Conflict and Negotiation in the Workplace
Learning Objectives After studying this chapter, you should be able to:
LO 11-1Define conflict and debate its positive and negative consequences in the workplace.
LO 11-2Distinguish task conflict from relationship conflict and describe three strategies to minimize relationship conflict during task conflict episodes.
LO 11-3Diagram the conflict process model and describe six structural sources of conflict in organizations.
LO 11-4Outline the five conflict-handling styles and discuss the circumstances in which each would be most appropriate.
LO 11-5Apply the six structural approaches to conflict management and describe the three types of third-party dispute resolution.
LO 11-6Discuss activities in the negotiation preparation, process, and setting that improve negotiation effectiveness.
On a hot August afternoon, an easyJet flight was taxiing out to the runway at London’s Gatwick Airport when an incident delayed its departure to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The problem was neither mechanical nor an external threat. Instead, two cabin crew members had an irreconcilable disagreement about how to properly unpack and store the water bottles. When notified of the quarrel, the cabin manager advised the employees to try to get along and do their jobs. Unfortunately, the conflict continued, so the cabin manager met with the captain and decided to offload and replace the two squabbling crew members. Facing the frustrated passengers, the captain apologized that the flight would be delayed until two new crew members arrived. “This is quite incredible,” exclaimed a British television presenter who had a front row seat on the flight. “We’ve all worked with people we don’t get on with, right? But this tiff means a one hour flight is delayed!” The easyJet flight arrived in Belfast 90 minutes late. Page 401
Overt conflict is infrequent among commercial airline crew members, but when these clashes do occur, the consequences can be costly for the airline and inconvenient for passengers. A few months before the easyJet incident, a Delta Air Lines flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis made an unscheduled detour to Salt Lake City because two flight attendants got into a nasty argument over work issues. In fact, passengers watched in horror as the two female crew
members began physically fighting each other. A third unidentified woman tried to calm down the two combatants but was hit by a wayward fist. The cabin manager notified the captain, who then changed course. Delta Air Lines later sent an understated letter of apology to passengers, saying: “We expect our flight crew to be nothing but courteous and professional at all times and what you experienced was far from that.” The flight arrived 75 minutes late in Minneapolis.
images/Alamy Stock Photo Overt conflict is rare among commercial airline crew members, but when these clashes do occur, the consequences can be costly for the airline and inconvenient for passengers. Page 402
The most recent and arguably serious airline crew conflict occurred between the captain and her male copilot on a Jet Airways flight from London to Mumbai. More than half way through the nine-hour flight, the visibly upset captain rushed out of the cockpit to the forward galley, complaining to cabin crew that the copilot had slapped her during a disagreement over personal matters. The two pilots were reportedly in a relationship and had less dramatic arguments during earlier flights. The crew tried to comfort the captain but were unable to convince her to return to the cockpit. The copilot eventually came
out—leaving the cockpit unattended on auto-pilot mode—and was able to persuade the captain to return with him. Unfortunately, their disagreement did not abate. Within an hour, the captain left the cockpit a second time, returning only after becoming aware that crew and passengers were increasingly concerned for their safety. Jet Airways initially announced that both pilots had a “misunderstanding” which they “resolved amicably.” However, the two were fired a few days later.1
These incidents involving flight crew members illustrate that workplace conflict can be very costly. But as we will learn in this chapter, some forms of conflict are also valuable to organizations. The challenge is to enable beneficial conflict and suppress dysfunctional conflict. We begin this chapter by defining conflict and discussing the age-old question: Is conflict good or bad? Next, we look at the conflict process and examine in detail the main factors that cause or amplify conflict. The five styles of handling conflict are then described, including the contingencies of conflict handling as well as gender and cross- cultural differences. This is followed by discussion of the most important structural approaches to conflict resolution. Next, we look at the role of managers and others in third-party conflict resolution. The final section of this chapter reviews key issues in negotiating conflict resolution.
The Meaning and Consequences of Conflict LO 11-1
Conflict is a fact of life in organizations. Companies are continuously adapting to their external environment, yet there is no clear road map on what changes are best. Every day, employees disagree on which work objectives should receive priority, which norms they should abide by, and how even minor job tasks should be performed (such as how to properly store water bottles during a flight). These conflict episodes occur because of clashing work goals, divergent personal values and experiences, and a variety of other reasons that we discuss in this chapter.
Conflict is a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party.2 It occurs when one party obstructs another’s goals in some way, or just from one party’s perception that the other party is going to do so. Conflict Page 403 is ultimately based on perceptions; it exists whenever one party believes that another might obstruct its efforts, regardless of whether the other party actually has those intentions. conflict the process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party
This definition—and the focus of this chapter—is on conflict with others, such as between people on the same team or department, between work units or business divisions, or between the organization and external stakeholders. However, conflict also occurs within each of us (called intrapersonal conflict). In earlier chapters, we discussed various intrapersonal conflicts, such as when our behavior conflicts with our beliefs and values (see Chapter 4 on cognitive dissonance) and when we need to reconcile conflicting task goals such as providing customer service versus working efficiently (Chapter 7).
IS CONFLICT GOOD OR BAD? One of the oldest debates in organizational behavior is whether conflict is good or bad—or, more recently, what forms of conflict are good or bad.3 The dominant view over most of this time has been that conflict is dysfunctional.4 The “conflict-is-bad” perspective emphasizes that organizations work best through harmonious relations and that conflict, particularly between employees and management, undermines organizational effectiveness. This view argues that even moderately low levels of disagreement tatter the fabric of workplace relations and sap energy from productive activities. For example, conflict critics claim that disagreement with one’s supervisor wastes productive time, violates the hierarchy of command, and questions the efficient assignment of authority (where managers make the decisions and employees follow them).
Although the “conflict-is-bad” perspective is now considered too simplistic, conflict can indeed have negative consequences under some circumstances (see Exhibit 11.1).5 Conflict potentially reduces employee performance by consuming otherwise productive time. It threatens personal needs and self- concept, which produces employee stress, reduces job satisfaction, and increases turnover. Stress also reduces performance because it consumes energy and distracts employees from their work.6 EXHIBIT 11.1Consequences of Workplace Conflict
Interpersonal conflict also has a negative effect on information
sharing.7 Specifically, team members are less motivated to ask for, pay attention to, and transmit information with one another during some types of conflict. In some situations, disagreements can fuel organizational politics and thereby waste resources, such as when employees try to undermine the credibility of
their opponents. Conflict among team members may hurt team cohesion and performance. Even when conflict occurs between work units (such as when competing for budget funding), the interdepartmental conflict may lead to conflict and power struggles among employees within each work unit.8 Benefits of Conflict In the 1920s, when most organizational scholars viewed conflict as inherently dysfunctional, educational philosopher and psychologist John Dewey praised its benefits by suggesting that it “shocks us out of sheeplike passivity.” Three years later, political science and management theorist Mary Parker Follett similarly explained that the “friction” of conflict should be put to use rather than treated as an unwanted consequence of differences.9 But it wasn’t until the 1970s that conflict management experts began to embrace the notion that some level of conflict can be beneficial.10 They Page 404 formed an “optimal conflict” perspective, which states that organizations are most effective when employees experience some level of conflict. Organizations are less effective when the intensity of conflict is very low or very high.
What are the benefits of conflict? First, conflict potentially improves decision making. As Dewey stated, conflict energizes people to debate issues and evaluate alternatives more thoroughly. When employees disagree constructively, they probe and test one another’s way of thinking to better understand the underlying issues that need to be addressed. They evaluate the logic of the opposing positions and reexamine each party’s basic assumptions about the problem and its possible solution. Conflict also motivates creative thinking about novel solutions to the disagreement.11
A second potential benefit is that moderate levels of conflict prevent organizations from becoming nonresponsive to their external environment. Differences of opinion encourage employees to engage in active thinking, and this often involves ongoing questioning and vigilance about how the organization can be more closely aligned with its customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.12 A third benefit occurs when team members experience conflict with external sources, such as competition with or threats from other teams or organizations. People tend to be more motivated to work together when faced with an external threat, which strengthens cohesion within the team (see Chapter 8). However, as mentioned a few paragraphs ago, this interdepartmental conflict sometimes undermines relations within the department.
The Emerging View: Task and Relationship Conflict
The “optimal conflict” perspective remains popular and seems to be true in some respects—there is some evidence that any form of conflict becomes dysfunctional beyond a level of intensity.13 However, the school of thought most widely accepted today is that there are two dominant types of conflict: task conflict and relationship conflict. These represent two distinct ways that people approach and interact with one another during disagreements and that have different consequences for employees and organizations.14
TASK CONFLICT Task conflict (also called constructive conflict) occurs when people focus their discussion around the issue (i.e., the “task”) in which different viewpoints occur while showing respect for people involved in that disagreement. This type of conflict keeps the spotlight on the qualities of the ideas presented (logic, factual accuracy, etc.). With a task conflict focus, participants examine the assumptions and logical foundation of the ideas presented. Their debate avoids any attention to the competence or power of the participants. task conflict a type of conflict in which people focus their discussion around the issue (i.e., the “task”) in which different viewpoints occur while showing respect for people involved in that disagreement
relationship conflict a type of conflict in which people focus their discussion on qualities of the people in the dispute, rather than on the qualities of the ideas presented regarding a task-related issue
Most conflicts—including “personality clashes” and other interpersonal tiffs—arise while employees are performing their jobs or deciding which task should be performed, how should it be done, how employees should behave, who should perform the various task roles, and so forth. Therefore, in almost all organizational conflicts, the parties can potentially focus on the work- related situation in which these differences arose (task conflict). Research indicates that task conflict tends to produce the beneficial outcomes described earlier, particularly better decision making.15 However, as we already mentioned, there is likely an upper limit to the intensity of any disagreement, even if it is focused impersonally on issues rather than the conflict participants.
RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT Whereas people engage in task conflict when they focus on logical foundations of work-related disagreements, relationship conflict occurs when the discussion focuses on qualities of participants in the dispute. This type of Page 405conflict is apparent when employees attack an opposing idea by questioning the competence of those who introduce that position or engage in the disputed behavior. Rather than identifying logical and factual concerns with someone’s suggestion (task conflict), relationship conflict attempts to dismiss the idea by arguing that it was proposed or supported by people who lack expertise, intelligence, credibility, or other traits necessary to make good suggestions.
Team decision making at Amazon .com is not a casual social gathering. “It is respectful contention and eventually we reach a decision based on the data, but meetings are hotly debated,” says a vice president about the meetings he attends at the online retailer. In fact, one of Amazon’s principles states that leaders should “respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.” Another Amazon executive explains that “it would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision.” Some observers and employees say that Amazon fuels relationship conflict, not just task conflict. Others counter that relationship conflict is discouraged, pointing out that “respectfully challenge” means focusing on the problem, not the person. “We debate politely and respectfully, and you are given constructive feedback to course- correct if you are rude or disrespectful,” says a middle management engineer.a fizkes/Shutterstock
Relationship conflict also occurs more indirectly when people rely on status or expertise to defend their position (“My recommendation is better because I have the most experience!”). Arguing for an idea by claiming one’s own superior competencies implies the inferiority of those who present opposing arguments or recommendations. It focuses on the relative qualities of the people involved, not the qualities of the ideas presented. Relationship conflict even occurs when someone is abrasive or assertive to the extent that the behavior demeans others in the conversation.16 For example, relationship conflict can occur when a manager bangs his or her fist on the desk while presenting an argument; the physical action implies that the speaker has more power and the followers need harsh signals to get their attention.
Relationship conflict is dysfunctional because it threatens self-esteem, self- enhancement, and self-verification processes (see Chapter 3). It usually triggers defense mechanisms and a competitive orientation between the parties. Relationship conflict also reduces mutual trust because it emphasizes interpersonal differences that weaken any bond that exists between the parties.17 Relationship conflict escalates more easily than task conflict because the adversaries become less motivated to communicate and share information,
making it more difficult for them to discover common ground and ultimately resolve the conflict. Instead, they rely increasingly on distorted perceptions and stereotypes, which tend to reinforce their perceptions of threat.
MINIMIZING RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT DURING TASK CONFLICT From our discussion so far, the logical recommendation is for organizations to encourage task conflict and minimize relationship conflict. This idea sounds good in theory, but separating these two types of conflict isn’t easy in practice. Research indicates that we experience some degree of relationship conflict whenever we are engaged in constructive debate.18 No matter how diplomatically someone questions our ideas and actions, he or she potentially threatens our self-esteem and our public image, which usually triggers our Page 406drive to defend. The stronger the level of debate and the more the issue is tied to our self-view, the more likely that task conflict will evolve into (or mix with) relationship conflict. Fortunately, three conditions potentially minimize the level of relationship conflict during task conflict episodes.19
• Emotional intelligence. Relationship conflict is less likely to occur, or is less likely to escalate, when team members have high levels of emotional intelligence, as well as the related attributes of emotional stability personality and trait self-control.20 Employees with higher emotional intelligence are better able to regulate their emotions during debate, which reduces the risk of escalating perceptions of interpersonal hostility. They are also more likely to view a coworker’s emotional reaction as valuable information about that person’s needs and expectations, rather than as a personal attack.
• Team development. Team development plays a critical role in suppressing relationship conflict during task conflict.21 One explanation is mutual understanding. As teams develop, their members become better at understanding and anticipating one another, which reduces the risk that a coworker’s words or actions will be misinterpreted as a conflict trigger. This may explain why newly formed teams (which have lower mutual understanding) have difficulty separating task and relationship conflict, whereas experienced teams (such as senior executive teams) are better able to suppress and separate relationship conflict. A second explanation is that team development produces higher team cohesion, in which employees feel a strong social identity with the group. Members of cohesive teams are motivated to Page 407minimize relationship conflict because these episodes threaten the team’s stability and the member’s future with that group.
debating point CAN PEOPLE AVOID RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT DURING DISAGREEMENTS? One of the core ideas in conflict theory is that people can disagree with each other regarding an issue (task conflict) without experiencing negative emotions toward each other (relationship conflict). The most popular book on negotiation makes this point by stating that the parties need to “separate the people from the problem.”b It advises that the participants need to view themselves as “working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other.”
Scholars do recognize that separating task from relationship conflict isn’t easy, but they claim it is possible.c People with well-developed emotional intelligence can control negative emotional reactions (anger, frustration, hurt, etc.) and can reframe the conflict as a constructive event rather than as a personal attack. Research also suggests that relationship conflict is less likely to occur when the parties understand each other’s views, such as in high-performing teams. Psychological safety norms have also been identified as a way to avoid relationship conflict while engaging in task conflict.
The ability to avoid relationship conflict during task conflict sounds promising in theory yet, in practice, it may be a bridge too far. Instead, some degree of relationship conflict may be inevitable. One of the most basic problems is that employees immediately and automatically experience negative emotions when they become aware that coworkers or supervisors disagree with their ideas or behavior.d Negative emotions aren’t just attributed to information in the opposing message; they are also attributed to the source of that message. This occurs because we naturally try to make sense of disruptive conditions, and this includes forming adverse interpretations about why a coworker has disagreed with our proposal or behavior. Consequently, relationship conflict seems to form as soon as we become aware that our ideas or actions are being challenged.
Relationship conflict may also be unavoidable because it disrupts the current or expected pattern of behavior, which produces negative emotions toward those who caused that disruption. People have a natural desire to maintain the status quo.e Even those who propose change want to see their ideas flow predictably through to the future without opposition. This effect occurs because people want to believe
they control their situation, whereas disagreement reduces perceived control and predictability in the work environment.
Relationship conflict may also be inevitable in any disagreement because all communication has both a relational and substantive function.f This means that when people interact with each other, they not only transmit and receive information (substantive), but also reinforce or strain the fabric of their relationship. Communication is important for one’s relatedness needs, so a message that challenges another viewpoint (substantive) also seems to challenge the relationship.
• Norms supporting psychological safety. Task conflict is less likely to morph into chronic relationship conflict when the team or broader workplace adopts norms that support psychological safety.22 As we described in Chapter 8, psychological safety refers to a shared belief that it is safe to engage in interpersonal risk- taking. In other words, employees are confident that presenting unusual ideas, constructively disagreeing with the majority, or experimenting with new work behaviors will not cause coworkers to threaten their self-concept, status, or career. Psychological safety flourishes when team and organizational norms encourage employees to respect and value one another, demonstrate interest in one another, be open-minded about and tolerant with coworkers’ opinions, and show positive intentions toward one another. Showing positive intentions involves displaying positive emotions and nonthreatening behavior when discussing different points of view.
psychological safety a shared belief that it is safe to engage in interpersonal risk-taking; specifically, that presenting unusual ideas, constructively disagreeing with the majority, and experimenting with new work behaviors will not result in coworkers posing a threat to their self-concept, status, or career
Conflict Process Model
Now that we have outlined the history and current perspectives of conflict and its outcomes, let’s look at the model of the conflict process, shown in Exhibit 11.2.23 This model begins with the sources of conflict, which we will describe in the next section. The sources of conflict lead one or both parties to perceive that conflict exists. They become aware that one party’s statements and actions
interfere with or otherwise threaten their own goals or beliefs. These perceptions produce and interact with emotions experienced about the conflict. EXHIBIT 11.2Model of the Conflict Process
Conflict perceptions usually produce negative emotions, including feelings
of stress (emotional strain), anxiety, fear, frustration, and/or anger.24 However, some people experience positive emotions through cognitive reappraisal of the conflict, such as by perceiving the situation as a positive challenge, an opportunity to learn about other viewpoints, and a relief that nagging concerns about a possible conflict are out in the open and can now be addressed.
Manifest conflict represents each party’s decisions and behaviors toward the other. These conflict episodes may range from subtle nonverbal communication to warlike aggression. Page 408Conflict behaviors are influenced by many personal characteristics (personality, emotional intelligence, personal values, etc). However, as the model illustrates, these forms of manifest conflict are also influenced by how the situation is perceived and the emotions experienced from awareness of the conflict. For instance, employees who experience anger tend to be more assertive and competitive toward the opposing party.25 In contrast, those who experience fear or anxiety when faced with workplace conflict tend to avoid the opposing coworkers or concede to their wishes.
Exhibit 11.2 shows arrows looping back from manifest conflict to conflict perceptions and emotions. These arrows illustrate that the conflict process is really a series of episodes that potentially cycle into conflict escalation.26 It doesn’t take much to start this conflict cycle—just an inappropriate comment, a misunderstanding, or an action that lacks diplomacy. These behaviors cause the other party to perceive that conflict exists. Even if the first party did not intend to demonstrate conflict, the second party’s response may create that perception. A typical problem with conflict escalation is that any task conflict focus that existed crumbles and relationship conflict takes over. Furthermore, the parties become less motivated to communicate with each other because of the shift to personal attacks and the failure of past logical discussion to resolve their differences. With less communication, the parties increasingly rely on
stereotypes of the opposing group, which amplify differences and feed relationship conflict.
Structural Sources of Conflict in Organizations The conflict model starts with the sources of conflict, so we need to understand these sources to effectively diagnose conflict episodes and subsequently resolve the conflict or occasionally to generate conflict where it is lacking. The six main conditions that cause conflict in organizational settings are incompatible goals, differentiation, interdependence, scarce resources, ambiguous rules, and communication problems.
INCOMPATIBLE GOALS Organizations divide the work among departments and teams, who divide it further among individuals. Each division of work has associated goals, resulting in different goals from one employee and department to the next. Goal incompatibility occurs when the goals of one person or department seem to interfere with another person’s or department’s goals.27 For example, the production department strives for cost-efficiency by scheduling long production runs whereas the sales team emphasizes customer service by delivering the client’s product as quickly as possible. If the company runs out of a particular product, the production team would prefer to have clients wait until the next production run. This infuriates sales representatives who would rather change production quickly to satisfy consumer demand.
DIFFERENTIATION Another source of conflict is differentiation—differences among people and work units regarding their beliefs, values, and preferences. Differentiation is distinct from goal incompatibility; two people or departments may agree on a common goal (serving customers better) but have different beliefs about how to best achieve that goal (such as by introducing new technology versus employee customer service training). Employees form different beliefs, expectations, and worldviews due to their childhood socialization, gender, ethnicity, occupation, personal values, and personality.28 Also, conflict is a perception, so before differences are actually apparent, employees form conflict beliefs from stereotypes and false expectations about coworkers from different backgrounds.
Generational diversity is one form of differentiation that can lead to workplace conflict.29 People across broad age groups tend to have different needs, expectations, and Page 409behaviors, which become a source of workplace conflict. This intergenerational differentiation occurs for two reasons. First, each of us is deeply influenced by the unique technological advances (e.g., smartphones versus Sputnik), economic conditions, and other “social forces” we experience growing up and throughout our lives. Second, we
tend to have somewhat different needs and priorities at each stage of our career and life, such as a greater need for skills development during early career, a greater need for job security while raising a family, and a greater need for financial security in retirement toward the end of our career.
Uber developed such a competitive culture that many employees at the ride-sharing service clashed with one another to achieve their own career goals. “It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job,” complained a former Uber engineer. Hostilities also occurred across teams due to both incompatible team goals and differentiation. For instance, sources say the San Francisco software engineers working on Uber’s self-driving vehicles viewed their robotics hardware coworkers in Pittsburgh as “a bunch of academics with no real-world, product-building experience,” whereas the Pittsburgh crew perceived the West coast engineers as “whiny and ungrateful.” This infighting may have contributed to faulty technology, which was one of several factors in the death of a pedestrian by an Uber self-driving vehicle.g
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images Differentiation also produces the classic tension that occurs when two
companies merge, particularly when they are based in different countries.30 These organizational and national culture clashes occur through disagreements over the “right way” to do things because of their unique experiences within each organization. This form of differentiation-based conflict emerged when CenturyLink acquired Qwest, creating the third-largest telecommunications company in the United States. The two companies were headquartered in different parts of the country. “Their languages were different, their food was different, answers were different. We talked fast and interrupted, and they talked slow and were polite,” recalls a senior Qwest executive. “If we said up, they said down. If we said yes, they said no. If we said go, they said stop.” This resulted in “unnecessary misunderstandings” as executives tried to integrate the two companies.31
All conflict is caused to some extent by interdependence, because conflict exists only when one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party. Task interdependence refers to the extent to which employees must share materials, information, or expertise to perform their jobs (see Chapter 8). The risk and intensity of conflict increase with the level of interdependence because more frequent interactions increase each party’s awareness that they have divergent goals, beliefs, or intentions.32
Conflict has the lowest intensity or probability of occurring when employees have a pooled interdependence relationship. Pooled interdependence exists where individuals operate independently except for reliance on a common resource or authority. The potential for conflict is higher in sequential interdependence work relationships, such as an assembly line. The highest risk and intensity of conflict tends to occur in reciprocal Page 410 interdependence situations. With reciprocal interdependence, employees have high mutual dependence on each other as well as higher centrality. Consequently, relationships with reciprocal interdependence are the most intense because they have the strongest and most immediate risk of interfering with each other’s objectives.
global connections 11.1 Open Office, Hidden Conflicth
The private office has become a rarity in most workplaces. By some estimates, two-thirds of large organizations in the United States have open-plan offices (where employees work in a large shared space). Many firms are also moving toward nonterritorial offices or hot-desking (desks are shared, not assigned to specific employees). These arrangements reduce real estate costs, but they are also supposed to improve communication and cooperation among coworkers.
Instead, open office and nonterritorial workspaces may be fueling conflict, although mostly as hidden irritation and resentment rather than manifest verbal arguments. Shared work space arrangements create higher interdependence among employees regarding the noise, visual movement, territorial privacy, and information privacy of that space. Numerous studies have found that these distractions and intrusions make it more difficult to concentrate on one’s work. The result is interpersonal conflict from the discomfort of the distractions as well as from their effect on lower job performance.
“Our open office has absolutely crippled my productivity,” concludes a marketing professional in Idaho after three years in an open-office arrangement. “I can’t hear myself think, I’m starting to feel bitter toward my coworkers, and my anxiety has shot through the roof.” Employees at another
company reported increased conflict when the company squeezed more desks into the open space. “When we sat closer together, suddenly minor things became major irritants,” observes one occupant. “That was before the disagreements over blinds open or closed, windows opened or closed.”
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Conflict seems to be even more intense in nonterritorial offices because, along with the irritations of sharing office space, employees compete for scarce resources. Nonterritorial spaces usually have more desks than employees on a given day, but there is ongoing competition over prized locations, such as desks near windows, in quieter areas, and with stronger Wi-Fi.
“Each morning in my office is like a grown-up game of musical chairs, with six or so people competing for the last remaining hot desk,” complains a junior accountant in one office. “Lost productivity spent hunting for somewhere to sit is the least of our concerns. Barely concealed resentment comes to the fore on regular occasions.”
SCARCE RESOURCES Resource scarcity generates conflict because each person or unit requiring the same resource necessarily interferes with others who also need that resource to fulfill their goals.33 Most labor strikes, for instance, occur because there aren’t enough financial and other resources for employees and company owners to each receive the outcomes they seek, such as higher pay (employees) and higher investment returns (stockholders). Budget deliberations within organizations also produce conflict because there isn’t enough cash flow or debt facility to satisfy the funding aspirations of each work unit. The more resources one group receives, the fewer resources other groups will receive. Fortunately, these interests aren’t perfectly opposing in complex negotiations, but limited resources are typically a major source of friction.
AMBIGUOUS RULES Conflict breeds in work settings where rules are ambiguous, inconsistently enforced, or completely missing.34 This occurs because uncertainty increases the risk that one party will interfere with the other party’s goals. Ambiguity also encourages political tactics and, in Page 411some cases, employees enter a free- for-all battle to win decisions in their favor. This explains why conflict is more common during mergers and acquisitions. Employees from both companies have conflicting practices and values, and few rules have developed to minimize the maneuvering for power and resources.35 When clear rules exist, on the other hand, employees know what to expect from one another and usually agree to abide by those rules.
COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS Conflict often takes a dysfunctional first step because employees lack the ability or motivation to state their disagreement in a diplomatic, nonconfrontational manner. It is difficult to craft a message that communicates dissent with neither too little nor too much assertiveness.36 Influenced by their own emotions regarding an issue, employees tend to use emotion-laden language and aggressive nonverbal behavior when transmitting their concerns. The stronger the message, the stronger the perception by receivers that the conflict not only exists, but is a high risk threat. Receivers often reciprocate with a similar response, which further escalates the conflict. Furthermore, aggressive and emotive communication typically fuels relationship conflict and makes it more difficult for the discussants to maintain a task conflict focus.
Poorly crafted communication is a source of conflict, but a lack of communication often amplifies that conflict. Occasionally, lack of communication exists because employees don’t have the opportunity to discuss their differences. More often, the quarrel makes the relationship so uncomfortable that the parties actively avoid each other. Unfortunately, less communication can further escalate the conflict because each side increasingly relies on distorted images and stereotypes of the other party. Perceptions are further distorted because people in conflict situations tend to perceive more differentiation with those who are unlike themselves (see Chapter 3). This differentiation creates a more positive self-concept and a more negative image of the opponent. We begin to see opponents less favorably so our self-concept remains positive during these conflict situations.37
Interpersonal Conflict-Handling Styles
The six sources of conflict lead to conflict perceptions and emotions that, in turn, motivate people to respond in some way to the conflict. Mary Parker Follett (who argued that conflict can be beneficial) observed almost a century ago that people respond to perceived and felt conflict through various conflict- handling strategies. Follett’s original list was expanded and refined over the years into the five-category model shown in Exhibit 11.3. This model recognizes that how people respond behaviorally to a conflict situation depends on the relative importance they place on maximizing outcomes for themselves and for the other party.38 EXHIBIT 11.3Interpersonal Conflict-Handling Styles
• Problem solving. Problem solving tries to find a solution that is beneficial for both parties. This is known as the win–win orientation because people using this style believe the resources at stake are expandable rather than fixed if the parties work together to find a creative solution. Information sharing is an important feature of this style because both parties collaborate to identify common ground and potential solutions that satisfy everyone involved.
• Forcing. Forcing tries to win the conflict at the other’s expense. People who use this style typically have a win–lose orientation—they believe
the parties are drawing from a fixed pie, so the more one party receives, the less the other party will receive. Consequently, this style relies on hard influence tactics (see Chapter 10) to get one’s own way. However, forcing is not necessarily aggressiveness or bullying. It includes more moderate degrees of assertiveness, where you speak up and show conviction for your idea or request.39
win–win orientation the belief that conflicting parties will find a mutually beneficial solution to their disagreement
win–lose orientation the belief that conflicting parties are drawing from a fixed pie, so the more one party receives, the less the other party will receive
• Page 412 • Avoiding. Avoiding tries to smooth over or evade conflict situations
altogether. A common avoidance strategy is to steer clear of the coworkers associated with the conflict. A second avoidance strategy is to minimize discussion of the sensitive topic when interacting with the other person in the conflict. Although avoiding is situated in the “low– low” sector of the model, people do not always avoid conflict due to a low concern for both one’s own and the other party’s interest. On the contrary, we may be very concerned about one or both party’s interests but conclude that avoidance is the best strategy, at least in the short term.40
• Yielding. Yielding involves giving in completely to the other side’s wishes, or at least cooperating with little or no attention to your own interests. This style involves making unilateral concessions and unconditional promises, as well as offering help with no expectation of reciprocal help.
• Compromising. Compromising involves looking for a position in which your losses are offset by equally valued gains. It involves actively searching for a middle ground between the interests of the two parties. Compromising is also associated with matching the other party’s concessions and making conditional offers (“If you do X, I’ll do Y.”).
Source: C.K.W. de Dreu, A. Evers, B. Beersma, E.S. Kluwer, and A. Nauta, “A Theory-Based Measure of Conflict Management Strategies in the Workplace,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 22 (2001): 645–68. Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
SELF-ASSESSMENT 11.1:What Is Your Preferred Conflict-Handling Style?
There are five main conflict-handling styles that people use in response to conflict situations. We are usually most comfortable using one or two of these styles based on our personality, values, self-concept, and past experience. You can discover your preferred conflict-handling styles by locating this self- assessment in Connect if it is assigned by your instructor. Page 413
CHOOSING THE BEST CONFLICT-HANDLING STYLE Chances are that you prefer one or two conflict-handling styles more than the others. You might typically engage in avoiding or yielding because disagreement makes you feel uncomfortable and is contrary to your self-view as someone who likes to get along with everyone. Or perhaps you prefer the compromising and forcing strategies because they reflect your strong need for achievement and to control your environment. People usually gravitate toward one or two conflict-handling styles that match their personality, personal and cultural values, and past experience.41 However, the best style depends on the situation, so we need to understand and develop the capacity to use any of the five styles for the appropriate occasions.42
Exhibit 11.4 summarizes the main contingencies, as well as problems with using each conflict-handling style. Problem solving is widely recognized as the preferred conflict-handling style, whenever possible. Why? This approach calls for dialogue and clever thinking, both of which help the parties discover a win– win solution. In addition, the problem-solving style tends to improve long-term relationships, reduce stress, and minimize emotional defensiveness and other indications of relationship conflict.43 EXHIBIT 11.4 Conflict-Handling Style Contingencies and Problems
The problem-solving style is not optimal in all situations, however. If the
conflict is simple and perfectly opposing (each party wants more of a single fixed pie), then this style will waste time and increase frustration. It also takes more time and requires a fairly high degree of trust because there is a risk that the other party will take advantage of the information you have openly shared. The problem-solving style can be stressful and difficult when people experience
strong feelings of conflict, likely because these negative emotions undermine trust in the other party.44
The avoiding conflict style is often ineffective because it produces uncertainty and frustration rather than resolution of the conflict.45 However, avoiding may be the best Page 414short-term strategy when the conflict has become emotionally charged or is so intractable that resolution would be excessively costly in terms of time, effort, and other resources. Avoidance is also one of the preferred cooperative styles in cultures where openly resolving the conflict is a lower priority than maintaining superficial harmony in the relationship (superficial because the disagreement still exists under the surface).
The forcing style is usually inappropriate because a high level of assertiveness tends to generate relationship conflict more quickly or intensely than other conflict-handling styles. This adverse effect of forcing is conveyed in the old adage: “The more arguments you win, the fewer friends you will have.”46 Even so, a moderate degree of assertiveness may be appropriate where the dispute requires a quick solution or your ideas have a significantly and objectively stronger logical or moral foundation. This conflict-handling style may also be preferred when the other party would take advantage of a more cooperative conflict-handling style.
The yielding style may be appropriate when the other party has substantially more power, the issue is not as important to you as to the other party, and you aren’t confident that your position has superior logical or ethical justification.47 On the other hand, yielding behaviors may give the other side unrealistically high expectations, thereby motivating them to seek more from you in the future. In the long run, yielding may produce more conflict, rather than resolve it.
The compromising style may be best where the conflict is simple and perfectly opposing (each party wants more of a single fixed pie). Even if the conflict is sufficiently complex for potential mutual gains, compromising may be necessary when the parties lack time, trust, and openness to apply the problem-solving style. The compromising style is also popular where the parties prioritize harmony in their relationship over personal gains in the dispute.48 Compromise tends to occur where both parties have approximately equal power because this prevents one party from gaining advantage over the other. The main problem is that many conflicts have the potential for mutual gains, whereas the compromise style settles for a suboptimal solution. Research also suggests that employees experience negative emotions (depression, frustration, etc.) under some conditions after they settle for a compromise agreement. Steering Clear of Workplace Conflicti
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CULTURAL AND GENDER DIFFERENCES IN CONFLICT-HANDLING STYLES Cultural differences are more than just a source of conflict. They also influence the preferred conflict-handling style.49 Some research suggests that people from high collectivism cultures—where group goals are valued more than individual goals—are motivated to maintain harmonious relations and, consequently, are more likely than those from low collectivism cultures to manage disagreements through avoidance or problem solving. However, this view may be somewhat simplistic. Collectivism motivates harmony within the group but not necessarily with people outside the group. Indeed, research indicates that managers in some collectivist cultures are more likely to shame those whose actions oppose their own.50 Cultural values and norms influence the conflict-handling style used most often in a society, so they also represent an important contingency when choosing the preferred conflict-handling approach in that culture. For example, people who frequently use the conflict avoidance style might have more problems in cultures where the forcing style is common.
Men and women also rely on different conflict-handling styles to some degree.51 The clearest difference is that men are more likely than women to use the forcing style, whether as managers or nonmanagement employees. Female managers are more likely than male managers to use the avoiding style, whereas female nonmanagement employees use the avoiding style only slightly more than male nonmanagement employees. Women in management and
nonmanagement roles are only slightly more likely than men to use problem solving, compromising, and yielding. Except for the male preference for forcing, gender differences in conflict-handling style are relatively small, but they have a logical foundation. Compared to men, women pay more attention to the relationship between the parties, so their preferred style tries to protect the relationship. This is apparent in less forcing, more avoiding, and slightly more use of compromising and yielding.
Structural Approaches to Conflict Management
Conflict-handling styles describe how we approach the other party in a conflict situation. But conflict management also involves altering the underlying structural causes of potential conflict. The main structural approaches parallel the sources of conflict discussed earlier. These structural approaches include emphasizing superordinate goals, reducing differentiation, improving communication and understanding, reducing task interdependence, increasing resources, and clarifying rules and procedures.
EMPHASIZING SUPERORDINATE GOALS One of the oldest recommendations for resolving conflict is to increase the parties’ commitment to superordinate goals and less on the conflicting subordinate goals.52 Superordinate goals are goals that the conflicting employees or departments value and whose attainment requires the joint resources and effort of those parties.53 These goals are called superordinate because they are higher-order aspirations such as the organization’s strategic objectives rather than key performance objectives specific to the individual or work unit. Research indicates that the most effective executive teams frame their decisions as superordinate goals that rise above each executive’s conflicting departmental or divisional goals. Similarly, effective leaders reduce dysfunctional organizational conflict through an inspirational vision that unifies employees and makes them less preoccupied with their subordinate goal differences.54 superordinate goals goals that the conflicting parties value and whose attainment requires the joint resources and effort of those parties
Suppose that marketing staff members want a new product released quickly whereas engineers want more time to test and add new features. Leaders can potentially reduce this interdepartmental conflict by reminding both groups of the company’s mission to serve customers, or by pointing out
that competitors currently threaten the company’s leadership in the industry. By increasing commitment to companywide goals (customer Page 416 focus, competitiveness), engineering and marketing employees pay less attention to their competing departmental-level goals, which reduces their perceived conflict with each other. Work-related goals are often linked to one’s self- concept, so as employees strengthen their commitment to a superordinate goal (while still valuing their subordinate work goals) they form a stronger social identity with the department or organization where that goal is embedded. In other words, superordinate goals not only manage conflict by reducing goal incompatibility, they also potentially reduce differentiation by establishing feelings of a shared social identity with the department or company.55
REDUCING DIFFERENTIATION Differentiation—differences regarding training, values, beliefs, and experiences—was identified earlier as one of the main sources of workplace conflict. Therefore, reducing differentiation is a logical approach to reducing dysfunctional conflict. Employees across subgroups form a shared social identity as they become more aware of or actually develop common experiences, beliefs, and values. As employees in one team, department, or region develop and recognize more similarities than differences with members of other work units, they increase their trust in members of the other group and are thereby more motivated to coordinate activities and resolve their disputes through constructive discussion.56
Organizations can reduce differentiation among individuals or work units in several ways, particularly where the parties have similar status and the process doesn’t threaten that status.57 One strategy is for employees to have meaningful interaction with people in other groups, such as through temporary assignments to other work units or participation in multidisciplinary projects.58 These work-related interactions not only improve mutual understanding through the contact hypothesis (see Chapter 3); they also create common experiences among coworkers across the organization and consequently increase employee identification with the organization rather than just with a narrow career specialization.
A second strategy is to rotate staff to different departments or regions throughout their career. This is a longer-term career development intervention than the temporary assignments recommended above. Consequently, cross- functional and regional career transfers may have a particularly strong influence on the employee’s identification with the organization rather than with one geographic region or occupational group (engineering, marketing, etc.). A third strategy is for leaders to build and maintain a strong organizational culture. Employees have shared values and assumptions and a stronger sense of community in a company with a strong culture. Chapter 14 describes specific activities to support a strong culture.
IMPROVING COMMUNICATION AND MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING A third set of approaches for minimizing or preventing dysfunctional conflict is to help employees across the organization understand one another better through increased communication and more formal mutual understanding interventions.59 These activities don’t necessarily reduce differentiation (employees still have divergent beliefs and experiences), but the interaction and discussion may create a clearer awareness of and respect for one another’s situation and point of view.
The most basic application of this strategy is to rearrange physical or reporting arrangements so employees across departments have more occasions to interact with one another. When Telenor, the Norwegian telecommunications company, replaced departmental coffee machines with a few large coffee stations, employees who didn’t know one another started mingling around these common areas. Balentine, the employee-owned financial services firm in Atlanta and Raleigh, is one of many organizations that holds regular “lunch and learn” sessions. At Balentine, staff learn new knowledge from coworkers (financial planning practices, new software, etc), but the sessions also improve collaboration and rapport across work units.60 Page 417
global connections 11.2 Improving Mutual Understanding through Lunch Roulettesj
WeWork, the shared workspace company, expanded into Israel and within two years employed more than 100 people in its Tel-Aviv technology group. This rapid growth was exciting for WeWork staff. But as the numbers grew, newcomers increasingly had trouble blending in, informal subgroups were springing up, and some team members had never spoken to one another. The situation could eventually lead to dysfunctional squabbles among employees and their cliques.
“For those that were part of the early team and experienced the close, family-like, relationships of a small group, something started to feel ‘off’,” recalls software engineer Benny Sitbon. He and a few other early hires began casually thinking of ways to minimize dysfunctional conflict by improving connectedness among staff in their large Tel-Aviv technology group. When someone described “lunch roulette,” Sitbon and the others sprang into action.
Lunch roulettes at WeWork’s Tel-Aviv technology group are held every second week. Any employee in the technology group can participate (on average, about half of them do). Those who sign up are organized randomly— like a roulette wheel—into lunch groups of three people. To encourage
conversation within each trio, Sitbon developed an app in which attendees register for the event and (optionally) briefly state their hobbies and a “talk to me about” category. The app organizes participants a couple of hours before the event and creates a private space so each luncheon trio can coordinate where to eat and what to order. After several of these events, a survey reported a 66 percent increase in how close employees in the Tel-Aviv technology unit felt to one another.
“Lunch is a great time to talk and get to know one another,” says Sitbon. “Although our team is already medium-sized and in hyper-growth, the lunch roulette helps keeping that ‘small team’ feeling. Not only does this affect our team’s happiness, it also improves our collaboration and approachability, and therefore, our efficiency.”
Some companies improve mutual understanding among employees from divergent occupations, regions, or age groups through a variation of the Johari Window model (see Chapter 3). In seminars with a trained facilitator, individuals disclose to coworkers information about themselves and their self- perceptions as well as feedback to others about how they are perceived.61 One excellent example is the full-day intergenerational training program at L’Oréal Canada. The purpose of the session, called Valorizing Intergenerational Differences, is “to raise awareness of individuals’ differing workplace needs as they move through their careers.” In one part of the program, for example, employees sit together in their generational cohorts and ask questions to employees in the other cohorts. “Each group is interested and surprised to see what’s important to the other group,” says a L’Oréal Canada executive who helped develop the seminar.62
Where conflicts have escalated, some embattled groups have participated in a deeper version of this process, called intergroup mirroring.63 Led by an external consultant, the conflicting groups begin by identifying and prioritizing
their relationship problems. Next, each group separately documents (usually on large flip chart paper) three sets of perceptions: (1) how the group perceives itself, (2) how it perceives the other group, and (3) how the group believes it is perceived by the other group. This is followed by the “mirroring” stage of intergroup mirroring, whereby each group shows its three sets of perceptions to the other group. After comparing and discussing these mirrored perceptions, the two sides jointly review their relationship problems. Finally, both sides establish joint goals and action plans to correct their perceptual distortions and establish more favorable relationships in the future. Page 418
There are two important warnings about relying on communication and mutual understanding activities to reduce dysfunctional conflict. First, these interventions should be applied only where differentiation is not high. If the parties believe they have overwhelming differences in their beliefs, values, and experiences, attempts to manage conflict through dialogue could escalate rather than reduce relationship conflict. The reason is that when forced to interact with people who we believe are quite different and in conflict with us, we tend to select information that reinforces that view.64 The second warning is that people in collectivist and high power distance cultures are less comfortable with the practice of resolving differences through direct and open confrontation.65 Recall that people in collectivist cultures prefer the avoidance and compromising conflict-handling styles because they are the most consistent with harmony and face saving. Direct communication is a high-risk strategy because it easily threatens the need to save face and maintain harmony.
REDUCING INTERDEPENDENCE Conflict occurs where people are dependent on one another, so another way to reduce dysfunctional conflict is to minimize the level of interdependence among the parties. Three ways to reduce interdependence among employees and work units are to create buffers, use integrators, and combine jobs.
• Create buffers. A buffer is any mechanism that loosens the coupling between two or more people or work units. This decoupling reduces the potential for conflict because the buffer reduces or delays the effect of one party on the other. In-process inventory between employees on an assembly line is a buffer that reduces intergroup conflict because it reduces an employee’s short-term dependence on the previous person along that line.66
• Use integrators. Integrators are employees who coordinate the activities of multiple work units toward the completion of a shared task or project.67 Brand managers, for instance, are responsible for coordinating the efforts of the research, production, advertising, and marketing departments regarding a specific product line. Integrators typically
reduce the amount of direct interaction required among these diverse work units. Integrators rarely have direct authority over the departments they integrate, so they must rely on referent power and persuasion to manage conflict and accomplish the work.
• Combine jobs. Combining jobs is both a form of job enrichment and a way to reduce task interdependence. Consider a toaster assembly system where one person inserts the heating element, another adds the sides, and so on. By combining these tasks so that each person assembles an entire toaster, the employees now have a pooled rather than sequential form of task interdependence and the likelihood of dysfunctional conflict is reduced.
INCREASING RESOURCES Resource scarcity is a source of conflict, so increasing the amount of resources available would have the opposite effect.68 This might not be a feasible strategy for minimizing dysfunctional conflict due to the costs involved. However, these costs need to be compared against the costs of dysfunctional conflict due to the resource scarcity.
CLARIFYING RULES AND PROCEDURES Conflicts that arise from ambiguous rules can be minimized by establishing rules and procedures. If two departments are fighting over the use of a new laboratory, a schedule might be established that allocates the lab exclusively to each team at certain times of the day or week. Page 419
Third-Party Conflict Resolution
Most of this chapter has focused on people directly involved in a conflict, yet many disputes among employees and departments are resolved with the assistance of a manager. Third-party conflict resolution is any attempt by a relatively neutral person to help the parties resolve their differences.69 There are three main third-party dispute resolution activities: arbitration, inquisition, and mediation. These interventions can be classified by their level of control over the process and control over the decision (see Exhibit 11.5).70 third-party conflict resolution any attempt by a relatively neutral person to help conflicting parties resolve their differences
EXHIBIT 11.5Types of Third-Party Intervention
• Arbitration—Arbitrators have high control over the final decision, but low control over the process. This is the “adversarial” model used in North American legal proceedings, in which the judge has decision control and the lawyers representing the opponents have process control. In organizations, managers engage in this strategy by following previously agreed-upon rules of due process, listening to arguments from the disputing employees, and making a binding decision. Arbitration is applied as the final stage of grievances by unionized employees in many countries, but it is also applied to nonunion conflicts in organizations with formal conflict resolution processes.
• Inquisition—Inquisitors control all discussion about the conflict. Like arbitrators, inquisitors have high decision control because they determine how to resolve the conflict. However, inquisitors also have high process control because they choose which information to examine and how to examine it, and they generally decide how the conflict resolution process will be handled. Many judicial systems in Europe apply forms of inquisitional justice, although some countries are shifting toward the North American model of adversarial justice. Meanwhile, some North American experts recommend the inquisitional rather than the adversarial approach for some legal conflicts.71
• Mediation—Mediators have high control over the intervention process. In fact, their main purpose is to manage the process and context of
interaction between the disputing parties. However, the parties make the final decision about how to resolve their differences. Thus, mediators have little or no control over the conflict resolution decision.72
CHOOSING THE BEST THIRD-PARTY INTERVENTION STRATEGY Team leaders, executives, and coworkers regularly intervene in workplace disputes. Sometimes they adopt a mediator role; other times they serve as arbitrators. Occasionally, they begin with one approach then switch to another. However, research suggests that managers and other people in positions of authority usually adopt an inquisitional approach whereby they dominate the intervention process as well as make a binding decision.73
Managers tend to rely on the inquisition approach because it is consistent with the decision-oriented nature of managerial jobs. This approach also gives them control over the conflict process and outcome and tends to resolve disputes efficiently. However, inquisition is usually the least effective third- party conflict resolution method in organizational settings.74 One problem is that leaders who take an inquisitional role tend to collect limited information about the problem, so their imposed decision may produce an ineffective solution to the conflict. Another problem is that employees often view inquisitional procedures and outcomes as unfair because they have little control over this approach. In particular, the inquisitional approach potentially violates several practices required to support procedural justice (see Chapter 5).
Which third-party intervention is most appropriate in organizations? The answer partly depends on the situation, such as the type of dispute, the relationship between the manager and employees, and cultural values such as power distance.75 Also, any third-party approach has more favorable results when it applies the procedural justice practices described in Chapter 5.76 But generally speaking, for everyday disagreements between two employees, the mediation approach is usually best because this gives employees more responsibility for resolving their own disputes. The third-party representative merely establishes an appropriate context for conflict resolution. Although not as efficient as other strategies, mediation potentially offers the highest level of employee satisfaction with the conflict process and outcomes.77 When employees cannot resolve their differences through mediation, arbitration seems to work best because the predetermined rules of evidence and other processes create a higher sense of procedural justice.78 Arbitration is also preferred where the organization’s goals should take priority over individual goals.
Employees at Morning Star Company can’t rely on their boss to settle disagreements because there aren’t any bosses at the California tomato processing company. Instead, those who can’t resolve a conflict invite another coworker to mediate the situation and possibly recommend a solution. If anyone in the disagreement still isn’t satisfied, then several colleagues form a panel to review and arbitrate the conflict. Almost all conflicts are resolved by this stage. But in rare instances, the matter can be brought to the attention of Morning Star’s president, who either makes—or designates an arbitrator to make—a binding final decision. “When a panel of peers gets convened, people can see that the process is fair and reasonable,” explains Morning Star founder Chris Rufer. “Everyone knows they have recourse.”k
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Resolving Conflict through Negotiation
Think back through yesterday’s events. Maybe you had to work out an agreement with other students about what tasks to complete for a team project. Chances are you shared transportation with someone, so you had to agree on the timing of the ride. Then perhaps there was the question of who made dinner. Each of these daily events created potential conflict and, most likely, they were resolved through negotiation. Negotiation occurs whenever two or more conflicting parties attempt to resolve their divergent goals by redefining the terms of their interdependence. In other words, people negotiate when they
think that discussion can produce a more satisfactory arrangement (at least for them) in exchanging or sharing resources. negotiation the process whereby two or more conflicting parties attempt to resolve their divergent goals by redefining the terms of their interdependence
As you can see, negotiation is not an obscure practice reserved for labor and management bosses when hammering out a collective agreement. Everyone negotiates, every day. Most of the time you don’t even realize that you are in negotiations. Negotiation is particularly evident in the workplace because employees work interdependently. They negotiate with their supervisors over next month’s work assignments, with customers over the sale and delivery schedules of their product, and with coworkers over when to have lunch. And yes, they occasionally negotiate with each other in labor disputes and collective agreements.
DISTRIBUTIVE VERSUS INTEGRATIVE APPROACHES TO NEGOTIATION Earlier in this chapter, we noted that some conflict-handling styles adopt a win– lose orientation—the view that one party necessarily loses when the other party gains. In negotiations, this is called the distributive approach because the negotiator believes those involved in the conflict must distribute portions from a fixed pie. The opposing view is a win–win orientation, known as the integrative or mutual gains approach to negotiations. This approach exists when negotiators believe the resources at stake are expandable rather than fixed if the parties work creatively together to find a solution.
When do negotiators adopt a distributive or integrative approach to negotiations? The actual situation is a key factor. Distributive negotiation is most common when the parties have only one item to resolve, such as product price or starting salary. Integrative negotiation is more common when multiple issues are open for discussion. Multiple issues provide greater opportunity for mutual gains because each issue or element in the negotiation has different value to each party. Consider the example of a buyer who wants to pay a low price for several dozen manufactured items from a seller, doesn’t need the entire order at once, but does need the payment schedule spread over time due to limited cash flow. The seller values a high price due to rising costs, but also values steady production to minimize overtime and layoffs. Through negotiation, the parties learn that spreading out the delivery schedule benefits both of them, and that the buyer would agree to a higher price if payments could be spread out with the delivery schedule.
Negotiators usually begin with a cautiously integrative approach to negotiations, but they sometimes shift to a distributive approach as it becomes apparent that the parties have similar preferences for a limited number of items. Another factor is the individual’s personality and past experience. Some people have a natural tendency to be competitive and think more distributively
whereas others more frequently believe that conflicts have an integrative solution.
PREPARING TO NEGOTIATE Preparation is essential for successful negotiations.79 You can’t resolve disagreements unless you know what you want, why you want it, and what power you have to get it. You also need to anticipate the other party for each of these factors. Page 422
Develop Goals and Understand Needs Successful negotiators develop goals about what they want to achieve from the exchange. Equally important, they reflect on what needs they are trying to fulfill from those goals. The distinction between goals and needs is important because specific needs can be satisfied by different goals. For example, an employee might negotiate for a promotion (a goal), but what the employee really wants is more status and interesting work (underlying needs). Effective negotiators try to understand their own needs and avoid becoming locked into fixed goals. Focusing on needs enables negotiators to actively consider different proposals and opportunities, some of which could fulfill their needs better than their original negotiation goals. Preparation also includes anticipating the other party’s goals and their underlying needs, based on available information before negotiation sessions begin.
Negotiators engage in a form of goal setting that identifies three key positions: what they will initially request in the negotiations, what they want to achieve in the best possible situation, and what minimum acceptable result they will accept. These three key positions—initial, target, and resistance—are shown for each party in the bargaining zone model (see Exhibit 11.6).80 This linear diagram depicts a purely distributive approach to negotiation because it illustrates that one side’s gain will be the other’s loss. Complex bargaining zone models can depict situations where mutual gains are possible. Also, keep in mind that these positions and other aspects of the negotiation process are ultimately subjective, malleable, and influenced by perceptual distortions.81 EXHIBIT 11.6 Bargaining Zone Model of Negotiations
The initial offer point—each party’s opening offer to the other side—
requires careful consideration because it can influence the negotiation outcome. If the initial offer is set higher—but not outrageously higher—than expected by the other party, it can anchor the negotiation at a higher point along the range by reframing the other party’s perception of what is considered a “high” or “low” demand (see Chapter 7).82 In other words, a high initial offer point can potentially move the outcome closer to your target point; it may even cause the other side to lower its resistance point. Suppose that a prospective employer thinks you would ask no more than $50,000 for an annual salary, but your initial request is for $62,000. This higher demand may change the employer’s perception of a high salary to the extent that, after some negotiation activity, the company is Page 423comfortable with the final agreement of $55,000. The challenge is to avoid an initial offer that is set so high that the other party breaks off negotiations or forms distrust that cannot be rebuilt.
The target point is your realistic goal or expectation for a final agreement. This position must consider alternative strategies to achieve those objectives, and test underlying assumptions about the situation.83 Negotiators who set high, specific target points usually obtain better outcomes than those with low or vague target points. In this respect, a target point needs to possess the same characteristics as effective goal setting (see Chapter 5). Unfortunately, perceptual distortions cause inexperienced negotiators to form overly optimistic expectations, which can only be averted through careful reflection of the facts.
Know Your BATNA and Power The resistance point in the bargaining zone model is the point beyond which you will make no further concessions. How do you determine the resistance point—the point beyond which you walk away from the negotiations? The answer requires thoughtful comparison of how your goals and needs might be achieved through some other means. This
comparison is called the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).84 BATNA estimates your power in the negotiation because it represents the estimated cost to you of walking away from the relationship. If sources outside the current negotiation are willing to negotiate with you for the product or service you need, then you have a high BATNA because it would cost you very little to walk away from the current negotiation. best alternative to a negotiated settlement (BATNA) the best outcome you might achieve through some other course of action if you abandon the current negotiation
Having more than one BATNA to a negotiation increases your power. A common problem, however, is that people tend to overestimate their BATNA.85 They wrongly believe there are plenty of other ways to achieve their objective rather than through this negotiation. Wise advice here is to actively investigate multiple alternatives, not just the option being negotiated. For instance, if you are searching for a new job, make specific inquiries at a few organizations. This may give you a more realistic idea of your BATNA, in particular, how much your talents are in demand and what employers are willing to offer for those talents.
Your power in the negotiation depends on the sources and contingencies of power discussed in Chapter 10. For example, you have more power to negotiate a better starting salary and job conditions if you have valued skills and experience that few other people possess (high expertise with low substitutability), the employer knows that you possess these talents (high visibility), and the company will experience costs or lost opportunities fairly quickly if this position is not filled soon (high centrality). Not surprisingly, BATNA tends to be higher for those with favorable sources and contingencies of power, because they would be in demand in the marketplace.
THE NEGOTIATION PROCESS The negotiation process is a complex human interaction that draws on many topics in this book, including perceptions, attitudes, motivation, decision making, and communication. The most important specific negotiation practices are to gather information, manage concessions, manage time, and build the relationship.
Gather Information Information is the cornerstone of effective negotiations.86 In distributive situations, some types of information reveal the other party’s resistance point. Information can also potentially transform distributive negotiations into integrative negotiations by discovering multiple dimensions that weren’t previously considered. For example, a simple negotiation over salary may reveal that the employee would prefer more performance-based pay and less fixed salary. Thus, mutual gains may be possible because there is now more than one variable to negotiate. Information is even more important in integrative negotiations, because the parties require
knowledge of each other’s needs to discover solutions that maximize benefits for both sides. Page 424
Effective negotiators gather information about the opponent’s underlying needs and expectations. They do this by listening more than talking, but also by encouraging the other party to reveal more information. “It’s not just listening, but it’s understanding how to get them to talk more,” says former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss. One effective strategy used by the FBI is mirroring—repeating back as a question the last few words of what the other person said. If the opponent says “I need to receive your shipment within the next month,” you would mirror by asking “I’m sorry, within the next month?” This usually motivates the other person to explain further. “By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting,” Voss explains.l
fizkes/ShutterStock Successful negotiations require both parties to volunteer information.
However, information sharing is a potential pitfall because it gives the other party more power to leverage a better deal if the opportunity occurs.87 Skilled negotiators address this dilemma by adopting a cautious problem-solving style at the outset. They begin by sharing information slowly and determining whether the other side will reciprocate. In this way, they try to establish trust with the other party.
The most important practices for gathering information in negotiations are to listen and ask questions. Thus, skilled negotiators heed the advice of the late management guru Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”88 They spend most of the negotiation time listening closely to the other party and asking for details. In contrast, inexperienced negotiators mainly talk to the other side about their arguments and justifications.
A central objective of information gathering is to discover the other party’s needs hidden behind their stated offers and negotiation goals. Effective
negotiators actively seek information by asking questions (see Exhibit 11.7). Some questions are open-ended, such as inviting the other side to describe their situation (workload, costs, etc), followed by probe questions (“Oh, what caused that to happen?”) to draw out more details. The other party’s nonverbal communication also plays an important role in understanding their needs, such as how attentive they are to some topics more than to others. EXHIBIT 11.7Information Gathering and Reflecting by Skilled versus Average Negotiators
Percentage of behaviors observed by skilled and average negotiators, based on observations of several dozen negotiators across more than 100 negotiation sessions.
Source: Based on data from N. Rackham and J. Carlisle, “The Effective Negotiator—Part I: The Behaviour of Successful Negotiators,” Journal of European Industrial Training 2, no. 6 (1978): 6–11.
Skilled negotiators also test how well they understand the other side’s facts and position, by summarizing the information presented and asking for clarification on specific points (see Exhibit 11.7). Finally, skilled negotiators communicate their inner thoughts and feelings about what the other party has said. This practice does not present arguments or proposals. Instead, by reflecting on their own feelings, negotiators encourage the other party to provide further information that will help dissolve concerns (“What you just said makes me hopeful, but I’m still uncertain about some details. So, please describe your idea further.”).
Manage Concessions Most of us think about making concessions when engaging in negotiations.89 A concession is one party’s revision of a negotiating position so it comes closer to the other party’s current position. Successful negotiators actually make fewer concessions and each concession is smaller
than those of average negotiators, particularly in distributive negotiations where both parties know the bargaining zone.90 Even so, the process of making concessions is important to all parties. Page 425
Concessions are a form of communication because they signal to the other party the relative importance of each issue being negotiated. Concessions also symbolize each party’s motivation to bargain in good faith. In fact, an important feature of negotiations is that each party reciprocates when the other side makes a concession.91 Ultimately, concessions are necessary for the parties to move toward the area of agreement. Concessions need to be clearly labeled as such and should be accompanied by an expectation that the other party will reciprocate. They should also be offered in installments because people experience more positive emotions from a few smaller concessions than from one large concession.92 Generally, the best strategy is to be moderately tough and give just enough concessions to communicate sincerity and motivation to resolve the conflict.
Some types of offers and concessions are better than others. The key objective is to discover and signal which issues are more and less important to each side. Suppose that you have been asked to lend a couple of your best staff to projects in another division, whereas you need these people on-site for other assignments and to coach junior staff. Through problem-solving negotiation, you discover that the other division doesn’t need those staff at their site; rather, the division head mainly needs some guarantee that these people will be available. The result is that your division keeps the staff (important to you) while the other division has some guarantee these people will be available at specific times for their projects (important to them).
One way to figure out the relative importance of the issues to each party is to make multi-issue offers rather than discuss one issue at a time.93 You might offer a client a specific price, delivery date, and guarantee period, for example. The other party’s counteroffer signals which of the multiple items are more and which are less important to them. Your subsequent concessions similarly signal how important each issue is to your group. Manage Time Negotiators tend to make more concessions as the deadline gets closer.94 This can be a liability if you are under time pressure, or it can be an advantage if the other party alone is under time pressure. Negotiators with more power in the relationship sometimes apply time pressure through an “exploding offer” whereby they give the opponent a very short time to accept their offer.95 These time-limited offers are frequently found in consumer sales (“on sale today only!”) and in some job offers. They produce time pressure, which can motivate the other party to accept the offer and forfeit the opportunity to explore their BATNA. Another time factor is that the more time someone has invested in the negotiation, the more committed he or she becomes to ensuring an Page 426agreement is reached. This commitment
increases the tendency to make unwarranted concessions so that the negotiations do not fail.
Build the Relationship Building and maintaining trust is important in all negotiations.96 In purely distributive negotiation situations, trust keeps the parties focused on the issue rather than personalities, motivates them to return to the bargaining table when negotiations stall, and encourages the parties to engage in future negotiations. Trust is also critical in integrative negotiations because it motivates the parties to share information and actively search for mutual gains.
How do you build trust in negotiations? One approach is to discover common backgrounds and interests, such as places you have lived, favorite hobbies and sports teams, and so forth. If there are substantial differences between the parties (age, gender, etc.), consider including team members who closely match the backgrounds of the other party. First impressions are also important. Recall from earlier chapters in this book that people attach emotions to incoming stimuli in a fraction of a second. Therefore, you need to be sensitive to your nonverbal cues, appearance, and initial statements.
Signaling trustworthiness also helps strengthen the relationship. We can do this by demonstrating that we are reliable, will keep our promises, and have shared goals and values with the other party. Trustworthiness also increases by developing a shared understanding of the negotiation process, including its norms and expectations about speed and timing.97Finally, relationship building demands emotional intelligence.98 This includes managing the emotions you display to the other party, particularly avoiding an image of superiority, aggressiveness, or insensitivity. Emotional intelligence also involves managing the other party’s emotions. We can use well-placed flattery, humor, and other methods to keep everyone in a good mood and to diffuse dysfunctional tension.99
THE NEGOTIATION SETTING The effectiveness of negotiating depends to some extent on the environment in which the negotiations occur. Three key situational factors are location, physical setting, and audience.
Location It is easier to negotiate on your own turf because you are familiar with the negotiating environment and are able to maintain comfortable routines.100 Also, there is no need to cope with travel-related stress or depend on others for resources during the negotiation. Of course, you can’t walk out of negotiations as easily when the event occurs on your own turf, but this is usually a minor issue. Considering the strategic benefits of home turf, many negotiators agree to neutral territory. Phone calls, videoconferences, email, and other forms of information technology potentially avoid territorial issues, but skilled negotiators usually prefer the media richness of face-to-face meetings.
Frank Lowy, cofounder of retail property giant Westfield Group, says that telephones are “too cold” for negotiating. “From a voice I don’t get all the cues I need. I go by touch and feel and I need to see the other person.”101
Physical Setting The physical distance between the parties and formality of the setting can influence their orientation toward each other and the disputed issues. So can the seating arrangements. People who sit face-to-face are more likely to develop a win–lose orientation toward the conflict situation. In contrast, some negotiation groups deliberately intersperse participants around the table to convey a win–win orientation. Others arrange the seating so that both parties face a whiteboard, reflecting the notion that both parties face the same problem or issue. Audience Characteristics Most negotiators have audiences—anyone with a vested interest in the negotiation outcomes, such as executives, other team members, or the general public. Negotiators tend to act differently when their audience observes the negotiation or has detailed information about the process, compared to situations in Page 427which the audience sees only the end results.102 When the audience has direct surveillance over the proceedings, negotiators tend to be more competitive, less willing to make concessions, and more likely to engage in assertive tactics against the other party. This “hard- line” behavior shows the audience that the negotiator is working for their interests. With their audience watching, negotiators also have more interest in saving face.
GENDER AND NEGOTIATION When it comes to negotiation, women tend to have poorer economic outcomes than do men.103 Women tend to set lower personal target points and are more likely to accept offers just above their resistance points. Men set high target points and push to get a deal as close to their target point as possible. Women are also less likely than men to use alternatives to improve their outcomes. One explanation for these differences is that women give higher priority than men to interpersonal relations in the exchange. This is consistent with why there are gender differences in conflict-handling styles, discussed earlier in this chapter. Giving more concessions and even avoiding the negotiation process altogether (accepting the salary offered when hired) are ways that women try to maintain good relations. This is also consistent with evidence that women have a stronger dislike of negotiation activities.
Gender differences in negotiation outcomes are not just due to abilities and motivation, however. Various investigations report that women are treated worse than men by the opposing negotiators.104 Female negotiators have a significantly higher risk than men of being deceived by the other party and to have less generous offers than men receive for the same job or product. For instance, men and women in one study went into a used-car lot and asked about the price of one of the cars. The car dealer quoted a lower price to men than to
women—for the same car. A second problem is that female negotiators who use effective firm negotiation tactics—such as making fewer and smaller concessions—are viewed less favorably by the opposing negotiator than when men use these tactics. This reaction likely occurs because some effective negotiation activities violate female stereotypes, so women are viewed as more aggressive than men doing exactly the same thing. The result is that the other negotiator becomes less trustful and engages in harder tactics.
Susanne Smith (not her real name) was shocked to discover that two male coworkers earned almost double her salary. The Boston area web developer worried that confronting her boss about a pay raise would backfire, but she took that chance and was given a 20 percent increase (still well below her male coworkers). The experience made Smith angry with herself for accepting whatever salary was offered when hired whereas her male coworkers had negotiated a higher pay deal. “I was like the bargain-basement candidate that didn’t bother to negotiate,” she says. Studies report that, compared to men, women negotiate less, have lower target points, and give more concessions. The City of Boston, the Women’s Foundation of Montana, and other groups are addressing this source of gender pay gap by offering free negotiation workshops for women. “We know that women need some concrete skills and tools to take to the negotiation table,” explains the head of Boston’s Office of Women’s Advancement.m
Morsa/Digital Vision/Getty Images Fortunately, women perform as well as men in negotiations when they
receive training and gain experience. Women also negotiate well when the situation signals that Page 428negotiation is expected, such as when a job opening states that the salary is negotiable. Another factor that improves negotiation outcomes for women is how well they know the expected bargaining range. For example, women negotiate a better starting salary when they research the salary range for that position. “I was able to come to the table knowing what my value should be because I had done research,” says Kristen Peed, an executive at CBIZ Insurance Services Inc. in Cleveland. Peed reviewed
industry salary survey data before discussing her salary package in the new job.105
chapter summary LO 11-1 Define conflict and debate its positive and negative
consequences in the workplace. Conflict is the process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party. The earliest view of conflict was that it was dysfunctional for organizations. Even today, we recognize that conflict sometimes or to some degree consumes productive time, increases stress and job dissatisfaction, discourages coordination and resource sharing, undermines customer service, fuels organizational politics, and undermines team cohesion. But conflict can also be beneficial. It is known to motivate more active thinking about problems and possible solutions, encourage more active monitoring of the organization in its environment, and improve team cohesion (where the conflict source is external). LO 11-2 Distinguish task conflict from relationship conflict
and describe three strategies to minimize relationship conflict during task conflict episodes.
Task conflict occurs when people focus their discussion around the issue while showing respect for people with other points of view. Relationship conflict exists when people focus their discussion on qualities of the people in the dispute; that is, they view each other, rather than the issue, as the source of conflict. It is apparent when people attack each other’s credibility, assert their superior status, and display aggression toward the other party. It is difficult to separate task from relationship conflict. However, three strategies or conditions that minimize relationship conflict during constructive debate are (1) emotional intelligence of the participants, (2) team development, and (3) norms that support psychological safety (a shared belief that it is safe to engage in interpersonal risk-taking). LO 11-3 Diagram the conflict process model and describe six
structural sources of conflict in organizations. The conflict process model begins with the six structural sources of conflict: incompatible goals, differentiation (different values and beliefs), interdependence, scarce resources, ambiguous rules, and communication problems. These sources lead one or more parties to perceive a conflict and to experience conflict emotions. This produces manifest conflict, such as behaviors toward the other side. The conflict process often escalates through a series of episodes.
LO 11-4 Outline the five conflict-handling styles and discuss the circumstances in which each would be most appropriate.
There are five known conflict-handling styles: problem solving, forcing, avoiding, yielding, and compromising. People who use problem solving have a win–win orientation. Others, particularly forcing, assume a win–lose orientation. In general, people gravitate toward one or two preferred conflict handling styles that match their personality, personal and cultural values, and past experience.
The best style depends on the situation. Problem solving is best when interests are not perfectly opposing, the parties trust each other, and the issues are complex. Forcing works best when the dispute requires quick action, your position is logically and morally stronger, and the other party would take advantage of a cooperative style. Avoiding is preferred when the conflict has become emotional, there is strong incentive to maintain harmony, or the cost of resolution outweighs the benefits. Yielding works well when the issue is less important to you, the value or logic of your position is less clear, the parties want to maintain harmony, and the other party has substantially more power. Compromising is preferred when there is a single issue (not complex) with opposing interests, the parties are under time pressure, they want to maintain harmony, and they have equal power. LO 11-5 Apply the six structural approaches to conflict
management and describe the three types of third-party dispute resolution.
Conflict can be managed through six structural strategies. One of these is to increase the parties’ commitment to superordinate goals—goals that the conflicting employees or departments value and whose attainment requires the joint resources and effort of those parties. Another method is to reduce differentiation between the conflicting parties, such as by temporarily assigning employees to other work units, rotating employees across the organization throughout their career, and by building a strong organizational culture. A third method is to improve communication and mutual understanding. This can occur by designing workspaces such that diverse groups coincidentally mingle, engaging in seminars that apply Johari Window principles across groups, and through intergroup mirroring interventions. Fourth, conflict can be minimized by reducing interdependence, such as by creating buffers, using integrators, or combining jobs. The final two structural approaches to conflict management involve increasing resources and clarifying rules and procedures.
Third-party conflict resolution is any attempt by a relatively neutral person to help the parties resolve their differences. The three main forms of third- party dispute resolution are mediation, arbitration, and inquisition. Managers
tend to use an inquisition approach, though mediation and arbitration often are more appropriate, depending on the situation. Page 429 LO 11-6 Discuss activities in the negotiation preparation, process,
and setting that improve negotiation effectiveness. Negotiation occurs whenever two or more conflicting parties attempt to resolve their divergent goals by redefining the terms of their interdependence. Distributive negotiation is most common when the parties have only one item to resolve, such as product price or starting salary. Integrative negotiation is more common when multiple issues are open for discussion. Effective negotiators engage in several preparation activities. These include determining their initial, target, and resistance positions; understanding their needs behind these goals; and knowing their alternatives to the negotiation (BATNA).
During the negotiation process, effective negotiators devote more attention to gathering than giving information. They try to determine the other party’s underlying needs rather than just their stated positions. They make fewer and smaller concessions, but use concessions strategically to discover the other party’s priorities and to maintain trust. They try to avoid time traps (negotiating under deadlines set by the other side), and they engage in practices to maintain a positive relationship with the other party. Characteristics of the setting—including location, physical setting, and audience characteristics—are also important in successful negotiations.