chapter  8
8Chapter Conflict in Workgroups: Constructive, Destructive, and Asymmetric Conf lict
BySonja Rispens, Karen A. Jehn
Pages 26

When the concept of conflict emerged in the organizational literature, the general belief was that conflict could have only detrimental effects. This belief is apparent in the early definitions of conflict. For example, March and Simon (1958) defined conflict as a malfunction of standard working procedures. According to Rapoport (1960), conflict referred to nonrational fights fueled by aggressive feelings among individuals. Researchers suggested that organizational conflict leads to an imbalance in the cooperative system (e.g., Pondy, 1967). In the organizational decision-making literature, for example, researchers proposed that conflicts inhibited information search (e.g., Argyris, 1976). Empirical research supported this early negative outlook on conflict. Carnevale and Probst’s (1998) study showed that conflicts interfere with group members’ information processing because their cognitive load increases when group members are in conflict, and consequently members are performing worse than in situations without conflict. During conflicts, group members are likely to spend (or waste) time on ignoring, resolving, or fighting the conflict rather than focusing on the task. The research on intragroup conflict documents negative effects for effective group processes (e.g., Amason, 1996; Evan,


1965; Jehn, 1995), group performance (e.g., De Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Jehn, 1995; Li & Hambrick, 2005; Nibler & Harris, 2003; Pelled, 1997; Rau, 2005), and innovation (e.g., Matsuo, 2006). Furthermore, conflict leads to distrust (Deutsch, 1973; Pruitt & Rubin, 1986) and decreased satisfaction with the job and the workgroup (e.g., Amason, 1996; Jehn, 1995; Tjosvold, 1991). Similarly, Richter, West, van Dick, and Dawson (2006) examined intergroup collaborations and found that conflict between teams can be a source of lower productivity.