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The theoretical and practical aspects of power and authority, role and conflict

The theoretical and practical aspects of power and authority, role and conflict

Understanding individuals: The theoretical and practical aspects of power and authority, role and conflict

 

This section covers:

 

Section 1: Power and Authority

Understanding Power

Power is the intentional influence over the beliefs, emotions and behaviours of people (French and Bell 1999).

The phenomenon of power is ubiquitous. Without influence (power), people would have no cooperation and no society. Without leadership (power) in medical, political, technological, financial, spiritual and organisational activities, humankind would not have the standard of living as it does today. However, many problems with power stem from the goals of persons with power and the means they use, not the possession of power as such.

Most of the current theories about power use the analysis conducted by French and Raven over 40 years ago. They identified five principle sources or basis of power:

  • Coercive power: the crudest form, which uses threats and punishment to achieve its ends; e.g. sanctions against suppliers, dismissals for non-co-operating staff, demonstrations.
  • Reward power: the use of rewards to influence people’s compliance. To be effective the rewards must be desired by the target group; e.g. financial inducements.
  • Legitimate power: generally known as ‘authority’, and implies the power to act as well as the power over resources and is invariably limited in some way.
  • Expert power: which comes from possessing specialist knowledge and skills and is dependent on the expertise being recognised by those concerned, thus ‘credibility’ is vital; otherwise, no-one will take anynotice!
  • Referent power: generally known as personal power, or charisma and comes from the high regard he or she is held by others. Should this falter or wane then this form of power vanishes, but is often employed in conjunction with other sources.

Other sources of power include knowledge (as information) and personal contacts and alliances. Legitimate power can carry with it elements of other sources e.g. information or internal contacts. Greiner and Schein’s work demonstrates the strategies for holding the power to gain the support of others, in order for change to be achieved.

The table below identifies the work of Greiner and Schein (1988) who demonstrate the three most successful power strategies and how they relate to individual power bases.

 

Individual Power Bases

Strategies for Success

Knowledge

·              Expertise

·              Information

·              Tradition

Playing it Straight

·              Use data to convince

·              Focus on target group

·              Be persistent

Others Support

·              Political access

·              Staff support

Using Social Networks

·              Alliance and coalitions

·              Deal with decision maker

·              Contacts for information

Personality

·              Charisma

·              Reputation

·              Professional credibility

Going Around Formal Systems

·              Work around roadblocks

·              (Don’t) use organisation rules

 

(after Greiner and Schein 1988)

 

Power is not the same as leadership, nor is it the same as authority.  Although in one sense it is larger than both and in another it is the servant of both. Neither is power the same as responsibility, which is the accountability (and usually the formal accountability) that each individual has for his or her job in the organisation.

 

Understanding Authority

Authority refers to the formal power to act, conferred on an individual to enable him to fulfil his responsibilities. It is usually fairly well-defined in order to limit the powers available to the individual (Cole 1998).

Weber (1968) outlined three major types of authority, which he termed, ‘legitimate forms of domination’, as traditional, charismatic, and legal or rational.

1.  Traditional Authority is the type of authority where the traditional rights of a powerful and dominant individual or group are accepted, or at least not challenged, by subordinate individuals. These could be (i) religious, sacred, or spiritual forms, (ii) well established and slowly changing culture, or (iii) tribal, family, or clan type
structures.

Different types of traditional authority might be (i) gerontocracy or rule by elders, (ii) patriarchalism where positions are inherited.

2.  Charismatic Authority defined by Weber as, "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him" (Weber 1968, p215). That is, charisma is a quality of an individual personality that is considered extraordinary, and followers may consider this quality to be endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or exceptional powers or qualities. Whether such powers actually exist or not is irrelevant – the fact that followers believe that such powers exist is what is important. It can also be referred to as sapiential knowledge.

Although Weber did not deny that a charismatic leader may have outstanding characteristics, his sense of charisma was more dependent on the group of disciples and the way that they define the charismatic leader.

3.  Legal or Rational Authority. This is authority or legitimate domination resting on "rational grounds – resting on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issues commands" (Weber 1968, p.215). There are various ways that legal authority could develop. Systems of convention, laws and regulation develop in many societies, and there are many different principles of legality that occur.

This rational-legal form of authority may be challenged by those who are subordinate. This challenge is generally unlikely to result in dramatic changes in the nature of the system very quickly.

An alternative typology is one described by Paterson (1966) which have some cross over with Weber’s typology. He identified five basic forms of Authority and defined these in the following terms:

  1. Structural Authority – the right to command (and discipline) by reason of a person’s position within an organisation. An example of this is the authority of the manager of a business.
  2. Sapiential Authority – the right to be heard by reason of a person’s superior knowledge and experience. The wise manager recognises that the employee has knowledge about her or his job which the manager cannot possess. While the ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the employee’s work lies with the manager, it is better for the business if that knowledge is recognised.
  3.  Charismatic Authority – literally God given Authority–the right to be heard by reason of the religious, or pseudo-religious, mantle borne by the person. Commonly this is bestowed upon the clergy of the various world religions, but can be a feature of other ideologies.
  4. Moral Authority – the right to be heard because the person is trying to bring about an improvement to the situation.
  5. Personal Authority – the right to be heard by reason of a person’s personal qualities.

     

Section 2: Role and Role Relationship

Understanding Role and Role Relationship

Role is the pattern of behaviour expected by others, from a person occupying a certain position in an organisational hierarchy (Huczynski and Buchanan 1985).

The concept of role is one that has been used extensively to understand the behaviour of people in organisations. A person may be observed in a single role, e.g. nurse, engineer, but he may also play many different roles at the same time in his normal working life. Definitions of role can depend on how they are to be used. For example:

  • A prescriptive definition, which is concerned with what a person, should do when he plays a certain role e.g. a job description.
  • An evaluative definition can assess how well or badly the role is being performed, against established standards or criteria.
  • A descriptive definition, which is based on the actual duties, performed by the person and could include the content of the work done as well as the interactions engaged with.
  • An action definition specifies the actions involved in its performance.

All four aspects of role are interrelated and interdependent.

Role relationship is that intangible mixture of feelings and emotions that exist between two or more people (Huczynski and Buchanan 1985).

A relationship can be considered in the way in which one uses oneself in a disciplined and responsible way when dealing with a group or individual.  Individuals have role relationships with each other and these can help them to achieve their aims at work. Organisations can be thought of as a set of overlapping and interlocking role sets. A role influences the behaviour of an individual by setting limits within which he is expected to act. Many of the tasks involved in a job have been learned and assimilated so well that they become accepted a being part of the person. Role relationships therefore are the field within which behaviour occurs.

People’s behaviour at any given moment is a result of:

  • Their personalities
  • Their perception and understanding of each other
  • Their attitudes to the behavioural constraints imposed by the role relationship.
  • The degree of their socialisation with respect to constraints
  • Their ability to inhibit and control their behaviours.

An important function of role relationships is to reduce the areas of possible uncertainty to manageable proportions. The expectations of other people in related roles, and an individual’s own beliefs learned through the process of socialisation inside and outside the organisation, will affect their decisions as to what is and what is not appropriate behaviour in a specified
role.

 

Section 3: Understanding conflict and its management

Conflict is the friction or opposition resulting from actual or perceived differences or incompatibilities with others and their roles (Huczynski
and Buchanan 1985).

Most of us seek harmony but conflict is everywhere.  Conflict is not necessarily unhealthy and some groups thrive on it. It might be most active when groups have just formed: remember forming, storming, norming, performing.  The best teams are those able to use conflict productively i.e. they can challenge in a non-threatening way, discuss, resolve and move forward.

Conflict is a natural and very typical phenomenon in every type of human relationships, at every level: From intrapersonal (the realm of psychology) to global. Conflicts at every level have very significant common characteristics and dynamics. People get involved in conflicts because their interests or their values are challenged or because their needs are not met.

Conflict in a team can be classified according to Jehn’s typology (Jehn, 2008)

  • Task-content conflict, which refers to disagreements about the actual task being performed by members.
  • Emotional conflict, which involves negative emotions and dislike of the other people involved in the conflict.
  • Administrative conflict, which refers to disagreements regarding the manner in which a goal should be reached.

Within a team conflict can occur at different levels: intrapersonal, interpersonal.

The opportunities for role conflict can occur as the various roles interact with one another. Other types of role conflict occur when an individual receives inconsistent demands from another person. Role conflict tends to increase an individual's anxiety and frustration. Sometimes they motivate him to do more and better work. Other times they can lead to frustration and reduced efficiency. When the causes of team ineffectiveness are based on people’s behaviours, that they are unwilling to change because it would mean a loss of power or influence
to the individual, a technique called ‘role negotiation’ can be used.

'Conflict resolution' is a peaceful and mutually satisfactory way to end or significantly - and hopefully permanently - de-escalate a conflict. You can end a conflict through violence or war and by destroying your opponent. You can also end a conflict by surrender and capitulation. Or, you can temporarily de-intensify a conflict by deceiving your opponent. Yet, we do not regard such options as conflict resolution. And they do not resolve a conflict, anyway. The conflict remains; it may or may not just lose its intensity.

Conflict negotiation intervenes directly in the relationships of power, authority and influence within the group (French and Bell1999).

It is easier to resolve or help resolve a conflict stemming from a clash of interests. It is more difficult to deal with a conflict that emanates from a clash of values. And it is even more difficult to handle a conflict in which at least one party's basic human needs are not satisfied. That is why such conflicts usually are deep-rooted and intractable.

The change effort is directed at the work relationships among members. The technique is an imposed structure for controlled negotiations between parties in which each party agrees in writing to change certain behaviours in return for changes in behaviour by the other. The behaviours relate to the job.

However, sometimes it does need to be managed:

  • define the type of conflict: fights, games, debates, underground resistance
  • determine the level of conflict: high, medium, low
  • determine if the reason for conflict is because those involved do not share the same goals, or there is a status issue

There are three main methods of handling conflict:

1.  Negotiation

2.  Mediation

3.  Group Arbitration

 

Resolving conflict

Brooks (2001) writes: 'Unresolved conflict costs organisations millions of pounds every year. I am referring not only to the conflict of the management-versus-union kind but also to more widespread symptoms of 'them and us' that appear in organisations going through rapid change. Conflict can appear in many situations - for example, during restructuring, when two organisations merge, or when problems occur between a company and outsourcing partner.

When organisations fundamentally change the way they operate, shifts in power and conflicts of interest are not only likely - they are inevitable. These differences can be healthy for an organisation and its members, or they can sap energy from the people involved, and result in missed deadlines, increased costs, and broken promises to customers and other stakeholders.

To reduce the opportunities for conflict long-term the following organisational values can be introduced and constantly re-stated:

  • mutual respect - acceptance that other people have different views - to achieve this you need time, effort, and good communication skills
  • find shared values and keep restating these
  • be honest
  • find shared objectives
  • combat disinformation (rumour with correct information)

 

Eight Key Steps that will help identify and bring resolution to conflict.

1.  Assess the symptoms

Use the test below to assess whether a conflict is being approached positively or is becoming unhealthy. If there is a 25 per cent difference between the current situation and your desired state, there is a problem to address.

Do not assume that your assessment is self-evident. A programme such as this will never get off the ground unless enough key stakeholders agree there is a problem with the relationship, not merely with performance. It is also important not to delay taking action. When relationships have deteriorated beyond a certain point, the downward spiral builds its own momentum and is unlikely to get better without positive intervention.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents serious conflict and 10 represents total cooperation, assess your organisation on each of the scales below. Mark each scale with an X for the current situation, and a O for your desired state.  If there is a 25 per cent difference in the totals, then your organisation has a problem to address.

 

Hidden agendas

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Open agendas

Pessimism

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Optimism

Dwelling on the past

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Focus on the future

Info as power

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Info as needed

Bad news  not OK

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Bad news is OK

Leaders told what they want to hear

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Leaders get told the truth

Old hurts unresolved

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Old hurts resolved

People don't listen

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

People listen

Rigid behaviour

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Flexible behaviour

Blame culture

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Creative culture

 

 

Total for X

     

Total for O

     

 

 

2.  Choose expert facilitators

These should work with the group to resolve the conflict. They should be people from outside the teams involved with no bias or vested interests other than to achieve a positive outcome.

Whoever you choose will have their impartiality questioned. So if their position, reputation or behaviour indicates any allegiance, their effectiveness will be severely handicapped and they are likely to become part of the problem rather than the solution.

3.  Involve the people at the top

The facilitators will be unable to influence fundamental issues that only top managers have the power to change.

People will also question the validity of the programme unless it has visible backing from senior managers. In addition, symptoms of conflict at operational level are often related to a negative interpretation of messages coming down from the top of the organisation.

4.  Set the scene for impartiality

Meet the team members and set the context for the work to come. This involves making it clear that the facilitator's role exists first to address the breakdowns in relationship that are preventing progress, and second to help create working methods that promote co-operation.

Facilitators should expect to encounter mistrust initially. They must show that they are not there to apportion blame, and should avoid billing themselves as experts whose job it is to tell everyone what they've been doing wrong up until now.

5.  Explore the individual issues

Arrange for facilitators to meet each individual in a private setting, to discuss how the situation affects them personally. This will build trust between team members and facilitators, which is vital when dealing with emotional issues.

The challenge here is to create empathy without bias one way or the other. It can be tempting to sympathise with someone's dilemma or to become critical of his or her behaviour - either of which will compromise neutrality.

Conflict resolution is a truly multidisciplinary field. It is an amalgam of psychology, philosophy, political science, sociology, anthropology, law etc.  Which elements are or should be the dominant ones, depends on the situation at the time and those involved in the conflict.

However, the psychological aspects appear to be a little more important than other aspects. Therefore, it is important to pay more attention to the psychodynamics of conflict and its resolution.

6.  Clear the air

Bring the whole group together to clear the air and explore the conflict from different perspectives. This is the most difficult of the process and should be led by someone highly skilled and experienced at this type of work. Each situation is unique and people's reactions are unpredictable. De Bono (1985) identified the use of 6 hats, using one hat at a time:

 

White Hat  

Information

Red Hat   

Feelings, emotion, intuition

Black Hat  

Difficulties, problems

Yellow Hat 

Benefits, values

Green Hat  

New Ideas

Blue Hat 

Bringing together and setting direction

 

Other ways to clear the air include:

  • allow individuals to share their issues with the group and, most importantly, to say how they feel about working within the team. The point at this stage is for people to hear and understand each other, and not to prove who is right or wrong or to solve anything yet.  This part of the process is the most uncomfortable, and requires very sensitive handling. If debate occurs at this point, arguments will break out and old frustrations will fester, only to reappear later and block progress.
  • get each subgroup to look at the situation from other people's point of view. Help them to step into the shoes of the other parties and communicate what they imagine the situation is like for them. This is where bridge-building can begin.  Again, what is important is to generate shared understanding, not to focus on who is right or wrong.
  • get the group to consider everything they've heard so far from a neutral observer's point of view. The following observations are typical at this point:

        o 'people's frustrations are very similar';
        o 'they seem to be in vicious circle';
        o  'no one is benefiting from it';
        o  'they need to sort this out as a whole group, not as separate cliques'.

It is naive to think that everything will suddenly change when the barriers start to come down; but it is the prerequisite for moving forward to the next stage.

7.  Declare an amnesty

This involves gaining an emotional commitment to ditching 'old baggage' and to working together to move forward. It also involves a practical commitment to creating:

  • a common vision and goal
  • team and individual goals that are aligned to the overall vision
  • agreement on how differences will be dealt with in future
  • new working practices

Old baggage can quickly reappear if people feel that one particular person or group is setting the future direction. So facilitators must pay close attention to people's body language and tones of voice. This is vital to achieving commitment to the process.

8.  Approach the problem

Deal with the outstanding practical problems that started or worsened during the period when relationships were deteriorating. During this stage, the facilitator should gradually let go. Some people will want more support than others, but it is important not to create dependency. But don't leave too many loose ends for the team to tie up.

This approach addresses the underlying causes of conflict, and can reverse the problems that follow when they are left unresolved: employee dissatisfaction, low productivity, absenteeism and high staff turnover. But organisations usually start by using other strategies. These include:

  • putting tighter controls on spending;
  • enforcing service agreements;
  • setting up new system and procedures;
  • changing key people.

The approach described does not preclude these strategies, but they have far more chance of success if the underlying relationships within the group are healthy and productive.

The process may look logical and straightforward and, on paper, it is. In reality, addressing the underlying problems that block progress can be messy.  Things often look worse before they get better, but the result - a highly productive team - is well worth it.'

 

Tips

Remember to bring in Motivation factors - e.g. if status is the reason, and someone perceives that the responsibility for change should betheirs, it is possible to move the responsibility and heavily involve that person as a motivator.  Similarly if management lines are being changed and someone is unhappy with their new management structure this could be negotiated.

Also consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs - if certain physiological needs are not being met this will increase conflict and meeting these needs would act as a motivator.

 

References

Brooks M. How to resolve conflict in teams. People Management. 8 Aug 2001, 34-35.

de Bono, Edward (1985). Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach toBusiness Management. Little, Brown, & Company. ISBN 0316177911 (hardback) and 0316178314 (paperback).

Cole, G.A. (1998) Organisational Behaviour . London. L: Letts

French, W.L. and Bell, C.H. (1999) Organisation Development. . New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Greiner L.E. Schein V.E. (1988). Power and organisation development: mobilizing power to implement change. Reading,Mass: Addison-Wesley ISBN 0-201-12185-9 184pp

Huczynski, A. and Buchanan, D. (1985) Organisational Behaviour. London: Prentice Hall

Paterson, TT, Management Theory, Business Publications Limited, London, 1966

Weber, Max, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, New York, Bedminster Press, 1968.

Oluremi M. Ayoko, Neal M. Ashkanasy, Karen A. Jehn. Handbook of Conflict Management Research, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-1781006931

 

                                                © K Enock and S Markwell 2010, N Leigh-Hunt 2016