Review Of Conflict Management Styles

Conflict is an inevitable part of our lives. In organizations, specifically, different shared values and beliefs might lead to misunderstanding and create tension between all the employees. It is in the norm of various cultures worldwide that conflict must be avoided, however, if it is well-managed, conflicts too, can open new unexpected possibilities to the organizations. Even though the term of conflict is ambiguous, and there are many different definitions of conflict, there is still no generally accepted one in the literature (Ozkalp et al., 2009). According to Easterbrook et al.’s (1993) terminology of conflicts, they characterize conflicts into several common terms including:

However, it could be generally agreed that conflict occurs when there is a disagreement between individuals within a group or two parties. Kenneth W. Thomas et al. (2008) state that conflict involves a situation in which people’s concerns – the things they care about- appear to be incompatible. In other studies, Shane and Glinow (2008) defines conflict as “…a process in which one party perceives that its interest are being opposed or negatively affected by another party”. In business collaboration, a conflict was reported between Microsoft MSN and Office groups where both of the organizations perceive others’ division on products development as a threat for their own company. In some way, this can be considered as a destructive kind of conflict where it can affects the future business between those two respective organizations.

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Deutsch (1973) mentioned that conflict exists whenever any incompatible activities occur. It suggests that, an antipathetic activity may hinder and block the activity of other party’s occurrence and effectiveness. The definition of conflict by Deutsch (1973) is supported by Simmel (1955) who stated the similar definition of conflict. Accordingly, Simmel (1995) states that conflict can be defined as the ‘the central firm of interaction’. He suggests that every interactions occur is a relationship while every conflict occurs is also a relationship.

As cited in Ozkalp et al., (2008), Pondy (1967) classifies three types of conceptual models of conflicts in organizations which include bargaining model, bureaucratic model and also systems model. All three types model of conflict describe the conflict resolution with different target groups. Bargaining model describes the conflict arises among interest groups where score resources are their main interest while bureaucratic model shows conflicts among superior and a subordinate in the organizational hierarchy. Meanwhile, systems model describes conflicts among parties in a lateral and functional relationship (Easterbrook et a., 1993).

In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identifies five (5) main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. Nevertheless, there is no best or one single method of dealing with conflict, and the instrument is only used to help individuals to understand how and why they use a particular mode in a given situation (C. A. Stanley & N.E. Algert, 2007). Indeed, the TKI assesses one’s preferences for style and not one’s competence in managing conflict (Algert & Watson, 2002).

The two respective theorists argued that people have their own preferences in conflict resolution style. In addition, they also stated that different styles are all useful but depending on different situations. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) of conflict management styles are competing, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, and accommodating.

2.2.1 Competing

As theorized by Thomas-Kilmann (1982), in short, the competing style means a person putting his or her own interest before anyone else’s interest. To compete with others with a positive goal to win is good; however, the journey of getting what we want might not produce an affirmative outcome. Valentine (2001) states that infrequent use of competing in organizations indicates difficulty to take a firm stand on any issue. This style is highly assertive with minimal cooperativeness. The competing style is used when a person has to take quick action, make unpopular decisions, handle vital issue, or when one is in need of protection in a situation where non-competitive behaviour can be exploited (Thomas-Kilmann, 1982).

2.2.2 Avoiding

The avoiding style implies a situation when people do not satisfy their concerns or the concerns of the other person. This style is low assertiveness and low cooperativeness. In short, the goal is to delay the conflict. As for this type of conflict management style, in many situations, this is weak and ineffective approach to take (Thomas-Kilmann, 1982). A study done by Valentine (2001) indicates that frequent use of avoiding among nurses is because due to the sense of powerless over their superior even though avoiding is commonly known as producing unsuccessful result.

2.2.3 Compromising

The compromising style is about finding a middle ground or forgoing some of our concerns and committing to other’s concerns (Thomas-Kilmann, 1982). Most of people tend to choose a compromising style because it is important for them to satisfy some of their interest, but not all of them. This style is moderately assertive and moderately cooperative, whereas the goal is to find the middle ground. In this conflict management style, everyone is expected to give up something and compromise to the other person’s needs and preferences. Another study of this type reveals that staff nurses tend to adopt compromising style of dealing with conflict in the expenses of other male nurses, but not for their own benefits (Valentine, 2001). This is supported by Maxwell (1992) which claims that men are normally good at bargaining issue for their own benefits as compared to women who concentrate more on other’s interest and preferences (As cited in Valentine, 2001).

2.2.4 Collaborating

One of the positive conflict management styles, which is the collaborating style implies that there is a major concern to satisfy both sides. This style is highly assertive and highly cooperative whereas the goal is to find a “win-win” solution (Thomas-Kilmann, 1982). In elaboration, choosing a cooperative problem-solving styles enable people to work, collaborate and perform their job together so that everyone can win. In a situation where conflict arises, choosing the collaborating style is a good attempt as people try to find a solution that will help everyone meeting their preferences and interest. Besides, this type of conflict management style can help maintaining a good workplace relationship. This situation can lead to an excellent synergy at the workplace. Valentine (2001) suggests that those who are not into collaborating style of resolving conflicts do not consider it as a medium to share knowledge, opportunities to learn, problem-solving and high commitment relationship. Less approach of collaborating in dealing with conflict among female nurses is rooted from low self-esteem among them. This is supported by Braiker (1986) that mentioned people who have low self-assurance will not confront issue openly. Henkin et al.’s (1999) research reveals that majority of the principals employ collaborating style of conflict management when dealing with central administrators. This is due to the fact that, in case of site-based management, central administrators share their powers with school-based teams who are principals, teachers, and parents.

2.2.5 Accommodating

The last component of the conflict management style is the accommodating style. The accommodating style is about foregoing self main concerns in order to satisfy the concerns of others. This type of conflict management style is low assertiveness and high cooperativeness whereas the goal is to yield (Thomas-Kilmann, 1982). In the workplace environment, many people tend to choose this type of conflict management style as they believe that maintaining a good workplace relationship is more important than other things. This may due to the fact that people spend most of their time at work compare to at home, hence there is a need for a positive relationship among colleagues so that conflict can be minimized besides the need of friendship itself. People who choose accommodating style are those who put their interests last and give space for others in getting what they want. Frequent use of accommodating style among nurses indicates the caring ideology, creating harmonious and seek for socialize environment where competition is rejected (Valentine, 2001).

2.2.6 Research Theoretical Framework

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Management Styles

Figure X.X: Theoretical Framework for Conflict Management Styles
2.3 The Influence of Demographic Factors on Conflict Management Styles

Much of the earlier research emphasizes on the exploration of conflict management styles among managers in organizations with opposed to their demographic background. To exaggerate, examining the influence of demographic factor on conflict management styles is interesting as different people might have different and unique demographic backgrounds which lead to different approach in resolving conflict. In their studies, Robbins & Mukerji (1994) reveals that the individuals’ differences such as the educational background, experiences, know-how skills are several factors that tend to shape their personality, hence, influence the choice of conflict management styles.

2.3.1 Age

A modest area of this research has also examined the influence of age in determining individuals’ conflict management styles. In their pioneering work, Invemizzi (1988) and Baldarama (1989) show that age factor has a significant relationship with the conflict management styles. Besides, Manimaran (1992) also signals the same findings in his study whereas there are different types of conflict resolution adopted by individuals in opposed to age factor. He reveals that those who have more years of age tend to use ‘competing’ style while young people tend to use ‘accommodating’ style of conflict management which suggests the idea of respecting the older.

It is well perceived by many people that aging is associated with cognitive declines in many domains. Yet, it is a common lay belief that some aspects of thinking tend to improved into old age. As a matter of fact, specifically, older people are believed to show better competencies for reasoning about social dilemmas and conflicts (Grossmann et al., 2010). However, there is not so much research on this area and less evidence has been presented as opposed to the assumption.

Nevertheless, there is a contradictory idea with regards to the influence of age on conflict management styles. A study conducted by Ernest (1993) reports that age difference among managers implies no significant impacts on conflict management styles. Furthermore, another study of this type also suggests that school administrators with age differences have no influence on their choice of conflict resolution style (Haris, 1989; Berry, 1994).

2.3.2 Gender

According to the earlier studies on conflict management, Joan and Leonard (1989) suggest that both male and female managers have the same approach of dealing with conflict. This study is supported by another research done by Manimaran (1992), Earnest (1993), Amran (1993) and Berry (1995) which shows that gender is clearly not a significant factor in determining individuals’ conflict management styles.

Nevertheless, even though there are numerous studies which suggest no significant differences between genders in determining conflict management styles, however, according to Mcintyre (1991), female managers seem to attribute more accommodating style of conflict resolution as compared to male managers. This is proven by Berryman (1995) and Figueroa (1989) which suggests that gender has a significant relationship with conflict management styles whereas female tend to adopt accommodating styles and compromising while male tend to use competing in dealing with conflict. Moreover, Donovan’s (1993) study on the influence of gender differences among universities’ Deans also suggest that male tends to adopt ‘competing’ style of conflict management. This is in line with Valentine’s (2001) research which implies women are perceived not as competitive as they rely more on feelings.

Ogunyemi et al. (2010) state that gender plays important role in conflict management. In their studies which emphasize on gender differences among medical practitioners, the study reveals that female residents are more likely to adopt accommodating style of resolving conflict as compared to male residents.

Another study of this type reveals that men are moderately high than women in adopting competing style of conflict management (Thomas et al., 2007). In fact, fewer women choose to compete in the organization as compared to men. According to a recent research by Amanatullah (2006), she suggests that this difference may largely reflect a reluctance to assertively claim value on issues related to their personal interests (as cited in Thomas, 2007). However, the result also shows interesting findings whereas women score significantly higher than men in terms of compromising, avoiding and accommodating. As for collaborating, the study indicates that both male and female have equal score. In her study, Valentine (2001) reveals that gender influences nurses in terms of conflict management style whereby female nurses tend to be compromising when dealing with conflicts.

2.3.3 Years of Service

While some research has focused only on the age and gender factors, other work has sought to show how years of service influence individuals’ conflict management styles which suggest more experience and knowledge about the organizations. Accordingly, Kariclhoff (1993) makes the point that leaders or administrators who are older and hold important position in their career are more flexible and open in resolving conflicts as compared to apprentice leaders. However, another study done at school reveals that there is no significant difference on conflict management styles among educational leaders in terms of experience (Berry, 1994).

Lee (1993) claims that Americans and Koreans who have longer years of service in their organizations tend to adopt ‘compromising’ style when dealing with conflict. Moreover, a study of this type also reveals that directors and CEOs who have work longer in the organization tend to adopt ‘avoiding’ styles (Earnest, 1992). However, those who work even longer in their current high authority position tend to employ ‘competing’ style when dealing with conflicts (Earnest, 1992). With further studies, the argument then, was supported by Donovan and Lee (1993) which state that years of service of certain individuals influence the their conflict management styles whereas in the case of academic deans, the longer they are in the organization, the more they adopt ‘competing’ style in resolving conflicts.

2.3.4 Levels in the Organization

Levels in the organization, designations and positions are the attributes that give authority powers to individuals in the organizations. If an individual hold a high position, he or she is likely to deal with conflicts more openly. This is proven by Manimaran (1992) which states that since people in top management have more experience and knowledge, they are more prone to resolve all sorts of conflict especially task-related problems, and conflict with the subordinates. Typically, most of top senior managements are lead by those who are older and matured (according to the experience they have) as compared to the subordinates who have just started working. Thus, it would be difficult for the subordinates to confront the top senior line due to age and levels differences. This scenario suggests the reason why top senior management uses ‘competing’ style of resolving conflicts when dealing with the subordinates (Manimaran, 1992). On the contrary, the subordinates tend to adopt different conflict management styles as they tend to choose ‘accommodating’ style when dealing with conflict as they have to suit themselves in the working environment especially when involved in conflicts with other individuals with high authority power.

2.4 The Influence of Organizational Culture on Conflict Management Styles

While many researchers as well as theorists continue to strive for other demographic factors that might influence the conflict management style, Ogunyemi et al. (2010) reveal that culture is also considered as conflict style preference. In their study, as compared to Asian American colleagues, the non-Hispanic white residents employ higher collaborative and lower accommodative scores. This is because non-Hispanic white residents are culturally influenced by the communication skills. Moreover, the act of talking, pragmatics, and relation with high cognitive function are given a high consideration by them. In contrast, Asian culture is inversely different as they tend to use “internal speech” where silence indicates thinking process (Ogunyemi et al., (2010). In other study of this type, Kim et al. (2007) states that regardless culture, Koreans, as compared to Chinese and Japanese are more likely to adopt a compromising way of managing conflict. Their study also reveals that Japanese and Chinese typically adopt accommodating way of dealing with conflicts. Even though there are many studies on culture that managed to extended people’s understanding of how culture or country influence conflict management styles, however, there is still lack of attention given to the cultural differences and the effect of these on conflict management styles among East Asian countries.

2.5 The Influence of Personality Style on Conflict Management Styles

Numerous studies have also been conducted to find out whether personality style plays significant role in the determining conflict management styles of certain individuals. Personality brings a great influence to individuals’ behaviors (Sabina & Muhammad Nauman, 2010). In fact, various types of personality do affect the approach of resolving as well as managing conflicts. As according to Kozhevnikov (2007), the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a self-report instrument which was developed on the basis of four of Jung’s (1923) personality types, extraversion-introversion (EI), sensing-intuition (SI), thinking-feeling (TF) and judging-perceiving (JP). Specifically, MBTI predicts a close relationship between individuals’ styles and conflict management style besides measuring psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.

However, this study will only focus on two Jung’s personality dimensions which are orientations dimension of Extraverted-Introverted (EI) and decision-making orientation of Thinking-Feeling (TF). According to Fathiyah Abu Bakar (1997), both of the dimensions have a significant relationship with the conflict management styles as theorized by Thomas-Kilmann. In elaboration, according to Thomas-Kilmann (1975), those personality dimensions can be combined perfectly with the conflict dimensions of assertiveness and cooperatives. The opinion then, is supported and acknowledged by Mills, Rubey and Smith (as cited in Fathiyah Abu Bakar, 1997) in their studies.

According to Mcintyre (1993), conflict management styles can be related to personality types. His research on male and female managers reveals that extravert-introvert (EI) and thinking-feeling (TF) dimension of personality do influence the accommodating and compromising style of dealing with conflicts. In addition, other studies by Earnest (1993) state that by connecting Thomas-Kilmann conflict management styles with Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) of personality, interesting outcomes evolve as individuals who react intuitively (feeling) tend to adopt collaboration style of dealing with conflict. In contrast, individuals who are labelled as thinking person will tend to use avoidance or compromise when facing with conflicts. Besides, individuals who see themselves as being judgmental often use avoiding style of conflict resolution.

The organizational culture factors that will used to examine the relationship between conflict management styles are numbers of students in school as well as the organization’s culture practiced by the school. It is believed that different types of culture will determine different types of approach in conflict management styles among schools administrators. These questions are adapted and adopted from Fathriyah Abu Bakar (1997). The contents of the items in measuring organizational culture factors involve interest to take part in team groups, work well alone without any disturbance, like challenging work, rules and regulations are strictly followed, more rewards to senior employees, respect the authority power given, believe that performance relies on individuals’ effort and prefer task that can be expected. Personality Factors

The personality factors that will be taken into consideration in this study is the Jung personality which describe two dimension; Oriented Dimension and Decision-Making Dimension. To measure personality factors, the original questionnaires were adopted and adapted from MBTI Myers (1962). The items of this part are Extrovert-Introvert (talkative, funny, have many friends, easy to make new contacts, like to mingle, quick action, activities beyond limit) and Thinking-Feeling (try hard before making any decisions, accept personal-critics more openly, give rational reason concerning religion issue, language and think wisely before answering questions).

2.6.2 Dependent Variables

The dependent variables in this study are the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Management Styles. The respective five conflict management styles are competing, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating and compromising. The questionnaires used to measure conflict management study is adapted and adopted from Fathriyah Abu Bakar (1997) and Thomas and Kilmann (1977). The content of the questionnaires will cover on the following aspects of conflict management styles (Fathriyah Abu Bakar, 1997):

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