Category Archives: Conflict Culture

The shared beliefs and values that constrain group and individual conflict behavior within a workplace.

Conflict Culture Emergence

For example, if management expects the employees to be incompetent on the job, they may not recognize employee behaviors that would contradict this meaning, even when they are there. This structure supports a perception that could constrain management decisions and behavior toward overt domination, micro-managing, and/or impatience when interacting with these employees. Likewise, if the employees don’t feel valued by management, their decisions and behavior could be constrained toward apathy for being great at their jobs. If there is no shared spontaneous communication arena between the management and employee groups to negotiate the reality of these meanings, a reinforcing feedback loop might be created between the two groups that supports the two discursive-structures of domination and apathy. These structures could then dissipate unchecked within the groups until their scope of impact grows to affect organization-level functions through intergroup and interpersonal conflicts that reduce cooperation and effective communication. If these structures are transmitted to new hires as the reality of working there, then an individual/group-level discursive-structure with an organization-level scope of impact will likely embed itself as a belief about that organization, and even the most-qualified new-hires could appear, or learn to behave, as though they are incompetent.

All of these communicative interactions, discursive-structures, experiences, and shared meanings are interdependent elements, and they influence the emergence of an organization-level function known as culture. Culture represents the collective values and beliefs that individuals reference to understand what it means to be an employee of the company and what behavior is necessary to survive as a functional employee of the company (Schein, 2010). Being aware of this information helps ensure their survivability within that organizational system. Company culture reflects the reality of working for the company and guides individual behavior and learning within the company context. As an emergent phenomenon (Ikegami, 2000) no single individual can control culture. However, through the management of discursive-structures, the building blocks of culture might be influenced to guide the emergence of culture along desired ideals.

To manage discursive-structures, leaders could try attending to how they construct their own personal meaning about the people they work with, while also considering how their own communicative interactions with those people construct meaning about the organizational systems governing them all. Ample evidence suggests that employee perception of their work environment can create very real costs (or benefits) to the company (Kopaneva, 2015; Choi, 2019; Prasad & Prasad, 2000) that goe beyond the formation of counterproductive discursive-structures. Evidence also suggests that company culture is comprised of multiple, distinct subcultures and countercultures that individuals use collectively to understand different aspects of their work (Jermier, Slocum, Fry, & Gaines, 1991), and they too influence individual-level function. Katz & Flynn (2013) contend that a sub-culture can be formed around organization-level beliefs on how to engage and resolve conflict. If conflict is constructed as a disruptive behavior among individuals, individual behavior will likely lean toward a negative affect, causing a poor natural reaction to tensions, perceived differences, and escalated conflicts.

Workplace Conflict

Organizational conflict shows up when interdependent individuals clash over task-related issues and/or person-related issues. (De Dreu, 2007). For baristas, task-related conflicts can happen unexpectedly because they all have multiple functions within the coffee shop. Not only must they make impeccable drinks and maintain impeccable attitudes, they are also responsible for general coffee shop support tasks such as washing dishes, bussing tables, sweeping, preparing food, washing windows, mopping floors, cleaning bathrooms, restocking merchandise and food, managing money, upselling, educating, maintaining equipment, etc. It can be relatively easy for baristas to conflict about who should do what that day, and how or when it should be done. Conflicts over task-related issues can escalate into personal conflicts if they are repeated overtime and/or ignored. Person-related conflicts can become quite toxic in a coffee shop, because space behind the counter is limited and baristas do not get to choose who they work with, or who they serve. If there are clashes, they also don’t always get to choose to remove themselves from the tension immediately. Therefore, conflicts must be handled in real-time with or without a manager or lead present. This makes it important to have competent and autonomous baristas who feel secure in addressing tensions and conflicts between guests, themselves, and their managers.

Intergroup dynamics is another source of conflict that can become quite damaging if misunderstood or left unchecked. Kriesberg & Dayton (2016) discuss perceived differences as one of the preconditions for the manifestation of conflict. When groups are bound together through the interdependent nature of organizational functioning, perceived differences could escalate into destructive conflict. Not only this, but perceived differences could emerge into a dysfunctional communication style between the groups and quickly turn into the belief that the other group has less value, and thus the individuals associated with that group do not deserve to be treated as equals (Fisher, 2014). Once this negative meaning of the other becomes a group norm, then individual and group-level behaviors can take on a destructive meaning, regardless of the intention behind the behaviors (Deutsch, Wetzler, & Chung, 2014).

Individuals who have identified with one group tend to communicate with other groups as though they are entirely different, despite any shared characteristics between the groups themselves, such as the common coffee shop struggle to serve high quality coffee as fast as possible. If incongruent group-level meanings are not known or recognized, then destructive dynamics will continue to function, often beneath the awareness of those involved. In coffee shops, these groups usually form between baristas who work during the day and those who work during the night and also between managers and baristas and front of house and back of house, and guests and baristas. The more difference between the two perceived group identities, the more conflict potential there is in the coffee shop. If the coffee shop culture supports intergroup conflict, accidentally or not, group identities may become so differentiated that small tensions can escalate into major conflicts without warning, and all the stakeholders suffer.



De Dreu, C. K. W. (2007). The virtue and vice of workplace conflict: Food for (pessimistic) thought. Journal of Organizational
Behavior, 29.
5-18. doi: 10.1002/job.474

Deutsch, M., Wetzler, J. G., & Chung, C. T. (2014). A framework for thinking about research on conflict resolution initiatives. In
P.T. Coleman, M. Deutsch, & Marcus, E. C. (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (pp. 1061-1086).
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fisher, R. J. (2014). Intergroup Conflict. In P.T. Coleman, M. Deutsch, & Marcus, E. C. (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution:
          Theory and practice (pp. 230-252). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kriesberg & Dayton (2016). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (5th ed). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.