Acquisition in Multinational Coperation

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.

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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
pp. 186-201
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/10444061011037404

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)[1]. 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.

A re-evaluation
of conflict theory




(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:

(1) content;
(2) relational; and
(3) situational.
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: .



A re-evaluation
of conflict theory

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


Conflict typology


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
Relationship, task
Relationship, task
Relationship, task
Cognitive, affective
Task, person oriented
Affective, cognitive
Affective, cognitive
Content, relational, situational
Task, person oriented
Relationship, task
Task, relationship, process
Goal conflicts
Interpersonal, task
Relationship, task
Relationship, task
Relationship, task
Relationship, task


Table I.
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.

Conflict type

Table II.
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

A re-evaluation
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;

(2) collaborating;
(3) avoiding;
(4) compromising;
(5) accommodating;

A re-evaluation
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,

A re-evaluation
of conflict theory


Figure 1.
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
Northcraft, 1994);
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).



Figure 2.
A sequential contingency
model for managing
interpersonal conflict

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.

Future research
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.

A re-evaluation
of conflict theory

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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A re-evaluation
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Further reading
Amason, A.C., Hochwarter, W.A., Thompson, K.R. and Harrison, A.W. (1995), “Conflict: an important dimension in successful management teams”, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 20-35.
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meta-analysis”, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 88 No. 4, pp. 741-9.

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Guerra, M.J., Martinez, I., Munduate, L. and Medina, F.J. (2005), “A contingency perspective on the study of the consequences of conflict types: the role of organizational culture”, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 157-76. Lewicki, R.J. and Sheppard, B.H. (1985), “Choosing how to intervene: factors affecting the use of process and outcome control in third party dispute resolution”, Journal of Occupational Behavior, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 49-64.

Tidd, S.T., McIntyre, H. and Friedman, R.A. (2004), “The importance of role ambiguity and trust in conflict perception: unpacking the task conflict to relationship conflict linkage”, International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 364-84. About the authors

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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A re-evaluation
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