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CHAPTER FOURTEEN Collaboration over Avoidance: Conflict Man1

发布时间:2019-04-10 浏览:

Introduction

 China's nationwide economic reform in the past two decades has brought about great changes as well as clashes between the old and the new practice in stateowned enterprises (SOEs). The traditional emphasis on lifetime employment, economic security, and socialist brotherhood all run counter to the reform principles of contracted employment, enterprise economic responsibility, individual initiative and free competition. The increased use of performancebased reward, the focus on productivity, and a deemphasis on job security have challenged what had been traditional practice in SOEs since the 1950s. Changes in the working environment and the clashes between the old and new practices resulted in conflicts between workers and managers, and among workers. The pervasiveness of conflicts makes the study of conflict management of great importance for the implementation of modern enterprise system in stateowned enterprises. 

   Conflict refers to disagreements that arise from and lead to incompatible goals, values, and behaviors (Putnam & Wilson, 1982). It is one of the major organizational phenomena. Robbins (1974) pointed out that investigation of organizational operation is not complete without an understanding of conflict and how to manage it. Conflicts occur between groups or individuals in a particular cultural context. Culture defines values and interests, shapes perceptions and choice of alternatives, as well as influences conflict outcomes (Pedersen & Jandt, 1996). Previous studies on conflict management have indicated that cultural context has an impact on the way conflicts are perceived and resolved (e.g., Bantz, 1993; Chen, Ryan, & Chen, 2000; Knutson, Hwang, & Deng, 2000; Krone, Chen, & Xia, 1997; TingToomey, 1994). Consequently, a better understanding of how cultural context influences the conflict management process will help us better predict success in future conflict management. Hence, it is necessary to incorporate cultural attitudes and perceptions into models and theories of conflict analysis and conflictmanagement.

 Unfortunately, existing models of conflict management are predominantly based on Western context that continue to show the lack of concern on nonWestern nations (Rabbie, 1994). Moreover, a review of the literature reflects that past research on conflict management tends to emphasize either a normative or descriptive approach, which is based on the game theory and focuses on the situational rather than the cultural context (Pedersen & Jandt, 1996;TingToomey, 1985). In other words, insufficient attention has been paid to the sociocultural perspective of conflict management. In order to improve the problem, this study aimed to extend Liu and Chen's (2000) study by assessing the impact of culture on conflict management strategies in stateowned enterprises in China. It is hoped that knowledge of cultural specific conflict strategies will not only throw light on management but also have implications for intercultural communication in organizational settings.

Literature Review

 As early as the 1940s, organizational scholars have found three main ways of dealing with conflict: domination, compromise, and integration (Rahim, 1986). Blake and Mouton (1964) first presented a managerial grid which classified conflict mode of managers based on whether the manager was production or people oriented. Using a conceptualization similar to Blake and Mouton, scholars differentiated two basic dimensions, concern for self and for others in conflict styles. These dimensions portray the motivational orientations of a given individual during conflict (Rubin & Brown, 1975). Combination of the two dimensions results in five specific styles of handling interpersonal conflict: collaboration (high concern for self and others), accommodation (low concern for self and high concern for others), control (high concern for self and low concern for others), avoiding (low concern for self and others), and compromise (intermediate in concern for self and others).

 Putnam and Wilson (1982) argued that there is no major formula or best way to handle a conflict. Conflict strategies represent the behavioral choices that people make based on their goals rather than personality style. The decision to use a particular conflict strategy therefore is largely governed by situational rather than personal constraints, particularly by variables such as the nature of conflict, the relationship between participants, organizational structure, and environmental factors (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967). Putnam and Wilson (1982) designed the Organizational Communication Conflict Instrument (OCCI) to assess conflict resolution strategies. Three factors affecting decisions to use particular strategies were identified: nonconfrontation, solutionorientation, and control. For two decades a great deal of research has employed OCCI to examine the impact of person and situation on conflict strategies, programs involving conflict management skills, and the relationship between culture and potential ways of resolving conflicts (e.g., Chua & Gudykunst, 1987; Putnam, & Wilson, 1982; Temkin & Cummings, 1985; TingToomey, 1985, 1986). By taking both person and situation into account, OCCI put the study of conflict strategies into the context in which the strategies are employed. 

   Context has been considered as a background element that stimulates, sustains, and supports behavior (Pedersen & Jandt, 1996). Behavior is not meaningful information until it is understood in the context of culturally learned expectations and values. Merry (1987) described how mediation practices across cultures depend on the context where the process rather than the substance of agreement becomes the focus. Zubek, Pruitt, Pierce, McGrillicuddy, and Syna (1992) discussed the importance of joint problem solving in the successful mediation, in which the mediators demonstrate empathy and the ability to understand how the cultural context controls behavior. It was found that depending on the cultural context, similar behaviors might have different meanings and vice versa. Thus, it is important to interpret behaviors in terms of the intended expectations and values attached to those behaviors. 

 Context and meaningful communication are closely related. Hall (1983) indicated that no communication is totally independent of context and all meaning has an important contextual component. Constructive conflict management requires the identification of behaviors in their cultural contexts that are defined by values and expectations (Pedersen & Jandt, 1996). In other words, conflict strategies that are insensitive to each culture's unique context are not likely to succeed. Each cultural context has developed its own unique constraints and opportunities for constructive conflict management. Felstiner (1982) further observed that dispute resolution in any society was regulated by cultural values, psychological imperatives, history, and economic, political or social organization. 

 Although literature indicates that the cultural context is important to understanding and managing conflict, there are very few guidelines on a culturegeneral model to incorporate culture into the process of conflict management (Pedersen & Jandt, 1996). Any attempt to generalize conflict management strategies from Western to nonWestern cultures, or vice versa, regardless of the cultural context, is unlikely to yield a valid and reliable outcome. In order to develop a culture specific model of constructive conflict management and further test the applicability of OCCI in nonWestern context, this study adopted OCCI as a tool to assess the impact of Chinese culture on the choice of conflict strategies in stateowned enterprises.

 Since 1949, the Chinese government has created organizations to which individuals should be committed. The key organization one is affiliated with is one's working unit, which not only is the focus of work activity but also exercises control over a host of nonwork areas. Due to the traditional socialist system, the factory is like a community, providing employees with a large lifesupporting system, such as nursery, school, canteen, housing, theater, a complete healthcare facility, and transportation for commuting. Thus, employees in stateowned organizations, regarded as their symbolic family, are highly dependent on their factory. Four implications of the family metaphor are: hierarchy, harmony, group orientation, and interrelation (guanxi). 

 The first implication of the family metaphor is hierarchy. Being a member of the family, one has an assigned place in the hierarchical structure of the Chinese society. The social order of the family then serves as the prototype for conduct in Chinese organizations (Chen & Chung, 1994). Supervisors and subordinates are supposed to behave in accordance with their distinctive roles. Supervisors are considered to have power in the organization as the father in the family. It is assumed that if both subordinates and supervisors stick to their respective roles and abide by the explicit and implicit rules of proper behavior, order and stability will be assured in this hierarchical structure. Moreover, in the Chinese society power is embedded in seniority and authority (Chen & Starosta, 19978). In other words, those who are male, elders, higher ranked employees, and having longer working experience tend to be considered more powerful in the process of conflict management (Bond & Hwang, 1986; Cai & Gonzales, 19978; Chung, 1996).  Based on the social hierarchy and power structure of the Chinese society, the first hypothesis was proposed:

 H1: [ZK(]The frequency of exercising control strategies would increase with male, age, status, education, and the length of working experience in Chinese stateowned enterprises.

 The second implication of the family metaphor is harmony. As employees work together for many years, maintaining harmony is important in this symbolic family. Chinese people believe that only harmony among group members can produce fortune (Chen, in press; Chen & Chung, 1994; Huang, 2000). It is to the advantage of the workers to foster a good interpersonal relationship with their immediate supervisor as well as with a coworker. Harmony thus becomes the guiding principle to resolve problems whenever conflicts occur, because the Chinese believe that harmony makes the family prosper (Huang, 2000). For example, if disputes arise because Worker A gets more bonus than Worker B at the end of the month, the director of the workshop, trying to avoid tackling the issue of whether it is right or wrong for the unequal bonus distribution, would say that if Worker B does a better job next time, he/she would give the worker more.

 The third implication of the family metaphor is group orientation. Chinese were taught to restrain their individuality from childhood and subordinate themselves to the group to sustain a social order and stability (Lockett, 1988). Social interactions should be conducted in a way to protect an individual's face, selfrespect, and prestige. Face represents the confidence of society or the integrity of ego's moral character (Hu, 1945). For the Chinese people, what one thinks of oneself is less important than what one thinks others think (Ho, 1976). Thus, how we manage face in a conflict situation contributes to the maintenance of group harmony (Chiao, 1981; Chu, 1983). For instance, an incident related by a workshop director would illustrate this point. One day this director caught a worker not working at the machine. Instead of asking him to get back to work or demanding an explanation for his idleness, the director kindly asked if the worker felt tired and added that if the worker felt tired, he himself could take the worker's role for a while. Upon hearing this, the worker realized the hidden meaning of the message and went back to work immediately. The incident indicates that the director indirectly communicated to the tardy worker by saving the worker's face and maintaining harmony among the group members.

 The fourth implication of the family metaphor is establishing interpersonal relationships (guanxi). Guanxi in Chinese society not only acquires a set of specific communication rules and patterns that guides Chinese to avoid embarrassing conflicts in social interactions, but also is used as a tool of persuasion, influence, and control in the process of conflict management (Chang & Holt, 1991; Chung, 1996; Jocobs, 1979; Hwang, 1988; Shenkar & Ronen, 1987). Managing directors in SOEs are positioned both at the top of a pyramid and at the center of a web of interconnected relationships. They need to develop good relationships with the higher administrative bureaus, suppliers and customers, party secretaries, and workers. As to large SOEs, there always exists a close tie between the state and the enterprise. A good relationship with the higher administrative bureaus may give the factory better access to government loans or better bargain on rates of taxation. After the reform, the state is no longer responsible for allocating raw materials and distributing products for SOEs. Buying raw materials from suppliers at the lowest price possible and maintaining the customers is an important task faced by factory leaders, for a good relationship with suppliers and customers often decides the profitability of the enterprise.  

 Establishing cooperative relationship with the party secretaries is another important role of managing directors. On the one hand, the party is an important component of the leadership committee supervising the work of managing directors. On the other hand, the party secretaries are often called upon to settle conflicts as they are in charge of ideological education. Traditionally, the party secretaries are in charge of reeducating the tardy workers or to act as third party to resolve conflicts between production leaders and workers. It is believed that good relationship with workers, which can be developed and reinforced through compromise or collaboration strategies in conflict resolution, has a positive effect on workers' performance. Thus, conflict should be avoided in the first place. If the conflict is inevitable, big issues should be lessened to small ones, and small ones to none at all (da shi hua xiao, xiao shi hua liao). For instance, if criticism has to be given, indirect communication style is often employed. This type of communication is consistent with a groupcentered orientation which aims to avoid threatening longstanding, ongoing relationship (Varner & Beamer, 1995). Based on the implications of harmony, group orientation, and interrelation, the second hypothesis was proposed:

 H2: [ZK(]The frequency of the application of the five conflict strategies would be in the rank order of avoidance, accommodation, collaboration, compromise, and control.

 In addition to the two hypotheses, Putnam and Wilson's OCCI was first tested for its generality in Chinese cultural context.

Method

Participants

 The enterprise under study is from the pharmaceutical industry, which is referred to as Factory F. It was set up in late 1950s, currently with a workforce of over 6,000 employees (excluding retirees). Among them, 200 were randomly selected for the purpose of this study. The population was first arranged by their positions (i.e., factory level leader, middle level manager, staff and technician, and frontline worker). Then subjects were randomly selected through stratifying sampling from each category to ensure that a more holistic picture of conflict strategies could be attained. 

 Of the 200 questionnaires distributed, 141 were returned, making a response rate of 70%. Approximately 45% of the participants were male and 55% female; 45% had working experience of over 5 years and 55% less than 4 years. The positions held ranged from factory level leaders to front line workers with educational level from high school to above university. The 141 participants fell into four age categories (2029, 3039, 4049, 50 or 50+) with 71.6 percent coming from the age group of 2029.

Instrument and Procedure

 The translated version of OCCI, applied in the previous study in jointventures (Liu & Chen, 2000), was adopted as basic instrument for this study. Two modifications were made to the OCCI for this study. First, instructions were modified to specify conflict situations between supervisors and subordinates as well as between peer workers. Second, with regard to position in demographic information, items were revised to suit the particular organizational structure of stateowned enterprises. The questionnaire was distributed with the help of one staff working in Factory F.

Results

 Principal component analysis was employed to discover underlying dimensions of the 30 items. The initial factor analysis with varimax rotation suggested a 9factor solution. With a sample size of approximately 150, factor loadings at .45 should be considered as significant (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1995). After examining six different factor structures (39 factor structure), decision was made to accept a fivefactor extraction because the solution best achieved representativeness and parsimony. Eleven items either with multiple loadings or appearing to be dangling items were dropped based on the positive contribution to KeiserMeyerOlkin measure of sampling adequacy (.66) and the increase in the percentage of variance accounted for. The five factors accounted for 52.89 percent of the total variance. 

 Factor 1, accounting for 12.26 percent of the variance with eigenvalue of 3.35 contained five items.  Among them, four items were from the category of accommodation, and one item from compromise. The content of the items suggested resolving conflicts by putting either party's interest on top of the other. Hence, this factor was labeled as Accommodation. 

 Factor 2, accounting for 11.67 percent of the total variance with the eigenvalue of 2.34, consisted of 5 items, all from the category of collaboration, with one exception from compromise. Items contained in this factor suggested open discussion of the problems with an intention of reaching an integrative solution to the benefit of both parties. Thus, this factor was labeled as Collaboration. 

 The three items contained in Factor 3 all came from the category of avoidance. Avoidance represented an escape from conflict and an absence of direct confrontation. Hence, this factor was labeled as Avoidance. It accounted for 11.37 percent of the variance with an eigenvalue of 1.73.

 Factor 4, accounting for 9.48 percent of the variance with an eigenvalue of 1.51, consisted of three items that were all from the category of control. The three items suggested open confrontation that led to persistent argument or forcing the opponent to accept the viewpoint. Thus, factor 4 was labeled as Competition. 

 Factor 5, accounting for 8.11 percent of the variance with an eigenvalue of 1.13, was the most diversified constellation, as the three items were each from the category of avoidance, collaboration, and competition. A close examination of the content indicated that item 8 and item 14 suggested a compromise between the conflict parties with either nonconfrontation or solution orientation strategies. Item 10, which came from the category of competition, had a negative significant loading on this factor. It followed that a person favoring control strategy would not resort to avoidance or collaboration strategies. Based on the content of the items, even though no compromise items from the original category was found in this factor, Factor 5 was labeled as Compromise. In fact, items from the original category of compromise, as suggested by Putnam and Wilson (1982), tended to scatter among collaboration or accommodation rather than clinging to themselves together not only in the present study but in the previous study in jointventures as well.

 Conceptually, these five factors paralleled the twodimension conflict model suggested by Blake and Mouton. Table 1 reports the results of the five factors. 

Table 1.  Factor Analysis of the Adapted OCCI

 The five factors were then constructed into scales for subsequent analysis. Table 2 presents the number of items, mean scores, standard deviations, mode and range in each of the five strategies. 

 Table 2.  Descriptive Statistics for Conflict Strategies

 The results indicated that Collaboration had the highest mean score while Avoidance had the lowest. Control ranged the second high and accommodation the second low. An examination of the mode revealed that most of the subjects chose "Often" (item mode 3.8) in Collaboration. Similar results were seen in Control (item mode 3.67). The rank order of the subjects' application of the five strategies in terms of frequency was Collaboration, Control, Compromise and Accommodation, and Avoidance. This finding was similar to Liu and Chen's (2000) study which indicated that Collaboration had the highest mean score, Control second, and Nonconfrontation last. The findings in this study then showed that H2 was not supported. Further analyses were conducted to test the relationships among the five demographic questions and the five conflict strategies. Tables 37 report the results.

Table 3.  Two–tailed ttest for Conflict Strategy Regarding Gender Difference

Table 4.  Oneway ANOVA for Conflict Strategy Regarding Age Difference

Table 5. Oneway ANOVA for Conflict Strategy Regarding Education

Table 6.  Oneway ANOVA for Conflict Strategy Regarding Working Experience

Table 7.  Oneway ANOVA for Conflict Strategy Regarding Position

 Results from Tables 37 illustrated that significant differences exist in age, education, the length of working experience, and position regarding the application of some but not all the five conflict strategies. It was found that, as age increases, the frequency of applying Accommodation, Collaboration, and Avoidance strategies tended to increase. Subjects at both ends of the scale of education (high school and above university) tended to have a higher score on Compromise. Similar pattern was found in Collaboration with respect to the length of working experience. In addition, the longer the working experience the higher the score on Avoidance. The difference in position reached significant level only in Collaboration, i.e., the higher the position the less likely the application of collaboration strategy. Gender did not show a significant effect on the choice of any of the five strategies. The findings suggested that the application of control strategy was not affected by demographic variables. Hence, H1 was not supported either.

Discussion and Implications

 This chapter reports the application of modified OCCI in the organizational settings of Chinese stateowned enterprise. Principal component analysis revealed a 5factor structure, which conceptually corresponds to the five conflict strategies proposed by Blake and Mouton. Like the findings of a previous study in the Chinese context (Liu & Chen, 2000), the grouping of the items was different from the one shown in the original version of the OCCI. The difference between the original grouping of the items and the one in this study demonstrated that conflict models developed in the Western context might not have the same cultural validity when used in nonWestern contexts (Pedersen & Jandt, 1996). Thus, culture specific data might provide valuable information concerning conflict management in intercultural settings. Moreover, the significant effect of age, years of working experience, and position on the application of conflict strategies reinforces the argument that strategy choice is a joint function of persons in situation (Wilson & Waltman, 1988).

 H1 predicted that the frequency of applying control strategy would increase with male, age, position, education, and years of working experience. Results in this study revealed that none of the demographic data showed a significant effect on the application of control strategy. However, the findings indicated that age had a significant effect on the choice of Accommodation, Collaboration, and Avoidance. The tendency was that the older the subjects, the more frequent the application of the three strategies. Moreover, the length of working experience illustrated that the longer the working experience, the more likely the use of collaboration and avoidance strategies.

 The effect of position on conflict strategy reached significance only in Collaboration, which stipulated that the higher the position, the less likely the choice of collaboration. However, there was no indication that people of higher position would adopt control strategy more often. Finally, interesting findings were revealed in the relationship between education and compromise strategy. A closer examination indicated that subjects at both ends (high school and above university) tended to favor compromise more. However, further study is required before any reliable conclusion could be drawn to explain this phenomenon.

 H2 predicted that the frequency of the application of the five conflict strategies would be in the rank order of Avoidance, Accommodation, Collaboration, Compromise, and Control. The findings in this study did not provide support for this hypothesis. Results indicated that the order of the five conflict strategies was: Collaboration ranks (M=3.52), Control (M=3.32), Accommodation and Compromise (M=3.16), and Avoidance (M=2.85). 

 Because Chinese believe that the achievement of success depends upon appropriate time in accordance to heaven, favorable conditions provided by earth, and harmonious interpersonal relationships among people (tian shi di li ren he) (Chai & Chai, 1969; Chen, 2000; Cheng, 1987), it is understandable that collaboration, as a peaceful way to reach a solution based on mutual benefits and cooperation (hu hui he zuo), is much favored by superiors and subordinates. The application of this strategy might not satisfy the needs of both parties, but it is an efficient way to attend to the problem. Although Chinese managers possess power in the company like fathers have authority in the family, they tend to avoid adopting the control strategy, which is poweroriented. 

 Compromise and Accommodation had the same mean scores. The three items contained in Compromise were concerned with each party giving in half way. This strategy is closely related to the concept of group orientation and the protection of individual's face. In the process of conflict management the collective orientation requires Chinese to give face to the opponent by yielding half way, if the opponent is willing to make some concession. The five items contained in Accommodation related to sacrificing one's needs in order to satisfy the interest of the other side. The family aspect of SOEs enables employees to place high value on longterm cooperation. This perspective has an impact on conflict behaviors. To the Chinese, sacrificing certain personal interest in order to obtain good interpersonal and cooperative relationship is taking the totality into account (gu quan da ju). However, neither Compromise nor Accommodation is as effective as Collaboration in problem solving because neither party would be fully satisfied with the solution.

 Avoidance turned out to have the lowest mean scores among the five factors. Although shying away from confrontation might maintain group harmony in a shortterm, and the problem might become less significant as time passes by, the problem with this strategy is that it takes time to get one problem solved in such an indirect way. Unless the problem could hold, conflict parties would probably not adopt this strategy.

 The rank order of the frequency of these conflict strategies reflected the change in the operational environment after the economic reform in China. Since the implementation of director responsibility system, SOEs have been responsible for their own loss or profit. Productivity becomes a greater concern for the managing director and the factory as a whole. Managers at middle and upper levels need to assure smooth operation at each level. Completion of production task begins to take priority in the enterprise. Should there be a problem, managers would like to address it promptly so as not to let it affect production and worker's morale. In addition, as more emphasis is laid on efficiency, time becomes more precious than it was before. 

 Collaboration is effective in that the integrative solution reached by conflict parties is to the benefit of both sides, while control strategy might put the interest of one party on top of the other. However, compared with Compromise, Control would be a more efficient way to solve the problem. As productivity becomes more and more important for SOEs, efficiency takes priority as well. The desire to solve the problems quickly might lead managers to exercise power to solve the problem, rather than calling the branch party secretary in and let him/her give ideological education to the conflict parties, which was common before the reform. 

 Accommodation, Avoidance, and Compromise are closely related to the traditional cultural values of harmony, grouporientation, face saving, thus indicating that older subjects cling more closely to traditional culture than younger subjects. Analysis of the relationship between demographic information and conflict strategies revealed that the older the subject, the more likely the use of compromise, avoidance, or accommodation strategy. This finding offered a plausible explanation for the fact that control strategy tended to be used more frequently than compromise strategy among workers in the age group of 2029 (71.6%). It as well indicated that the change in larger social and cultural milieu had an impact on conflict strategies in organizational settings. Hence, future research on conflict strategies in organizational settings needs to take the larger social and cultural environment into consideration.

 Results in this study also showed similarity to Liu and Chen's (2000) previous study using OCCI in joint ventures, which revealed that Chinese employees applied collaboration strategy more frequently than control strategy and control strategy more frequently than nonconfrontation strategy. This showed that the Western influence brought about by the economic reform certainly had an impact on the traditional practice in Chinese organizational settings as well as on people's beliefs and values regarding conflict management behaviors. Direct confrontation in problem solving has begun to challenge the traditional Chinese nonconfrontational strategies based on facesaving, grouporientation, harmony, and interpersonal relationship. Nevertheless, this is not to say that those traditional beliefs and values are of no significance any more. Instead, they are historical more than contemporary, although they continue to provide an important context for studying conflicts between individuals and between groups.

 Finally, based on the findings in this study, four implications for future research are suggestible. First, future research can address the relationship between conflict and job performance. Because the management of organizational conflict requires a proper understanding of the effects of conflict on organizational effectiveness, it will be interesting to investigate whether maintaining a moderate amount of conflict will have a positive effect on organizational performance. Second, intercultural communication scholars can conduct longitudinal study to examine the relationship between strategy choice and the change in cultural beliefs and values over time. Findings from such studies will shed light on the impact of cultural context on conflict strategy choices. Third, future research can examine different conflict scenarios with respect to demographic data to uncover the nature of conflict interaction. For instance, in superiorsubordinate communication it is commonly found that subordinates frequently say what is acceptable rather than what they know is true. This might infer that an individual would probably make more effort to use accommodation strategy with a superior than with a subordinate or peer. Lastly, the task of constructive conflict management is complicated and is defined quite differently in each cultural context. As we continue our study in different cultural settings, we will be able to gain more insight on the efficiency and effectiveness of constructive conflict management in cultural specific contexts.

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