Hidden Conflict in Organizations: Uncovering behind-the-Scenes Disputes


Edited by: Deborah M. Kolb & Jean M. Bartunek

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    View Copyright Page


    This book began behind the scenes of our professional lives at a small restaurant in Boston. Since 1986, the two of us have been meeting almost every month at the same place, eating yuppie salads and soup. Relative strangers at the start, and from different disciplinary traditions, we began talking about the research each of us was planning or conducting in the field. Jean was soon to begin a study in which she and Robin Reid would investigate the processes of a structural change at a school. Deborah's interest in mediation had recently extended into organizations in a search for more emergent forms. As our various projects progressed, we began to make interesting connections. Because of the conflicts at the school, change seemed stymied, and because of the ways emergent mediators worked, they tended to preserve the existing structures in which they intervened. From these discussions, we came to see connections between conflict and a number of dimensions of organizational studies that seemed worthy of further exploration.

    Conflict is hardly an understudied phenomenon in organization theory. Causal models and prescriptive formulations proliferate. Most of the concepts advanced in formal studies of conflict, however, did not help us much in making sense of what we found in our field research. Rather, it became clear to us that conflict was embedded in the routine and mundane activities of the work settings and that it was rarely officially acknowledged or managed in the ways most conflict models suggest. From this observation came the first stage of the collaboration that resulted in this book.

    In 1988, we organized a very well-attended symposium at the Academy of Management meeting (set that year in Disneyland) that Roy Lewicki chaired. We asked John Van Maanen, Frank Dubinskas, and Calvin Morrill, all ethnographers who had intimate familiarity with organizations, to describe how conflict was manifested and handled in the settings they knew best. Joanne Martin looked at a particular organizational conflict from a feminist perspective. Deborah and Jean and Robin also made presentations. Our hunch proved correct. The symposium made clear how pervasive disputing is in organizations, how it is embedded in the daily routines of work, as well as the multiplicity of ways it is handled behind the organizational scene.

    This book includes as authors most of the participants in that symposium. Ray Friedman joined the group by contributing a paper on collective bargaining from a behind-the-scenes perspective. And Linda Putnam became involved in a strange way. She reviewed the book manuscript for Sage and noticed something that had eluded us, that there was a dialectical tension between the way the authors in this book talk about conflict and the dominant ways conflict theorists talk about it. In particular, while most scholarly discussions of conflict are of the public and formal sort, where norms of rationality are the ideal, the conflicts described in this book are more private and informal, occurring in the nooks and crannies of organizations, where they are often handled somewhat nonrationally. We asked her to coauthor the introductory chapter and to use that occasion to develop these ideas.

    Many people helped us in direct and indirect ways in formulating the concept of the book and bringing it to publication. Among them are Sally Merry, Susan Silbey, Donald Black, Lotte Bailyn, Jeffrey Rubin, J. William Breslin, Heather Pabrezis, and Blair Sheppard as well as the authors and research participants whose work and activities are reflected here. Cityside Restaurant deserves special mention as the meeting place for our conversations and the development of our ideas. The Kolb family, Jonathan, Sam, and Elizabeth, complained about the work but went to Disneyland anyway. Members of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, Jean's religious community, did not go to Disneyland but provided helpful conversations about the ideas in the book just the same. Harry Briggs has been an extraordinarily helpful editor even in the midst of unexpected delays.

    We still meet for our lunch of salad and soup. But now that we know each other better, and have finally finished this book, we just gossip, a good thing to do behind the scenes.

  • Author Index

    About the Authors

    Jean M. Bartunek is Professor of Organizational Studies in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. She received a Ph.D. in social and organizational psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has served as Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is coauthor of Creating Alternative Realities at Work: The Quality of Work Life Experiment at FoodCom (1990) and has written numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is a member of the editorial boards of five journals and was chairperson of the Organization Development and Change Division of the Academy of Management. Her research interests focus on the intersection of social cognition, conflict, and organizational change.

    Frank A. Dubinskas is Assistant Professor in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, where he teaches Organizational Studies and Management of Technology. As an anthropologist (Ph.D., Stanford University) researching industrial organizations, he focuses on knowledge management and collaboration in complex organizations. He has studied cross-functional integration and conflict in various high-technology environments, including start-up biotechnology firms (published in his book Making Time: Ethnographies of High-Technology Organizations,1988). Other field research includes the new product development process in the worldwide automobile industry (with Kim B. Clark of Harvard University) and the management of advanced manufacturing automation projects. As an NEH Fellow for 1991–1992 at the School of American Research, he is writing about his recent yearlong field project at Apple Computer, Inc., on a concurrent engineering project in computer assembly innovation involving a U.S.-Japanese collaboration.

    Raymond A. Friedman is Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago and spent a year as a Research Fellow at the Harvard Business School. His areas of interest include organizational culture, organizational change, and labor relations. He is currently studying attempts to change labor-management negotiations. These studies have included direct observations of negotiations as well as joint training in “mutual gains” bargaining (with a team from Harvard's Program on Negotiation).

    Deborah M. Kolb is Professor of Management at the Simmons College Graduate School of Management and Executive Director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. She is the author of The Mediators (1983), an in-depth study of labor mediation, and the editor of When Talk Works: Profiles of Master Mediators (forthcoming), a collection of in-depth profiles. The book is based on a multiyear project that involved 12 mediation scholars in a comparative investigation of successful practice. She is currently carrying out field research on gender issues in negotiation and on informal dispute-handling processes in organizations. She received her B.A. from Vassar College, her M.B.A. from the University of Colorado, and her Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. She is on the editorial boards of the Negotiation Journal, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the Jossey-Bass Conflict Resolution Series, and is 1992 chairperson of the Conflict Management Division of the Academy of Management

    Roy J. Lewicki is Associate Dean for Graduate Business Programs and Executive Education and Professor of Business Administration at the College of Business, The Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. in social psychology from Columbia University. Prior to joining the faculty of The Ohio State University, he held faculty and administrative positions at Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Duke University. His research interests include managerial bargaining and negotiation, mechanisms for the resolution of disputes, justice systems in organizations, and ethical decision making. He has coauthored and edited 11 books, including his most recent, Justice in Organizations (1992), and has written approximately 25 book chapters and articles. He has been chairperson of the Academy of Management Interest Group in Power, Negotiation, and Conflict Management and received the first David Bradford Outstanding Educator award from the Organizational Behavior Teaching Society for his contributions to pedagogy in the fields of negotiation and dispute resolution.

    Joanne Martin is Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business and, by courtesy, the Department of Sociology, Stanford University. She is currently the McNamara Faculty Fellow and Director of the Doctoral Programs at the Graduate School of Business. She received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the Department of Psychology and Social Relations, Harvard University, in 1977. Her research has focused on two topic areas: distributive justice and organizational culture. She is the author of numerous articles and four books, most recently Cultures in Organizations: Three Perspectives (in press) and Reframing Organizational Cultures (coedited by Frost, Moore, Louis, Lundberg, and Martin, 1991). She has served as an officer of the Academy of Management and as a member of the editorial boards of several journals, including Administrative Science Quarterly and the Academy of Management Journal. Her current research focuses on the effects of gender and race on organizations and organization theory.

    Calvin Morrill is Assistant Professor of Communication and Sociology at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University and also spent a year as a Junior Fellow at the Center for Criminal Justice, Harvard Law School. He is completing a book-length manuscript on conflict management in corporations and is also conducting research on social structure and the labeling of unethical behavior among corporate managers. His current work includes a methodological study of the disputing process, investigations of conflict management in complex, high-risk organizations, and studies of language and culture in different dispute settlement institutions.

    Linda L. Putnam, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, is Professor of Communication at Purdue University. Her current research interests include communication strategies in negotiation, organizational conflict, contradictory and paradoxical messages, and language analysis in conflict. She serves on the editorial boards of seven journals and has edited special issues on dispute resolution for Communication Research and Management Communication Quarterly. She is he coeditor of four books, including Communication and Organization: An Interpretive Approach, Handbook of Organizational Communication, and Communication Perspectives on Negotiation, a volume in the Sage Annual Reviews of Communication Research. Three of her articles and books have received best publication awards from the Organizational Communication Division of the Speech Communication Association.

    Robin D. Reid works as an Organization Development Consultant for a small human resources consulting firm, Cook Ross Associates, in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Prior to her current position, she was a Management and Organization Development Specialist for Data General Corporation in Westboro, Massachusetts. She received her M.B.A. with a concentration in organizational consulting from the Boston College Graduate School of Management in 1988. Her consulting work focuses on helping organizations and their leaders manage effectively in times of rapid change.

    John Van Maanen is the Erwin Schell Professor of Organization Studies in the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine, in 1972. He has been a visiting professor at Yale University, the University of Surrey (United Kingdom), and INSEAD (France). He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Essays in Interpersonal Relations, Organizational Careers, and, most recently, Tales of the Field (1988). He is on the editorial boards of several journals, including Administrative Science Quarterly, Human Organization, and Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. He is also the General Editor of the MIT Press series on Organization Studies and the Sage Publications Series on Qualitative Methods. His teaching and research interests include organization theory, organizational sociology, cultural processes in organizations, management of public and private institutions, and organization behavior.

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