IN BRIEF:

NEW RESEARCH
Conflict and Your Career: An Effectiveness Study
by Craig E. Runde

According to a new study from Eckerd College's Management Development Institute (MDI), there's a strong link between a person's ability to resolve conflict effectively and his or her perceived effectiveness as a leader and suitability for promotion.

The sample for this study consisted of 172 employees (90 male, 82 female) from five different types of organizations: a resort hotel, a manufacturing company, an insurance company, and two governmental agencies.

Roughly half of these employees were middle-level managers or held higher positions in their organizations. All of them participated in a program on conflict provided to their organization by MDI. These programs were part of the process of developing and validating MDT's Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP), a new 360 assessment instrument that focuses on workplace conflict.

The CDP looks at how individuals behave when confronted with conflict, the types of people or circumstances that trigger conflict for them, and how their organization views specific conflict behaviors. A report is prepared that helps diagnose which constructive as well as destructive behaviors the individual exhibits at the beginning, during, and at the end of a conflict. Each person also receives a developmental guide that addresses actions that can be taken to improve specific behaviors.

imageAs part of the research program, the employees evaluated themselves using the CDP. In addition, the CDP was also completed by each employee's supervisor, four peers, and four people who reported to that employee (direct reports). Some employees did not receive evaluations from all three sources, but in most cases complete or nearly-complete data were available. In addition to the CDP, the bosses, peers, and direct reports also completed a brief questionnaire indicating whether they believed an employee to be an "excellent leader of people" and an "excellent candidate for promotion." Ratings were based on a 5-point scale running from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree."

Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to determine how strongly these ratings of effectiveness were associated with the way that the person was seen as managing conflict, as measured by the CDP. Researchers correlated each supervisor's rating of an employee's effectiveness with the supervisor's evaluation of the employee on the CDP, peers' ratings of effectiveness with peers' ratings on the CDP, and direct reports' ratings of effectiveness with their ratings on the CDP.

The responses revealed a strong correlation between certain conflict resolution behaviors and perceived effectiveness as a leader and suitability for promotion. Employees who were good at creating solutions, expressing emotions, and reaching out were considered more effective leaders and more suitable for promotion.

Destructive behaviors, such as winning at all costs, displaying anger, demeaning others, and retaliating were found to be the worst leadership/career advancement behaviors. Supervisors also found avoidance behaviors to be particularly problematic. Participants rated with these destructive behaviors were generally not considered to be effective leaders or suitable for promotion.

In addition to a number of other important benefits derived from improving conflict resolution skills, this study suggests that improving conflict behaviors should be seen as an important aspect of leadership development training. If this key area is overlooked, it could have detrimental effects on a person's chances for promotion in an organization. On the other hand, if conflict resolution training is made part of a larger leadership development program, it can produce favorable results for individual leaders and well as for their organizations.

Craig E. Runde, J.D., is the Director of New Program Development for the Management Development Institute at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg; Florida. To learn more about CDP, go to http://www.conflictdynamics.org.

The article was originally publishd in ACRESOLUTION, Winter 2003, p. 8.