APPLICATION OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES AS PERCEIVED BY THE ...
APPLICATION OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES AS
PERCEIVED BY THE MANAGER FOR HIMSELF AND FOR
HIS SUPERIOR: A COMPARISON
H. B. MATHUR AND OMER BIN SAYEED
It was hypothesized that the manager prefers to opt the same strategy in resolving the
conflict as that of his immediate superior in the context of job related matters. Another
factor which was investigated was to determine whether the manager or his immediate supe-
rior has adopted any variation in conflict management strategies. For this purpose, 86 exe-
cutives were taken as respondents to test the hypothesis. The study revealed that there was
"a moderate degree of dissimilarity between the manager's own practices and his perception
about his immediate superior regarding application of conflict management strategies. It was
also found that there was a variation in applying the strategies to resolve the conflict in case
of both the manager and his immediate superior.
Mr. H. B. Mathur is Assistant Professor at National Institute for Training in Industrial
Engineering, Bombay 400 086 and Dr. Omer Bin Sayeed is Lecturer in the Department of
Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay 400 076.
Conflicts in the past were considered bad glanski, 1970); differences in knowledge,
and dangerous to the organizational work-
beliefs or basic values (Blake et al., 1964a;
ing and, therefore, they were not enter-
Deutsch, 1969; Seiler, 1963). These studies,
tained, rather suppressed, by the managers. though highly illuminating in certain res-
Even Mayo (1945), the pioneer of the hu-
pects, do not throw much light on the use
man relations movement, considered it as of conflict management methods in inter-
a social disease and advocated that it personal situations.
should be avoided. Many others theorized
Two studies, one of Burke (1969) and the
that conflicts are dysfunctional and disrupts other of Renwick (1975a; 1975b) attempted
the smooth functioning of the organization. to analyze conflict management methods in
By and large, bureaucrats regarded conflicts superior and subordinate context. Burke
as dysfunctional.
(1969) found that the superiors not only per-
As observed today, conflicts are an ceived confrontation to be the most effective
integral part of the organization and, there-
strategy, but also described it as the most
fore, cannot be either suppressed or avoided, frequently used method for dealing with a
rather, can be made functional, if manag-
superior and subordinate conflict. In his
ed properly. When the conflicts are made study, the managers were asked to think
goal-directed, they help generate ideas of of a time when they felt especially good (or
superior quality based on different frames bad) about the way an interpersonal con-
of reference, considerations and insights of flict, in which they were also involved, was
both the parties to the conflict. New ideas resolved. The descriptions of the con-
can increasingly be utilised for identifying flicts as provided by them were then sepa-
and removing the bottlenecks in the organi-
rated in terms of effective resolution (felt
sation and in assessing and developing especially good) and ineffective resolution
human potential.
(felt especially bad) with reference to Blake
Conflicts have been studied in many et al.'s, (1964b) five methods of managing a
diverse organizational contexts such as line conflict. Renwick (1975) found that supe-
and staff controversies (Dalton, 1950; Law-
riors used confrontation as the most likely
rence and Lorsch, 1967); interpersonal role method to be used, followed in descending
perceptions (Kahn et al., 1964, Rizzo et al., order, by compromise and smoothing while
1970), personal dislikes (Ravan and Kru-
compromise, confrontation, and forcing, in

164
H. B. MATHUR AND OMER BIN SAYEED
that order, were the methods most likely to respondents was graduation in Arts or
be used, by subordinates. It was also noted Engineering subjects. They had put in 5 to
that perceptions of the other party's beha-
15 years of service in their respective
viour were more similar to the respondents' organizations.
self perception than to the other member
of the dyad's description of his own style Measures
of conflict management. Thomas (1978) also
A battery of questionnaires consisting of
supported this view and noted that self-
conflict management scale, least preferred
fulfilling prophesies frequently occurred in co-worker scale (LPC), and a managerial
managing a conflicting situation.
leadership scale was used. In the present
In this paper, it is proposed to make a paper, conflict management data have been
slight departure from Burke (1969) and reported with a view to keep the study
Renwick's (1975a; 1975b) approaches in focussed on the two objectives already
studying congruence between how a mana-
described.
ger himself resolves a conflict and how his
immediate superior resolves a conflict as Conflict Management Scales (Manager
perceived by the same manager. In other Self)
words, does a manager adopt the same style
of conflict management as that of his im-
This scale is composed of 8 methods
mediate superior or differently. Besides this, which were thoroughly checked for their
we propose to study the variation in the face validity and relevance to organizational
application of conflict management strate-
settings. The dimensions and their descrip-
gies adopted by the manager himself and by tions are as follows:
his superior.
Avoiding Arguments: Avoid argument,
take no responsibility and try not to get
METHOD
involved.
Following rules: Follow the rules and
Sample
regulations strictly to gain more time in
The data were collected from 86 middle order to be fair.
level executives who were undergoing short
Accommodating Others: Allow other's
term training programmes on executive points of view to prevail by sacrificing his
development. These respondents came from own, to accommodate others.
public and private sector organizations and
Consulting Others: Discuss only to take
represented a wide range of industries viz. other's points of view on conflicting issue
engineering, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, to give his decision finally.
textile, agro-based industries, trading and
Toning down differences: Tone down
financial corporations. Out of 86 managers, the differences, emphasize common interests,
59 (i.e. 69%) respondents belonged to to maintain good relations.
public sector organizations, 27 (i.e. 31%)
Forcing: Use power, position or know-
belonged to private sector enterprises. The ledge, to force acceptance of his own point
overall response rate was estimated at 93 of view.
per cent. The age of the respondents ranged
Compromising: Search for an inter-
from 25 to 45 years with a mean of 35 mediate solution where both the parties give
years. The minimum educational level of the or take equally to strike a compromise.

APPLICATION OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
165
Confrontation: Bring the problem into Results
the open, analyse the issues, share informa-
tion, and cooperate with each other with a
Table 1 reports means and standard
commitment to resolve the conflict even if deviations for conflict management methods
the feelings are hurt in the process.
applied by managers in two different con-
These methods were presented alongwith texts i.e. conflict management method appli-
a 5 point scale, ranging from "Never ap-
ed by manager himself and by his imme-
plied-1" to "Always applied-5" and res-
diate superior, as perceived by the same
pondents were asked to indicate as to which manager. This was intended to reflect dis-
conflict management method he would crepancy between two levels of manage-
generally use to resolve the differences and ment. Also presented are the paired t-tests
disagreements between him and his subor-
indicating differences between the two posi-
dinates on job related matters.
tion with regard to various conflict mana-
gement methods.
A close scrutiny of the results concern-
Conflict Management Scale (Manager's
ing importance assigned to a specific method
immediate superior)
by a manager (self) showed that "Toning
down differences" was given higher weigh-
This part of the questionnaire is similar tage and "Avoid argument" was preferred
to the questionnaire referred to above in least as a conflict resolution strategy. The
its content and scaling method used. How-
other most preferred strategies next to "Ton-
ever, the difference lies in the frame of ing down differences" in terms of mean
references in which questions are to be un-
scores obtained were "Confrontation ( x =
derstood and answered. Managers were 3.76), "Compromise" ( =3.67) and "Follow
asked to view the preferences for conflict Rules" ( =3.54). The least preferred
management methods from the immediate methods in ascending order next to
superior's point of view in a conflicting "Avoid arguments" were found to be
situation involving him and his superior.
"Forcing" ( =2.52), "Consulting Others"
TABLE I
t-RATIOS FOR VARIOUS CONFLICT MANAGEMENT M E T H O D S A P P L I E D BY M A N A G E R S AS SELF
AND AS SUPERIORS

166
H. B. MATHUR AND OMER BIN SAYEED
( =3.15) and "Accommodating Others" strategy by manager as self. It is interesting
( =3.18). An analysis of higher category to note that the F-ratio for methods diffe-
of managers (i.e. immediate superiors as rences was found to be 33.23, significant
perceived by manager himself) revealed that
well beyond .001 level of confidence. This
"Toning down differences" was the most is clearly suggestive of differential approach
preferred method whereas "Accommodating applied for resolving conflicts concerning
Others" was the least preferred method. The
job related matter in work situation of the
other methods which were rated as most organization. This also suggests that resolv-
preferred in descending order next to 'Ton-
ing a conflict in organizational setting can
ing down differences" were found to be never be unidimensional as one may diffe-
"Follow Rules", ( =3.29), "Compromise" rentially opt for various conflict resolution
( =3.19) and "Confrontation" ( = 3.15)
methods for a given area or problem of
whereas least preferred methods next to conflict.
•'Accommodating Others" in ascending order
were found to be "Avoid Argument" (
TABLE II
= 2.84), "Forcing" ( = 3.04) and -Consult-
ing Others" ( =3.13). As the results REPEATED MEASURES ANOVA APPI IED TO
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT M E T H O D S ADOPTED BY
showed that there are differences in the
MANAGERS AS SELF
application of conflict management methods,
attempt was made to compare them through
a paired t-test. The paired t-test as report-
ed in the table alongwith difference mean,
SED showed interesting findings. Six
methods showed significant differences when
comparison was made between conflict
management techniques applied by manager
as self and as immediate superior.
Compromise, Confrontation, Toning down
differences, and Accomodating Others
showed significant mean difference in which
manager as self had higher scores than the
manager as superior. With regard to Avoid-
ing Arguments and Forcing, manager as
superior showed significantly higher scores.
The other two methods "Follow Rules"
and "Consulting Others" had more or less
Table 3 reports repeated measures
similar means, as the difference between ANOVA applied to conflict management
the two groups was not significant.
method adopted by manager as superior on
Table 2 reports repealed measures the same line as shown for manager as
ANOVA applied to conflict management self. The results showed significant diffe-
methods adopted by manager as self. rences between the eight methods applied
Repeated measure ANOVA was specifically (F = 5.25, df, 7/602. p < .001). This is
applied with a view to find out method again suggestive of a trend noted for mana-
variation in adopting conflict resolution ger as self.

APPLICATION OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
167
TABLE III
modating others", "Consulting", "Forcing"
and "Avoiding arguments" while the supe-
R E P E A T E D M E A S U R E S A N O V A A P P L I E D T O C O N -
F L I C T MANAGEMENT METHODS ADOPTED BY
rior prefers "Toning down differences",
MANAGERS AS SUPERIOR
"Compromise", "Confrontation", "Consult-
ing", "Forcing", "Avoiding arguments" and
"Accommodating others".
The manager (as self) and the manager
(as superior) seem to have preferred "Ton-
ing down differences" as the first measure
of resolving conflict as and when it occurred.
It appears that they might be preferring this
with a view to achieve harmonious rela-
tionship. 'Smoothing over' the conflict is a
superficial way of dealing with it and may
ultimately lead to chaotic situations.
The second preference as indicated above
is "Confrontation" for manager as self and
"Following Rules" for manager as superior.
This suggests that the subordinate managers
Discussion
do confront issues when they have no other
way to do it. They also feel that their
Conflict management techniques have superiors prefer to deal with the conflict in
been noted as varying across hierarchical a more bureaucratic way by following the
levels and in situations where superiors rules and regulations in resolving the
and subordinates are working in dyads conflict.
(Renwick, 1975a). Methodologically, the
The third preference is "Compromise"
present study falls in line with Renwick's for the manager as self and also as superior.
approach with a slight difference. In the It suggests that if they fail in resolving the
first place, we have taken conflicts in the conflict by adopting the first two preferen-
context of job related matters, and in the ces, they would then like to bargain with
second place, subordinate manager's per-
each other depending upon the situation
ceptions have been used to account for his and the power, they enjoy. It is a 'give' and
superior's perception concerning methods 'take' exercise under constraints and not
opted for resolving the conflicts.
a resolution of conflict in the real sense.
If we take into consideration the first
In terms of ordinal importance of con-
three preferences of both the managers
flict management methods, there is a mode-
(for subordinate and superiors) it can be
rate degree of dissimilarity between the said that the managers at the higher level
manager's own practices and his perception of the hierarchy are not fully equipped to
about his superior regarding application of deal with the conflict through "Confronta-
conflict management techniques. The mana-
tion" and, therefore, can lead the organi-
ger (as self) seems to have preferred "Ton-
zation to chaotic situations. Further, it also
ing down differences", "Confrontation" appears that the middle level managers
"Compromise", "Following rules", "Accom-
simply ditto their superior's thinking and

168
H. B. MATHUR AND OMER BIN SAYEED
believe in "get going".
at this juncture. As noted in the results,
Our data did seem to support neither method variation in conflict management
Burke (1970) nor Renwick's (1975a, 1975b) are consistently noted both for the superiors
conclusions with regard to confrontation as as well as for the subordinate managers.
an important technique applied by the These findings signify that even though con-
managers. Probably, this may be due to the flict management techniques are employed
differences in the conflicting situation studi-
independently, superior and subordinate
ed by Renwick and may perhaps be due managers in their areas of operations differ-
to independent ratings obtained both from ed in terms of applying conflict management
the superiors and the subordinates. Our methods. Apart from giving due importance
data relied heavily on the perception of to one method over the other as noted in
managers' rating for themselves as well as the early part of the discussion, there is no
for their immediate superiors. As a result, commonality among all the eight techni-
our data provided useful cues with regard ques. As a result, when the superior and
to superiors as they are perceived by the subordinate managers are taken separately,
subordinate managers in applying conflict differences in the application of methods
management techniques.
were noted. Probably, this may have result-
Besides this, mean differences between ed due to the nature and characteristics of
the two perceptions regarding application the sample, which represented a wide varie-
of conflict management techniques also ty of organizational settings, where diffe-
throw considerable light. With the excep-
rent managerial orientations have been pre-
tion of "following rules" and "consulting" vailing. It seems that the organizational
as used by managers, rest of the dimensions effect as noted here, may have been mini-
showed significant differences, which means mum if the sample was drawn from a
that even in applying conflict management reasonably homogeneous work force. This
technique there is disagreement between the needs to be tested in future researches on
two. "Following rules" and "Consulting" conflict management taking a homogenous
were the dimensions on which manager as sample of superior and subordinate mana-
self and superior did not differ.
gers from one organizational setting.
One more issue remains to be answered

APPLICATION OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
169
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