Conflict management can be defined as the process of dealing with (perceived) incompatibilities or disagreements arising from, for example, diverging opinions, objectives, and needs. Effective conflict management techniques limit or prevent negative effects of conflict, while enhancing potential beneficial effects, without necessarily solving the conflict. A central distinction in the conflict management literature is that between conflict stages (how conflicts evolve), conflict states (the occurrence or perception of disagreement over, for example, goals, beliefs, or task-related ideas), and conflict management strategies, styles, or frames (i.e., the different ways of dealing with perceived disagreements). Accordingly, theoretical and empirical work in conflict management can roughly be divided in three categories, those trying to better understand (i) the different stages in a conflict cycle; (ii) the functions of conflict, examining the benefits and detriments of conflict states within organizations; and (iii) which strategies, styles and frames people apply when dealing with conflict and when they are most effective in managing conflict. The focus in this entry will primarily be on conflicts within organizations (rather than between organizations/countries etc.) so, for example, between individual coworkers, between multiple team members, between different departments, and between staff and senior management. The way people manage conflicts can range from complete avoidance of the conflict issue, to yielding, compromising, more constructive problem solving approaches, or trying to force one’s opinion. Conflict management procedures can also differ in terms of being informal or formal, with or without the help of a third party, aimed at managing the conflict or at solving it, and are often influenced by cultural differences and the stress that conflicts evoke.
There are numerous textbooks on conflict management available and they differ in terms of their usefulness for students, practitioners, and/or researchers. Ideally equipped for each type of audience are Folger, et al. 2013, a book on conflict management now in its 7th edition, and Fisher and Ury 1981, best-selling book on getting to successful agreement in conflict and negotiation settings. Also Deutsch, et al. 2006 and Robbins 1974 offer useful general treatments of conflict and conflict management and both books are relatively practice-orientated. Textbooks for more research-oriented readers are available as well, and often these scholarly books include a combination of papers written by experts in the conflict management field. Good examples are De Dreu and Gelfand 2008 and Ayoko, et al. 2014 (both books are in the area of industrial and organizational psychology), Oetzel and Ting-Toomey 2013 (in the area of communication research), and Behfar and Thompson 2007 (focusing on teams).
Ayoko, Oluremi B., Neal M. Ashkanasy, and Karen A. Jehn. Handbook of Conflict Management Research. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Edgar, 2014.
This comprehensive textbook presents papers authored by expert conflict researchers; it gives a state-of-the art overview of a wide variety of topics related to conflict management research and theory.
Behfar, Kristin J., and Leigh L. Thompson. Conflict in Organizational Groups: New Directions in Theory and Practice. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007.
Ideal textbook for people interested in conflict within teams; presents a combination of different papers authored by expert researchers focusing specifically on antecedents, consequences, and management of intragroup conflict.
De Dreu, Carsten K. W., and Michele J. Gelfand. The Psychology of Conflict and Conflict Management in Organizations. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2008.
Very comprehensive textbook including chapters authored by expert researchers that together provide a very complete overview of contemporary theories and findings from the field of industrial and organizational psychology.
Deutsch, Morton, Peter T. Coleman, and Eric C. Marcus. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. 2d ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
Comprehensive textbook that provides a detailed description of the processes underlying conflict and the best ways to manage and resolve conflict constructively.
Fisher, Roger, and William L. Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.
Best-selling, classic text that offers practical and useful tips for achieving successful negotiation outcomes; ideal starting point for students, practitioners, and researchers in negotiation.
Folger, Joseph P., Marshall Scott Poole, and Randall K. Stutman. Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups and Organizations. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013.
Highly readable; offering an excellent overview of the conflict management literature describing the most important theories and presenting useful examples and little case studies; ideal starting point for students, practitioners, and researchers.
Oetzel, John G., and Stella Ting-Toomey. The SAGE Handbook of Conflict and Communication. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2013.
Analyzes conflict and conflict management from a communication perspective; chapters are authored by expert researchers with the aim to link theory of conflict communication more directly to practice.
Robbins, Stephen P. Managing Organizational Conflict. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974.
Ideal book for students to introduce themselves to the importance and prevalence of conflict within organizations. Classic, so a bit dated.
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