Is conflict within a relationship a bad thing?
28th January 2016 | Mark Hollyoake, Dr Melanie Ashleigh and Professor Malcolm Higgs
Is conflict within a business-to-business (B2B) relationship a bad thing? Gargiulo & Ertug (2006) argue that hostility and bitterness resulting from disagreements not being resolved amicably can lead to almost pathological consequences such as relationship dissolution.
However, when disputes are resolved amicably, such disagreements can be referred to as functional conflict, because they prevent stagnation, stimulate interest and create curiosity, providing a “a medium through which problems can be aired and solutions arrived at” (Deutsch 1969, p19). In this instance, functional conflict may increase the relationship productivity and be seen as “just another part of doing business” (Anderson & Narus, 1990, p45). The authors also go on to state that “firms who have developed strong trust in a relationship are more likely to work out their disagreements amicably” (ibid p45).
During functional conflict, there is give and take and a more consultative relationship among organisational members, and opinions and feelings are expressed freely.
A number of senior commercial leaders within fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), industrials, and financial services (FS) have recently challenged the relentless pursuit of utopia or the nirvana of deeply interdependent customer relationships, strategic partners and trusted advisor status. They point to two key areas that are worth consideration and supported through B2B scholarly research – for example, (Grabher, 1993; Gargiulo and Benassi, 2000; Gargiulo & Ertug 2006; Hammervoll & Toften 2013; Tushman & Anderson 1986; and Uzzi, 1996 & 1997) to name but a few.
The first area of concern is the over investment within relationships that are never going to be more than transactional. The second concern relates to the over-dependence that can develop and has the potential to deliver relationship catastrophe if it implodes, or a gradual reduction in value as it declines.