Purpose – This conceptual paper aims to draw upon recent complexity and organizational psychology literature to examine conﬂict episodes, exploring the limitations of the predominant research paradigm that treats conﬂict episodes as occurring in sequence, as discrete isolated incidents. Design/methodology/approach – The paper addresses a long-standing issue in conﬂict management research, which is that the predominant typology of conﬂict is confusing. The complexity perspective challenges the fundamental paradigm, which has dominated research in the conﬂict ﬁeld, in which conﬂict episodes occur in sequence and in isolation, with managers using one predominant form of conﬂict resolution behavior.
Findings – The ﬁndings are two-fold: ﬁrst, the behavioral strategies adopted in the management of these conﬂicts will be highly complex and will be determined by a number of inﬂuencing factors; and second, this moves theory beyond the two dimensional duel concern perspective, in that the adaptable manager dealing with these multiple, simultaneous conﬂicts will also need to
consider the possible implications of their chosen strategy along with the changing micro environment in which they operate.
Originality/value – This paper adds value to the ﬁeld of conﬂict theory by moving beyond two dimensions and exploring a sequential contingency perspective for conﬂict management within the organization. It argues that multiple conﬂict episodes can occur simultaneously, requiring managers to use differing behaviors for successful conﬂict management. Keywords Conﬂict management, Conﬂict resolution, Organizational conﬂict, Individual behaviour, Interpersonal relations
Paper type Conceptual paper
International Journal of Conﬂict
Vol. 21 No. 2, 2010
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
It is now over 40 years since Louis Pondy (1967) wrote his seminal article on conﬂict within the organization and its management and almost 20 years since his reﬂections on his earlier work were published (Pondy, 1989). In 1967 Pondy established what was for two decades the generally accepted paradigm of conﬂict: that conﬂict episodes occur as temporary disruptions to the otherwise cooperative relationships which make up the organization (Pondy, 1967). In his subsequent reﬂections on his earlier work and that of others, Pondy proposed that conﬂict is an inherent feature of organizational life, rather than an occasional breakdown of cooperation (Pondy, 1989). This radically challenged the previous paradigm. Indeed, Pondy (1989) even suggested that research into the phenomenon of cooperation within the organization could be beneﬁcial in providing further insight into conﬂict within the organization, implying that it was cooperation, not
conﬂict, which was the anomalous state requiring investigation. Yet, for almost two decades, Pondy’s conceptualization of conﬂict as a natural state for the organization has remained largely unexplored despite the emergence of a complexity perspective which explores multiple elements of the conﬂict situation or cooperative state. One possible reason why Pondy’s challenge has not been answered is that some confusion has arisen over the terms and typologies used for the classiﬁcation of conﬂict episodes. Consequently, debates about conﬂict structure or composition have tended to dominate the research agenda. The potential for confusion arising from these various conﬂict classiﬁcations will be discussed in this paper. Where conﬂict management behaviors have been studied, researchers have tended to focus on a two-dimensional approach or “dual concern theory” model (Thomas, 1976) which suggests that individuals adopt conﬂict management behaviors based on their perceived self interests and those of others; i.e. concern for self (competitive behaviors) versus concern for other (accommodating behaviors). Although this approach to the research of conﬂict and its management ﬁts well with Pondy’s (1967) original paradigm, it is challenged by the complexity perspective that has emerged in psychology research. The complexity perspective of intraorganizational conﬂict maintains that interpersonal relationships are more complex than hitherto thought, and that the unfolding conﬂict is inﬂuenced by a wide variety of conditions. Moreover the complexity perspective encourages the consideration of simultaneous complexity (more than one event occurring simultaneously) and of how the mode of conﬂict management affects the outcomes (Munduate et al., 1999). This fresh perspective has enabled researchers to examine the point at which behavioral style is changed and the effect on the conﬂict episode (Olekalns et al., 1996) and to look at how different behaviors are combined (Janssen et al., 1999).
With the recent developments in the complexity perspective of conﬂict management research (Van de Vliert et al., 1997; Munduate et al., 1999), the time has come to further explore the possible consequences of the complexity perspective: whether it is in fact the case that conﬂict is an inherent condition within the organization (Pondy, 1989); whether conﬂict episodes do
not occur in isolation but occur frequently and simultaneously (Euwema et al., 2003); and whether complex sequences of adaptive behaviors are required to continually manage the constantly changing intraorganizational, conﬂict environment. Before we can do this, and to provide a common ground for discourse, we ﬁrst need to examine some of the theories around conﬂict typology that have arisen in the psychology and management literature and which may be the cause of some confusion.
Conﬂict terms and typologies
“Conﬂict” is a broad construct that has been studied extensively across several disciplines covering a wide range of social interactions. Previous conﬂict research has identiﬁed four main levels of conﬂict in the context of human behavior and relationships as summarized by Lewecki et al. (2003):
(1) Intergroup conﬂicts between groups of individuals which can range in size and complexity due to the many relationships involved, including international conﬂict between nations.
(2) Intragroup or intraorganizational conﬂicts arising within smaller groups which comprise the organization.
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(3) Interpersonal conﬂict; that is, conﬂict at an individual level, conﬂict between individuals, or conﬂict between an individual and a group. (4) Intrapersonal conﬂict on a personal level, where the conﬂict occurs in one’s own mind.
Although these four levels of conﬂict all appear across both the psychology and management literature, it is the third level (interpersonal conﬂicts within the organization or the reactions an individual or group has to the perception that two parties have aspirations that cannot be achieved simultaneously) that has become the central ﬁeld of research within the organization (Putnem and Poole, 1987). In 1992, Thomas proposed a simpliﬁed deﬁnition of interpersonal conﬂict as the process which begins when an individual or group feels negatively affected by another individual or group. The conﬂict consists of a perception of barriers to achieving one’s goals (Thomas, 1992). More recently, interpersonal conﬂict has been deﬁned as an individual’s perceptions of incompatibilities, differences in views or interpersonal incompatibility (Jehn, 1997). Conﬂict at this level has mostly been seen as adversarial and as having a negative effect upon relationships (Ford et al., 1975). These deﬁnitions presuppose that an opposition or incompatibility is perceived by both parties, that some interaction is taking place, and that both parties are able to inﬂuence or get involved – that is. that there is some degree of interdependence (Medina et al., 2004). Interpersonal conﬂict could arise within organizations where, for example, customer-facing departments such as Sales make promises to customers that other departments then have to deliver. In this domain of intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict, both Pondy’s (1966, 1967) work and recent developments adopting the complexity perspective are of particular interest This broad area of intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict has been further subdivided into two types: relationship conﬂict and task conﬂict. Relationship conﬂict arises between the actors through their subjective emotional positions, whereas task conﬂict relates primarily to the more objective tasks or issues involved (Reid et al., 2004). A series of studies conﬁrmed this duality between relationship and task. Wall and Nolan (1986) identiﬁed “people oriented” versus “task oriented” conﬂict. In the early to mid-1990s Priem and Price (1991), Pinkley and Northcraft (1994), Jehn (1995) and Sessa (1996) all identiﬁed “relationship” and “task” as discrete aspects of conﬂict. The picture became rather more complicated in the late 1990s. In 1995 Amason et al. redeﬁned conﬂict types as “affective” and “cognitive” and in 1999 Van de Vliert further redeﬁned these types as “task” and “person” conﬂict. In working toward a more comprehensive model of
intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict, Jameson (1999) suggested three dimensions for conﬂict:
(2) relational; and
The content dimension encompasses the previously discussed conﬂict types (affective, cognitive, relationship etc) while the relational dimension considers the subjective, perceived variables within the relationships of the actors involved: .
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degree of interdependence;
record of success; and
the number of actors involved.
The situational dimension examines the variables which may be most relevant in selecting an appropriate conﬂict management strategy. These include time pressure, the potential impact of the conﬂict episode, the degree of escalation and the range of options available in the management of the conﬂict episode (Jameson, 1999). Meanwhile, Sheppard (1992) criticized the multiplicity of terms that were being used to describe types of interpersonal conﬂict, and the needless confusion that this caused. The
result of the many approaches described above is that there is no general model for the typology of interpersonal conﬂict within the organization. In the absence of such a model, other researchers have taken different approaches, using the antecedents of the conﬂict episode to describe conﬂict types. Examples of this proliferation include role conﬂict (Walker et al., 1975), gender conﬂict (Cheng, 1995) and goal conﬂict (Tellefsen and Eyuboglu, 2002). This proliferation of terms or typologies has unsurprisingly led to confusion, most noticeably with the term “interpersonal conﬂict” being used to describe purely relationship or emotional conﬂict (Bradford et al., 2004) or conﬂict being deﬁned in terms of emotion only, adding to the wide range of terms already used (Bodtker and Jameson, 2001). Thus, at a time when international, interorganizational, intraorganizational, interpersonal and intrapersonal conﬂicts are being extensively studied with conﬂict deﬁned and operationalized in a variety of ways, no widely accepted and consistent model has emerged to shape conﬂict research (Reid et al., 2004). Table I summarizes the many different conﬂict typologies that have been proposed. Table I illustrates that relationship and task conﬂict are almost universally accepted as distinct types of interpersonal conﬂict by psychology and management researchers. Date
Wall and Nolan
Priem and Price
Pinkley and Northcraft
Amason et al.
Amason and Sapienza
Janssen et al.
Friedman et al.
Jehn and Chatman
Tellefsen and Eyuboglu
Bradford et al.
De Dreu and Weingart
Reid et al.
Tidd et al.
Guerra et al.
People oriented, task oriented
Task, person oriented
Content, relational, situational
Task, person oriented
Task, relationship, process
A summary of the
typologies of conﬂict
In addition, many researchers have identiﬁed a third type of conﬂict which relates to the environment in which managers operate, described as situational conﬂict ( Jameson, 1999) or process conﬂict ( Jehn and Chatman, 2000). We believe that a consistent conﬂict typology is called for, to aid future research into the complex nature of intraorganizational conﬂict. In this paper, we propose that future researchers should recognize three types of interpersonal conﬂict. However, since the terms “relationship” and “task” are vulnerable to misinterpretation we advocate using the terms affective and cognitive (following Amason, 1996 and Amason and Sapienza, 1997), in conjunction with process (Jehn and Chatman, 2000), to describe the three types of interpersonal conﬂict. These terms, which reﬂect the more speciﬁc terminology used in the psychology literature, are deﬁned in Table II. As Table II shows, the typology we propose is as follows. Affective Conﬂict is
a term describing conﬂicts concerned with what people think and feel about their relationships including such dimensions as trust, status and degree of interdependence (Amason and Sapienza, 1997). Cognitive Conﬂict describes conﬂicts concerned with what people know and understand about their task, roles and functions. Process Conﬂict relates to conﬂicts arising from the situational context, the organization structure, strategy or culture (Amason and Sapienza, 1997; Jehn and Chatman, 2000). Using this typology for conﬂict between individuals or groups of individuals within the organization avoids confusion over the use of the terms “interpersonal”, “person” or “relationship” often used when referring to affective conﬂict, while task conﬂict is clearly distinguished from process conﬂict, addressing all the issues previously outlined. These terms will therefore be used throughout the remainder of this paper. Having argued that taxonomic confusion has hindered conﬂict research through the misuse of existing taxonomies (Bradford et al., 2004) or where language has resulted in the use of different terms to describe the same conﬂict type (see Table I), we now move on to consider the implications or consequences of intraorganizational conﬂict and whether it is always negative or can have positive consequences (De Dreu, 1997). Consequences of conﬂict: functional or dysfunctional?
Some researchers exploring attitudes towards conﬂict have considered the consequences of conﬂict for individual and team performance (Jehn, 1995) and have found that interpersonal conﬂict can have either functional (positive) or dysfunctional (negative) outcomes for team and individual performance (e.g. Amason, 1996). Moreover, the consequences of conﬂict can be perceived and felt in different ways by different actors experiencing the conﬂict episode (Jehn and Chatman, 2000). Thus, conﬂict is situationally and perceptually relative.
A proposed taxonomy of
Conﬂicts concerned with what people think and feel about their relationships with other individuals or groups
Conﬂicts concerned with what people know and understand about their task
Conﬂicts arising from the situational context, the organization structure, strategy or culture
The traditional view of conﬂict takes the view that conﬂict exists in opposition to co-operation and that conﬂict is wholly dysfunctional, putting the focus on resolution rather than management (e.g. Pondy, 1966). This perspective can be traced forward to more recent work. Where conﬂict is deﬁned as the process which begins when one person or group feels negatively affected by another (Thomas, 1992), there is an implication of obstruction to either party achieving their goals, which is readily interpreted negatively. This can result in conﬂict avoidance or suppression of conﬂict management behavior, leading to perceived negative consequences on team or individual performance (De Dreu, 1997). Negatively-perceived conﬂict episodes can increase tension and antagonism between individuals and lead to a lack of focus on the required task (Saavedra et al., 1993; Wall and Nolan, 1986) while avoidance and suppression can also have long term negative consequences such as stiﬂing creativity, promoting groupthink and causing an escalation in any existing conﬂict (De Dreu, 1997). Not surprisingly, where interdependence is negative (where one party wins at the expense of the other although they have some dependency in their relationship) any conﬂict will be viewed negatively (Janssen et al., 1999). The perception of conﬂict will also be negative where the conﬂict is personal, resulting in personality clashes, increased stress and frustration. This type of relationship conﬂict can impede the decision-making process as individuals
focus on the personal aspects rather than the task related issues (Jehn, 1995). In contrast to the somewhat negative perception of intraorganizational conﬂict outlined above, more recent conﬂict management theory has begun to suggest that certain types of conﬂict can have a positive effect upon relationships and that the best route to this outcome is through acceptance of, and effective management of, inevitable conﬂict, rather than through conﬂict avoidance or suppression (De Dreu, 1997). When individuals are in conﬂict they have to address major issues, be more creative, and see different aspects of a problem. These challenges can mitigate groupthink and stimulate creativity (De Dreu, 1997). Naturally, where there is high positive interdependence (an agreeable outcome for both parties), the conﬂict episode will be viewed much more positively (Janssen et al., 1999). Moreover, Jehn (1995) has suggested that task- and issue-based cognitive conﬂict can have a positive effect on team performance. Groups who experience cognitive conﬂict have a greater understanding of the assignments at hand and are able to make better decisions in dealing with issues as they arise (Simons and Peterson, 2000). For example, research has shown that, when individuals are exposed to a “devil’s advocate”, they are able to make better judgments than those not so exposed (Schwenk, 1990). Schulz-Hardt et al. (2002) suggested that groups make better decisions where they started in disagreement rather than agreement. In these examples, conﬂict has a functional (useful and positive) outcome. We have argued that the notion of functional conﬂict has shifted the ﬁeld of conﬂict research away from conﬂict resolution and towards consideration of the management behaviors which can be adopted in dealing with conﬂict in order to gain the best possible outcome (De Dreu, 1997; Euwema et al., 2003). Next, we examine research into conﬂict management behaviors and explore some of the managerial tools that have been developed to help managers to deal with intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict. Conﬂict management behaviors
Conﬂict management can be deﬁned as the actions in which a person typically engages, in response to perceived interpersonal conﬂict, in order to achieve a desired goal
of conﬂict theory
(Thomas, 1976). Demonstrably, conﬂict management pays off: previous research has indicated that it is the way in which conﬂict episodes are addressed which determines the outcome (Amason, 1996). However, there is disagreement between researchers as to the degree to which managers can and do adopt different conﬂict management behaviors. Previous research has considered three different approaches: the “one best way” perspective (Sternberg and Soriano, 1984); the contingency or situational perspective (Thomas, 1992; Munduate et al., 1999; Nicotera, 1993); and the complexity or conglomerated perspective (Van de Vliert et al., 1999; Euwema et al., 2003). Arguably the simplest perspective on conﬂict management behavior is the “one best way” perspective (Sternberg and Soriano, 1984), which agues that one conﬂict management style or behavior (collaboration) is more effective than any other. However, it argues that individuals have a particular preferred behavioral predisposition to the way in which they handle conﬂict. Thus, from the “one best way” perspective, the conﬂict-avoiding manager may have a behavioral predisposition to avoidance strategies, whereas the accommodating manager may prefer accommodating solutions. In this paradigm, the most constructive solution is considered to be collaboration, since collaboration is always positively interdependent – it has a joint best outcome, generally described as “win/win” (Van de Vliert et al., 1997). The “one best way” approach suggests that a more aggressive, competitive, negatively interdependent approach (in fact, any conﬂict management approach other than collaborative) can result in suboptimal outcomes (Janssen et al., 1999). However, the “one best way” perspective raises more questions than it answers. It does not explain how managers are able to collaborate if they
have a different behavioral predisposition, nor does it provide evidence that collaboration always produces the best outcome (Thomas, 1992). A more general problem with the “one best way” approach is that it may not be very useful: if managers truly have little or no control over their approach to conﬂict management, the practical applications are limited. The “one best way” perspective does not consider the passage of time, that behaviors could be changed or modiﬁed during any interaction, nor the effect any previous encounters may have on the current experience (Van de Vliert et al., 1997). Moving beyond the “one best way” perspective, in which only collaborative behaviors are considered to provide the most desirable outcome, the contingency perspective maintains that the optimal conﬂict management behavior depends on the speciﬁc conﬂict situation, and that what is appropriate in one situation may not be appropriate in another (Thomas, 1992). In this paradigm, the best approach is dependent upon the particular set of circumstances. The implications, which are very different to the “one best way” perspective, are that individuals can and should select the conﬂict management behavior that is most likely to produce the desired outcome. Thus, conﬂict management behaviors are regarded as a matter of preference (rather than innate, as in the “one best way” view), and the outcome is dependent on the selection of the most appropriate mode of conﬂict management behavior. Until recently, conﬂict research has been heavily inﬂuenced by the “one best way” and contingency perspectives, focusing on the effectiveness of a single mode of conﬂict management behavior (primarily collaboration) during a single conﬂict episode (Sternberg and Soriano, 1984). Thus the “one best way” and contingency perspectives do not necessarily offer a real-world view in which managers both can and do change their behaviors: adapting to the situation; perhaps trying different approaches to break
a deadlock or to improve their bargaining position; taking into account changing circumstances in the microenvironment; and the subsequent inﬂuence upon the actions of individuals involved in any conﬂict episode (Olekalns et al., 1996). A fresh approach is provided by the complexity perspective, which characterizes conﬂicts as being dynamic and multi-dimensional. In such circumstances, the best behavioral style in dealing with any one conﬂict
episode may vary during, or between, conﬂict episodes (Medina et al., 2004; Nicotera, 1993). For conﬂict in a complex world, neither the “one best way” nor the contingency perspective would necessarily produce optimal results. If conﬂict does not occur discretely and individually (Pondy, 1992a), existing approaches may not describe the world as managers actually experience it. Arguably, these approaches have artiﬁcially limited conﬂict research to a ﬂat, two-dimensional model. To address the shortcomings of traditional research and to incorporate the complexity perspective into conﬂict management theory, we need to move beyond two dimensions (Van de Vliert et al., 1997).
Beyond two dimensions of conﬂict management theory
Recent work by Van de Vliert et al. (1997) and Medina et al. (2004) has expanded current theory through consideration of the complexity perspective. The complexity perspective argues that any reaction to a conﬂict episode consists of multiple behavioral components rather than one single conﬂict management behavior. In the complexity perspective, using a mixture of accommodating, avoiding, competing, compromising and collaborating behaviors throughout the conﬂict episode is considered to be the rule rather than the exception (Van de Vliert et al., 1997).
To date, studies taking a complexity approach to conﬂict management have adopted one of three different complexity perspectives. The ﬁrst examines simultaneous complexity and how different combinations of behaviors affect the outcome of the conﬂict (Munduate et al., 1999). The second complexity approach focuses on the point of behavioral change and the outcome, examining either the behavioral phases through which the participants of a conﬂict episode pass, or apply temporal complexity to look at the point at which behavioral style changes and the effect on the conﬂict episode (Olekalns et al., 1996). The third approach is the sequential complexity or conglomerated perspective, which is concerned with the different modes of conﬂict management behavior, how they are combined, and at what point they change during the interaction.
The application of the complexity perspective to conﬂict management research
has revealed that managers use more than the ﬁve behaviors suggested by the “one best way” perspective to manage conﬂict. In their study of conglomerated conﬂict management behavior, Euwema et al. (2003) argued that the traditional approach under-represents the individual’s assertive modes of behavior and have as a result added “confronting” and “process controlling”, making seven possible behaviors: (1) competing;
of conﬂict theory
(6) confronting; and
(7) process controlling.
Weingart et al. (1990) identiﬁed two types of sequential pattern: Reciprocity, responding to the other party with the same behavior; and Complementarity, responding with an opposing behavior. Applying a complexity perspective, the effectiveness of complementarity or reciprocity behaviors will be contingent upon the situation, the micro-environment, the number of conﬂict episodes, and the types of conﬂict present. The sequential pattern may in itself be complex, being dependent both upon the current situation and on varying behaviors throughout the interaction. A further, often unrecognized implication of complexity in conﬂict is that each conﬂict episode could be unique, being composed of different proportions of each of the affective, cognitive and process conﬂict types (Jehn and Chatman, 2000).
The implication for conﬂict management strategy and the choice of the most appropriate behavior is immense. Therefore, a new perspective is needed, in which conﬂict and the response to conﬂict is viewed as dynamic and changing over time, with each conﬂict episode having a unique composition requiring a speciﬁc but ﬂexible approach in order to obtain the best possible outcome. We propose that this might result in a manager changing behavior during a conﬂict episode, or indeed a manager adopting different behaviors for a number of conﬂict episodes occurring simultaneously. In the next section, we take all these complex factors into account and propose a single, dynamic and comprehensive model of conﬂict management behavior.
Multiple, simultaneous conﬂict episodes
We have shown that the ﬁeld of conﬂict has become entangled in multiple terms and that research into conﬂict management is struggling to reconcile two-dimensional models with the more complex situation encountered in the real world. A model is needed which considers the complexity of conﬂict episodes and separates conﬂict antecedents from conﬂict types, recognizing that conﬂict can relate to emotions and situations which have common antecedents. We propose that the way forward is to expand the conglomerated perspective into a sequential contingency perspective, in which the sequence of conﬂict management behaviors adopted is dependent upon a number of inﬂuencing factors in the micro-environment, the number of conﬂict episodes being dealt with, their composition, and changes in the behaviors of the actors involved.
A sequential contingency perspective
The sequential contingency perspective for intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict proposes the adoption of an alternative paradigm which is that conﬂict is ever-present and ever-changing in terms of its nature or composition; and that it is the way in which these continuous conﬂicts is managed which determines the outcome of any conﬂict episode and the nature of any subsequent conﬂicts. Figure 1 provides a visualization of Pondy’s (1992b) postmodern paradigm of conﬂict and provides a foundation for the investigation of complex, multiple, simultaneous, intraorganizational conﬂicts. This conceptual visualization of conﬂict within the organization
provides a three-dimensional representation of conﬂict from the paradigm that conﬂict is an inherent feature of organizational life. It shows how, at any one given point in time,
of conﬂict theory
A conceptual visualization
of multiple, simultaneous
there can be a number of conﬂict episodes experienced (y axis), each with different intensities (z axis) and duration (x axis). In addition, we have argued that each conﬂict episode will have a unique composition, being made up of different proportions of cognitive, affective and process elements.
The implications for conﬂict management theory are twofold: ﬁrst, the behavioral strategies adopted in the management of these conﬂicts will be highly complex and will be determined by a number of inﬂuencing factors; and second, this moves theory beyond the two dimensional duel concern perspective, in that the adaptable manager dealing with these multiple, simultaneous conﬂicts will also need to consider the possible implications of their chosen strategy along with the changing micro environment in which they operate. Using this three-dimensional conceptual visualization of conﬂict within the organization we propose a sequential contingency model for managing interpersonal conﬂict within the organization (Figure 2). The basic elements of the framework in Figure 2 consider all the dimensions of conﬂict and its management as previously discussed:
the conﬂict episode characteristics, the type and composition of any conﬂict episode encountered (Amason, 1996; Jehn, 1995; Jehn, 1997; Pinkley and
the characteristics of the relationship(s) (Jehn, 1995);
the characteristics of the individuals involved;
the conﬂict management behaviors; and
the outcome of previous conﬂict episodes (Van de Vliert et al., 1997).
A sequential contingency
model for managing
The basic postulate of the model is that conﬂict is a constant and inherent condition of the organization (that is, that conﬂict episodes do not occur as isolated, anomalous incidents). Additionally, the effectiveness of the conﬂict management behaviors in terms of its functionality or dysfunctionality is contingent upon, and moderated by, the nature of the conﬂict, the characteristics of the individuals and relationships involved, and experience of previous conﬂict. Thus, this model provides a framework for dealing with multiple, simultaneous conﬂict episodes moving beyond the tradition two-dimensional approach.
To date there has been little empirical research into the degree to which individuals are able to adapt their behavior during an interaction, or on the value of the complexity perspective in dealing with complex
intraorganizational conﬂict. The future research agenda needs to explore conﬂict through Pondy’s (1992b) alternative paradigm and expand on these theoretical ﬁndings by investigating intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict in a number of ways. We therefore set out a research agenda framed in terms of four research propositions.
First, taking the sequential contingency perspective and adopting Pondy’s (1989) alternative paradigm for conﬂict within the organization, research is needed to establish the occurrence of conﬂict. Pondy (1992b) argues that, rather than a sequence of discrete isolated incidents, conﬂict is an inherent condition of social interaction within the organization and that conﬂict episodes occur simultaneously not sequentially. This would imply that:
P1a. Conﬂict is a constant condition of interorganizational, interpersonal relationships.
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P1b. Multiple conﬂict episodes occur simultaneously.
P1c. Conﬂict episodes are complex, having differing compositions of affective, cognitive and process elements which change over time.
The complexity perspective recognizes that different conﬂict situations call for different management behaviors (Van de Vliert et al., 1997). This implies that managers can call upon a much wider range of approaches to conﬂict management than previously thought. Moreover there is a further implication, which is that managers are able to adapt their behavior during conﬂict episodes. Thus: P2a. Managers use different behaviors to manage multiple conﬂicts at any one time.
P2b. Managers change their behavior over time during the same conﬂict episode. A substantial branch of recent conﬂict management research has focused on the outcomes of conﬂict and has suggested that not all conﬂict is negative (De Dreu, 1997; Simons and Peterson, 2000; Schultz-Hardt et al.,
2002; Schwenk, 1990). Given this, we need a greater understanding of the effect that the behavior adopted has on the conﬂict experienced, whether it mitigated or agitated the situation, and the consequences for any subsequent conﬂict (Amason, 1996). Thus:
P3a. The behaviors that managers use affect the outcome of the conﬂict. P3b. The behaviors that managers use affect subsequent conﬂicts. Finally, re-visiting Pondy’s (1989) alternative paradigm and incorporating the additional perspectives that come from consideration of conﬂict outcomes and the application of the complexity perspective, we argue that more research is needed into the relationship between the behaviors that managers adopt and whether these behaviors represent the conscious adaptation of an optimal approach to conﬂict management. Thus:
Conﬂict management involves adapting a set of behaviors through which a degree of co-operation is maintained, as opposed to the use of behavior(s) which resolve(s) discrete isolated incidents of conﬂict.
Our purpose in setting out a new model and research agenda for conﬂict management research, together with a set of detailed research propositions, is to move the ﬁeld beyond the consideration of conﬂict episodes as discrete, isolated incidents and to encourage the investigation of different behaviors in different circumstances and their effectiveness. Future research needs to consider the complexity of conﬂict and adopt a research paradigm which considers the behavioral strategies within long term complex interpersonal relationships.
This paper has offered four contributions to the ﬁeld of conﬂict and conﬂict management. The ﬁrst is the clariﬁcation of conﬂict typologies set out in Table II. The
second contribution is the notion that business managers handle multiple and simultaneous conﬂict episodes that require different approaches to resolving them, so that the existing models proposed for conﬂict management are unlikely to chime with their actual experience. The third contribution is to map this in the form of a new theoretical model for conﬂict management (Figure 2). The fourth contribution is to use this theoretical model to set out a set of research propositions to shape research that will shed light on the real conﬂicts that managers have to face. Just 40 years on, and intraorganizational conﬂict theory itself appears to be in conﬂict. In order to resolve the apparent differences in research approach and perspective researchers need to establish some common ground upon which new theory can be empirically tested, allowing conﬂict management theory to move beyond two dimensions and to explore complexity whilst adding clarity. Note
1. First presented at the Academy of Management Meeting, August 14, 1986.
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James Speakman is Assistant Professor of International Negotiation at IESEG Business School, a member of Catholic University of Lille, where his attentions are focused on sales and negotiation. After working for 16 years in key account management sales he completed his PhD research at Cranﬁeld School of Management, where, using the Critical Incident Technique with an Interpretive Framework for coding to investigate intraorganizational, interpersonal conﬂict and the behavioral sequences adopted in the management of these complex interpersonal, intraorganizational conﬂict episodes. Other research interests include personal selling, past, present and future, where he conducted the US research for a multinational study on the future of personal selling and negotiation in context where his research interests include multi-cultural negotiation. James Speakman is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: [email protected]
Lynette Ryals specializes in key account management and marketing portfolio management, particularly in the area of customer proﬁtability. She is a Registered Representative of the London Stock Exchange and a Fellow of the Society of Investment Professionals. She is the Director of Cranﬁeld’s Key Account Management Best Practice Research Club, Director of the Demand Chain Management community and a member of Cranﬁeld School of Management’s Governing Executive.
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