A Description of the Conflict Process Model

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McShane, Olekalns and Travaglione, (2010, pg 416) asserts that the ‘conflict’ process “is really a series of episodes that potentially cycle into conflict escalation”, and that behaviours can cause a perception that conflict exists even if the first party did not intend to demonstrate conflict.

This paper will evaluate the conflict process model, as it appears in McShane et al (2010), in the context of multicultural organisational settings. Given the breadth of the subject matter and the brevity of this paper, specific regard will be given to workgroups and conflict set in motion unintentionally.

There are many definitions for conflict. Some researchers have specifically not employed a definition for fear of restricting the scope of their work (Kozan 1997). As we are assessing McShane, Olekalns and Travaglione’s (2010) assertion that the “…conflict process is really a series of episodes that potentially cycle into conflict escalation”, we will use the same author’s definition of conflict. “Conflict is a process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party” (McShane et al. 2010). The conflict process model, as it appears in McShane (2010), appears below (Exhibit 11.1).

There are three stages of conflict illustrated in the conflict process model. The model begins with sources of conflict or triggers, followed by manifestation of conflict and finally conflict outcomes. Sitting between triggers and manifestation, are conflict perceptions and emotions. It is these perceptions and emotions that, feeding into conflict manifestation and back again, form conflict episodes. This cycle can lead to conflict escalation; one of the key things conflict management seeks to prevent.

Conflict triggers come in all shapes and sizes. From verbal slights to outright antagonising, almost any behaviour can be perceived as conflict even if no conflict was intended. Often the context in which conflict begins is of great importance. Of particular import to this discussion are task conflicts and relationship conflicts.

Historically all conflict was painted as negative. In recent decades, however, there has been a distinct shift in the accepted thinking insofar as task conflict is now appreciated as a potentially positive force - provided it is properly harnessed and managed. Interestingly, Jehn & Rispens (2008) suggest that future research may yet demonstrate that relationship conflict could serve a constructive purpose, for example as a non-work related frustration release, free from the potentially delicate environment of the workgroup.

Relationship conflict can be defined as disagreement over personal incompatibilities unrelated to work (Lovaglia et al. 2005). Jehn & Rispens (2008) explain that while relationship conflict has consistently been illustrated as a negative process in workgroups, the debate surrounding task conflict continues.

Task conflicts arise between group members and concern how a shared goal should be accomplished. George & Jones (2008) illustrate task conflict with the example of three key leaders at the fashion label Gucci. Two of the leaders had a long and highly successful history, running Gucci together with great success for many years. The third executive was appointed to run the holding company and sought to impose his seniority over the other pair by insisting on signing off on their decisions. While all three had the success of the company in mind, the conflict escalated and the first and second executives resigned. While this is a negative outcome of task conflict, if correctly harnessed, task conflict has the potential to drive positive debate and constructive thinking amongst workgroup members.

In the context of a globalised world, there is greater opportunity for multicultural workgroups than ever before. With this increase in multicultural settings comes a corresponding increase in the potential for...
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