Conflict can erupt when parties differ significantly in power, status, or culture. Power. If dependence is not mutual, but one way, the potential for conflict increases. If party A needs the collaboration of party B to accomplish its goals, but B does not need A’s assistance, antagonism may develop. B has power over A, and A has nothing with which to bargain. A good example is the quality control system in many factories. Production workers might be highly dependent upon INSPECTORS to approve their work, but this dependence is not reciprocated. The inspectors might have a separate boss, their own office, and their own circle of friends (other inspectors). In this case, production workers might begin to treat inspectors with hostility, one of the symptoms of conflict.
Status. Status differences provide little impetus for conflict when people of lower status are dependent upon those of higher status. This is the way organizations often work, and most members are socialized to expect it. However because of the design of the work, there are occasions when employees with technically lower status find themselves giving orders to, or controlling the tasks of, higher-status people . The restaurant business provides a good example. In many restaurants, lower-status waiters and waitresses give orders and initiate queries to higher-status cooks or chefs. The latter might come to resent this reversal of usual lines of influence.10 The advent of the “electronic office” led to similar kinds of conflict. As secretaries mastered the complexities of electronic mail, they found themselves having to educate senior executives about the capabilities and limitations of such systems. Some executives are defensive about this reversal of roles.
Culture. When two or more very different cultures develop in an organization, the clash in beliefs and values can result in overt conflict. Hospital administrators who develop a strong culture centered on efficiency and cost effectiveness might find themselves in conflict with physicians who share a strong culture based on providing excellent PATIENT CARE at any cost. A telling case of cultural conflict occurred when Apple Computer expanded and hired professionals away from several companies with their own strong cultures.
During the first couple of years Apple recruited heavily from HEWLETT PACKARD, National Semiconductor and Intel, and the habits and differences in style among these companies were reflected in Cupertino. There was a general friction between the rough and tough ways of the semiconductor men (there were few women) and the people who made computers, calculators, and instruments at Hewlett-Packard some of the Hewlett-Packard men began to see themselves as civilizing influences and were horrified at the uncouth rough-and-tumble practices of the brutes from the semiconductor industry. Many of the men from National Semiconductor and other stern backgrounds harbored a similar contempt for the Hewlett Packard recruits. They came to look on them as prissy fusspots.