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Doing and Thinking in the Resolution of Conflicts

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

When reconciling after a conflict, which is more important: responding quickly or responding correctly and thoroughly? A new study on motivation addresses this question.

Regulatory Mode Theory (RMT)1 distinguishes between two aspects of how we monitor and assess our own behavior: locomotion and assessment. Locomotion is the motivational component concerned with initiating and maintaining movement, whereas assessment is the motivational component concerned with making critical comparisons and evaluations. RMT suggests that locomotion and assessment function independently of one another. As such, people can differ both chronically and momentarily on their relative emphasis on one mode over the other. Further, this emphasis pertains not just to the self-regulatory strategies of individuals, but of groups as well. A recent study by Antonio Pierro and colleagues2 explores RMT as a group-level phenomenon, results of which have implications for how we navigate and resolve conflicts.

Researchers conducted a study to address the complementarity hypothesis, which posits that locomotion individuals and assessment individuals may be necessary for effective goal pursuit in groups. They recruited nearly 300 employees from various work teams and obtained measures of each individual’s chronic regulatory mode as well as supervisor ratings of work performance. Results demonstrated that employees who had a complementary regulatory mode orientation (i.e. individuals who were high on locomotion working in teams with other members who were high on assessment and individuals who were high on assessment working in teams with other members who were high on locomotion) were rated as the best performers. This work substantiates previous findings revealing that mixed-orientation teams performed better than more homogenous teams3 by focusing on individual performance within that group context.

Such findings have far-reaching implications for conflict resolution research. If both locomotion and assessment are necessary for effective goal-pursuit in individuals and teams, might they be central to the process of reconciling conflicts of interest? Often this process is one involving tradeoffs between doing it fast (a locomotion concern) and doing it right (an assessment concern). Do heterogeneous groups, comprising individuals of both orientations, have more optimal strategies of conflict resolution? Based on this work, it appears as if within-group differences in motivation would enhance effective conflict resolution; but might between-group differences deter it? In other words, if a high-locomoting group comes into conflict with a high-assessing group, do these differences in strategies preclude the effective resolution of conflict? These represent just several of the myriad questions one can ask when extending research on RMT to the domain of conflict resolution, answers to which are important in understanding both individual- and group-level reconciliation processes.

1 Higgins, E. T., Kruglanski, A. W., & Pierro, A. (2003). Regulatory mode: Locomotion and assessment as distinct orientations. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 293-344). New York, NY: Academic Press.

2 Pierro, A., Presaghi, F., Higgins, E. T., Klein, K. M., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2012). Frogs and ponds: A multilevel analysis of the regulatory mode complementarity hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(2): 269-279.

3 Mauro, R., Pierro, A., Mannetti, L., Higgins, E. T., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2009). The perfect mix: Regulatory complementarity and the speed-accuracy balance in group performance. Psychological Science, 20: 681-685.


Christine Webb

Christine Webb is a doctoral student in Psychology at Columbia University. Broadly, her research interests include reconciliation, individual differences, evolution, and motivation. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Emory University, where she studied the social behavior of brown capuchin monkeys for two years. The following year, she worked as… MORE >

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