Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance: A Cross-National Examination of Their Impact on Conflict Management Modes

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ABSTRACT

The aim of this research study was to examine two of Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions (Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance) in three countries--the US, Nigeria and India. This research also aimed at examining the impact of these two cultural dimensions on five conflict management modes--avoidance, accommodation, compromise, competition and collaboration--using Kilmann and Thomas's (1977) MODE instrument.

The study found that respondents from the three nations differed significantly in terms of their cultural value dimensions of power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Multivariate analysis indicated that the three groups of respondents also differed significantly on their preference for two conflict management modes--compromising and avoiding. The implications of these findings are discussed within the realm of management and organizations.

INTRODUCTION

Recent trends such as the globalization of business, increased diversity in the workforce, and increasing international alliances and mergers, highlight the need to examine conflict within an international context (Adler, 1983; Hofstede 1997; Maddox, 1993). Researchers caution against the unquestioning adoption, dissemination, and application of Western management theories through out the world (Adler, 1997; Hofstede, 1998, 2001). Consequently, investigators are increasingly examining organizational phenomena such as conflict management within an international context either theoretically (Kozan, 1997; Purohit & Parasuraman, 1993) or empirically (Anakwe, Purohit & Simmers, 1999; Augsburger, 1992; Kozan, 1989; McKenna, 1995; Tinsley & Brett, 1997; Tse, Francis, & Walls, 1994). Existing research suggests that cultural differences exist in the interpretation of conflict, its management, and the conflict resolution strategies adopted by individuals from different countries (Anakwe et al., 1999; Epie, 2002; Gire & Carment, 2001; Xie, Song & Stringfellow, 1998).

The present investigation focuses on the preference for conflict management modes (Thomas 1992), and examines whether Hofstede's (1980) cultural value dimensions of power distance and uncertainty avoidance influence the preference for conflict management modes in respondents from three countries--Nigeria, India, and the U.S. In the following sections we highlight the importance of examining conflict management as a construct enmeshed in a society's cultural values. We also highlight the importance of examining conflict management in a cross-national context encompassing countries like Nigeria and India in addition to the U.S.

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

According to van de Vliert and Prein (1989) conflict was initially conceptualized as a uni-dimensional construct with cooperation and competition designated as the two ends of a continuum. Blake and Mouton (1970) modified this uni-dimensional approach and identified two basic underlying dimensions of conflict: (1) cooperation -the extent to which a person attempts to satisfy the concerns of the other party in the conflict situation; and (2) assertiveness--the extent to which one attempts to satisfy one's own concerns. Rahim (1986) labeled these dimensions as 'concern for others' (cooperation) and 'concern for self' (assertiveness).

In this study we adopt Thomas's (1992) stance and conceptualize and operationalize conflict as a bi-dimensional construct representing the strategic intentions of parties to a conflict. Phrased in terms of strategic intentions, the underlying dimensions of assertion and cooperation represent attempts at satisfying one's own and/or satisfying others' concerns in varying conflict situations. Individuals indicating a preference for assertive conflict management modes are likely to be focusing more on satisfying their own needs and goals compared to individuals preferring cooperative conflict management modes. The latter would demonstrate a greater concern for satisfying others' needs and goals in conflict situations. …

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