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JC Penney: Private Conflicts in Public

Why do people choose to bring private conflicts out publicly?

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Conflict is defined as "a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals" (Foundation Coalition, 2003). It is most often thought of with a negative connotation, although conflict can be used as a way to help form new opinions and overcome obstacles. Most people tend to avoid conflict, hoping the issue can be resolved in a cooperative manner. In the event this is not possible, conflicts can escalate to the next level, according to mediators, in which the parties "fluctuate between cooperation and competition" (Noll, 2013). Rather than work together, each party begins to deal with information favoring one's own position. Logic and understanding are used as tools to convince the other party of the one's position. At the next stage, both parties have lost hope for a reasonable outcome. Behavior is now hostile, with neither party willing to yield to the other, however, each party feels that with enough pressure the other party may yield. It is at this point that some people choose to bring private conflicts out publicly. Most of us have seen this behavior when couples break up less than amicably or former friends have messy disagreements. In this stage, each party is trying to gain the approval of others, as a way to substantiate their position or prove their superiority. Bringing private conflict out in public may be the result of the culture of an organization, a need for drama, selfishness, as a way to gain public favor or due to a lack of trust.
A recent example of a conflict made public was see in the actions of J.C. Penney's largest shareholder, William Ackman and the rest of the J.C. Penney's board engaged in a public conflict. In August, William Ackman sent a scathing letter to J.C. Penney's board of directors calling for the resignation of the company's CEO, Mike Ullman. Ackman sent the letter to the board but also released the letter to the media as well. In the letter, he "criticized Ullman's hiring and firing decisions, sales projections and aggressive inventory purchases" (Halkias, 2013). The public spectacle was fuelled by media coverage of the organization and the organization's recent poor sales results. It clearly did not benefit the shareholder and board to air conflict publically. What motivated Ackman to behave in such a manner?
Gelfand, Keller, and de Dreu (2012) explain that organizations have distinct conflict cultures based on socially shared norms. A corporation's culture will shape the actions of employees and management, often creating events that others may find distasteful. While many organizations work to establish a culture that is avoidant or collaborative, according to Gelfand, Keeler and de Dreu (2012), others have a dominating culture. In this culture, employees "are not afraid to confront each other and engage in heated debate" (Gelfand, Keller, & de Dreu, 2012), believing this is a way to resolve issues. A dominating ...

Solution Summary

This detailed solution discusses why people bring private conflicts out publicly. Includes full information on JC Penney's management change. Includes APA formatted references.