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Functional vs. Dysfunctional Conflict in Organizations: Differences and Mediation

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  1. 0:07 Types of Conflict
  2. 0:35 Functional Conflict
  3. 2:11 Dysfunctional Conflict
  4. 3:55 Mediation
  5. 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Jennifer Lombardo

Though usually people think of it as a bad thing, conflict can be a positive occurrence within an organization to bring about change. Two types of conflict are dysfunctional (negative conflict) and functional conflict (positive conflict).

Types of Conflict

When most people hear the word conflict, they think of the term in a negative manner. Surprisingly, conflict can actually be a positive within an organization. Conflict can bring about change, improve situations and offer new solutions. Two types of conflict that can occur within a company are functional and dysfunctional. Functional conflict is healthy, constructive disagreement between groups or individuals, while dysfunctional conflict is unhealthy disagreement that occurs between groups or individuals.

Functional Conflict

Susie Steel is a vice president in a real estate development firm called Hearts Development. She has spent enormous amounts of energy cultivating a relationship with a local town regarding an available plot of land. Susie would like to purchase the land to build townhomes for sale. She has developed an excellent relationship with the town politicians and community members.

An issue has developed over the planned usage of the land, though. The town will sell the land to Susie's company but feels that townhomes would be bad for the overall community. They're concerned with the additional cost and burden of kids that the townhomes would bring into the community. Susie understands the community's concern and wants a win-win situation to occur. She feels that this issue will be a functional conflict due to the fact that the disagreement will bring a positive end result to both parties. Positive results of functional conflict include:

  • Awareness of both sides of issues
  • Improvement of working conditions due to accomplishing solutions together
  • Solving issues together to improve overall morale
  • Making innovations and improvements within an organization

In Susie's case, constructive criticism and discussion resulted in a compromise and a solution between the parties. Susie understood the town's concern but needed to find something to build that would bring revenue for the company. Through their joint meetings, the end solution was for Hearts Development to build a retirement community, which would only have citizens 55 and over living in the town. This would eliminate the issue of having more young people come into town and burden the school system.

Dysfunctional Conflict

Sometimes, conflict can be a very negative experience for companies. Susie's colleague, John Dirt, is also a vice president of development at Hearts. He also has a major conflict regarding a construction project. He is looking to build a nuclear power plant in an East Coast town. The town is vehemently against having a power plant, and the discussions have been heated in conflict. This is a win-lose situation, or a dysfunctional conflict. Most dysfunctional conflicts are unhealthy and stem from emotional or behavioral origins.

The town is very emotional over the fact that a possible nuclear power plant could be built in their neighborhood. They are extremely concerned with the danger and health issues. John Dirt has had to use threats, personal attacks and deception in order to get his power plant plans passed by the town. Negative results of dysfunctional conflict include:

  • Individuals use threats, verbal abuse and deception, which destroy relationships
  • Both parties can end up losing in this type of conflict
  • This type of conflict can lead to retaliation and further acts of negativity

Unfortunately, the situation ended very poorly for John Dirt and Hearts Development. The company ignored the wishes of the residents and ended up building the nuclear power plant. Protests from the community happened daily outside the plant. After two years of operation, a leak occurred, causing damage to the environment and to the health of the citizens. In the end, the plant was shut down, and the company took a huge loss. The community ended up suing Hearts for damages, and many of the citizens had long-term illnesses develop from the leakage. This could all have been avoided if the conflict could have been changed from dysfunctional to functional conflict.

Mediation

One way to mold conflict into a positive experience is to use mediation. Mediation is a way to take control of conflict by using a facilitator or mediator to help the parties communicate their issues. During mediation, the parties are still held responsible to present facts and come to a resolution. The mediator helps facilitate the communication and adds clarification to both sides. In the instance of the nuclear power plant, mediation could have helped both parties express their sides. Perhaps the community would have convinced Hearts Development to spend additional money on safety and improvements to avoid the catastrophe.

Lesson Summary

Conflict can bring about change, improve situations and offer new solutions. Functional conflict is healthy, constructive disagreement between groups or individuals. Dysfunctional conflict is unhealthy disagreement that occurs between groups or individuals. Mediation can vastly improve dysfunctional situations to make them into a functional conflict.

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