Integration versus Distribution in Contract Negotiations: An Interaction Analysis of Strategy Use

By Goering, Elizabeth M. | The Journal of Business Communication, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Integration versus Distribution in Contract Negotiations: An Interaction Analysis of Strategy Use


Goering, Elizabeth M., The Journal of Business Communication


The view of conflict within organizational contexts has changed considerably over the past several years, shifting from early conceptualizations of conflict as something negative, something to be avoided in organizations (Barnard, 1938) to the acknowledgment that conflict may serve some useful functions within organizations (Coser, 1956) and finally to the more recent view that conflict is not just a potentially beneficial but an integral and inherent part of complex organizations (Putnam, 1995; Pondy, 1992). According to Putnam (1995, p. 184), "Conflict is not a breakdown of a cooperative, purposeful system. Rather conflict is central to what an organization is." Pondy (1992, p. 260) concurs, observing, "Conflict is not only functional for the organization, it is essential to its very existence." This shift in the way conflict is viewed has been accompanied by a similar refocusing on "conflict management (as opposed to resolution)" (Nicotera, 1995, p. 1). In other words, conflict is seen not as something destructive within organizations that must be resolved but rather as a necessary communicative process within organizations that, like any other communicative process, must be managed effectively.

Of course, recognizing that conflict is an inherent and valuable part of the organization does not imply that conflict or its outcomes are always beneficial to the organization. Indeed, conflict can affect the organization in constructive as well as destructive ways, and numerous researchers (Deutsch, 1987, 1991; Putnam & Wilson, 1987; Putnam, 1995) have begun to explore the factors associated with productive conflict management. According to Deutsch (1991), one of the "major determinants" of whether conflict will be constructive or destructive within an organization is the cooperative versus competitive nature of the interests and communicative strategies employed by the conflicting parties. Consequently, furthering understanding of the factors associated with the use of cooperative and competitive conflict management strategies should further understanding of the constructive and destructive outcomes of conflict. To that end, this study explores the use of integrative and distributive conflict management strategies in one of the most common vehicles for conflict management within organizations - the negotiations of the collective bargaining process.

Review of Literature and Development of Hypotheses

The distinction between constructive and destructive bargaining outcomes is nothing new. Walton and McKersie (1965) identify "distributive" and "integrative" bargaining as distinct bargaining subprocesses, terminology which Deutsch (1991) equates with his own concept of "cooperative" and "competitive" conflict. In one sense, these terms can be used to define the bargaining situation itself. A distributive, or competitive, bargaining situation is a win-lose situation in which the goals of one party and the attainment of those goals are in fundamental and direct conflict with the goals of the other party. Resources are fixed and limited, and each party wants to maximize its share of the resources. An integrative, or cooperative, bargaining situation, on the other hand, is a win-win situation; the goals of the parties are not mutually exclusive. If one side pursues its goals, it does not necessarily preclude the other from achieving its own objectives, because it is possible for both sides to win (Walton & McKersie, 1965).

In another sense, the terms integrative and distributive can refer to the types of negotiation tactics or message strategies employed in a bargaining situation. Integrative strategies are cooperative tactics that lead to problem-solving communication. Distributive tactics, on the other hand, generate labor-management conflict and promote individual winning through the use of offensive and defensive maneuvers. Defensive moves are tactics that "field attacks by building a fortress around a bargainer's position," while offensive moves "aim to impugn an opponent's position" (Putnam & Jones, 1982).

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