Resolving the puzzle of productive and destructive conflict in culturally heterogeneous workgroups: a communication accommodation theory approach

Oluremi B. Ayoko, Charmine E.J. Härtel, Victor J. Callan

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70 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This study presents an investigation of the communicative behaviors and strategies employed in the stimulation and management of productive and destructive conflict in culturally heterogeneous workgroups. Using communication accommodation theory (CAT), we argue that the type and course of conflict in culturally heterogeneous workgroups is impacted by the communicative behaviors and strategies employed by group members during interactions. Analysis of data from participant observations, non-participant observations, semi-structured interviews, and self-report questionnaires support CAT-based predictions and provide fresh insights into the triggers and management strategies associated with conflict in culturally heterogeneous workgroups. In particular, results indicated that the more groups used discourse management strategies, the more they experienced productive conflict. In addition, the use of explanation and checking of own and others' understanding was a major feature of productive conflict, while speech interruptions emerged as a strategy leading to potential destructive conflict. Groups where leaders emerged and assisted in reversing communication breakdowns were better able to manage their discourse, and achieved consensus on task processes. Contributions to the understanding of the triggers and the management of productive conflict in culturally heterogeneous workgroups are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-195
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Management
Volume13
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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