Power and Conflict

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Power and conflict are two major themes in work places as they are interrelated and together they are responsible for organisational politics. This article defines these terms and explores their categories, relationship and how to manage them.

This article is a topic within the subject Managing Organisations and People.


Required Reading

Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012), pp. 377-379 and 445 - 467 (Chapter 12).

Power Types

[1]Power can be seen as a function of dependency, that is, the amount of power one has is related to the amount of dependency they have on others or others on them. A clearer definition is that power is a capacity that one has to influence the behaviour of others so that they act in a desired way. Power comes from a variety of sources, the major ones being from formal positions or from personal status in relationships.

Formal Power

[2]Formal power is derived from one's position in an organisation and comes with the ability to reward or punish. This power type can be further split into:

Coercive Power- power based on instilling fear, be it through physical or psychological means
Reward Power- opposite to coercive power. It is based on the ability to reward success and "good" behaviour
Legitimate Power- power based on the ability to control and distribute resources in an organisation

Personal Power

[3]Personal power is derived not from a position within an organisation, but from individual characteristics. The main types of personal power are:

Expert Power'- power based on an individual's skill or education that makes them an authority on a topic or specialty
Referent Power- power based on the admiration others attribute to an individual

It should be noted the personal power is also related to the amount of a charisma and individual has and the amount of networking they do. In addition, having credibility and integrity is a large determinant on the amount of referent power one has.

Power Tactics

[4]Power by definition is used to influence others' behaviours. The different ways this is done is through:

  1. Legitimacy- using ones position of authority or relying on organisational policies and procedures to achieve a desired action
  2. Rational Persuasion- using facts and data to explain how a desired goal is worthwhile
  3. Inspirational Appeals- incorporating emotion and appealing to a person's values, hopes and aspirations
  4. Consultation- increasing support by involving others in plans
  5. Exchange- rewarding supporters for following actions
  6. Personal Appeal- asking for compliance based on friendship
  7. Ingratiation- using flattery (sucking up)
  8. Pressure- using threats or repeated demands
  9. Coalitions- enlisting others to find support


[5]Conflict is the perceived incompatible differences that result in interference or opposition. Conflict has already been discussed in the context of group conflict and here the discussion is based on the pros and cons and why conflict occurs, and finally, how to manage it.

Why Does Conflict Occur?

Conflict arises due to individual people and/or organisational reasons. Some causes of conflict due to individuals are:

  1. Differences in personality
  2. Gender, generational and culture differences
  3. Lack of effective communication skills
  4. Bias
  5. Stress levels
  6. psychological reasons

While organisational reasons may be:

  1. Employees kept in the dark
  2. Workplace culture
  3. Competition of advancement
  4. Stressful/unfair performance appraisals
  5. Scarcity of resources
  6. Gap between procedures and practice

Pros and Cons of Conflict

[6]As explained in group conflict, conflict might be necessary for the efficiency of an organisation. Some of the positive results of conflict attached to this efficiency are:

  • Powerful communication of feelings and needs
  • Encourages recognition of needs by others
  • Conveys the need for privacy and personal space
  • Camouflages weakness
  • Usually achieves results (though at the cost of alienation and aggravation)

On the other hand, negative results might be:

  • Wasted time
  • Some bad decisions
  • Losing employees
  • Sabotage, theft and damage
  • Decreased motivation
  • Increased absenteeism/Health costs from conflict stress
  • Legal costs
  • Workplace violence

Conflict Management

Four main tools are available to resolve disputes and conflict:

  • Litigation- Using legal proceedings
  • Arbitration- Producing a legally binding agreement through a third party agreed on by the both conflicting bodies
  • Mediation- Coming to a compromise through a neutral third party
  • Negotiation- A discussion intended to produce a solution accepted by both conflicting bodies


This is the end of this topic. Click here to go back to the main subject page for Managing Organisations and People.


"Textbook" refers to Robbins et all, Managing Organisations and People MGMT1001, compiled from Management (6th ed) and Organisational Behaviour (6th ed), (3rd ed, Sydney, Pearson Australia, 2012).

  1. Textbook p.445
  2. Textbook p. 446
  3. Textbook p. 447
  4. Textbook p. 449
  5. Textbook p. 377
  6. Textbook p.377
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