Power Politics And Conflicts In Organizations


Organization activity can be defined as the culture or the working environment of an organization. This organizational activity depends upon the people who build up the organizational environment and often are the deciphering factor. Power, politics and conflict are the three important and vital pillars on which the organizational activity rests. They play an important factor in deciding the structure of the environment of a particular organization. They also differ with each other in terms of their manifestation in the organizational activity. Moreover, they are so real in the organization that whether the formal organizations like government organization or non formal organization like non profit organization falls under its ambit. Often power, politics and conflicts are closely related with each other and they interplay with each other. People often practice them in the organizations in order to achieve their favoured ends. A number of researches and studies have been conducted by eminent researchers to investigate as to how these three controversial topics affect the nature of organization. These studies have found that the power, politics and conflict in organizational activity forms the basic foundation of the organizational structure and also corroborates to the functioning of the organizations (Fulop,Gosling,Green,Linstead,Richards ,2004; Glinow and Shane 2005). The occurrence of all these controversial topics in an organization can be a boon and curse at the same time. They can even cause the death of the organization if not dealt or exercised properly and on the other hand it can also boost up the activity of organization where each and every individual can be benefitted.

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To comprehend these concepts more closely we shall look on all these topics separately whereby each and every topic is dealt with complete information and each and every nuances of the topics have been covered. It also renders us an opportunity to have a close insight of each and every subject in detail, its origin, how it effects the organizations, their sources and their positive and negative effects in the organization. I have tried my level best to cover every pros and cons of the subject. I have specially tried to focus on the sources of the conflict. To begin with let us have a view of power in the organization, in which forms it may occur, what are its effect on the organizational activity and how people use and misuse the power that they have. Later on in the essay various other aspects of politics are covered like the reasons why people sought political approaches and an attempt to know the attributes of those people who indulge in these approaches. Various effects of politics on the organizational activity are also studied. Furthermore, the concept of conflict occurrence is investigated its frameworks through which it can be studied, the sources of conflicts, its effect on the organizational activity.

Power an Introduction

Power has been regarded as one of the major factors that affect the organizational activity. It has a wide range of applicability in the organizational activity. Various analysts and researchers have tried to analyse the various forms of power that occurs in the organizations. Power in terms of organizational activity can be defined as "the capacity of the individuals to overcome resistance on the part of others, to exert their will and to produce results consistent with their interest and objectives"(Buchanan and Huczynski,2001:805). Power can be multidirectional and that may be accessed upwards, downwards or horizontally which means it can be exercised upwards in the hierarchy (lower level employees such as accountants when they form a certain working union to upper level employee such as managers) or it can be operated downwards in the hierarchy (upper level employee such as managers to lower level employee such as accountant) or it can be accessed within a certain group. Often power also plays an important role in the politics and people who seek political approaches often use power in obtaining their preferred results (Catherine Casey 2009, Lecture 8). Power can occur in various forms. Now we can see some of the frameworks through which it can be studied.

Frameworks or Viewpoints' of Power in the Organizations

We can consider some frameworks of power devised by some of the authors. They illustrate the different shades of power and the stakeholders of the power (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2001). There are mainly three frameworks through which power can be studied in the organizational activity. First is the power possessed by the individuals who operates it in a range of interpersonal and social skills. It also illuminates some of the findings of Jeffrey Pfeiffer (Managing with Power and influence in Organization, 1992) described below:

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Structural Sources of individual power include:

Formal position and authority in the organization structure

Ability to cultivate allies and supporters

Access to and control over information and other resources

Physical and social position in the organization's communication network

Being irreplaceable

Degree of unity of your section, lack of internal dissent. (Buchanan and Huczynski 2001; Pfeffer J 1983)

Personal sources of individual power include:

Energy, endurance and physical stamina

Ability to focus energy and avoid wasteful effort

Sensitivity and ability to read and understand others

Flexibility in selecting varied means to achieve goals((Buchanan and Huczynski 2001; Pfeffer, 1983)

The second perspective of power describes that power depends upon the relationship between the power holder and his subordinates. The third view of power illustrates the notion that sometimes power is so much deep seated in the organization that it is not visible. The effect of this is that it only gives the preference to certain people to exercise their power neglecting others.(Buchanan and Huczynski, 2001)

Sources of Power in the Formal Organization

Various authors have also argued about the sources of power in the formal organization. They have proposed five different kinds of sources of power in the formal organization. First is the reward power (Glinow and McShane2005) which arises from the notion that the leader has access to some rewards which will be allocated in return of the compliance with instructions. Second is the legitimate power (Glinow and McShane2005) which arises when the leader has authority and the subordinates believe in that authority. Often in formal organizations the concept of power and authority are seen together, but according to Weberian ideal type bureaucratic phenomenon rational legal authority is a type of power which is the authority in which the subordinates accepts the authority of a person willingly and it is the only legitimate source of power (Catherine Casey, 2009, Lecture 1). Third source of power is the coercive power (Glinow and McShane2005) which arises when the leader applies influence and forces the lower level employee to comply with the instructions forcefully. The fourth source of power is referent power(Glinow and McShane2005) when the subordinates think that the leader has some qualities that need to be imbibed and acknowledged. Last the expert power(Glinow and McShane2005) which arises when the leader has some expertise and the subordinates comply by it because of that superior knowledge ( Glinow and McShane2005; Buchanan and Huczynski 2001).

Effects of Power in the organization

In the formal organization, power can play an important role in the structure of the organizational activity. It can affect the organization in many positive and negative aspects. Some of the positive aspect can be that power can be a source to boost healthy competition between the employees; it can also be persuasive and inspiring. It can be an important source where people working at higher level can socialise with their counterparts working at the lower level more efficiently. On the contrary, it also sometimes effect the organizations negatively like it can be an important factor to boost up personal dominance where people who have power can try to dominate others and often ends up misusing their power. It also can be exploitative, aggressive and unsocial all these factors lead to misuse of power (Catherine Casey, Lecture 8, 2009).


The use of politics in the organizational activity is endemic. Its presence in the organizational activity has been regarded as a potential factor which effects the organization negatively. Ambrose Bierce(1842) defines politics as the strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles, through which one can understands that the notion of politics often involves the justifications or quest for achieving self interest. However, politics in terms of its application in organizational activity can be defined as the numerous kinds of activities happening within the organization in order to achieve the favoured results by using power in a situation where there is no concord in the choices (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2001). People often get engaged in the usage of various political approaches. Various researchers have argued time and again about the presence of power as important element of political influence in the organizational activity(Fulop,Gosling,Green,Linstead,Richards 2004).Power in politics is often applicable as people try to misuse their power in order to attain their political goals. Astley and Sachdeva (1984) identified several important variables including, resource control, hierarchical authority, non-substitutability, uncertainty coping, and centrality as sources of politics and as connecting links to organizational politics. Many authors have also suggested that the notion of politics occurring in an organizational activity depends upon the individual that envision it (Glinow and Shane, 2005).They often suggests that various kinds of influential techniques used by the people in the organization are also often referred to as politics.Within an organization people often resort to political approaches in pursuit of their preferred ends. Over a considerable span of time a number of researchers and writers have claimed that a person who gets engaged into political behaviour has four kinds of special traits (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2001).They have given the hypothesis which throws the light on the characteristics of the people who gets involves in the politics. Firstly, they explicitly demonstrated the urge to influence others and such quality also often gets associated with effective management skills. So, companies often try to hire those employees who have an edge in managerial expertise. Moreover, they also exhibit the Machiavellian nature(named after the Italian Philosopher name Niccolo Machiavelli) which symbolises a character in a person's behaviour where he tries to manage things skilfully, involves in morally questionable practices in order to attain their own desired consequences. (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2001). In addition to these the third distinct factor is that these people think that all the things happen in their life are under their own control and it is they who determine their destiny. They are said to have "internal locus of control" (Buchanan and Huczynski, 2001:825). They are not generally motivated by any one. Furthermore, the fourth distinguishing factor is that these types of people are often ready to take risks.

Effects of Politics in an organization

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Politics and its effects are negatives in the organizations. Some authors have studied this notion and conclude that the political approaches retard the merit system of selection in the organization (Wilson, 1995). Secondly, the useful values of public interests are compromised, where the interests of other people working in the organization are overlooked. Thirdly, it seizes the career objectives of the employees and could decrease their commitment.(Wilson,1995). However, these findings promotes the idea that only political disengaged bureaucracy should hold in the organization where the interest of each and every individual should be catered freely and fairly.( Catherine Casey,2009; Buchanan and Huczynski 2001; Wilson 2009)

Conflict in the Organization "an overview"

Conflict in the society and the in the organization is real and palpable and has wide occurrence. In simple words, it originates when two people or two groups does not have consensus on an issue. The concept of conflict in the organization has wide range of applicability as there are a number of people who harbour various schools of thoughts and often these thoughts do not match with each other and this give rise to conflict within the organization. In a more definitive way,conflict in terms of its manifestation in the organization can be defined as "a process when one party perceives that the other party has negatively affected or is about to negatively affect, something the first party comes across" (Buchanan,Huczynski 2001:Page No 770). According to various organization theories, the conflict in an organization has been regarded differently. The notion of conflict in an organization has been viewed differently in various models of organizational theories. Some models advocates the fact that the conflict in an organization is not acceptable and should be eradicated with compliance and controlling measures while some other suggests that the conflict in the organizational activity is normal part(Buchanan,Huczynski 2001). Additionally, some researchers believe that the occurrence of conflict in the organizational activity can be latent that is it can be present but does not visible when there are different views of the employees working in the organization but is not acted upon and on the contrary, it can be manifested when people begin to realise their different inclinations. (Fulop,Gosling,Green,Linstead,Richards 2004).Conflict often involve power relations as people involved in the conflicts often resort to power and political measures to justify their ends(Glinow and Shane 2005).

Frameworks of Conflicts

According to various authors, there are mainly four frameworks or models of reference on conflict (Buchanan,Huczynski 2001, Fulop,Gosling,Green,Linstead,Richards 2004).The first framework is based on the unitarist approach to conflict which is very basic and has some origins in scientific management theories of Frederick Taylor(1911)( (Buchanan,Huczynski 2001). This perspective of conflict projects it as one unit in which each and every individual strives for a common goal ascertained by the organization. The second aspect is the pluralist view which considers the organization diversified where people try to achieve their varied goals. In this view the conflict in the organization is obvious. This view regards the opinion that conflict occurs due to various factors termed as "pressure points" which are the reasons of conflict occurrence in an organization are different needs and interests of people, different sizes of the office, lack of proper leaderships, titles, jobs etc. The third dimension of the conflict is the interactionist frame or model which opines that the conflict in the organization can be considered as positive energy source which can enhances the efficiency of the employee. But one fact which holds in this model is that the amount of the conflict in the organization should be optimal, it should be on the threshold level where it can not hamper the performance of the employee and for this the managers of the organization are responsible. Lastly, the fourth model is the radical way of approaching the conflict in which the work place is seen as a stage where the dispute arises between the managers and the employee (two stakeholders). In this view the concept of occurrence of conflict is inevitable. This model also underpins the notion of exploitation of employees by the managers in order to maximise the profits. (Fulop,Gosling,Green,Linstead,Richards ,2004)

Sources of Conflicts

The notion of conflict occurring in the organization has been further studied by a number of researchers that suggests various sources of the conflicts (Glinow and Shane 2005). They suggest five different sources of conflicts. The first source of conflict is incompatible goals where one person's or group goals intersect with that of the other. This is the main underlying source of conflicts that is being reported in various organizations. The second source of conflict comes into play when there is difference in backgrounds, beliefs and values. The people working within an organization when they have varied beliefs and differentiation they often tend to fall into conflict. There have been a number of cases reported in the past where cultural differences led to the failure of the mergers. For example the failure of Daimler- Chrysler where because of different cultural beliefs of their employees the merger eventually failed (Camerer, Weber 2003). Furthermore, the third source can be task interdependence where the same task is performed by a number of people and conflict occurs when the reward is shared that is dependent upon the efficiency of the employee. Fourth source of conflict is the scarce resources or when the resources are sporadic and it must be utilised by the employee. As resources are less and each and every person must use it eventually, conflict happens because of the competition. The significant example of this case is the conflict that arose between the pilots of Air Canada and the pilots of Canadian Airlines when the former acquired the latter. The underlying difference there was the seniority level. The pilots of the Canadian Airlines were not getting that seniority level which their counterparts were having. The conflict in this case would have not taken place if everyone would have got the same seniority level (Glinow and McShane 2005). Fifth factor that corroborates conflict in the organization is the ambiguous rules or when the employees working in the organization are not clearly told the rules of the organization. The employees do not know what to expect from each other and also interference of goals or interest occurs between different parties. This also involves the usage of political measures by the employees.(Glinow and McShane,2005).

Effects and Management of Conflicts

The conflict in the organization has some positive as well some negative aspects. According to some of the theorists it can have various strengths and weaknesses (Fulop,Gosling,Green,Linstead,Richards ,2004; Glinow and Shane 2005). It can foster action among the employees within the organization, promotes self evaluation thereby, improving the quality of decision making, can lead to a healthy competition between the workers of the organization. These kinds of positive aspect of conflict can be termed as the generative conflict where it enhances the performance of the employees and also contributes in the development of coordination between the workers and is regarded as the constructive force in the organizational activity. On the contrary, it can be lethal for the organizations if not dealt with properly. It can even cause death of the organizations or firms, development of lack of trust between the employees of the organization, lack of decision making etc.(Catherine Casey, Lecture 7,2009) The concept of conflict in an organization can be dangerous if not measured correctly. However, various analysts have this opinion that it can be kept an optimal level where it helps in a positive way for the organizations. However, these conflicts arising in an organization can be managed through two different approaches. One is the radical way of approach which is the systematic approach in which the root of the conflict is analysed and then proper diagnosis of that cause is done and then further any options are considered and then the action on the plan is done. The second is political approach in which the two stakeholders use political approach to reach their preferred goals. Out of these two rational ways of approach is considered more appropriate measure to curb the existence of the conflicts in the organization.(Catherine Casey,2009; Gabor,1976).


Power, politics and conflicts can be seen as an interrelated entity. They occur in different forms and shapes in the organization. Their incidence in the organizations can have serious effects on the working environment and also play an important role in the functioning of the organization if not dealt efficiently. However, these issues can be handled properly and often this responsibility is vested in the senior level of employees working in an organization. These issues are very real to the organizations and a number of firms and organization suffers to a great degree encountering it. People working in the organization resorts to practice these processes in order to gain an upper hand in the organization and achieve dominance. In this way they not only affect the organizational activity but also the co-workers in a negative way. Nonetheless, they can be used as tools to enhance the performance of the employees and building up the working environment healthier and competitive by manoeuvring them in a right direction that is towards the achievement of efficient performance of the organization.