Dahida Deewua Philip (Ph.D)
Department Of Public Administration
University Of Abuja,Abuja-Nigeria
This paper specifically looked at organization and conflict management in Nigeria from
analytical perspective. Organization exists in every society and they are established to carry out
different functions and responsibilities to achieve certain goals and objectives. Human factor in
organization is therefore very critical and central to the survival of organizations. In Nigeria like
elsewhere, conflicts do occur in organizations in the course of management trying to implement
organizational goals and objective. Thus conflict affecting organizations can occur in
individuals, between individuals, and between groups. Conflict within work groups are often
caused by struggle over control, status, and scarce resources. However, in the Nigerian context
conflicts do primarily occur in organization as a result of cultural differences like religion,
ethnicity, tribalism and regionalism among others. The paper argues that conflict is not always
destructive; it may be a motivator to achieving success. When it is destructive, however,
managers or chief executives need to understand and do something about it in order to
strengthen and maintain the survival of the organization. The major recommendation made in
the study was that; conflicts should be resolved in organization through negotiation and
integration. Suppression of conflict through force as is always done in Nigeria should be
discarded in order to sustain and maintain good working relationships between management and
workers for effective conflict management and survival of the organization.
Organization is the most significant and integral part of administration without proper
organization, administration is not possible. Administration involves cooperative effort by a
number of persons to achieve certain objectives. It is a clear fact that a number of persons must
be organized so as to achieve the desire goal. They should work towards the same goal. This is
possible with the existence of an organizational structure wherein their energies are directed
towards a common goal (Ekhator, 2002).
It is in the context of running an organization that conflict arises. Conflict in an organization
therefore is inevitable. Most times conflict solves a lot of organizational problems if properly
managed. But if not properly managed; it can tear apart organization which is not healthy enough
for the survival of any given organization. It is against this backdrop that this paper interrogates
the management of conflict in organization in Nigeria.
Urwick (1944) defines organization as determining what activities are necessary to any purpose
and arranging them in groups which may be assigned to individuals.
Barnard (1938) looked at organization as a system of consciously coordinated activities or forces
of two or more persons. Organization can also be described as the rational coordination of the
activities of a number of people for the achievement of some common explicit purposes or goals,
through division of labour and function, and through a hierarchy of authority and responsibility
In general term, organization is being looked at from three basic perspectives:
a) The act of designing the administrative structure
b) Both designing and building the structure and
c) The structure itself. It is an institutional framework where offices are designed and
functions and responsibilities defined.
Characteristics of Organization
Spiers (1975) identified five elements of organization as follows:
Membership: Most organizations comprise of a group of persons. Thus knowledge of belonging
is a necessary criteria and membership is nearly always voluntary, in that people are free to
withdraw except the state or enforced membership of a military organization.
Organizations are consciously purposive: Organizations are there to do something positive for
their members, for society, or for both. Political parties contest elections and try to get control of
government, business organizations produce goods, religious organizations save souls, and
minister to persons’ spiritual needs, etc.
Formal structure: A very prominent feature of organizational life is the phenomenon of formal
structure. Formal structure means the definition of functions in an organization and their
arrangement into a total pattern. The essence of formalism is that functions are defined primarily
in relation to one another and persons are considered as fulfilling these functions.
Value system or ideology: This means that all organizational life implies some reasonably
coherent value system. The existence of such ideologies is equally observable in administrative
and the political sphere. These ideologies affect the life and structure of organizations.
Corporate status: Organizations almost always have some legal status by which they can be
treated as social and legal entities, irrespective of the persons who might be said to inhabit them.
What is Management?
Generally, no management definition is universally accepted by management authorities and
practitioners. In fact many scholars have defined the subject based on their background and
environment. However, the following definition of management is considered.
Lawal (1993) looked at management as the process of making prudent use of an organization
resources in order to achieve the pre-determined goals. While Brech (1975) defined management
as a social process where in the social process consists of planning, control, coordination and
On the broader perspective, Stoner and Freeman (1992) defined management as the process of
planning, organizing, leading and controlling the work of organization members and of using all
available organizational resources to reach stated organizational goals.
Management is therefore an act of directing and coordinating both human and material resources
available in organization in order to sustain growth and development.
The implication of the above definition is that the management of organization’s human
resources also includes management of conflict in organization.
Conflict management involves doing things to limit the negative aspects of conflict and to
increase the positive aspect of conflict. The aim of conflict management is to enhance learning
and group outcomes, including effectiveness or performance in organizational setting (Rahim,
Conflict management is something that companies and managers need to deal with. Conflict
significantly affects employee morale, turnover, and litigation, which affects the prosperity of a
company, either constructively or destructively (Lang, 2009).
From the foregoing, one can state here boldly that conflict management is an essential ingredient
for the survival of any given organization. However, the conflict must be managed in a very
positive manner that would encourage the employee’s happiness and productivity.
Causes of Conflict in an Organisation
There are several causes of conflict in organization: Rahim (2002) sum them up in the following:
a) A party is required to engage in an activity that is incongruent with his or her needs or
b) A party holds behavioural preferences, the satisfaction of which is incompatible with
another person’s implementation of his or her preferences
c) A party wants some mutually desirable resources that is in short supply, such that the
wants of all parties involved may not be satisfied fully
d) A party possesses attitudes, values, skills, and goals held by the other(s)
e) Two parties have partially exclusive behavioural preferences regarding their joint actions.
f) Two parties are interdependent in the performance of functions or activities.
In Nigerian environment, conflict can arise in organization for the following reasons:
a) Two parties fighting for a particular position that we termed it “recrutive position”
b) Managers are resisted when they try to bring positive change in organization that would
unearth unethical issues
c) Conflict arising from sharing of funds gotten from illegal or corrupt means
d) Conflict arising from employment in organization based on merit system. The
employment in Nigeria more often than not is based on religion, ethnicity or regionalism as the
system cherished quota system and federal character principles.
Models of Conflict Management
There are several models of managing conflict in organizations. But for the purpose of this
paper, we may consider only two models of conflict management
Mary Parker Follett Model of Conflict Management
Follett (1940) argues that for effective running of an organization, there is the need to resolve
conflicts within the organization. She therefore identified three ways of managing conflicts in an
organization. These are:
b) Balance of power
Domination: It is a situation whereby the boss occupies a position of supervision and forces the
subordinates to act in accordance to his or her wishes. This method according to her is not
satisfactory enough for conflict management.
Balance of Power: It is a situation whereby neither the boss nor the subordinates occupy a
position of supervision. Conflicts are resolved through bargaining and compromise. Conflict
resolution in an organization through bargaining according to Follett was not the best. This is
because; one of the parties or actors may not be satisfied in one way or the other.
Integration: The best approach to conflict management is integration. This is a situation where
decisions in conflict situation are reached through free contributions by all participants. This
would lead to a decision that will be mutually beneficial. This method does not take into
consideration the position of members in the organization’s hierarchy or the personality but on
problems to be tackled.
Rahim’s Metal Model
Rahim (2002) identified five method of conflict management in an organization. They include
Obliging: This is associated with attempting to minimize the differences and highlight the
commonalities to satisfy the concern of other party
Dominating: In this management approach, one party goes all out to win his or her objective
and, as a result, often ignores the needs and expectations of the other party.
Avoiding: This is a situation whereby a party fails to satisfy his or her own concern as well as
the concern of the other party
Compromising: It involves give and take where by both parties give up something to make a
mutually acceptable decision
Integration: This approach in conflict management involves openness, exchanging information,
looking for alternatives, and examining differences to solve the problem in a manner that is
acceptable to both parties, and examining differences to solve the problem in a manner that is
acceptable to both parties (Rahim, 2002).
In Nigerian situation, both the two models presented above are being used in management of
conflicts in organizations. However, domination has been the most effective means in resolving
conflicts in most instances in Nigeria. In this situation, conflicts are only suppressed for some
time and eventually over the time they reoccur. This also accounted for strike up on strikes in
Nigeria. This is so because managers used domination in suppressing conflict rather than using
integration approach in conflict management.
Steps in Conflict Management
There are several steps involved in conflict management. But our concern here is focused on the
five steps to managing conflict as presented by Maccoby and Studder as follows:
1. Anticipate – take time to obtain information that can lead to conflict
2. Prevent develop strategies before the conflict occurs
3. Identify – if it is interpersonal or procedural, move to quickly manage it
4. Manage – remember that conflict is emotional
5. Resolve – react, without blame, and you will learn through dialogue (Maccoby and
Towards a Theory of Organizational Conflict
Organizational theories are many, but we are building our analysis on only one theory that is also
practically obtainable in Nigerian environment.
Maturity – Immaturity Theory
According to Maslow, Argyris, McGregor and Rogers, the major writers on the growth schools,
have assumed that there is a basic tendency in the development of the human personality toward
self-fulfillment, or self-actualization. This implies that as an individual matures, they want to be
given more responsibility, broader horizons, and the opportunity to develop their personal
potential. This process is interrupted whenever a person’s environment fails to encourage and
nurture these desires.
Formal organizations are rational structures that, based on their assumption of emotions feelings,
and irrationality as human weakness, try to replace individual control with institutional control.
Thus the principle of task specialization is seen as a device that simplifies tasks for the sake of
efficiency. As a consequence, however, it uses only a fraction of a person’s capacity and ability.
The principle of chain of command centralizes authority but makes the individual more
dependent on their superiors. The principle of normal span of control, which assigns a maximum
of six or seven subordinates to report to the chief executive, reduces the number of individuals
reporting to the head of the organization or to the manager of any subunit. Although this
simplifies the job of control for the manager, it also creates more intensive surveillance of the
subordinate, and therefore permits him less freedom to control himself.
Under such conditions, subordinates are bound to find themselves in conflict with the formal
organization, and some times with each other. They advance up the narrowing hierarchy where
job get fewer, and “fewer” implies competing with others for the decreasing number of openings.
Tasks specialization tends to focus the subordinate’s attention on their own narrow function and
divert him from thinking about the organization as a whole. This effect increases the need for
coordination and leads to a circular process of increasing the dependence on the leader.
They may respond to organizational pressures and threats by defensive or apathy, compromise
and gamesmanship or psychological withdrawal and day dreaming. All of this defense
mechanism reduces a person’s potential for creative, constructive activity on the job. Finally,
employees may organize unions or unsanctioned in formal groups whose norms of behaviour are
opposed to many of the organization’s goals
The conflict between the formal organization and the individual will continue to exist wherever
managers remain ignorant of its causes or wherever the organizational structure and the
leadership style are allowed to become inconsistent with the legitimate needs of the
psychologically healthy individual. Everyone recognizes the necessity for order and control. The
above discussions as regard to maturity – immaturity theory of organizational conflict is highly
applicable in organizations in Nigeria. In Nigeria, most workers place their personal fulfillment
above organizational goals and objectives. In the event that the organization tries to subvert their
in-ordinate ambition to the organizational objective, there arises conflict. In this situation,
informal groups abound in order to fight the organization. The ugly trend here in Nigeria is that
these informal associations are created based on religious, ethnicity tribalism and regionalism.
This also explains the reason why in Nigeria most conflicts in organizations are based on
ethnicity and religion apart from salary increments and allowances.
Organizations are created to carry out their respective functions and responsibilities in order to
achieve organizational goals and objectives. In the course of implementing organizational
policies and programmes, conflict do exists. Some conflicts are personal, conflict within groups
and role conflicts among others.
In order to keep the organization moving and pursue the course of conflict resolution, the
management therefore is presumed to be guided by a vision of the future. The manager reflects
in their decision making activities, the values of the organization as they have developed through
time, from the original founder to the present top-managements personnel. In navigating a path
between the values of the organization and its objectives and goals, management has
expectations concerning the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency and frequently initiates
changes within the organization. These changes some times took place as a result of market
demand, technology, and political, social and economic environment.
We therefore conclude that even though organizations have several goals and objectives to
achieve but some times changes are introduced to achieve the stated objectives. Although
organization faces these demands for change through the men and women who make up its
membership. The interests of workers must therefore be taken into consideration when decisions
and policies for changes are taken in order to minimize conflicts in organizations.
Arising from the above discussion, one major recommendation that was made is that conflicts
should be resolved in organization through negotiation and integration. Suppression of conflict
through force as is always done in Nigeria should be discarded in order to sustain and maintain
good working relationships between management and workers for effective conflict management
and survival of the organizations.
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