This chapter will shed lights on firstly a definition of conflict, the causes of conflict and major concern will be valued to conflict resolution which is going to be one among of the core sub heading in this literature review. The conflict resolution will be addressed firstly to its definition, followed by the conflict resolution styles, the characteristics of those styles. Besides greater emphasis will be stressed upon the two communication medium (face to face and instant messaging). Each medium will be defined followed by their characteristics and ultimately there will be a crtical comparison of both mediums. Lastly we shall deal with the factors affecting the choice of those conflict resolution styles used in both mediums.
Hitting the bar of conflict through communication has become a habit among people nowadays. In the past authors like (Deutsch 1990) has investigated about the types of conflict that people are usually entangled to and it was found that a conflict may be addressed to five distinctive levels. One which is ‘personal’ that is the conflict happens within the person, one which is ‘personal -role’ conflict, occurring whenever strong pressures are put on an individual and responding against that person’s beliefs and values. Or it can be of the ‘inter-sender’ variety that is when various demands in a role cannot be met at one go. Finally the personal conflict covering the form of ‘inter-role’ conflict (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek & Rosenthal, 1964). This review will be centered to the interpersonal conflict and causes and further research will be shifted to the resolution phase and styles which are sharp determinant of a conflict resolution.
2.1 Definition of Conflict
There is no shortage of definitions for the term conflict. Ting-Toomey (1985) defines conflict as ‘a form of intense interpersonal and/or intrapersonal dissonance between two or more interdependent parties based on incompatible goals, needs, desires, values, beliefs, and/or attitudes.’
Starks (2006) described interpersonal conflict as “a behavior that negatively impacts another individual or group.” According to the points raised by Starks, the negatively behavior that impacts on individual can be further epitomized in the areas of ‘beliefs, values, attitudes, ideas, goals, perceptions, expectations, or interests.’ However Schneider (2000) used Jacob’s and Schreyer’s (1980) definition by stating that conflict is ‘goal interference attributed to another’s behavior.’ In contrast to Schneider Le Baron (2002) arguing that conflict occurs on different grounds, starting from a difference over issues and material differences, to communication and social dynamics, to symbols, perceptions and identities.
These are henceforth a set of definitions that surround the hemisphere in which a conflict occur. Each of the above mentioned reviews holds the fact that a conflict is indeed a process in which one party is made to understand that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party and there exists a key element or attribute that dwells in both interests which is just the contrary of his opponents. For example ‘Behaviour, perception, goals, interest’ is the common ones.
2.1.1 Causes of Conflict
Furthermore while reflecting on the definition of conflict; it seems that these factors amounted to several grouping of causes. Since a person is involved in a conflict with another it becomes apparent that the causes of conflict would stem from each other’s characteristics and very often some determinants remain in the individual characteristics. Similarly Baron (1989) stresses the fact that some evidence related to personality characteristics can generate a conflict. For example he stated that individuals with a Type-A personality report higher frequency of conflict than do Type-B’s. Turning to the point of personal values, Augsburger (1992), Hahm (1986) noted that individuals in various societies value conflict differently; especially those in the western societies perceive it as a beneficial part of life and others from the Korean or Japanese (Lebra,1976) feel by definition that a conflict is bad and should at any cost be avoided. Coming to the point raised by (Wong, Tjosvold & Lee, 1992) it was revealed that if “a person’s goal is to engage in conflict or competition with the other, then such goal is apt to generate conflict.” Taking a more emotional perspectives, we can point out that stress and anger are sources of conflict . Derr (1978) notes that stress creates a tense feeling in an individual, “a tenseness that can boil over into conflict with another” and this anger and frustration which is bound to break a relationship.
Besides there are four areas pioneered to understand the interpersonal conflict between disputants. The first one is perceptual factors, such as distrust. Secondly as delineated by Robbins (1987) and Putnam and Poole (1987) are the communication factors. Lastly we find behavioural, structural and previous interaction as major causes impacting in an interpersonal conflict.
Since opponents in a group have competing goals, they are henceforth expected to generate anger, stress and other negative emotions and in turn build up wrong perceptions of the other. As most of us have experienced, these perceptions include distrust of the opponent (Thomas, 1976; Deutsch, 1973, 1990, 1993; Pruitt & Rubin, 1986), misunderstandings, perceiving the opponent’s behavior as harmful, the inability to see the opponent’s perspective (Blake & Mouton, 1984), and questioning the opponent’s intentions.
The Communication process is yet another major factor that has huge contribution into a conflict. Both the quality and amount of communication may change as a result of conflict. Regarding the quality, it is believed that at this level the communication become more hostile, including insults, distortions and misunderstandings. (Bergman & Volkema, 1989; Sternberg & Dobson, 1987; van de Vliert, 1990) declared that the amount of communication might either increase or decrease (Pruitt & Rubin, 1986; Thomas, 1976).Furthermore (Robbins,1974) advocated the fact that a conflict may “motivate disputants to air issues or to clam up”, avoiding the opponents ((Bergman & Volkema, 1989). A conflict may also heighten its communication with people not directly involved in the matter as the disputants discuss the situation with outsiders (Bergman & Volkema, 1989).
The face to face interactions between disputants are the most visible aspect of conflict. (Bergman & Volkema, 1989; Sternberg & Dobson, 1987; van de Vliert, 1990) states that whenever a conflict is generated, the reactions of disputants are transformed to relatively passive actions that is avoiding each other’s into defensive responses such as face-saving tactics (Ting-Toomey, Gao, Trubisky, Tang, Kim, Lin & Nishids, 1991), venting emotions (Thomas, 1992) and confrontation (Morrill & Thomas, 1992), hostile acts such as threats, physical force (Sternberg & Dobson, 1987; Sternberg & Soriano, 1984; van de Vliert, 1990), harming others (Thomas, 1976).
The structural relationship between members of groups also changes as a result of conflict. For example it is believed that there is a decreased in the level of interdependence and coordination among members. Because of the prevailing conflict members can develop ‘contentious goals’ (Pruitt & Rubin, 1986) as well as increased discrimination among members and greater favoritism towards the others (Bettencourt, Brewer, Crook & Miller, 1992).
In every relationship there is a starting point and an ending point and in most situation conflict is the end result. Regarding this issue previous interaction can begin to impact on the present conflict (Tjosvold & Chia, 1989). For example (Sherif et al. 1961) preached that if there has been past failures to reach an agreement in a group, so this issue might become emotion-laden and trigger new conflict or cause prejudice and stereotypes to the group.
2.3 Conflict management styles
As a conflict unfolds, we see conflict as being a phenomenon which necessitates management. The difference between a conflict resolution and conflict management is more than semantic. Conflict resolution implies reduction or elimination of conflict and for this methods and processes are conceptualized into facilitating the peaceful ending of a conflict, whereas the management of conflict does not necessarily imply reduction or elimination of conflict. Brown (1983) has suggested that “conflict management can require intervention to reduce conflict if there is too much, or intervention to promote conflict if there is too little.” Conflict management is one of the drivers that improve team performance. If managed well, conflict can lead to better decisions, more creative ideas and higher quality output from the team. Managed badly, it can stop teamwork and hinder individuals from achieving their personal goals. Moreover previous researches on conflict management behaviors were much more focused on personality attributes and recently they have shifted to the study of situational influences, described this time by Thomas (1994) as conflict management “style”. Likewise there are various styles of behavior for handling interpersonal conflict. For a conflict to be managed properly one style is perceived to be more appropriate to the other depending upon the situation and the traits of the conflict.
Moreover Conflict management style has known considerable evolution each and every time new theories are emerging. At first Follett (1940) conceptualized the first five-style of behavioural conflict strategies. Follett share his findings by reporting the methods that individuals typically use when dealing with conflict. They are domination, compromise, integration, avoidance and suppression. However (Deutsch, 1949) argued that “the dynamics and outcomes of conflict depend upon whether the conflict is handled cooperatively or competitively.” Hence (Ruble & Thomas,1976;Smith,1987) challenged Deutsch statement and revealed that are some kind of complexity of an individual’s perceptions on conflict behavior and thereafter a new two dimensional grid for classifying those styles was developed by Blake and Mouton (1964). Blake and Mouton (1964) grouped the various styles for handling interpersonal conflict into five main dimension: forcing, withdrawing, smoothing, compromising and problem solving. Similarly Thomas and Kilmann (1974) also developed a model for handling conflict that utilizes five styles: competing, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating and compromising.
Assertiveness Competing Collaborating
Figure 1: shows the conflict management styles developed by Thomas and Kilmann (1974)
In this diagram developed by Thomas and Kilmann (1974), the forcing/competing style is high in concern for self or simultaneously describes as high in assertiveness, which is epitomized to satisfy his personal needs under all circumstances even at the expense of others. This style is in contrast to the collaborating style, which is interested in long term and long lasting relationship and looks for solutions to meet the needs of all parties involved. The avoiding style is low in concern for self and is escapism to conflict. This style normally occurs when a party is neither interested in his own goals nor interested in maintaining relationship; he simply withdraws and does not want to deal with the conflict. The accommodating style deals with sacrificing of self-interests to satisfy the needs of others to resolve the conflict. Finally, compromising is the midpoint and struggles between cooperativeness(concern for others) and assertiveness (concern for self), and involves making concessions for both parties to arrive at a resolution of conflict. This where both parties are ready to listen to each other and willing to climb down from their expectation and sacrifice to achieve peace.
However compared to Thomas and Kilmann model, Putnam and Wilson’s (1982) divide the conflict management style model into three factors namely the non-confrontation (obliging), solution-oriented (integrating) and control (dominating). Putnam and Wilson (1982) state that non-confrontation or obliging strategies manage conflict indirectly, by simply avoiding disagreements or by minimizing controversial issues. Solution-oriented or integrating strategies manage conflict both by searching for cooperation, integrative solutions and by making compromises. Control, or dominating, strategies manage conflict by arguing persistently for their positions and using nonverbal messages to emphasize demands.
Furthermore numerous researchers proposed revisions of the preceding frameworks, likewise Rahim and Bonoma’s (1979) conceptualization has been one of the most popular, with empirical evidence (e.g., Rahim & Magner, 1995; van de Vilert & Kabanoff, 1990) suggesting it to be most valid. Rahim and Bonoma (1979) differentiated the styles of resolving interpersonal conflict on two basic dimensions: concern for self and concern for others. The first dimension explains the degree (high or low) to which a person attempts to satisfy their own concerns, while the second dimension explains the degree to which an individual tries to satisfy the needs or concerns of others. And the combination of these two dimensions, results in five specific styles of conflict management, known as integrating, obliging, dominating, avoiding and compromising.
Some researchers like (Blake & Mouton, 1964; Likert & Likert, 1976) have also criticized and suggested that successful conflict management needs specific styles to resolve conflict situations; for example, that the integrative or problem-solving style is most appropriate for managing all conflict. Other researchers such as (Rahim & Bonoma, 1979; Thomas, 1992) have indicated that for conflicts to be managed most effectively, one style is more appropriate than the other, based on the kind of situation. According to Gross and Guerrero (2000), the effectiveness of individuals is perceived based on which conflict management styles they choose to incorporate. They discovered that an integrative conflict management style is generally perceived as “the most appropriate (in terms of being both a polite, prosocial strategy, and an adaptive, situational appropriate strategy) and most effective style.” The dominating style is perceived as inappropriate, and the obliging style as neutral. The avoiding style was generally perceived as both ineffective and inappropriate. Finally, compromising was perceived as a relatively neutral style.
low c concern
intermediate concern of both self and others
high c concern
low c concern
and Mouton (1964)
Thomas and Kilmann (1974)
Rahim and Bonoma (1979)
Putnam and Wilson (1982)
Figure 2: shows an overview of the different conflict management styles developed by various authors.
2.3.1 Characteristics of Conflict Management styles
Although there has been a plethora of research which has been conducted to drive the essence of the conflict management styles, it was observed that many of the derived styles have specific attributes or characteristics that set them apart to deal with a particular group of people or individuals posited more precisely by their behavioral conflict strategies (Follet 1940). They are all different by virtue and respond differently to specific situation. In this study we are going to scrutinize first and foremost the characteristics of each conflict management styles and formulate on what basis the choice of peoples conflict management styles is influenced. This research follows Thomas’ and Kilmann (1974) model, which is organized around two dimensions cooperativeness and assertiveness. Combinations of these dimensions lead to five modes of handling conflict:
Be it an avoiding style, withdrawing, or non-confrontation, this style is characterized with low concern for self (assertiveness )and low concern (cooperativeness) for to others, in other words this style wants to emphasize that it is neither assertive nor cooperative and usually stay away from issues which are linked to a conflict. This style makes us believe that conflict is difficult to break and the best way is to withdraw physically or psychologically for a conflict rather than facing it.
De Dreu, (1997), Hocker & Wilmot, (1998) advocate that “avoiding is most often associated with negative substantive outcomes” and that issues which consider this style are not resolved ,and usually become more serious over time especially in case where there are strong relationships between parties strongly tied through feelings, emotions and actions. Besides Gross and Guerrero (2000) is perceived to be of similar view as (De Dreu, 1997; Hocker & Wilmot, 1998). Gross and Guerrero (2000) relate the avoiding conflict style as being “situationally and relationally inappropriate, as well as ineffective, when it comes to achieving personal and dyadic outcomes.” Hence many of these authors argue that avoiding can be effective in the short run, but perceived of having negative effects in the long run. In this regard if we consider avoiding in the short term, it can be concluded that it is the most dominating style compared to other styles. In combination with other conflict behaviors such as competing, avoiding certain issues can undoubtedly contribute to effectiveness. For example if we temporarily leave the conflict to cool down and reconsider our previous position before the conflict aroused, therefore avoiding can contribute to effectiveness (Van de Vliert 1997). In this style people who are willing to give up both personal goals and relationships withdraw from the conflict. When the question of adopting the avoiding style is raised to a group, members will avoid the actual conflict and become outside observers. By listening to the input on an observation basis, the group can gain invaluable feedback on emergent points of discussion, as well as team members’ behaviours can hamper resolution.
The competing style whether we call it forcing, dominating or control is epitomized by high concern for self (assertive) and low concern (cooperative) for others. The main characteristics of the competing style is that it usually keep track with personal goals, always ready to win and they assume conflicts are usually a win/lose game and winning gives them a sense of pride and achievement.
Based on the assumptions made by Van de Vliert, (1997) it is most likely that the competing style is the result of a negative relationship between conflicting parties. In this sense people that adopt this style can bring progress to a group that lacks direction or is landed in a debate. Similarly Sorenson, Morse, & Savage, (1999) agree with the view of Van de Vliert, (1997) and advocate that competing will usually not improve a relationship. Although it was found in some studies, individuals can achieve important outcomes or results through forcing behavior De Dreu & Van de Vliert, (1997); Rahim, (1992); Thomas, (1992), other research have suggested that the quality of the results substantially decreases with increased forcing behavior (Van de Vliert et al., 1995). Furthermore Gross and Guerrero (2000) argue that dominating behavior is relationally inappropriate and there is little chance for it to be effective. We therefore conclude that the effect of dominating behavior on real outcomes is very lean and will cause the breakdown of social relationship.
The accommodating style also known as the obliging, smoothing, suppression shows low concern for self (assertiveness) and high concern (cooperativeness) for others. The characteristics posed by this style is mainly associated with those people who want to be accepted and liked by others, and in this position they think that conflict should be avoided and maintaining the harmony that exist between parties is of prior importance. With the accommodating style it is very important put aside personal grudge or goals and look for a common ground of understanding where we are bound to satisfy firstly the other parties’ expectation. They also think that we cannot deal with a conflict without damaging a relationship.
According to (Van de Vliert et al., 1995) the accommodating style means giving in to others parties’ wishes and does not have specific contribution to the level of effectiveness. This style is not likely to produce important outcomes, as it matters that the quality of decision making decreases with an increase in the accommodating behavior by one or by both parties (Mastenbroek, 1989; Papa & Canary, 1995). However some authors suggest that the accommodating style contributes mostly to the interpersonal relationship (Papa & Canary, 1995; Rahim, 1992). While Gross and Guerrero (2000) emphasiesed that accommodating is perceived as being neither relational nor situationally appropriate, nor effective and conclude that this behavioural style is more likely to be favorable.
The collaborating style named by various model as being an integrative style, solution oriented, problem solving drive particular attention to high concern for self (assertiveness) and high concern (cooperativeness) for others. Its main characteristics is that it takes too long trying to find consensus and it is usually not satisfied until it finds a solution that achieve the goals and resolves any negative feelings and can as well irritate others as a result of their behaviors when they are on the verge to seek for perfection in a consensus.
(Van de Vliert et al 1995) argue that this style places high value on relationships and goals which are both assertive and cooperative. Parties adopting this style are likely to collaborate to accomplish their objectives. They view conflict as problems to be solved and as a way to improve relationships with each other. This style is termed as having a positive effect on the end result of a conflict management style while having negative effect on relational outcomes. Authors like (Fisher, 1997; Turner & Pratkanis, 1997) suggest that the collaborating style is used to define and analyze conflict issues. In contrast, (Euwema, 1992; Van de Vliert, et al., 1995) state that collaborating behavior eventually make complex interpersonal relation at stake and make negative contribution to the end result. Hence (Euwema, 1992) declared that when interpersonal relations are at risk people will undoubtedly hesitate to confront others.
The compromising style is based on intermediate concern for both the self (assertiveness) and others (cooperativeness). One of its characteristics is that it is a flexible and adaptive style, and goes for splitting the difference between parties, exchanging grounds of understanding.
People who consider this style place medium value on goals and relationships and believe firmly on a compromise basis. They spend long time for looking for solution but not yearning for perfection. The compromising style satisfy only some of the parties needs and some authors like (De Dreu, Evers, Beersma, KIuwer, & Nauta, 2001; Van de Vliert, 1997) delineate compromising as ‘half hearted problem solving’.Pruitt and Carnevale (1993) argue that ‘a compromise is associated with a strong conciliatory tendency, coupled with moderate concern for self.’ (Gross & Guerrero, 2000) advocate that compromising was found to operate highly on relational appropriateness and less effective to situational level.
Unlike the various conflict management styles developed by researchers to resolve team conflict, it is often contented that a matter will be resolved easily if the right conflict management style is applied to. Likewise the selection of the proper conflict management style is not shaped by the choice of will by the parties involved but rather on various external factors that come to influence the choice of the conflict resolution style. These factors are mainly related to the culture (language and thinking patterns) of group members, their gender, emotions and their age group.