CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STYLES AND APPRECIATIVE INTELLIGENCE


By: Shweta Bisen and Priyamvada Srivastava

Conflict, an inevitable component of social life, is highly prevalent in organizational settings and  due to high emphasis on workplace harmony and productivity effective conflict management is becoming increasingly popular. Researchers have found that the type of conflict can influence group failure or success (Tjosvold, Law, & Sun, 2006) and, therefore, the ability to resolve conflicts and the choice of suitable conflict-handling styles in relation to personal characteristics and interpersonal intelligence have gained importance.

Like many other social science concepts, conflict does not submit itself to a single and widely accepted definition. Different authorities have given different definitions.

To Laue (1992), conflict is an “escalated, natural competition between two or more parties about scarce resources, power and prestige; parties in conflict believe they have incompatible goals, and their aim is to neutralize, gain advantage over, injure or destroy one another”.

Robbins (1998) believes that certain common denominators underlie most definitions, and that formal definitions should strive for broad flexibility. He accordingly develops the following definition: “. . . a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something that the first party cares about.” (1998, p. 434).

The costs of conflicts are both tangible and intangible, influencing the choice of design of a conflict management system. Quantifying the cost implications of conflicts in a work place is indeed a difficult task, as many conflicts are intangible.

The tangible costs of conflicts include –

  1. Litigations (grievances, complaints, lawsuits etc.)
  2. Administrative investigations
  3. Services of third party mediators
  4. Sabotages
  5. Thefts
  6. Damages
  7. Disability claims

The intangible cost of conflicts include –

  1. Absenteeism
  2. Wasted time
  3. Loss of productivity
  4. Stress, frustration, and anxiety
  5. Loss of sleep
  6. Strained relationships
  7. Employee turnover
  8. Injury and accidents
  9. Sick leave

The term conflict refers to perceived incompatibilities resulting typically from some form of interference or opposition. Conflict management, then, is the employment of strategies to correct these perceived differences in a positive manner.

Select and Use Appropriate Conflict Management Strategies: There are various styles of behavior, such as integrating, obliging, dominating, avoiding, and compromising, which can be used to deal with conflict.

Blake and Mouton (1964) were the first to present the conceptualization of the five conflict styles for managing interpersonal conflict. They classified the five conflict management styles as problem- solving, smoothing, forcing, withdrawal and sharing. These styles were based on two dimensions in relation to the attitudes of the manager; concern for production and concern for people. They drew up these dimensions on nine-point scales to form the grid. The horizontal axis represents concern for production while the vertical axis represents concern for people. The 1 end represents low concern while the 9 depicts the highest concern. Blake and Mouton (1973) also noted that though one of these styles may be dominant in an individual’s actions, however, it might be changed to another, if the first is not effective. These styles were later relabeled by Thomas (1976)  as avoiding, accommodating, competing, compromising and collaborating based on two intentions of an individual; cooperativeness and assertiveness. In cooperativeness, one party attempts to satisfy the other party’s concerns, while in assertiveness the party attempts to satisfy its own concern.

Besides these five conflict management styles based on the dual concern models, there have been others who have suggested two (Knudson, Sommers & Golding 1980; Billingham, & Sack

1987), three (Sillars 1980; Putnam & Wilson 1982), four (Smyth, 1977; Phillips & Cheston, 1979), seven (Sternberg & Soriano, 1984; Morrill & Thomas, 1992), eight (Nicotera, 1993; Pareek, 1982) and nine (Kindler, 1996) styles to handle conflict.

Pareek’s Model of Conflict Management

Pareek (1982) proposed a contingency model of conflict management strategies. This model consists of avoidance- approach mode to conflict management.

This model of conflict management is based on three variables.

  1. Mode of conflict management: Avoidance vs. Approach mode
  2. Reasonableness of the out-group: Open to reason vs. Unreasonable
  3. Interest in peace: Interested in peace vs. Belligerent

Four avoidance styles. Extreme avoidance of conflict happens when the out-group is belligerent and unreasonable, resultant approach is sense of helplessness. However if the out-group is perceived interested in power, avoidance takes place so that there is minimum opportunity for interaction. However, when out-group is perceived as open to reason, avoidance takes a positive form: withdrawal from the conflict. If both groups are interested in peace, they may suppress the conflict and hide hurt feelings and losses. In such situation, i.e., under avoidance mode, no conflicts get resolved. Other two approaches are defusion and appeasement.

Four approach Styles: Conflict management may vary from very aggressive approach to a very positive and constructive approach. If in-group perceives the out group both as opposed to its interest and unreasonable, in-group members fight for solution in their favor. Blake and Mouton called this `win-lose trap’. This is where parties use confrontation style. If out-group is perceived as unreasonable but interested in peace, compromise is used. When out-group is, perceived as belligerent but open to reason, arbitration or third party intervention is considered appropriate. When parties are reasonable, having their own interest, and keen to arrive at peaceful solution, negotiation will be the most appropriate strategy.

To those who fear conflict and see it as something that must always be avoided, workplace conflict has nothing good to offer. But those who see conflict as normal and natural part of human lives, both professionally and personally, think of it as opportunity to motivate, provide feedback and most important of all see it as an catalyst to positive change.

APPRECIATIVE CAPACITY

Understanding the concept of appreciative capacity requires exploring its two component terms, capacity (intelligence) and appreciation.

Intelligence

Human intelligence is mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, understand and handle abstract concepts and use knowledge to manipulate one’s environment (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011). More recently, however, psychologists have generally agreed that adaptation to the environment is the key to understanding both what intelligence is and what it does. For the most part, adaptation involves making a change in oneself in order to cope more effectively with the environment, but it can also mean changing the environment or finding an entirely new one. Effective adaptation draws upon a number of cognitive processes, such as perception, learning, memory, reasoning and problem solving, The main emphasis in a definition of intelligence, then is that it is not a cognitive or mental process per

se but rather a selective combination of these processes that is purposively directed toward effective adaptation.

Uncovering New Intelligences

In the twenty first century, researchers have explored the possibility that intelligences are a more diverse and looser confederation of abilities than once was thought. A particular focus among researchers has been the exploration of “hot intelligences” such as practical, social, and emotional intelligence. These are intelligences that pertain to personally relevant information. Social intelligence for example, includes capacities to appraise and understand human relationships. (Lee, Wong, Day, Maxwell, & Thorpe, 2000). Practical intelligence involves the ability to  understand often-unstated rules (technically, tacit information) that surround us (Sternberg, & Rainbow Project Collaborators, 2006). Further, Appreciative Intelligence has been proposed as the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present (Thatchenkery and Metzker, 2006).

The Roots of Appreciation

The concept of “appreciation” has its roots in the German word “Weltanschauung” and the philosophical tradition of hermeneutics (Thatchenkery, 2004). This word has no exact parallel in English, since it combines two concepts in one: a way of perceiving (anschauen) reality (Welt), and experience (anschauung) of the world (Welt). These concepts are unbreakable in “Weltanschauung”, thus creating an inseparability of interpretation from experience.

Weltanschauung

The term Weltanschauung first appeared in 1790 (Naugle, 2002). Schelling (1799) speaks of the original/subjective/limitation which characterizes our Weltanschauung. Novalis (1928) has among his fragments the phrase that our own inner plurality is the basis of Weltanschauung. Dilthey  (1911) who is most frequently associated with the philosophy of Weltanschauung, sums definition in the following central statement: “Weltanschauungen are not products of reflection. They are not the fruit of the mere will to know. The perception of reality is an important force in their formation, but only one. They arise from the process of life, from our experience of life, from the structure of our psychic totality. The ascendance of life to consciousness, in the knowledge of reality, the acceptance and appreciation of life, and the accomplishments of the will; this is the slow and difficult work that mankind has performed in the development of its weltanschauungen”.

The Definition of Appreciative Capacity

Thatchenkery and Metzker (2006) postulate that Appreciative Intelligence is a kind of intelligence that is associated with the ability for accomplishing a goal or set of goals, relying primarily on how the available abilities and resources can be best utilized and not so much on the extent of abilities or resources available. Metaphorically, they define appreciative capacity as the ability to see the mighty oak tree in its seed, the acorn.

Components of Appreciative Capacity

Thatchenkery and Metzker (2006) conceived of Appreciative capacity as having three basic components, as follows:

  1. Appreciating the positive
  2. Reframing
  3. Seeing how the future unfolds

Positive States Emanating From Appreciative Capacity

Four state-like qualities appear consistently in subjects possessing high appreciative ability (Thatchenkery & Metzker, 2006) and include:

  1. Developed persistence
  • Conviction that one’s actions matter
  • Tolerance for uncertainty
  • Irrepressible resilience.

Objective

The objective framed for the study was:-

  • To find out the best predicting factors of Appreciative Intelligence for Conflict Management Styles*.

Summary of Method used in research

  Dependent Variable Conflict Management Styles* based on Pareek’s model (2002), i.e. four Avoidance style (resignation, withdrawal, defusion and appeasement) and four Approach style (confrontation, compromise, arbitration and negotiation)
Independent Variable Appreciative Capacity which has three dimensions: Appreciation, Visualization and Actualization
Statistics Multiple Regression
  Measures Used Opinion Survey of Conflict Management developed by Pareek (2002)Appreciative Accumen inventory developed by Maheshwari (2009).
Sample Total 250 managers were randomly selected from service and manufacturing sector but usable questionnaires were 164. Hence final sample size was of 164 managers.

RESULTS’ DISCUSSION

Findings of the study were that Appreciative Capacity (total) is the significant predictor of defusion and compromise style

Defusion style is used when several emotional issues are involved in a conflict, manager takes/ gives time so that emotions can “cool down” before taking up the real issue for resolution. When out-group is recognized as open to reason and interested in peace then managers try to defuse the conflict by appealing to the good sense of both groups, to the sentiments that both are part of a larger group and have common interests, interdependence, mutuality, etc (Pareek, 2002). Thus, appreciation quality makes them feel connected with out-group and develop understanding that by exploiting others they will be exploiting themselves. They feel compassionate and empathetic towards out-group as they develop some form of identification with them. Helping enables managers’ to gain social and self-rewards for doing what is good and right. Lyubomirsky, King and Diener (2005) found that positive emotions lead to effective problem solving. Optimism is a perspective closely associated with positivity. Out of their positivity and optimism managers buy time to mange conflict.

Visualization, explains Shellenberger and Green (n.d.) “Are the forte of the mind. They are primary tools for thinking, remembering, planning ahead and problem solving.” Managers with high visualization ability are able to locate patterns and linkages among disparate data and information which leads to generation of variety of ideas. With insight, the solution is all or none and the timing is unpredictable, thence, mangers need more time to resolve conflict. Managers with high visualization ability can foresee the result of their effort.

Actualized managers are high-hope managers who are self-confident and are interested not only in their own goals but also in the goals of others; therefore, they take time to resolve issues. Their flexibility helps them to respond effectively to any complicated situation. All these qualities together develop individuals’ appreciative capacity and they are able to connect the generative aspects of the present with a desirable end goal.

Compromise involves bargaining and mutually giving up something to reach a settlement. It can be used to get a quick resolution, with the prevention of further escalation (Robin, 2002). When the out-group is interested in peace but is identified as unreasonable and seeking his own interest then mangers high on appreciative intelligence prefer using compromise style. Because individuals with high appreciative ability can see the end goal, they believe their actions and abilities will take them

towards a successful conclusion. They believe they have the power within themselves to produce the desired results. Reich (2004) believes that such expectations allow managers to overlook or underplay negative information and selectively seek positive actions.

Due to their appreciativeness and positivity they frame reality in a new and positive way, open their minds to seeing new connections between ideas, or situations, and with a flash of insight they suddenly see connections that previously eluded them (Kounios, 2005). Vision helps to translate ideas into an inspiring picture of the future, by imagining the performance of an action; they improve actual performance of that action. Due to their insight and vision they reframe the perceived reality and find solutions, which can benefit both the parties. As they are highly actualized they are effective at generating alternative pathway to goals. Due to their resilient and never-say-die attitude residing in their attribute of hopefulness, adaptability and self-confidence they are confident of handling any difficult situation.

Implication of the study

Findings of the study have good future implementations, as the results of this study indicate that appreciative capacity is significant predictor of conflict management styles, especially with defusion and compromise style and in present study these styles were revealed as popular styles in both the sectors. According to Rahim and Buntzman (1989) integrating, compromising and to some degree obliging are associated with each other. High inter-correlations among these styles give rise to a favorable halo effect with respect to the perceived influence, for example if a superior is perceived as having integrating style, this will also augment other styles (e.g. compromising, obliging) at his/her disposal and vice-versa. When managers are perceived as accommodating and compromising they are considered humanistic especially in Indian perspective, leading to positive interpersonal relationships, which result in high levels of satisfaction among subordinates and peers.

Sound superior-subordinate relationships are important and consistent with humanistic and cooperative work environment, which makes employees committed to the organization (Brown and Peterson, 1993). Therefore management should invest to amplify appreciative capacity of managers.

Organizations’ should put in on exalting appreciative capacity of managers because it emanates the four positive states (persistence, irrepressible resilience, tolerance for uncertainty and the conviction that one’s actions matter). Luthans, Avolio and Youssef (2007) suggest that positive states may be regarded as positive psychological capital and the investment of positive psychological capital (in the form of positive states) is as important as traditional forms of capital.

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