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What is Your Organization’s Conflict Style?

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

Prior research had explored conflict styles at the individual and group level, but had yet to explore whether organizations have distinct conflict styles. Recently, researchers using data from a large bank in the mid-Atlantic United States found evidence to suggest that three distinct conflict styles operate within organizational cultures: collaborative, dominating, and avoidant.

Two findings from this research may be of particular importance to conflict management practitioners. First, the study found evidence to suggest that there is a link between a leader’s conflict style and the conflict style embedded in the organizational culture they lead. In other words, how a leader approaches conflict can establish norms and beliefs about how conflict should be handled in the organization. Though more research is needed to have a more robust understanding of the other contributing factors, leaders should be aware of the impact their own conflict style may have on the organizational culture.

Equally important for practitioners are the implications of conflict style on performance outcomes. Organizations with avoidant conflict styles were associated with lower branch creativity, while lower customer service quality was associated with organizations that had a dominating conflict styles Finally, organizations with collaborative conflict styles were associated with more employee cohesion and lower levels of employee burnout.

This research suggests that there may be added value in considering an organization’s conflict style and how it may be related to different performance outcomes.

Gelfand, M. J., Leslie, L. M., Keller, K., & de Dreu, C. (2012). Conflict cultures in organizations: How leaders shape conflict cultures and their organizational-level consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(6), 1131


Lauren Catenacci

Lauren Catenacci is a PhD student in the Social-Organizational Psychology program. She holds a Master of Arts in Social-Organizational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and two bachelor’s degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, from the University of Central Florida. She has… MORE >

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