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Is Being Adaptive in Conflict Better than Being Purely Cooperative?

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

Recent studies have shown that being adaptive in conflict situations (employing resolution strategies that fit with different types of situations) is associated with more satisfaction with conflict outcomes and well being at work than using cooperative approaches. This finding largely contradicts decades of research showing that more cooperative forms of negotiation, mediation and conflict management work best at work. Coleman & Kugler (in press) found that managers and executives who were adaptive – or had the capacity to use various conflict strategies (i.e. benevolence, dominance, support, appeasement, autonomy) in a way that fit the demands of the situations they faced were more satisfied with their conflict outcomes and processes. On the other hand, using chronic cooperative approaches to conflict did not show a significant relationship to conflict and job satisfaction.

In order to test the generalizibility of this phenomenon, Kim, Coleman and Kugler (2014) conducted a study in South Korea and the results showed a similar trend. Adaptivity was positively associated with conflict satisfaction and job satisfaction and negatively associated with negative affect at work and intentions to quit. Similar to the results found in the United States, a more chronic use of cooperative approaches to conflict did not show a significant relationship to conflict outcomes and job satisfaction.

These results have important implications for managers and employees in organizations. While cooperative strategies and behaviors are essential and beneficial when dealing with many conflict situations at workplace, they are not a panacea. Engaging in only cooperative strategies when situations call for more competitive or domineering approaches may be ineffective and result in less satisfaction with work life.


Coleman P.T. & Kugler, K.G. (in press). Tracking managerial conflict adaptivity: Introducing a dynamic measure of adaptive conflict management in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Kim, R., Coleman, P.T. & Kugler, K.G. (2014). Adaptivity, culture and conflict landscape: conflict tendencies at work in US and South Korea. International Association for Conflict Management 27th Annual Conference Paper. Leiden, The Netherlands.


Regina Kim

Regina Kim is a doctoral student in Social-Organizational Psychology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.  She graduated from Smith College with a B.A in Psychology and East Asian Literature and received her master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from Yonsei University, South Korea.  Regina worked as a researcher at institutions like Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard… MORE >

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