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Guideline for employment problems / PREVENTING: 1.4 Collaborative conflict management 

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

First literature search: The most plausible interventions that emerged during literature review for shaping solutions that meet needs of disputing parties are: 

Disputes that arise at the workplace are often related to tasks or activities that are related to projects. Team members have to work together to find solutions to the disputes. In such circumstances, if a team member is too dominating or is not concerned about the needs of his or her teammates, or behaves in the opposite way, by giving in to the wishes of the other person, it can lead to suboptimal outcomes for the organisation or strained relationships among team members. Therefore, in this recommendation, we will compare two interventions that can shape interpersonal or task related activities at the workplace.

“Research on conflict management styles reveals that there exist 5 conflict management styles based on how cooperative (concerned for others) and assertive (concerned for self) an individual is in a conflict situation Those are:

  1. dominating or competing, a focus on winning the conflict
  2. avoiding, withdrawing from a conflict and allowing the other party to gain all demands
  3. accommodating, allowing others to win in a conflict situation
  4.  compromising, based on giving concessions
  5.  collaborating or integrating, seeking mutually advantageous gains by both parties (Thomas 1977;  Rahim 1983 as cited in Jordon and Troth 2004, p.201)”

Of the five conflict management styles, we have chosen to compare compromising and collaborative/integrating as literature indicates that these two are the most effective and recommended strategies in resolving task related conflicts (Rahim 2002 as cited in Chung-Yan and Moeller 2010, p. 382).

Collaborative/Integrating conflict management style

“The integrating style (also described as problem solving, collaboration, cooperation, solution-orientation, and win-win or positive-sum style) focuses on problem solving in a collaborative fashion. It involves collaboration between the parties through open exchange of information, information seeking and sharing, and examination of differences for the diagnosis of and solution to a problem acceptable to both parties. Individuals with this style face conflicts directly and try to find new and creative solutions to the problems by focusing on their own needs as well as on those of others. Hocker and Wilmot (1998) maintain that this style is both direct and cooperative” (Yu, Sardessai and Lu 2006, p.21). “People using an integrating style have concerns for themselves and for others… (Rahim, 2000)” (as cited in Saeed et al. 2014, p.217).

Compromising conflict management style

“The compromising style involves give and take, whereby both parties give up something to make a mutually acceptable decision, characterized by moderate levels of both cooperation and assertiveness” (Saeed et al. 2014, p.217). “The objective is to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromise might mean splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position”(Sportsman and Hamilton 2007, p.158). “Both parties have moderate concern for self and others” (Vokic and Sontor 2009, p.7). 

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For parties to an employment dispute looking to find solutions on contentious issues (shaping solutions), is collaborative conflict management style or compromising conflict management style more effective for well-being?

Search strategy

The databases used are: Elsevier, Routledge, Emerald Insight

For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: conflict management styles, collaborative conflict management style, compromising conflict management style

Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

Research on collaborative and compromising conflict management styles is supported by empirical studies as well as expert opinion. However, more empirical research is needed on compromising conflict management style. According to the Actionable Recommendations document and GRADE methodology, the overall strength of evidence is very low.

Note: Literature indicates that some of the desirable and undesirable outcomes of collaborative and compromising conflict management styles are the same. So readers will find the same outcome under both interventions.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Collaborative conflict management
Compromising conflict management
Open discussions among team members will lead to better understanding of the issue at hand and consensus on a solution. “Poole and Roth (1989) and Putnam (1986) argued that a more collaborative style in teams will result in superior outcomes because it encourages more open discussion and cooperation among members that will help the team synthesize information to derive a common solution” (as cited in Jordon and Troth 2004, p.201).
A person who compromises understands that time and resources are limited, which helps in reaching targets of the organisation. Compromise requires cooperation with team members, which results in improved relationship with team members. “Finally, it is important to note that Jamieson and Thomas (1974) showed com- promise or accommodation were appropriate and acceptable conflict resolution behaviors when time and resources are limited and the issue is not important. For the emotionally intelligent individual in this study, we recognize the possibility that compromise or accommodation might be an appropriate response during the performance task and may be a sign of their ability to recognize and regulate their emotions to enhance their relationship with fellow workers and to achieve their goals within a limited timeframe” (Jordon and Troth 2004, p.202).
“Studies have shown that supervisors who use an integrating style achieve more behavioral compliance, are less likely to experience persistent conflict at work and have less disputes (Rahim and Buntzman, 1990)” (as cited in Saeed 2014, p.217).
“Compromising conflict management style is positively related to interpersonal outcomes such as a sense of belonging, recognition, appreciation, and job friendships” (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.687).
A study of 63 participants from the US and India required the participants to make a decision. In this study, it was found collaborative style of conflict management did not improve the level of agreement in the group.“The results of the study, however, did not support our expectation that the group agreement level improves with higher levels of collaborative conflict management style” (Paul et al. 2004, p.316).
Compromising is linked with high emotional intelligence as it is interlinked with high self-awareness. So this intervention is correlated with other positive personality traits. “Emotional intelligence was also able to predict a compromising style of handling conflicts with a positive significant relationship; F (1, 40) = 4.40, p < 0.05. The compromising style also could be predicted by supervisors’ self-awareness; t(36) = 2.33, p < 0.05, indicating that the higher self-awareness the supervisors had, the more the compromising style would be used by the subordinates. In Kabanoff’s (1989) theoretical review of compromising, he found that compromising conflict management was favorably viewed, especially for less competitive people because they portrayed it as a sign of strength. (Abas et al. 2010, p. 21).
In a study of 125 full time managers based in the US, it was observed that people who used a collaborative style in tackling conflicts with supervisors reported less intrapersonal, intragroup, and intergroup conflict. “…participants who described themselves as high integrators in situations that involved managing conflict with supervisors reported significantly less intrapersonal, intragroup, and intergroup conflict than low integrators did” (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.696).
Being able to compromise and resolve disputes can increase the confidence of both parties and give them a sense of accomplishment. “…the mutually satisfying solutions attained through active and cooperative conflict management styles (i.e. integrating and compromising) may result in greater confidence and sense of accomplishment, and in turn, improved health and well-being.” (Chung-Yan and Moeller 2010, p.385).
Being able to collaborate and resolve disputes can increase the confidence of both parties and give them a sense of accomplishment (Chung-Yan and Moeller 2010, p.385).
In China, people believe that when disputes continue for a long duration, compromising is an effective way of handling conflict. “For example in China, integrating is not the only way to manage conflict, sometimes if disputes continue, compromising will be a good way to handle conflict” (Chen, Zao and Liu 2012, p. 167).
Subordinates give good inputs to supervisors who use collaborative style, which can help the company prosper which in turn is beneficial for employees. “…supervisors who encourage an integrative approach are likely to receive valuable input from subordinates (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.697).
Parties using collaborative style want to resolve their own problems as well as that of the opposite party. This causes them to explore issues fully and also incorporate the suggestions of all parties. “With an integrative approach, according to Thomas, both parties are more highly motivated to ensure that their own concerns, as well as the concerns of the other, are met in the ultimate outcome of the situation. For this reason, communication will generally be more complete and accurate, the issues will be explored more fully, and a genuine attempt will be made to incorporate the suggestions of all parties into the solution. This in turn should yield outcomes of higher quality” (Wall, Galanes and Love 1987, p.31).
People who deploy collaborative style have good interpersonal relationships and pursue common goals which result in innovative solutions. “Employees who favor integrating behaviors are often relationship-oriented and object-oriented. They take responsibility to pursue common goals and are open-minded at the same time. They often have good interpersonal relationships. This creates frequent open discussion, which is significant for viewpoints integration and innovation” (Chen, Zao and Liu 2012, p.166).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Collaborative conflict management
Compromisng conflict management
A study of 63 participants from the US and India required the participants to make a decision. In this study, it was found collaborative style of conflict management did not improve the level of agreement in the group.“The results of the study, however, did not support our expectation that the group agreement level improves with higher levels of collaborative conflict management style” (Paul et al. 2004, p.316).
When people compromise, the main issue goes unresolved, which leads to suboptimal outcomes. “Often the central problem is left unresolved or only partly solved in situations where conflict avoiding or compromising behaviours are adopted by the participants. As a result the organisation may not be operating at optimal efficiency or adopting the most appropriate means in order to realise its goals” (Tang and Kirkbride 1986, p.294).
Collaborative style of conflict management can also increase intrapersonal and intragroup conflict. So this “…supervisors using a high-integrating style with subordinates reported more intrapersonal and intragroup conflict…” (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.687). Or in other words, managers’ attempts at using integrative approaches to managing conflict with subordinates may involve additional levels of conflict (Weider-Hatfield and Hatfield 1995, p.692).
Collaborative style will lead to better outcomes only when decision-making is rigorous. “…Hirokawa (1982) found that the positive relationship between consensus-which by extension is analogous to an integrative approach-and quality of outcome held true only under conditions of vigilant decision-making (as cited in Wall, Galanes and Love 1987, p.35).
Falk (1981) found higher quality decisions to be associated with the distributive, not the integrative, style of conflict resolution (as cited in Wall, Galanes and Love 1987, p.35).
It takes a lot of time and effort to arrive at solutions that are acceptable to both parties (Huan and Yazdanifard 2012, p. 146).

Balance of Outcomes

Compared to compromising conflict management style, collaboration is preferred to resolve task related conflicts at the workplace because the former leads to suboptimal decisions and main issues are not completely resolved. Collaboration between colleagues, on the other hand, results in innovative solutions which are beneficial for the employer in the long run. However, as indicated in the above section when collaboration fails or when time and resources are few, compromising conflict management style is most effective as it speeds up the decision-making process as well the time required to achieve intended outcomes. 

To illustrate the outcomes, let us take an example of a task-related dispute that arises at the workplace. Suppose, in an organisation there is an employee who is facing a computer related issue. She requests help from the IT department in resolving the issue. But the IT department is not able to provide her a satisfactory solution. So the employee wants to contact an external agency for help but the IT department wants to avoid doing that because the external agency in question in the past has not been efficient at resolving IT problems. So they believe that contacting the agency will be unproductive and will result in unnecessary expenditure. Here, the IT department and the employee are having a disagreement. 

In a collaborative style, the IT department would spend more time in finding a solution to the problem in a way that’s acceptable to the employee and will resort to contacting the external agency only if they have exhausted all means. That will take more time and effort but will save the organisation money. On the other hand, in a compromising style, the employee will accept the solution that the IT department provided, even if its not the best solution, so that the organisation will save money. Here, the employee accepts a suboptimal solution to prevent the organisation from spending time, effort and money. 

From the above example, there is a trade-off between the most effective solution and time and money in both conflict management styles. But because in the long run, most effective solutions are better for the well-being of the organisation and employee, we recommend collaborative management style


Taking into account the balance of outcomes for parties to an employment dispute, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For employees having disputes over specific tasks, collaborative conflict management style is more conducive to well-being than compromising conflict management style.

Technical Remarks

Literature indicates that different cultures have preferences for different conflict management styles. For example, in China, which is a collectivist society, avoiding conflict is also an acceptable in the face of a conflict, whereas in the West which is characterised by an individualistic society, collaborative conflict management style is preferred  (as cited in Chen, Zao and Liu 2012, p.158). So we advise justice practitioners to take into account the culture and values of a society when recommending a specific conflict management style to resolve conflicts.

Table of Contents

1. Recommendations on PREVENTING
1.4 Collaborative conflict management