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Article

Anne M. Nicotera and Jessica Katz Jameson

Organizational communication scholars define conflict as interaction among interdependent people who perceive opposition in their goals, aims, and /or values, and who see the other(s) as potentially interfering with the realization of these goals, aims, or values. Given that organizations consist of interaction among interdependent people, conflict is inherent to organizational communication. Organizational conflict scholarship includes a rich and diverse body of literature that spans theoretical and disciplinary perspectives as well as methodological approaches and disparate goals, ranging from describing to understanding and predicting conflict behavior, impacts, and outcomes. Scholars conceptualize conflict as both a challenge to the status quo and an opportunity for innovation, creativity, and improved understanding and communication. Research on conflict in organizations has often focused on conflict styles to examine common approaches to resolving or managing conflict. Styles are often defined as predispositions, with the recognition that people also choose a conflict style based on characteristics of a specific conflict situation. The five styles are described as competing, collaborating, cooperating, accommodating, and avoiding. While there are hundreds of studies examining these styles, virtually all of them conclude that collaborating and cooperating styles are considered most appropriate and effective, while competing and avoiding styles are perceived as inappropriate and least effective, especially in the long term. Nonetheless, each style may be appropriate under specific circumstances. Other important dimensions of organizational conflict include how it is managed by leaders and members (supervisors and subordinates), intercultural conflict, and conflict within and across groups. Research has found a relationship between how organizational leaders manage conflict, their openness to the related phenomenon of employee dissent, and employee satisfaction with the organization, leadership, and their perceptions of organizational justice. An important consideration in all conflict contexts is attention to face concerns. In conflict with superiors, in intercultural conflict, and in conflict in work groups, communication that attempts to protect, rather than threaten, each party’s image is most likely to be collaborative, meet all parties’ interests, and maintain relationships. Because it can be especially difficult to manage conflict when there are power differences, it is helpful when organizations create a conflict management system (CMS) to assist organizational members. A CMS often includes a third party who can help organizational members better understand their conflict and assess their options, such as an ombudsperson or an employee relations advisor. CMSs may also provide an array of less costly alternatives to the formal grievance process or litigation, such as mediation and conflict coaching. An important arena in conflict scholarship focuses on conflict education, which examines curricula and programs for all levels, from K-12 to higher education, with the goals of creating communities grounded in shared responsibility and social justice. Research on the development of conflict education and training at all levels is necessary to help foster the innovative and transformational potential of conflict and its management.

Article

Josina M. Makau

Communication has the power to heal and to wound, to tyrannize and to liberate, to enlighten and to deceive, to inspire and to corrupt. Subjecting ideas to the scrutiny of others through engagements of difference has long been recognized as a vital resource for the fulfillment of communication’s constructive potential as well as a critically needed antidote to the corrupting influences associated with demagoguery, confirmation bias, ideological rigidity, and partisanship. Demographic shifts and technological advancements afford unparalleled opportunities for such open, deliberative engagements and related inquiries. Enriched by attentive listening, dialogic communication provides a particularly promising means of tapping these and other resources to reach across differences in pursuit of knowledge, understanding, truth, and wise discernment. Despite their potential, however, listening and dialogue face formidable obstacles. Among these are dominant narratives regarding the human condition, power imbalances, and privilege, and their implications for communication ethics. Absolutism, radical relativism, and related false dilemmas pose significant obstacles as well. A transformation of vision—from individual adversarialism to an ethic of interdependence—offers a pathway out of the thicket, enabling humanity to tap communication’s potential in shared pursuit of human flourishing across the globe.