Academic journal article Social Work Research

Organizational Response to Conflict: Future Conflict and Work Outcomes

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Organizational Response to Conflict: Future Conflict and Work Outcomes

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine how on organization's response to conflict affected the amount and intensity of future conflict and negative work outcomes. In this cross-sectional study of 3,374 government service workers, bivariate correlations and multiple regressions revealed associations between managers' conflict-handling style (CHS) and indicators of productivity and conflict ratings. As managers' use of the forcing CHS increased, the rote of accidents, absenteeism, and overtime increased. However, a path analysis showed that the relationship between CHSs and negative work indicators disappeared when the amount and intensity of conflict was held constant. Implications for social work are discussed.

Key words: conflict; conflict intensity; conflict management; organizational conflict; workplace violence


Organizational conflict is costly, consuming 20 percent of a manager's time (Thomas & Schmidt, 1976), and unresolved conflict can result in antisocial behavior, covert retaliation (Spector, 1997), and violence (Luckenbill & Doyle, 1989). According to the U.S. Department of Justice's American National Crime Victimization Survey, 1.5 million employees are assaulted at work each year (Occupational Safety, and Health Administration, 1999), and the rate of workplace violence is higher among government employees than among private sector workers (Diamond & Furbacher, 1997). An organization's response to conflict affects the amount and intensity of future conflict (referred to as CR for conflict rating) and work indicators (WIs). Researchers have studied the relationships between conflict-handling styles (CHSs) and WIs; CHSs and CR; and CR with WIs.


The literature on organizational conflict has identified five CHSs:

* Integrating involves collaboration and problem solving in which both parties share information and look for ways to satisfy each other.

* Compromising entails splitting issues down the middle to resolve conflict.

* Obliging style means that a person gives in to the wants of others by denying his or her own needs.

* Avoiding style entails an individual suppressing or withdrawing from conflict.

* Forcing style entails a person forcing issues to get his or her needs met at the expense of another (Rahim, 1992).

Research has shown that the way conflict is handled affects the amount and intensity of future conflict. Of the five CHSs, the integrating style is considered the best (Follett, 1982, Van de Vliert, 1996). High-frequency integrators have significantly less conflict than low-frequency integrators (Weider-Hatfield & Hatfield, 1995). Forcing, considered the worst CHS, escalates conflict (Rahim, 1992; Thomas, 1979), increases frustration, hinders conflict resolution, and leaves residual frustration for the person whose needs were not met (Follett). This frustration likely causes future conflict (Thomas, 1979) that is more aggressive (Bergmann & Volkema, 1989) and violent (DuBrin, 1997).

Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield (1995), who studied the relationship between CHSs and organizational outcomes, claimed that the integrating style was associated with better work performance. An integrating style also was found to correlate with improvements in productivity and customer service (Tjosvold, Dann, & Wong, 1992). Tjosvold and Chia (1988) reported that poorly handled conflict reduced productivity and increased labor relations problems. In a study of CHS patterns, supervisors who used the forcing style were less effective with subordinates (Van de Vliert, Euwema, & Huismans, 1995).

CR has also been shown to influence WIs. Van de Vliert (1996) found that heated conflicts in organizations resulted in absenteeism, personnel turnover, and other inefficiencies. As tensions rise during a conflict, the ability to think clearly declines and reasoning becomes distorted (Thomas, 1990). …

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