overload situation is over.
4. Defensiveness: When people feel that they’re being threatened, they tend to react in ways that reduce their ability to achieve mutual understanding. That is, they become defensive—engaging in behaviors such as verbally attacking others, making sarcastic remarks, being overly judgmental, and questioning others’ motives.
5. Language: Words mean different things to different people. Age, education, and cultural background are three of the more obvious variables that influence the language a person uses and the definitions he or she gives to words. People may speak the same language, but use of that language is far from uniform. Senders tend to assume that the words and phrases they use mean the same to the receiver as they do to them. This is incorrect and creates communication barriers.
6. National culture: Interpersonal communication isn’t conducted in the same way around the world. In the United States, communication patterns tend to be individual oriented and clearly spelled out. U.S. managers rely heavily on memoranda, announcements, position papers, and other formal forms of communication to state their positions on issues. In collectivist countries, such as Japan, there’s more interaction for its own sake and a more informal manner of interpersonal contact.

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