Third Party Role in Conflict Management in Turkish Organizations

By Kozan, M. Kamil; Ergin, Canan | Human Organization, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Third Party Role in Conflict Management in Turkish Organizations


Kozan, M. Kamil, Ergin, Canan, Human Organization


Third party roles in conflict management in collectivistic cultures are a common but neglected phenomenon. This study surveyed 435 employees of 40 public and private organizations in Turkey. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents reported third party involvement in the conflicts they reported. Peers played a third party role almost as frequently as the immediate supervisors. Small- and medium-sized organizations reported both more third party intervention and more peer involvement in coworkers' conflicts. The initiation, timing, and style of supervisors and peers were dissimilar. While peers usually got involved from the start and on their own, superiors were invited to intervene when conflicts escalated or got out of control. Furthermore, superiors used incentives or their authority to resolve conflicts. Peers, in contrast, listened more and gave advice. Despite the authoritarian tone of administration, satisfaction with the outcome and the process of resolution was low when superiors used autocratic intervention. In contrast, the respondents saw the outcome and the process as fair when superiors or peers mediated. The frequent and informal involvement of peers in coworkers' conflicts is interpreted as a characteristic of the collectivism element in Turkish culture. Training of managers and nonmanagerial personnel in mediation is suggested as a practical method for improving conflict management in this and similar cultures. Third party role variables are recommended to be included along with conflict-management styles in future cross-cultural research.

Key words: conflict, third parties, mediators, culture, Turkey

The influence of national culture on conflict manage ment has recently received increased attention. Contributions to this area have mostly been on differences in either negotiation (Schuster and Copeland 1996) or styles of handling interpersonal conflicts (Ting-Toomey et al. 1991). An area in need of equal emphasis is the role of third parties in handling conflict in organizations. Third parties may be defined as persons or groups of persons who, either voluntarily or by virtue of formal assignment, get involved in a conflict between two parties with the intention of helping with its resolution. Except for field studies of community and industrial mediation in Far Eastern countries (Wall and Blum 1991), third party studies have been scant.

This study reports the results of a survey of third party involvement and effectiveness in resolving conflicts in public and private organizations in Turkey. Hofstede's (1984) measures placed Turkey among collectivistic cultures, which, in contrast to individualistic cultures, emphasize the goals of the collectivity rather than individual goals. Turkey also scored high in power distance, indicating that subordinates rarely disagree with supervisors and are not asked their opinions during decision making. Hofstede notes that most collectivistic cultures also have high power distance. Findings on the role of third parties in conflict in Turkey may have implications for other cultures with a similar makeup.

Culture and Conflict Management

A full understanding of how a particular culture shapes conflict management requires the broadest possible view of the conflict-management process. According to Thomas (1992), a comprehensive view of conflict in the work setting would include the organizational context, thoughts and emotions of the parties, conflict behavior, evaluation of outcomes, and third party roles. Cross-cultural organizational research has focused mainly on conflict behavior. However, other aspects of the process are as crucial as the actual negotiation phase. Bryne and Carter (1996) and Ross (1993) point out that subjective psychocultural interpretations must be addressed in prenegotiation before interests can be negotiated. A broadening of the research perspective may also reveal the crucial role of third parties when the principal parties avoid confrontation and are roundabout in defending their interests. …

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