Kuhn, T. , & Poole, M. (2000). Do Conflict Management Styles Affect Group Decision Making?. Human Communication Research, 26(4), 558. Unlike most studies of conflict which are focused on the immediate outcomes of the conflict episode, the authors here have tried to prove through systematic investigation that conflict styles established early in a group’s life influence its later activities. The attention of the study is on conflict management rather than conflict resolution.
To prove this, authors have proposed a hypothesis based on the effectiveness of three categories of group conflict management style: avoidance, distributive, and integrative styles. They also have a research question explaining the relationship among the level of task complexity, conflict management style, and group decision-making effectiveness. The three categories of group conflict management style discussed here are avoidance style, distributive style, and integrative styles.
Avoidance describes behavior that serves to minimize addressing the conflict explicitly, either ignoring it or quickly shifting conversation to a different issue; it is both unassertive and uncooperative. A distributive style is a confrontive approach that results in one side conceding to the other. Finally, an integrative style is one in which parties employ cooperative behaviors intended to pursue mutually favorable resolutions. Integrative conflict management implies an attempt to come to the best (or at least an acceptable) solution for all concerned parties.
These conflict management styles have various influences on the decision making effectiveness of the group, in both performance outcome and subjective outcomes. The study’s design employed direct observation of established groups over a considerable period of time. The sample data used is from a field study that videotaped group meetings in their natural context, and is of 11 groups of two organizations. These groups usually met twice monthly, with meeting duration averaging 2 hours. Each met for a minimum of 1 year, and at least 15 audio- or videotaped meetings existed for each team.
For each group, at least four episodes of conflict were selected from the recorded meetings, as was one meeting in which a decision was made. Both organizations were involved in quality improvement programs in which small decision-making groups played a significant role. The quality process included a facilitator assigned to help each team achieve the goals of the quality program. Data were collected in two phases. In the first phase, four separate meeting were identified in which an episode of conflict occurred. Three independent observers viewed the meetings in which conflict occurred, and were asked to verify the existence of the conflict.
In the second phase, meetings in which teams made meaningful decisions were identified and evaluated. After identifying a decision meeting, the observers viewed independently each meeting in its entirety. To ensure systematic analysis of group conflict management style, the coding process was partitioned into three steps: (a) identification of four or more significant episodes of conflict, (b) coding the group’s response to the conflict in each episode, and (c) analysis of patterns in the coding across episodes to identify group conflict management style, if one existed.
For decision making effectiveness, authors operationalized this variable by combining information from three sources—member, quality program facilitator, and external observer (a researcher)—to create an overall evaluation of the decision-making session. From the results of the study, two things were confirmed: (a) integrative groups were most effective in decision-making, and (b) task complexity may be seen as a moderator of the relationship between conflict management style and decision making effectiveness.
Findings of the study suggested that teams that managed conflicts productively also performed other communication functions that allowed them to made decisions satisfying to members, facilitators, and observers. From these results, authors have concluded that conflict management plays both a task and maintenance function in groups; it is also clear that conflict characteristics are connected with group outcomes.