Study finds prevention key to minimizing conflict in polarized work environments

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New research from York University’s Schulich School of Business shows how organizations can best minimize intra-organizational conflict in environments where overarching conflict exists between groups with highly polarized and opposing views (e.g. Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland).

Geoffrey Kistruck
Geoffrey Kistruck

The findings are contained in a recently published article in the Journal of Management, titled “Give Peace a Chance? How Regulatory Foci Influence Organizational Conflict Events in Intractable Conflict Environments.” The article was co-written by Schulich Professor Geoffrey M. Kistruck, the RBC Chair in Social Innovation and Impact, together with Libby Weber, an associate professor of strategy at the University of California, Irvine; Angelique Slade Shantz, an assistant professor of strategy, entrepreneurship and management at the University of Alberta; and Robert B. Lount, Jr., a professor of management and human resources at the Ohio State University.

The researchers undertook a nine-month mixed-methods field experiment involving 80 newly formed business co-operatives within Northern Ghana, where ethnic, tribal and political conflict is deeply rooted, and where co-operative members often differed on such issues. The study examined whether a prevention-focused (avoiding conflict) or promotion-focused (embracing peace) framing of the behavioural expectations of co-operative members in conducting their organizational tasks would more effectively minimize verbal and physical conflict. According to their findings, a prevention-focused approach was more effective in reducing organizational conflict within such contexts because of its resonance or “fit” with the prevention focus that they had already come to adopt in the face of frequent and intense conflict within the broader environment.  

“These findings have important implications for not only organizations operating in regions of the Global South such as Latin America and Africa, but also for those operating in the Global North, where views on political ideology, abortion rights and even climate change have become increasingly polarized,” says Kistruck. “While organizations have increasingly sought to minimize any spillover effects of such broader conflicts into their businesses by taking a more positive tone in their messaging (e.g. ‘give peace a chance’), our results suggest caution in such an approach.”