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Toward a comprehensive model for the assessment and management of intraorganizational conflict: Developing the framework
Jessica Katz Jameson. International Journal of Conflict Management. Bowling Green: Jul 1999. Vol. 10, Iss. 3; pg. 268, 27 pgs
Abstract (Summary)

This paper presents the theoretical rationale for further development of a model for the assessment and management of intra-organizational conflict. The purpose of such a model would be to assist employees, managers, human resource practitioners and external service providers in selecting the most appropriate conflict management strategy for a given conflict. It is suggested that a contingency-based model of strategy selection must include attention to characteristics of the conflict, desired outcomes of the participants and awareness of available conflict management strategies. By expanding the range of conflicts and conflict management strategies typically included within a single model, the framework presented forms the basis of a comprehensive model for dealing with intra-organizational conflict.

Full Text (10891  words)
Copyright Center for Advanced Studies in Management Jul 1999

This paper presents the theoretical rationale for further development of a model for the assessment and management of intraorganizational conflict. The purpose of such a model would be to assist employees, managers, human resources practitioners, and external service providers in selecting the most appropriate conflict management strategy for a given conflict. The framework presented builds on the previous work of Sheppard (1984) and Elangovan (1995, 1998) in suggesting

that a contingency-based model of strategy selection must include attention to characteristics of the conflict desired outcomes of the participants, and awareness of available conflict management strategies. By expanding the range of conflicts and conflict management strategies typically included within a single model, the framework presented here forms the basis of a comprehensive model for dealing with intraorganizational conflict.

This paper presents the theoretical underpinnings for a comprehensive model for the assessment and management of intraorganizational conflict. The purpose of the model is to provide members of non-union organizations with guidelines for selecting appropriate conflict management strategies for different forms of conflict. Unlike previous models which have been largely confined to discussions of grievances (Costantino & Merchant, 1996; Ewing, 1989) or limited to the activities of managers as third parties (Elangovan, 1995, 1998), this model incorporates a broad definition of conflict as well as a variety of conflict management strategies and third parties. This article presents a review of the literature used to develop the initial framework and describes on-going research efforts to refine this framework and suggest relationships between its components in order to build a comprehensive model for the assessment and management of intraorganizational conflict.

Rationale for a New Model

Conflict occurs whenever interdependent parties perceive incompatible goals. Since organizations have been described as systems of interdependent units with often competing interests (Cyert & March, 1963), conflict is an inevitable and pervasive part of organizational life. Intraorganizational conflict has many forms, ranging from informal arguments over office space to formal lawsuits over employment issues that can cost organizations thousands of dollars and person hours. While the prevalence of informal conflict is difficult to estimate due to lack of documentation, Mintzberg's (1973) classic study of managers indicated that in the course of the myriad issues that managers attend to on any given day, an inordinate amount of time and energy is spent managing conflict. The pervasiveness of informal conflict is supported by additional research investigating managerial activities which found that the most successful managers exhibited a greater percentage of behaviors specifically related to conflict management (Luthans, Rosenkrantz, & Hennessey, 1985). 1985),

On the formal end of the spectrum, disputes over issues such as productivity, absentee policies, work rules, discrimination, promotion, and termination account for a 400% increase in employment litigation over the past two decades (Harness & Mook, 1997). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission documented a backlog of over 100,000 charges filed by employees in 1997, up from 46,000 charges in 1991 (Harness & Mook, 1997; Simon & Sochynsky, 1995). These figures help explain the recent surge of interest in bringing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to the workplace. Many organizations are designing internal dispute systems in an attempt to reduce the costs of litigation and improve employee relations. The American Arbitration Association reported in 1997 that ADR programs calling for their services (mediation and arbitration) have been implemented by nearly 300 large companies. Since many internal procedures do not include provisions for the use of external mediators and arbitrators, the actual number of organizations that have developed or are interested in designing conflict management systems is far greater than that number suggests.

While concerns about litigation have popularized dispute system design, researchers have identified several other positive implications of effective organizational conflict management. Outcomes may include an atmosphere that supports the discussion of conflict and reduced stress (Murphy, 1995), reduced conflictrelated health problems (Stokols, 1992), increased perceptions of fairness and job satisfaction (McCabe, 1988; Shapiro, 1993; Shapiro & Brett, 1993), increased prosocial behaviors (Greenberg & Barling, 1996), and fewer incidents of aggressive behaviors such as employee theft and litigation (Greenberg, 1993; Greenberg & Barling, 1996; Shapiro & Kolb, 1994). The fact that such benefits affect individual members as well as the attainment of organizational goals makes the pursuit of effective conflict management systems an important objective of organizational development.

Definition of Terms

Because this study expands the scope of previous examinations of intraorganizational conflict, it is important to clarify the usage of major terms. Conflict will refer to situations that occur when two or more people working within the same organization perceive differences in beliefs, values, or goals which impact their ability to work together and/or affect the work environment. Intraorganizational conflicts may result over issues such as performance standards, task completion, policy interpretation, or interpersonal differences.

As indicated above, a distinction is made between informal and formal conflicts. Informal conflicts may occur among coworkers, employees and supervisors, within or between groups, and among departments within an organization. Such conflicts often occur when there are differences in values, beliefs, or opinions regarding how work gets completed, how resources or tasks are distributed, or where priorities should he. Formal conflicts, on the other hand, occur when there is an alleged human rights or policy violation. Because formal conflicts are more likely to lead to litigation, these are often handled in accordance with official corporate conflict management procedures. Due to the nature of informal conflicts, such procedures rarely apply.

The term desired outcomes refers to disputants' and third parties' conflict management goals. Previous authors have used the term "criteria" to discuss the goal that is considered most important for a satisfactory solution (e.g., a sense of fairness or the most efficient use of resources). While the concept of criteria is appropriate for examining third-party strategy selection, disputants in a conflict are more likely to focus on personal goals or desired outcomes when choosing appropriate action. The term desired outcomes is used here to reflect concerns that are taken into consideration by disputants as well as by third parties who may become involved in the conflict.

The phrase conflict management strategies is used to describe any action taken by a disputant or a third-party to try to manage or resolve a conflict as defined above. Strategies include specific mechanisms for managing a conflict, such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, as well as actions such as seeking advice and coalition building. Use of the term strategies should not be confused with the large body of research on conflict styles (e.g., Thomas & Kilmann, 1974), which suggests a broader definition of "strategies" including avoidance, accommodation, compromising, collaboration, or competition. As with types of conflict, conflict management strategies may also be formal or informal. This model includes both formal conflict mechanisms, those governed by official company policies and procedures, as well as informal processes, those actions taken by disputing parties to manage the conflict themselves, or by third parties who try to help manage a conflict.

The term thirdparty is used to refer to any individual who is not a part of the initial conflict, but becomes involved in order to help manage or resolve it. A variety of third parties are included in the model: supervisors or managers of the disputants (intervening managers), other organizational members who may intervene due to their conflict management skills or expertise (intervening others), and third parties who are not employees of the organization such as consultants, mediators, and arbitrators (external thirdparties).

Framework Development: A Review of the Literature

Three major components of a model of conflict management have been proposed by previous literature: identification of the characteristics of conflicts that may occur, a list of criteria by which to evaluate the success of a particular strategy, and a comprehensive set of conflict management strategies available to the parties (Beres & Schmidt, 1982; Sheppard, 1984). An overview of the research in managerial third-party intervention, due process procedures, dispute system design, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) reveals the aspects of each of these areas that are most relevant to the assessment and management of intraorganizational conflict.

Conflict Charcteristics

Researchers adopting a contingency approach to conflict intervention have long recognized the need to develop a conflict typology-a mechanism for distinguishing one type of conflict from another. In his framework, Sheppard (1984, pp. 173-174) integrated two decades of organizational behavior and conflict research to develop a list of characteristics that were defined as "potentially relevant" to development of such a taxonomy. The entire list includes 35 variables, broken down into three categories: conflict characteristics, disputant characteristics, and characteristics of the conflict setting. The organizational conflict research that has investigated these areas can be used to truncate this list to three sets of related dimensions: content dimensions, relational dimensions, and situational dimensions, which form the basis for the first component of the present framework.

Content Dimensions. One characteristic of conflict that is central to the question of how it should be addressed is the nature of the topic of the conflict, or what the conflict is about. Research suggests several dimensions that may be useful in assessing the content of a conflict: task versus relational issues, objective versus subjective issues, and issues of policy interpretation versus policy change.

One study that specifically addresses the effect of conflict characteristics on managerial intervention strategies was performed by Shapiro and Rosen (1994). Using a survey of 74 university managers, the researchers collected examples of conflicts in which managers considered intervening, as well as the specific intervention decisions made in each conflict. In a content analysis of the issues in conflict, they found four types: personality conflicts, policy/procedure conflicts, conflicts, over authority/responsibility, and resource scarcity conflicts. The latter two conflict types were further categorized by Shapiro and Rosen as task conflicts.

The labeling of task conflicts was used to distinguish conflicts based on issues such as resource allocation from those resulting from differences in interpersonal or management style. Other authors have also made this distinction between task and relationship conflicts (Burnett, 1993; Jehn, 1995, 1997). In her work on group conflict, Jehn (1995) defined task conflict as existing "when there are disagreements among group members about the content of tasks being performed, including differences in viewpoints, ideas, and opinions" (p. 258). Relationship conflict is defined as "interpersonal incompatibilities among group members, which typically includes tension, animosity, and annoyance among members within a group" (Jehn, 1995, p. 258). Shapiro and Rosen's (1994) study confirmed that managers selected different strategies when conflicts were described as task as opposed to relational.

Other authors have also recognized the utility of a relational or interpersonal conflict category. In their recent development of a conflict skills assessment, Olson-Buchanan, Drasgow, Moberg, Mead, Keenan, and Donovan (1998), classified conflicts using three components: short-term, long-term, and interpersonal. While the first two categories distinguish between conflicts that have short-term impacts (i.e., productivity, disruption) and long-term impacts (potential for recurrence, damage to past and future relationships), the final category refers to the emotional intensity of the disputants. Using these three components, the authors suggest a model for choosing from four managerial actions: none, policy creation, arbitration, or reactive problem solving. Like other contingency theorists, OlsonBuchanan et al. (1998), suggest that different types of conflicts require different strategies. Their typology, along with the work of previous authors, supports the utility of a task versus relational dimension of intraorganizational conflict.

Deutsch (1973) and Fisher and Keashly (1991) have suggested that conflicts differ with regard to whether the issue is objective or subjective. Objective conflicts have been defined as those over tangible resources or facts, while subjective conflicts are those dealing with differences in perceptions, interpretations, or values. A conflict may also be defined as objective when there is one right answer or best solution for managing it. A subjective conflict, on the other hand, has no single correct answer or many possible solutions. These categories illustrate the potential utility of an objective versus subjective dimension of conflict issues.

Also based on Sheppard's (1984) collection of conflict characteristics, Elangovan (1995) proposed a set of "key conflict attributes that affect strategy selection" in his prescriptive model of managerial third party intervention (p. 808). Elangovan's model includes two categories of conflict characteristics: conflictrelated attributes and disputant-related attributes.

Elangovan's (1995) conflict-related attributes include one called the nature of the conflict@ or the conflict content. Within his nature of the conflict attribute, Elangovan distinguishes between disputes over privileges (DOP) and disputes over stakes (DOS). The dichotomy is intended to reflect the difference between conflicts over "what is," or the interpretation of existing policy, and those over "what should be," or the development of new policy (p. 811). In a recent empirical test of his strategy selection tree, Elangovan (1998) found evidence that using the nature of the dispute distinction to select an appropriate conflict management strategy increased intervention success. This suggests the need for a dimension that makes a distinction between conflicts based on policy interpretation as opposed to those based on either the change of existing policy or implementation of new policies. This dimension is referred to as policy interpretation-policy change.

Relational Dimensions. A number of previous authors have noted that the existing relationship between disputants (Yarbrough & Wilmot, 1995) or between disputants and a third party (Karambayya & Brett, 1994) should be considered when selecting a conflict management strategy. The most prominent dimensions relevant to these relationships include whether the parties are interdependent versus independent, whether parties are of equal or unequal status, whether there is high trust or low trust, the existence of a high versus low record of previous conflict management success, and whether the conflict is dyadic as opposed to multiparty.

In addition to investigating the content of the conflict, Shapiro and Rosen (1994) examined managers' evaluations of the level of seriousness of the conflict. Conflicts perceived as serious were more likely to be handled by mediation, and those perceived as less serious were overlooked. Others have also indicated that seriousness or importance of the conflict is a likely predictor of whether or how a manager will intervene (Elangovan, 1995; Karambayya & Brett, 1994; OlsonBuchanan et aL, 1998; Sheppard, 1984). In a study of managers' conflict behavior as disputants, however, Morrill (1991) was unable to find support for his prediction that managers would be more likely to confront opposing parties when they perceived the conflict to be more serious. Instead, he found that confrontation depended more on organizational norms, such that when there was greater interdependence between parties, there was more confrontation and an increased tendency to pursue grievances. This finding suggests that the level of interdependence may be a more useful predictor of strategy selection than the more subjective category of seriousness.

The effect of interdependence on strategy selection was examined indirectly in a study designed to test the impact of three conflict characteristics identified by Sheppard in 1984 (Lewicki & Sheppard, 1985). These authors examined the effects of time pressure, future expected relations between the parties, and range of impact on whether a manager exerted process or outcome control in an intervention strategy. The study manipulated these three variables in two different scenarios that were presented to 100 managers in survey form. Managers read the scenarios and responded to questions regarding their likeliness to use strategies that were high in either process or outcome control. As expected, findings indicated that when time pressure was high, future relations (or interdependence) were low, and there was a broad range of impact (the conflict had implications for the resolution of future organizational conflicts), managers were more likely to assume outcome control. The work of Lewicki and Sheppard and Morrill (1991) supports the inclusion of interdependent-independent as a relational dimension of conflicts.

More insights into relational dimensions can be discerned from differences in responses to the two scenarios used in the Lewicki and Sheppard (1985) study. In the first scenario, the third party was described as a peer of the disputants, while in the second, the third party had higher status. Not surprisingly, responses to the first scenario indicated a greater tendency toward the use of process control, whereas those in the second scenario were more likely to exert outcome control. There appears to be a clear relationship between status differences between disputants and the third party and the latter's choice of intervention. This finding is supported by others who have either examined this relationship directly or have used similar research methods (Karambayya & Brett, 1989, 1994; Keashly & Newberry, 1995).

These studies reveal that characteristics of the third party also play a role in the strategy used, specifically in terms of their relationship to the disputants. The status differences between disputants and third parties is another significant relational dimension which can be referred to as equal-unequaL Importantly, this dimension should also be used to examine the relationship among disputants, since power differences among disputants are likely to impact strategy selection decisions.

Elangovan's (1995) model also includes three disputant-related attributes: the nature of the relations between disputants, commitment probability, and disputant orientation. Within the first attribute, nature of disputant relations, Elangovan included the level of interdependence and status differences, also included in the present model. Commitment probability refers to the manager's perception of how likely disputants will be to adhere to a solution imposed by the manager. Underlying this perception are issues of power differences, prior success, and trust, all variables that refer to the relationship between the third party and disputants. Disputants' orientation refers to the manager's perception of the disputants' ability to arrive at an "organizationally appropriate" solution on their own. Clearly, both of these attributes would be useful for a third party trying to determine the best way to intervene from an organizational perspective, and Elangovan (1998) did find support for the utility of the disputant orientation rule.

Because the model proposed here is intended to benefit both disputants and a variety of potential third parties, the facets of these dimensions that are most relevant are those of the level of trust and previous record of success. Research on managerial style has indicated that when employees trust their managers to consider their position in making a decision, they are more likely to approach the manager with a grievance (Gordon & Fryxell 1993). Furthermore, previous success in conflict management would seem to be an important factor in one's choice to use a certain strategy or a particular third party. Therefore, dimensions of trust (high-low) and record of success (high-low) were added as relational dimensions.

Within the ADR literature one conflict characteristic used to determine an appropriate ADR mechanism is that of conflict complexity (Costello, 1996). This variable has been used to refer to the number of parties involved, as a dyadic conflict is likely to be managed differently than one involving many parties. While Costello used the term to describe multi-party, inter-organizational conflicts, it is also possible to conceive of a complex intraorganizational conflict between departments or coalitions. It was therefore deemed appropriate to add a relational dimension to represent dyadic versus multi-party conflict.

Situational Dimensions. Previous work has also indicated that variables surrounding a specific conflict situation are relevant to selecting the most appropriate conflict management strategy. Some of the most relevant variables include whether there is high or low time pressure, whether the conflict has a broad or narrow range of impact on the organization, whether the conflict is in a high or low stage of escalation, and whether the disputants have a broad or a narrow range of conflict management options available.

Lewicki and Sheppard's (1985) research, reviewed above, demonstrated the impact of time pressure and range of impact on conflict management strategy selection. Elangovan (1985) also includes these variables in his managerial strategy selection model. Elangovan's (1998) research supported that considering time pressure and dispute importance in strategy selection decisions led to a greater degree of success in managerial conflict interventions. Due to this empirical support, two situational dimensions were defined: time pressure (high-low) and range of impact broad-narrow).

The literature on due process systems suggests that how employees choose to take action on a grievance is influenced by the accessibility and credibility of grievance procedures (Blancero & Dyer, 1996; McCabe, 1988; Shapiro & Kolb, 1994). If, for example, a company has an ombudsperson, employees may be more willing to take action than when their options are limited to approaching a supervisor or going over a supervisor's head (McCabe, 1988, 1997). Situational characteristics in terms of the conflict management options available should therefore impact a disputant's choice of strategy. The options made available will also reflect organizational norms for handling conflict, and thus enable or constrain a third party's options for intervention. This literature suggests a need to add a situational dimension called range of conflict management options available (broad-narrow). This characteristic was identified by Sheppard (1984), as "presence of procedures or norms regarding conflict settlement" (p. 174). Including this dimension acknowledges that cultural constraints will influence the selection of conflict management strategies.

The literature in dispute system design and ADR has identified a number of ADR mechanisms and attempted to prescribe situations when each is appropriate (Costantino & Merchant, 1996; Costello, 1996; Ury, Brett, & Goldberg, 1988). Many previous strategy prescriptions have relied upon the stage of the conflict, suggesting that more conciliatory models be used in the early stages of conflicts, while more third party control should be taken in stages of higher escalation (Prein, 1984; Thomas, 1990; Ury, Brett, & Goldberg, 1988; Yarbrough & Wilmot, 1995). This evidence suggests the addition of a final situational dimension encompassing the stage of the conflict (low escalation-high escalation). A summary of the three categories of conflict dimensions appears in Table 1.

Desired Outcomes

In order to determine how to manage a conflict situation, it is necessary to consider a variety of desired outcomes. For example, in a conflict with a co-worker over whether a project deadline should be the 15th or the 30th of the month, a primary objective may be to meet your needs (i.e., wanting a delay until the 30th), while a secondary concern may be to preserve the relationship with your coworker. Mandelbaum and Pomerantz (1991) have referred to these as primary and contingent goals. Because any or all of these goals may be taken into consideration in a conflict situation, it is necessary to investigate their role in the strategy selection process. Because desired outcomes have traditionally been discussed from the vantage-point of the third party or manager, the goal of this first stage of model development was to identify the desired outcomes expected to be most relevant to disputants as well as to third parties involved in intraorganizational conflicts.

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Table 1

Third-party intervention research has relied heavily on Sheppard's (1984) list of criteria, divided into four major categories: fairness, participant satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency. Sheppard's complete list actually revealed 21 criteria, including criteria for both the process and outcome of a conflict management intervention. Rather than review the complete list, the following section presents the current research relevant to these four categories.

Prein's (1987) collection of 69 cases in which a third party intervened resulted in a list of ten possible third-party goals. These goals can easily be fit within three of the four major categories presented above: fairness, satisfaction, and effectiveness. For example, Prein found that one possible goal was to institute better rules and procedures. Such an outcome emphasizes a concern for fairness and setting a precedent for future behavior. A second goal found by Prein was to find a fully acceptable solution. This outcome displays a desire for participant satisfaction.

The remaining eight third-party goals identified by Prein (1987) all indicate concerns for the effectiveness of the solution. These include the following goals: improve the relationship, prevent repetition, teach parties to manage conflict more effectively in the future, work on a structural solution by altering work structure, create more clarity, learn from the conflict without resolving it, try to create a workable solution, and find a pragmatic solution. The diversity of goals within the category of effectiveness indicates that one's definition of "effectiveness" depends heavily upon individual values and preferences. This has important implications for the strategy a disputant or third party will choose.

An interesting twist on the discussion of third-party goals is supplied by Putnam's (1994) analysis of managers as third parties. She suggests that as organizational members, managers have a more political role than external third parties and are differentially vested in conflict outcomes. Managers may find that a conflict reflects a need for structural change and may be in a unique position to select a strategy that focuses on an underlying issue, rather than settlement of the individual conflict. This political perspective indicates that generating organizational change is another possible desired outcome, similar to Prein's (1987) identification of working on a structural solution by altering work structure.

Thomas (1982) identified four strategic goal dimensions based upon a content analysis of four contrasting views of normative models of conflict management. The four dimensions included decision quality (effectiveness), consumption of organizational resources (efficiency), and effects upon individuals and effects upon parties' relationships, both of which demonstrate concerns for satisfaction and long-term effectiveness. Thomas points out that there are trade-offs involved regarding which goals can be attained. A desired outcome will be determined by the specific conflict situation, such as a third party's relationship to one or more disputants or the range of impact the conflict has on the organization. Elangovan (1998) similarly recognized the need to identify "potential sets of intervention criteria and [develop] different models to suit them" (p. 329). This supports the need for greater attention to the interrelationships between desired outcomes and the conflict dimensions reviewed in the previous section.

Tyler's (1986) work in procedural justice addresses some of these interrelationships. Tyler's examination of the connections between goals and concerns for procedural justice revealed that when individuals have short-term goals (goals of immediate individual gain), they are less concerned with fairness and more concemed with individual outcomes. When people have long-term goals (indicating willingness to defer personal achievement to attainment of a group goal), they are more concerned with procedural justice. This distinction may be related to the level of interdependence dimension described earlier and suggests that procedural justice may be of greater concern when there is a perception of high interdependence.

Tyler (1986) also connected his study to the managerial style literature, noting that managers may be either task or relationally focused. Task-focused managers are likely to be more concerned with productivity, while relational managers are more likely to focus on social harmony. Tyler found empirical evidence that only managers who had concerns for social harmony also emphasized fairness. Tyler's work has two additional implications for this study. One is to recognize that organizational norms impact the desired outcomes of third parties as well as disputants. For example, an organization that emphasizes productivity and short-term goals is less likely to be concerned with fairness as a desired outcome. Like Morrill's (1991) study, this indicates that less interdependent employees will manage conflict differently than those who are more interdependent. Tyler's work also supports the contention that desired outcomes are connected to managerial styles and personal preferences, both of which will impact disputant and third-party preferences in conflict management strategy selection.

In one of the few articles to address the issue of disputant conflict resolution goals, Sander and Goldberg (1994) identified eight of the most common disputant objectives. Three of these reveal similarities with the managerial goals reviewed above-minimizing cost, timeliness, and maintaining or improving the relationship. It should be noted, however, that this article was written for attorneys who need to choose an appropriate intervention based upon their client's goals. Concerns for cost are relevant to disputants in this context, while they may not be as salient in an informal workplace conflict.

The five additional disputant objectives noted by Sander and Goldberg (1994) are privacy, vindication, obtaining a neutral opinion, establishing a precedent, and maximizing or minimizing recovery. While this list of objectives was derived from the authors' experience rather than empirical research, they are also deemed important by other dispute system design practitioners and merit further examination (e.g., Costantino & Merchant, 1996; Costello, 1996).

In some cases, a disputant or third party prefers to use a mechanism that maintains confidentiality, including privacy from peers or supervisors (Sheppard, 1984). On the other hand, a disputant or third party may desire a more public forum, such as a situation in which the outcome carries implications for future organizational practice. As an example of how different parties to a conflict may have different desired outcomes in this public or private realm, consider the serious example of sexual harassment. In such a conflict, the alleged harasser may have reasons to desire privacy, such as fear of embarrassment or loss of reputation, while the grievant may wish a public forum in order to clarify the behaviors that are considered unacceptable. Clearly, these goals have implications for what mechanism is used and reveal the complexity that arises when parties' desired outcomes lead to different strategy preferences. The desire to use a public forum may also be linked to the desire to generate structural change (Prein, 1987; Putnam, 1994).

Related to this discussion is the possible objective of establishing a precedent. This is akin to Lewicki and Sheppard's (1985) "range of impact" dimension in recognizing that some conflicts are idiosyncratic while others carry organization-wide implications. The desire to set a precedent is therefore linked to a broad range of impact and will require a different conflict management strategy than conflicts where this is not a desired outcome. It should also be noted that the desire to set a precedent shows a concern with long-term goals and, therefore, fairness (ryler, 1986).

Sometimes obtaining a neutral opinion is in itself a desired outcome. When this is the case, it seems unlikely that disputants would choose a manager as a third party, since the existence of a history as well as a future relationship with the parties makes it difficult for a manager to appear, or even act, neutral (Karambayya & Brett, 1989, 1994). This possible desired outcome has implications for whom disputants choose as a third party. The desire to be heard by a neutral third party displays a concern for impartiality and also fits within the category of fairness.

The final two objectives discussed by Sander and Goldberg (1994) are vindication and maximizing or minimizing recovery. Vindication, or justifying one's position, may be desired by a disputant and reveals a concern for their own satisfaction. Recovery issues are also relevant to participant satisfaction, since a concern for recovery reflects short-term goals (Tyler, 1986). When either vindication or recovery is the primary outcome desired by a disputant, it would explain their determination to settle a conflict using a formal, adjudicative process.

While dispute system design authors have been able to link some of these desired outcomes to specific conflict mechanisms, it is recognized that characteristics of the conflict moderate strategy selection decisions. Table 2 presents a starting point for identifying the desired outcomes most relevant to third-party and disputant conflict management strategy preferences.

Conflict Management Strategies

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Table 2

Previous literature has tended to focus on either third-party managerial intervention or ADR, a focus which has kept discussions of formal and informal strategies conceptually distinct. Since this model incorporates a wider range of strategies, the strategies discussed below include both formal mechanisms (e.g., mediation and arbitration) as well as informal strategies (e.g., advising) which some authors might refer to as "tactics." The desire to include both formal and informal conflict management strategies has been one of the challenges to parsimony in the development and presentation of this framework.

In order to overcome this difficulty, it was necessary to devise a typology for identification and classification of the entire range of available strategies. Ury, Brett, and Goldberg's (1988) presentation of three orientations to managing conflict-interests, rights, and power-supplied this typology. In order to include the range of available strategies, conflict management options are introduced below in relation to whether they are interests-based (attempting to reconcile disputants' underlying interests), rights-based (focusing on determining who is right in accordance with some accepted guidelines for behavior), or power-based (attempting to resolve conflicts based on who has the most power). Within each category, strategies are further broken down into a discussion of those that are formal versus informal and whether their use involves no third party, an intervening manager, an intervening other, or an external third party.

Interests-Based Strategies

Negotiation, or negotiated ADR (Costantino & Merchant, 1996), occurs when disputants reach their own settlement without intervention by a third party. While negotiation is frequently thought of as a formal process involving representatives for each party, this form of negotiation is more consistent with a union than a nonunion setting. Because this framework is intended for use in non-union settings, the only form of negotiation that is applicable is the informal process where disputants try to reach agreement on their own.

When disputants are unable to manage a conflict on their own, one or both disputants may turn to a third party for advice. Kolb's (1986) ethnographic study of ombudspersons found that third parties often use an adv/sing strategy where they act as counselors. Advisers in Kolb's study either spoke to a single party, acted as a go-between, or facilitated discussions between the parties to help them see each other's point of view. Third parties in this case may include supervisors, peers, mentors, or human resources practitioners. Since this strategy is conceptually distinct from those where a third party actually facilitates communication between disputants, facilitation is discussed below as a separate interests-based strategy. Note that like negotiation, advising or seeking advice is an informal conflict management strategy.

Costantino and Merchant (1996) have grouped a number of third-party strategies under the heading of facilitated ADR. Their definition of facilitated ADR includes any strategy where a third party assists disputants in reaching an agreement. In each of these models of intervention, the third party is considered "neutral" and their role is to facilitate a settlement without any control over the final outcome (Costantino & Merchant, 1996). Researchers have identified several facilitated strategies, ranging from the least to most directive intervention, including moderation (Thomas, 1990), conciliation (Deutsch, 1991; Fisher & Keashly, 1991), and consultation (Fisher & Keashly, 1991; Thomas, 1990).

Facilitated strategies are commonly defined as problem-solving. Prein's (1987) study of external third parties found support for a strategy called a "procedural approach," where third parties placed emphasis on problem identification and problem-solving procedures. Kolb and Glidden (1986) also found that third parties sometimes take on a problem-solving role. In their study, they used the term "problem solver" to refer to a collaborative strategy where third parties encouraged the open sharing of information to settle conflicts in a way that promoted understanding and prevented recurrence of the conflict. Ewing's (1989) case studies of due process procedures indicated that when presented with employee conflicts that were not eligible for formal procedures, intake staff used informal procedures including facilitation of problem solving.

Due to the similarities among the previous strategies, all of the strategies where a third party assists disputants in problem solving are included in the model under the umbrella term facilitation. Note that facilitators may include intervening managers (although there is no empirical support suggesting managers use this form of intervention), intervening others (particularly ombudspersons or HR practitioners), or external third parties (such as consultants).

The final interests-based conflict management strategy is mediation (Costantino & Merchant, 1996; Deutsch, 1991; Fisher & Keashly, 1991; Karambayya & Brett, 1994; Kauffman & Davis, 1990; Thomas, 1990; Ury, Brett, & Goldberg, 1988; Yarbrough & Wilmot, 1995). While this is another example of facilitated ADR, the tactics used may be different from those used in problem solving and the strategies are therefore treated individually. While there is no consensus on the exact role of the mediator, the most basic definition suggests that mediation involves intervention by a neutral third party who guides the process but allows disputants control over the outcome (Sheppard, 1984). The mediator may provide information concerning relevant legal issues, help parties engage in perspective taking, guide parties toward a realistic settlement, help improve the relationship between disputants, or engage in some combination of these tactics.

While Sheppard (1984) included mediation in his typology of third-party strategies, he indicated that managers were not likely to use it. This finding has been confirmed by subsequent research suggesting that managers are too accustomed to their decision-making role to act as mediators (Kolb & Sheppard, 1985; Lewicki & Sheppard, 1985). Conlon, Carnevale, and Murninghan (1994) have demonstrated that managers' conflict management behavior may resemble a hybrid strategy they call intravention. In intravention, third parties begin by mediating, but have the option to impose a solution if they think mediation is taking too long or believe disputants will not come to a solution on their own. Empirical support for the use of this strategy indicates that managers may use a combination of interestsand power-based strategies in their approach to conflict management.

Shapiro and Rosen's (1994) investigation of managerial intervention strategies found support for managers' use of mediation. By including ratings of mediation self-efficacy in their study, they concluded that managers who perceived higher self-efficacy with mediation were more likely to use it. This has obvious implications for the role of conflict management training in increasing the range of conflict management strategies used by a third party.

Karambayya and Brett (1989) integrated the strategies suggested by Sheppard (1984) and Kolb (1986) and asked participants to engage in a series of conflict simulations. A questionnaire then asked participants to provide disputants' perceptions of third-party roles, outcomes, and the fairness of procedures. A factor analysis of results found support for mediation, although their definition of the strategy was markedly different from those described above. Items included in the mediator factor were described as similar to the behaviors performed by mediators in the legal setting where questions are asked, proposals are integrated, and managers shuttle back and forth between disputants to try to resolve a conflict.

The preceding discussion reveals that there is a substantial body of research on the use of mediation as a strategy for intraorganizational conflict management. Research on organizational due process procedures reveals that companies are beginning to include internal mediation in their informal processes. Organizations may train ombudspersons, human resources staff, or peer mediators to manage conflicts that are inappropriate for formal procedures (Dibble, 1997; Harness & Mook, 1997; Ritzky, 1994; Simon & Sochynsky, 1995). In some cases, companies even provide for the use of external mediation as part of a formal process. Unfortunately, the question of when mediation is used, either as an internal or external option, remains unclear (Ritzky, 1994). It is generally assumed that mediation is only formal (utilizing an external service provider) when it is court mandated.

In summary, four main types of interests-based strategies were identified as relevant to intraorganizational conflict management: negotiation, advising, facilitation, and mediation. All of these strategies are informal, with the exception that mediation might also be a formal strategy when it involves the use of an external provider. With the exception of negotiation, all interests-based strategies involve a third party. Intervening managers, intervening others, and external third parties may all potentially use these interests-based strategies. Previous research has determined that intervening managers or intervening others are most likely to use advising, while intervening others or external third parties are most likely to use facilitation or mediation.

Rights-Based Strategies

Because most dispute systems have been designed to handle grievances, a number of formal, rights-based strategies may be found in the organiZational Context. Formal rights-based strategies are usually carried out by a designated human resources representative or a senior executive officer of the organization (Ewing, 1989). Companies may also utilize an ombudsperson or a peer review board in their grievance process. In rare cases an external third party, such as an arbitrator, may become involved as well. Research has also revealed informal strategies that adopt a rights-based orientation. Since these have been less widely discussed, evidence of informal rights-based strategies will be reviewed first, followed by the formal strategies that comprise many grievance procedures.

Sheppard's (1984) framework of third-party intervention included two strategies that place the third party in a judge-like role. Adversarial intervention is described as a courtroom style procedure wherein disputants have control over the presentation of their case and the manager determines an appropriate solution. Inquisitorial intervention is similar, except that the manager assumes more control over the process by asking the disputants questions rather than allowing them fun control over case presentation. In both of these strategies, the conflict is framed as a win-lose situation and the third party acts as the judge. While the third party does retain outcome control, the fact that disputants are given an opportunity to present their case and influence the final decision should result in higher perceptions of fairness and satisfaction with outcomes (Shapiro, 1993). This is significantly different from a third-party strategy where an outcome is determined autocratically, without giving consideration to disputants' arguments or opinions.

In two studies of managerial intervention strategies Karambayya and Brett (1989, 1994) have confirmed that managers do perform a judge-like role. In the 1989 study discussed earlier, Karambayya and Brett found evidence of a strategy they called inquisitor, supporting Sheppard's (1984) inquisitorial intervention strategy. The term arbitrator has also been used to describe managerial intervention activities, illustrating that managers are likely to emulate more formal rights-based interventions in the process of informal conflict management (Karambayya & Brett, 1994; Kolb & Glidden, 1986; Olson-Buchanan et al., 1998). While it is possible that an intervening other could also perform these informal rights-based strategies, disputants are less likely to accept outcome control from a peer (Keashly & Newberry, 1995). When intervening others use rights-based strategies, it is more likely to be in conjunction with a formal grievance process.

While the most common in-house conflict management designs are opendoor policies (Ewing, 1989; Lipsky & Seeber, 1997; McCabe, 1988; McDermott, 1995), the informal nature of these policies combined with employees' fears of negative repercussions has resulted in the creation of more formal venues for expressing grievances. One strategy employed by organizational due process procedures is investigation. An investigator has no power to impose a solution. The purpose of this strategy is to listen to the employee's problem, conduct an investigation, and determine the most appropriate course of action. This strategy is generally referred to as fact-finding in ADR parlance (Costantino & Merchant, 1996).

Another strategy that may be combined with investigation or fact-finding is internal adjudication. The adjudicator may be a senior executive or a peer review board made up of a combination of managers and lower-level employees (Ewing, 1989; McCabe, 1988; McDermott, 1995). Formal adjudicative strategies are only available for conflicts involving alleged violations of company policy, such as wrongful termination claims, safety hazards, or unwarranted disciplinary action. Adjudicators are only granted the authority to interpret right or wrong. They do not have the authority to change policy or offer alternative solutions to the conflict (Ewing, 1989; McCabe, 1988). This is another clear example of a formal, rightsbased third-party intervention.

There are also non-binding rights-based strategies, known as advisory ADR (Costantino & Merchant, 1996). Advisory ADR strategies enlist the services of an external third party and may range from relatively simple to elaborate procedures. Some of these include private judging, mini-trials, summary jury trials, early neutral evaluation, and advisory arbitration (Costantino & Merchant, 1996; Costello, 1996; Singer, 1990). Each of these methods entails some degree of presentation of arguments and evidence to a third party who makes a finding which is then used by the parties to determine how to proceed. For example, if parties who feel confident they will win in court are advised that their case is not very strong, they may be more inclined to agree to mediation (of course, the reverse is also true). Because these strategies tend to be expensive and time-consuming, they are more likely to be used in complex inter-organizational conflicts (Costello, 1996). Because advisory ADR has the potential to induce disputants to try mediation, it may be used in certain types of intraorganizational disputes and is included in this framework.

Some organizational grievance procedures offer arbitration as the final level of appeal (Ewing, 1989; McCabe, 1988). While organizations have traditionally been reluctant to have an outsider interpret and make binding decisions regarding their internal policies, many have realized that they need to include an arbitration option to demonstrate to employees that they are willing to limit their authority (McCabe, 1997; Peterson, 1994). As with internal adjudicators, arbitrators are limited to making an interpretation of policy and do not judge the fairness of a policy or suggest creative solutions (McCabe, 1988).

In review, rights-based strategies may be informal, such as the use of adversarial and inquisitorial intervention by managers. On the formal side, rights-based strategies are often found as part of organizational grievance procedures. Intervening others may use fact-finding or adjudicative strategies, while external third parties may be called in under special circumstances (such as human rights violations that have potential for litigation) to use the strategies of advisory or binding arbitration.

Power-Based Strategies

Because the goal of ADR is to offer less adversarial approaches to conflict management than are provided in the courts, it is not surprising that the dispute system design research emphasizes interests- and rights-based strategies. Due to the significance of the role of power in organizations, however, it would be an oversight not to include power-based approaches in a comprehensive model of intraorganizational conflict management.

In the organizational context, power-based approaches may be used by a variety of organizational members. Intervening managers and intervening others may act autocratically, either by imposing a solution or restructuring work assignments to minimize interdependence of the disputants (Karambayya & Brett, 1994; Kolb, 1986). Managers may also use the strategy of providing impetus, offering the threat of punishment or promise of a reward, to coerce disputants to settle conflicts on their own (Karambayya & Brett, 1989; Sheppard, 1984). The strategy of providing impetus was prevalent among the managers interviewed by Sheppard (1984) and has found considerable support from other studies as well.

Irving and Meyer (1997) conducted a multidimensional scaling analysis of managerial styles and found that managers tend to either approach or avoid conflict. When managers prefer not to get involved, threatening disputants that they had better manage the problem on their own provides managers with a quick way out. Morrill's (1991) work also documented managerial tendencies to confront or avoid conflict. In addition, Prein's (1987) four categories of third-party intervention strategies included one labeled "powerless or unsure third party," while Shapiro and Rosen (1994) also reported a managerial strategy of "overlooking." All of these studies illustrate that third parties (particularly managers) often prefer to avoid dealing directly with conflict.

Even when intervening managers or intervening others start out using an interests-based approach, such as mediation, they may be likely to use their power to promote or enforce a particular solution. This is the premise behind intravention, as discussed above (Conlon, Carnevale, & Murninghan, 1994). Ewing's (1989) case studies also reported that even when mediation was used as part of a due process procedure, it was really "power mediation," where disputants were strongly encouraged to accept a mediated settlement rather than moving on to more formal strategies that might result in negative repercussions.

Prior research suggests that there are times when power-based strategies are appropriate, such as when there is high time pressure, low interdependence, and a broad range of impact (Elangovan, 1998; Lewicki & Sheppard, 1985). Powerbased strategies may also be expected by the disputing parties when the third party is seen as an expert or in control over the issue in conflict (Keashly & Newberry, 1995).

In addition to the power-based strategies reviewed above, third parties or disputants may recognize that the source of a conflict is structural and that a rebalancing of power to generate organizational change is necessary (Rummel, 1976). This is the position taken by Pondy (1992) and Putnam (1994) when they recommend that managers assume the role of conflict orchestrator. This strategy would entail renaming conflicts to introduce the underlying causes rather than dealing with surface issues. The desire to examine underlying issues may be particularly salient when a conflict is rooted in cultural differences or diversity (Donnellon & Kolb, 1994). While there is little empirical data to provide exemplars of the use of this strategy in organizations, much theoretical work suggests that managers should take on this proactive role as conflict orchestrator (Burton, 1990; Clegg, 1994; Donnellon & Kolb, 1994; Pondy, 1992; Putnam, 1994).

Disputants may also use power-based approaches to conflict management. They may appeal to higher levels of authority, for example, to overturn a supervisor's decision. When this is done by virtue of "connections," it is an even more apparent use of referent power (French & Raven, 1959). Disputants may also use threats to coerce another party to submit to their will, especially when a disputant has higher status (Morrill, 1992; Ury, Brett, & Goldberg, 1988). Employees may also build coalitions to influence group or organizational decisions (Murninghan, 1986) or in an attempt to coerce an employer to change organizational practices (Clegg, 1994).

Coalitions are also likely in organizations that utilize voting in their decisionmaking processes (Murninghan, 1986). Voting is an example of a more formal power-based strategy because the contingency with the most influence wins (Ury, Brett, & Goldberg, 1988). A final example of a formal power-based strategy is the use of strikes or lockouts, although these are most commonly found in the unionized workplace. The point is that all employees, from the lowest level employees to highest level managers, have the option to choose power-based methods, and with the exception of Ury, Brett, and Goldberg (1988), dispute system design research has ignored this area of organizational conflict management. A model that attempts to include a comprehensive typology of intraorganizational conflict management strategies must give attention to power-based alternatives.

As indicated above, power-based strategies are most likely to be used by intervening managers, higher status intervening others, or disputants themselves. External third parties are the least likely to use power-based approaches to conflict management as they usually lack the necessary power and credibility.

The preceding discussion has illustrated the variety of strategies that are potentially available to help manage intraorganizational conflicts. Previous typologies have focused on either managerial intervention, formal grievance procedures, or ADR. This has left a number of strategies potentially under-investigated: those used by internal intervening others (non-managers) and those used by external third parties who are not arbitrators, such as consultants. More complete knowledge of the strategies used by all types of third parties would provide organizational members with greater awareness of their conflict management options and assistance with the selection of the most appropriate strategy for a given conflict situation.

Using the preceding discussion as a guide, a new framework which identifies the entire range of potential intraorganizational conflict management strategies is illustrated in Table 3. This framework requires conceptualization of a three dimensional grid which includes: the orientation to conflict management (interests, rights, or power), the formality of the procedure, (informal or formal), and the location of a third party (if any) in relation to the organization (none, intervening manager, intervening other, and external). Used in concert, these three dimensions help clarify the specific conflict management options that might be available for a given conflict. The theoretical framework that results from this literature review is depicted in Figure 1.

Implications for Research

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Table 3

The goal of this paper was to review the literature that informed the initial framework for a model for the assessment and management of intraorganizational conflict. In order for this framework to move from a heuristic device to a practical tool for organizational members, additional research is needed. Efforts to empirically investigate the utility of this framework and suggest relationships among its components have been undertaken in two ways. In the first phase of research, focus groups with working MBA students were conducted to explore perceptions of conflict and conflict management in the workplace in order to inductively generate a list of the relevant conflict characteristics, desired outcomes, and conflict management strategies. Results from this research were then used to modify the framework and reduce the number of variables to make the resulting model more parsimonious. The focus group research also resulted in a set of hypotheses and research questions for continued investigation of the relationships among the conflict characteristics, desired outcomes, and conflict management strategies included in the framework.

In phase two of the research, a survey instrument was developed to test these hypotheses and investigate the additional research questions raised by the focus group interviews. The survey was administered to working graduate students (primarily MBA students) and the employees of two private organizations. A total of 571 surveys were collected. Initial data analyses indicate that the framework indeed has utility for the assessment of intraorganizational conflicts and strategy selection decisions. Due to space limitations, the specifics of these qualitative and quantitative research efforts and results must be reserved for future discussion.

Additional research is also needed to transform this framework into a testable model with application to a variety of organizational contexts. First, all of the variables included in the components of this framework must be examined to reveal how different combinations of conflict characteristics and managerial and nonmanagerial desired outcomes lead to the selection of different conflict management strategies. Second, results demonstrating the impact of specific variables such as time pressure, type of conflict, and relational history on conflict management strategy choices should be compared with the findings of Elangovan (1998) to continue to build a comprehensive contingency-based model of organizational conflict management. Third, while sensitivity to the topic creates considerable challenges to engaging in fieldwork on organizational conflict, in-depth case studies of organizations with existing conflict management processes are needed.

Case studies would accomplish a number of goals. They would make it possible to compare the prescriptions offered by current theories to actual decisionmaking processes. Case studies would also allow for measurement of the effectiveness of following versus not following these prescriptions (much like Elangovan's 1998 work). The opportunity to undertake detailed case studies would also enable researchers to determine ways in which the features of unique environments impact conflict and the strategy selection process, making it possible to suggest strategies for adapting contingency-based models to a variety of organizational contexts. Finally, case studies would enable further exploration of the ways in which conflict is productive for organizations and provide guidelines for the selection of strategies that maximize conflict's generative potential. Further investigation of the processes of organizational conflict and conflict management would enhance efforts to develop a truly comprehensive model that addresses the myriad issues with which organizations may be faced.

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Figure I

Note: The author would like to acknowledge Tricia Jones of the Department of Communication Sciences, Temple University, as well as two anonymous IJCM reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Received: June 3, 1998
Accepted after two revisions: July 15, 1999


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[Author Affiliation]
Jessica Katz Jameson
North Carolina State University

[Author Affiliation]
Biographical Note

[Author Affiliation]
Jessica Katz Jameson
North Carolina State University Department of Communication Campus Box 8104 Raleigh, NC 27695-104 Phone/Fax: 919-513-1477/515-9456 Email: [email protected]

[Author Affiliation]
Dr. Jameson is an Assistant Professor of Communication at North Carolina State University where she teaches courses in organizational communication and conflict management. She received her Ph.D. from Temple University. Dr. Jameson's current research interests include third-party intervention, dispute system design, and the role of emotion in organizational conflict management.

Indexing (document details)
Subjects: Models,  Organizational behavior,  Conflict resolution,  Studies,  Organization theory
Classification Codes 2500 Organizational behavior,  9130 Experimental/theoretical
Author(s): Jessica Katz Jameson profile
Document types: Feature
Publication title: International Journal of Conflict Management. Bowling Green: Jul 1999. Vol. 10, Iss. 3;  pg. 268, 27 pgs
Source type: Periodical
ISSN: 10444068
ProQuest document ID: 47663693
Text Word Count 10891
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