You are on page 1of 15

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations http://gpi.sagepub.

com/

Perceptions of intragroup conflict: The effect of coping strategies on conflict transformation and escalation
Helen Pluut and Petru Lucian Curseu Group Processes Intergroup Relations 2013 16: 412 originally published online 2 December 2012 DOI: 10.1177/1368430212453633 The online version of this article can be found at: http://gpi.sagepub.com/content/16/4/412

Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com

Additional services and information for Group Processes & Intergroup Relations can be found at: Email Alerts: http://gpi.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://gpi.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Citations: http://gpi.sagepub.com/content/16/4/412.refs.html

>> Version of Record - Jun 12, 2013 OnlineFirst Version of Record - Dec 2, 2012 What is This?

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

53633

XXX10.1177/1368430212453633Group Processes & Intergroup RelationsPluut and Cureu

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations


Article

G P I R

Perceptions of intragroup conflict: The effect of coping strategies on conflict transformation and escalation
Helen Pluut1* and Petru Lucian Cureu1*

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4) 412425 The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1368430212453633 gpir.sagepub.com

Abstract In this longitudinal study, we contribute to the contingency models of intragroup conflict by examining the moderating role of coping strategies in the evolution of conflict over time. We conceptualize coping strategy as a configural group property and focus on whether task conflict evolves into relationship conflict (conflict transformation) and on whether relationship conflict perpetuates over time (conflict escalation). We use a multilevel model to test the way in which individual conflict perceptions interact with other members coping strategies to influence the level of intragroup conflict at later stages. The results indicate that (a) the interaction between task conflict and problem-focused coping decreases the chances that task conflict transforms into relationships conflict and (b) the interaction between relationship conflict and emotion-focused coping decreases and the interaction between relationship conflict and problem-focused coping increases the chances that relationship conflict escalates over time. Keywords intragroup conflict, coping strategy, contingency models, multilevel Paper received 20 October 2011; revised version accepted 22 June 2012. Intragroup conflict is an extensively researched phenomenon in the organizational behavior literature (De Dreu & van Vianen, 2001; De Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Jehn, 1994, 1995, 1997). Most research to date examined the interplay (Cureu & Schruijer, 2010; Greer, Jehn, & Mannix, 2008; Simons & Peterson, 2000; Yang & Mossholder, 2004) and consequences (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Jehn, 1994) of task and relationship conflict. The two types of conflict are highly correlated since disagreements related to the task often transform in relational frictions and animosities. As task conflict is argued to be beneficial for information elaboration and group performance, whereas relationship conflict has detrimental effects on group performance, it becomes important to understand the contingencies that influence the transformation of task into
Tilburg University, The Netherlands *Both authors contributed equally to this paper. Corresponding author: Helen Pluut, Department of Organisation Studies, Tilburg University, Warandelaan 2, PO box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. Email: H.Pluut@uvt.nl
1

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu relationship conflict. Previous research showed that intragroup trust reduces the likelihood of task conflict to evolve into relationship conflict (Cureu & Schruijer, 2010; Simons & Peterson, 2000). Moreover, because intragroup conflict is accompanied by negative emotionality (Weingart, Bear, & Todorova, 2009), a few studies have pointed to the importance of emotion regulation (Ayoko, Callan, & Hrtel, 2008; Cureu, Boro, & Oerlemans, 2012; Yang & Mossholder, 2004) and conflict management styles (DeChurch, Hamilton, & Haas, 2007; Greer et al., 2008) as contingency factors influencing the interplay between task and relationship conflict. The prevalence of negative emotionality in groups experiencing conflict is indicative of the stressful nature of both task and relationship conflict. As individuals need to cope with such stressful events and improve emotional well-being, we argue that coping strategies should be explored as another contingency for the interplay between task and relationship conflict. Therefore, the current study extends the contingency models of intragroup conflict by discussing coping strategy as a configural group property and testing the extent to which coping strategies impact on the transformation of task into relationship conflict. Moreover, we also test the effect of coping strategies on whether relationship conflict escalates or is resolved at later stages of group interaction. The aim of this study is therefore twofold, namely to test the extent to which the prevalence of problem-focused versus emotion-focused coping strategies in groups impacts on (a) the extent to which task conflict evolves into relationship conflict (conflict transformation) and (b) the extent to which relationship conflict perpetuates over time (conflict escalation).

413 (relationship conflict). In other words, group conflicts are the results of within-group differences in the cognitive appraisal of task-related or interpersonal issues (Garcia-Prieto, Bellard, & Schneider, 2003). If these differences in the cognitive appraisal become apparent (are expressed during group interactions), group members are challenged and emotions are triggered. Thus, a core element of intragroup conflict is that perceived disagreements challenge the views, opinions, attitudes, or even the self-concept of the group members. When group members engage in intragroup conflict they are likely to experience various (negative) emotions (Bodtker & Jameson, 2001; Weingart et al., 2009), but the type and intensity of emotions experienced by group members depend on how personally relevant the issue under debate is and how it is cognitively appraised (Garcia-Prieto et al., 2003). Challenges to ones attitudes or to ones selfconcept in particular elicit negative emotionality, and individual coping strategies are likely to impact on the type and intensity of emotions experienced in group settings. We posit that the emotions experienced by group members further play a central role in conflict transformation and conflict escalation, as emotions are prevalent epiphenomena in both task and relationship conflict (Weingart et al., 2009).

Coping with Intragroup Conflict


Experiencing intragroup conflict is stressful and group members engage in a process of appraisal in which they evaluate the situation in terms of its implications for their personal well-being (C. A. Smith & Lazarus, 1993). In general, stressful events have negative consequences for personal well-being, which implies that individuals have to cope with these events in order to mitigate their detrimental effects. Coping can be defined as the cognitive and behavioral efforts to master, tolerate, or reduce external and internal demands and conflicts among them (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980, p. 223), and can therefore be seen as an attempt to improve emotional well-being or at

Intragroup Conflict as a Stressful Event


Intragroup conflict emerges when group members express different views and opinions about the task accomplishment (task conflict) or experience interpersonal frictions and incompatibilities

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

414 least minimize the negative effects of the stressor on emotional well-being. Individuals efforts to cope with stressful events can either focus on the stressor itself or on the emotional distress caused by the stressor, and Folkman and Lazarus (1980) labeled these manners of coping as problem-focused and emotionfocused strategies, respectively. The term coping strategy can refer to both (long-term) coping style or (short-term) coping behavior (Latack & Havlovic, 1992; Newton, 1989), where coping style refers to how one prefers or thinks to act, while coping behavior is about how a person actually acts when faced with a stressful event. Several determinants of coping strategy in its general sense are identified in the literature, such as the appraisal of the situation in terms of coping potential (Lowe & Bennet, 2003) and its changeable nature (Folkman, Lazarus, DunkelSchetter, DeLongis, & Gruen, 1986), the source of stress (Richmond & Skitmore, 2006), and personality (OBrien & DeLongis, 1996; M. C. Smith & Dust, 2006; Uehara, Sakado, Sakado, Sato, & Someya, 1999). The latter seems to imply that coping strategies are stable traits, but research has found strong intraindividual inconsistencies with respect to coping (e.g., Folkman & Lazarus, 1980; Ouwehand, De Ridder, & Bensing, 2006). The distinction between coping style and coping behavior can help to explain this paradox; a coping style is a preference for a particular coping strategy and therefore resembles stable individual differences (Latack & Havlovic, 1992), but coping behavior in a given encounter might diverge from an individuals preferred coping style (Ptacek, Pierce, & Thompson, 2006). It can therefore be concluded that coping strategy has both personal and situational determinants, depending on whether one talks about coping style or coping behavior, respectively. The focus here is on coping strategy as coping behavior (i.e., applied strategy) for which personality seems to be a less important contingency than appraisal of the situation and the stressor. Intragroup conflict is one of the occupational stressors identified in the study by Richmond and Skitmore (2006), and they found that

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4) IT managers employed communication and problem solving as coping strategies for this stressor, which are examples of problem-focused coping. I has indeed been found that problemfocused strategies are often used to cope with occupational stress due to its impersonal and changeable nature (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980). However, intragroup conflict encompasses both task and relationship conflict, and the latter is an occupational stressor that involves work-related issues that are interpersonal and often challenge ones self-concept. As threats to the self-concept have a negative impact on self-esteem and generate negative emotions (Epstein, 1973), emotionfocused coping strategies are expected to be more effective in dealing with an interpersonal and emotional stressor as relationship conflict than problem-focused strategies. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between task conflict and relationship conflict and view these as two qualitatively different stressors. This distinction is present in the current research in which we study the role of problem-focused and emotion-focused coping in dealing with both stressors. We focus on the effectiveness of problem-focused and emotion-focused coping, not in terms of individual outcomes such as stress levels and job satisfaction (e.g., Boyd, Lewin, & Sager, 2009), but in terms of group outcomes, that is, conflict transformation and escalation. We therefore follow a similar approach as Greer et al. (2008) by focusing on whether over time relationship conflict perpetuates and whether task conflict transforms in relationship conflict. Because emotions lie at the core of how group members appraise disagreements (Jehn, Rispens, & Thatcher, 2010), trust (Simons & Peterson, 2000), emotion regulation (Ayoko et al., 2008), and conflict management (DeChurch et al., 2007) facilitate positive appraisal and therefore prevent task conflict to evolve into relationship conflict. For example, when intragroup trust is present (group members trust each other), task-related disagreements are not likely to be appraised as personal attacks and as a consequence the likelihood of task conflict to convert into relationship conflict is reduced (Simons & Peterson,

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu 2000). Moreover, if emotion regulation strategies are not effective, task-related disagreements are more likely to be misinterpreted as personal attacks and therefore the chance that task conflict transforms into relationship conflict increases (Cureu et al., 2012). Finally, conflict resolution is another manner in which a group can prevent task conflict to transform into relationship conflict (Greer et al., 2008). When group members engage in collaborative conflict management, task-related disagreements are explored and resolved in the best collective interest; therefore, the appraisal of these disagreements is likely to be positive and restricted to the task domain. As appraisal is such a critical element in conflict transformation in groups, we posit that coping strategies are a viable alternative for conflict resolution in groups. Groups are described as emotional entities (Barsade & Gibson, 1998), meaning they are sociocognitive systems that experience emotions collectively, in a way that impacts on group dynamics (especially intragroup conflict) (Barsade, 2002; Cureu et al., 2012). In a similar vein, we argue that groups develop a coping strategy starting from the coping strategies of the individual group members. The convergence of individual tendencies into a modal group-specific coping strategy (coping strategy as a group-level phenomenon) is explained by two mechanisms. First, individual tendencies and attitudes tend to converge and eventually become more extreme after group discussions (polarization). Therefore, in line with group polarization theory (Isenberg, 1986), we argue that individual preferences for a particular coping strategy tend to converge over time and generate a group tendency to cope with emotions experienced collectively. The second mechanism is contagion (Barsade, 2002). Individual group members tend to compare themselves with their teammates, and imitate or even exaggerate each others behaviors and actions. As a result, group tendencies of coping with the negative emotionality associated with intragroup conflict will eventually emerge. Therefore, coping strategy is conceptualized here as a configural group property, or as the elevation of a particular coping strategy

415 among the group members. This conceptualization comes close to the notion of collective emotional intelligence, an emergent collective competence to identify and work with the emotions expressed by the group members as a result of group interactions (Yang & Mossholder, 2004). The collective coping strategy describes the extent to which members predominantly use problem-focused or emotion-focused coping strategies or, in other words, it describes the groups dominant or modal coping strategy.

Hypotheses
In a similar way as task and relationship conflict differ in nature (domain in which the disagreement occurs), problem-focused and emotionfocused group coping strategies are different from each other in the sense that in problemfocused groups members are more oriented toward dealing with the stressor (i.e., conflict), while in emotion-focused groups members are more focused on dealing with the emotions that emerge from interpersonal interactions. We argue that the (mis)fit between the nature of intragroup conflict and the nature of the applied coping strategy impacts on the effectiveness of the group coping strategy. Both high levels of task conflict and relationship conflict can be stressful because the group members are challenged, but the important difference is between challenging a group members ideas, opinions, and attitudes (task conflict) and challenging a group members self-concept (relationship conflict). Attitudes and opinions are connected to ones selfconcept (the way people define themselves), yet the challenges to ones attitudes will only indirectly affect the self-concept through their common associations with valence attributes (Greenwald et al., 2002). In such cases, if only the attitudes are challenged (i.e., task conflict), group members tend to stay engaged in the group debates and either defend their opinions and views or change them according to the persuading arguments. A problem-focused coping strategy will therefore keep the disagreements

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

416 in the task domain, whereas emotion-focused coping is likely to activate the valence attribute and as a consequence the link between the attitudes and self-concept will become more salient so that task conflict is likely to transform into relationship conflict. However, when the self-concept is directly challenged (i.e., relationship conflict)and it often happens in group settings that the social self (views of the group member held by others) is challenged, while at the same time group membership is key to the self-concept (Steinel et al., 2010)the emotional reactions are stronger because the self-concept is directly linked through valence attributes with self-esteem (Greenwald et al., 2002). In such cases group members are either inclined to retaliate and attack others or withdraw and eventually leave the group. Grouplevel emotion-focused coping, aimed at dealing with the negative emotions experienced in the group, is then likely to decrease the incidence of negative emotionality (and subsequently make it easier for the group members to stay or for the ones attacked to cope with the personal attack), whereas a problem-focused coping strategy is likely to maintain the negative emotional climate and as a consequence perpetuate or escalate relationship conflict. Therefore, we expect that the general fit between the dominant coping strategy in the group and the type of conflict experienced blocks the escalation of relationship conflict over time. For example, if a group member experiences relationship conflict and the dominant coping strategy within the group is emotion-focused, it is likely that the negative emotionality associated with the experienced relationship conflict is effectively dealt with (by all group members) and as a consequence relationship conflict does not escalate over time. If, however, a group member experiences relationship conflict and the general preferred coping strategy in the group is problem-focused, the negative emotions are not dealt with and relationship conflict is likely to escalate over time. Furthermore, we expect that the dominant coping strategy in the group will influence the extent to which task conflict transforms over time in relationship conflict. If a

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4) group member experiences task conflict and the general coping strategy preferred in the group is problem-focused, task-related disagreements are likely to be appraised as belonging to the task domain and therefore task conflict does not evolve into relationship conflict. Conversely, if a group member experiences task conflict and the dominant coping strategy in the group is emotion-focused, the task-related disagreements are likely to be (incorrectly) appraised due to the marked emotional focus and as a consequence they spill over to the relational domain. To summarize, we view problem-focused coping and task conflict on the one hand and emotion-focused coping and relationship conflict on the other hand as compatible. We expect that a fit increases the effectiveness of coping and a misfit reduces the effectiveness of coping, where effectiveness is seen as the constructive management of task conflict and the resolving of relationship conflict. In other words, a fit between conflict type and coping strategy is expected to reduce the likelihood that (a) task conflict evolves into relationship conflict and (b) relationship conflict escalates at later stages. Therefore, we hypothesize the following. Hypothesis: Coping strategies moderate the impact of task conflict and relationship conflict at early stages of team interaction (TC1 and RC1) on relationship conflict at later stages of team interaction (RC2) in such a way that: (a) the fit between coping strategy and conflict type decreases the level of relationship conflict at later stages, whereas (b) the misfit between coping strategy and conflict type increases the level of relationship conflict at later stages.

Methods Sample and Procedure


A sample of 263 students (91 women) participated in a bachelor course at a large Dutch university and were grouped in 43 teams with a group size that ranged from three to nine (average size 6.3) students. The students were required to write a group paper and work on group

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu exercises during several sessions. These group projects covered 40% of their final grade. Students were also asked to fill out individual questionnaires during two of these sessions. The period between the two evaluation moments covered 2 weeks, and this longitudinal design was necessary to assess the development of intragroup conflict over time. The items in the questionnaires measured individual demographic characteristics (age, gender, and nationality), individual problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies, and task and relationship conflict. The first questionnaire (Time 1) contained items related to the level of intragroup conflict and the general (applied) coping strategy. The second questionnaire measured the level of intragroup conflict at Time 2. The longitudinal design allowed us to test for the causal effect of task and relationship conflict at Time 1 on relationship conflict at Time 2 and the moderating role of coping strategies.

417 developed starting from existing items (see Addison et al., 2007; Gross & John, 2003), and a factor analysis was performed on these items. In line with the distinction between problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies, two components were extracted (the main components had eigenvalues of 2.662 and 1.533, and explain together 52.4% of the variance in the scores). The items are shown in Table 1 together with the factor loadings in the component and pattern matrix. The eight items in total measured both disengaged and engaged strategies of problemfocused and emotion-focused coping (e.g., I hope the problem will take care of itself, I tackle the problem head on!, I control my emotions by not expressing them, I let my feelings out to reduce stress). The items measured how the individual group members in general deal with negative or unpleasant events, and answers were recorded on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = never, 5 = very often). The scores on the disengagement items were reversed so that the variables reflect the level of engagement, a higher score implying a higher level of engagement in either problem-focused or emotion-focused coping. Thus, we consider disengagementengagement as a continuum rather than two independent strategies (e.g., Addison et al., 2007). Cronbachs alphas for the scales were .71 and .74 for problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping, respectively. We operationalized these variables in the following manner. Both forms of intragroup conflict at Time 1 were measured as the individual perceptions of conflict, whereas relationship conflict at Time 2 was measured as the average perception of conflict in the group excluding the focal individuals perception. The rationale behind this is that, first of all, it is relevant to address the individual perceptions of conflict rather than focusing on the group average of individual perceptions because group members tend to differ significantly in their perceptions of conflict (Jehn et al., 2010). Yet, in order to contribute to the literature on conflict as a group phenomenon and outcome, we need to assess intragroup conflict at Time 2 at the group level. Coping strategy was operationalized as the

Instruments
Intragroup conflict. We collected data about the level of task and relationship conflict in groups as experienced by the individual members using eight items from the Intragroup Conflict Scale (Jehn, 1995). Task conflict was evaluated with four items (e.g., How often are there differences of opinion in your team?) and the same number of items was used to measure relationship conflict (e.g., How often are personality conflicts evident in your team?). The answers were recorded on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = never to 5 = very often. Intragroup conflict was measured at two moments in time. The Cronbachs alphas for the scales of task and relationship conflict at Time 1 were .774 and .708, and for the second measurement they were .696 and .707, respectively. Coping strategy. As stated earlier, this study focuses on coping strategy as coping behavior rather than coping style, that is, applied coping strategy instead of preferred coping strategy. The instrument for measuring coping strategy was

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

418

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4)

Table 1. Results of the factor analysis for the items measuring coping strategy. Item Component matrixa Factor 1 loading 1. I  hope the problem will take care of itself. 2. W  hen I am feeling negative emotions, I make sure not to express them. 3. I  try to put the problem out of my mind. 4. I  control my emotions by not expressing them. 5. I tackle the problem head on! 6. I  let my feelings out to reduce stress. 7. I  think of what I can do best to resolve the problem. 8. W  hen I want to feel less negative emotions, I change the way I am thinking about the situation.c .709 .594 .524 .630 .675 .650 .486 .143 Factor 2 loading .390 .609 .292 .511 .334 .398 .620 .094 .708 .817 .576 Pattern matrixb Factor 1 loading .775 Factor 2 loading .873 .812 .730

Note. Items 1 to 4 measure disengaged coping strategies and Items 5 to 8 measure engaged coping strategies. Scores on the disengaged items were reversely coded. The odd-numbered items measure problem-focused coping strategies and the evennumbered items measure emotion-focused coping strategies. a The component matrix follows from a factor analysis based on a principal component analysis. b The pattern matrix follows from a factor analysis based on a principal component analysis with the direct oblimin rotation method. Factor loadings above .30 are shown. c Given the low factor loadings of the last item, we decided to exclude this item from the scale for emotion-focused coping. We did a robustness check by redoing the multilevel regression analysis, including the last item in the scale for emotionfocused coping. The results stayed the same.

within-group average of problem-focused and emotion-focused coping, excluding the focal individuals self-reported coping strategy. Thus, although coping is an action performed by the individual as a response to experiencing a sense of intragroup conflict, we conceptualize it at the group level of analysis. Coping strategy becomes a configural group property (Klein & Kozlowski, 2000) in this way, reflecting the dominance or elevation of a particular coping strategy in the group (in other words, the modal group coping strategy). The advantage of our operationalizations of relationship conflict at Time 2 and group coping strategy (that is, excluding information from the focal individual) is that the group estimates are uncontaminated by common method variance (Glomb & Liao, 2003).

To summarize, we explore the interplay between individual perceptions of conflict, group-level coping strategies, and group-level relationship conflict, and in this way we answer the call for taking a more multilevel, processoriented view of intragroup conflict (De Wit, Greer, & Jehn, 2012, p. 374).

Results
Table 2 includes the descriptive statistics and the correlational matrix for all the study variables. Because the individuals in our sample were grouped in teams, the data have a nested structure. The values for the dependent variable are therefore not independent within groups (intraclass correlation = .42). Moreover, the model

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu


Table 2. Means, standard deviations, and correlations. M 1. Group size 2. Task conflict (T1) 3. Relationship conflict (T1) 4. Problem-focused coping 5. Emotion-focused coping 6. Relationship conflict (T2) 6.3 2.57 1.66 3.61 2.99 1.72 SD .99 .53 .52 .29 .34 .48 1 1 .01 .12 .10 .09 .11 2 1 .44** .00 .06 .18** 3 4 5

419

6 1

1 .16* .04 .24**

1 .31** .10

1 .16*

Note. T1 = Time 1. T2 = Time 2. Task conflict and relationship conflict at Time 1 are individual measures, whereas problemfocused coping and emotion-focused coping as well as relationship conflict at Time 2 are aggregated to the group level (i.e., the group mean excluding the focal individuals score). *p < .05; **p < .01.

includes both individual and group variables as well as cross-level interactions. Thus, a series of multilevel analyses using the mixed models procedure in PASW Statistics (SPSS) 17 was performed to test for the moderating role of coping strategy for the effect of task and relationship conflict at Time 1 on relationship conflict at Time 2. All variables were grand mean centered and the product terms were computed after centering in order to deal with multicollinearity issues (Aiken & West, 1991). An alpha level of .05 was used for all statistical tests. As a first step, group size was entered as a control variable and it did not have a significant effect, t(39) = 0.59, p = .56, 95% CI (0.10, 0.18). In the second step we entered the lower order variables task conflict (individual perception), relationship conflict (individual perception), problem-focused coping (group level), and emotion-focused coping (group level). The effects were not significant for task conflict (t[222] = 0.28, p = .78, 95% CI [0.14, 0.11]) and relationship conflict (t[195] = 1.54, p = .13, 95% CI [0.03, 0.21]), nor for problem-focused coping (t[72] = 0.93, p = .35, 95% CI [0.18, 0.49]) and emotion-focused coping (t[104] = 1.28, p = .20, 95% CI [0.42, 0.09]). Therefore, the deviance test for model fit (based on a difference between the values for the 2 log likelihood functions of two nested models) shows that this model did not fit significantly better, 2(4) = 4.64, p = .33. In order to test for the cross-level interaction effects, four product terms were entered in the third and final analysis: Task Conflict

Problem-Focused Coping (TC PF), Task Conflict Emotion-Focused Coping (TC EF), Relationship Conflict Problem-Focused Coping (RC PF), and Relationship Conflict EmotionFocused Coping (RC EF). The results of this final analysis are presented in Table 3. The hypothesis implied that groups composed of members who are problem-focused rather than emotion-focused in their coping are more effective in dealing with task conflict but less effective in dealing with relationship conflict compared to groups with a relatively higher level of emotion-focusedness among group members. In groups whose members score on average higher on emotion-focused coping than on problem-focused coping, task conflict is more likely to transform into relationship conflict, while relationship conflict is less likely to penetrate in the future. The signs of all four product terms are as hypothesized, a misfit (TC EF and RC PF) between conflict type and coping strategy increasing the level of relationship conflict and a fit (TC PF and RC EF) decreasing the level of relationship conflict at Stage 2. Three of the four product terms were significant (t[211] = 4.94, p < .001 for RC EF, t[204] = 3.40, p = .001 for RC PF, and t[222] = 2.73, p = .01 for TC PF), and these interactions are visually depicted in Figures 1 to 3. Only the interaction between task conflict and emotion-focused coping was not significant (t[221] = 1.39, p = .17), implying that Hypothesis 1a is fully supported and Hypothesis 1b is partially

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

420

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4)

Table 3. Results of the multilevel regression analysis for relationship conflict at Time 2. Independent variables Group size Individual RC (T1) Individual TC (T1) Group PF Group EF RC(1) PF RC(1) EF TC(1) PF TC(1) EF R21 R22 B (SE) 0.05 (0.06) 0.04 (0.07) 0.01 (0.07) 0.22 (0.16) 0.19 (0.12) 0.72** (0.21) 0.78** (0.16) 0.67** (0.24) 0.26 (0.18) .37 .13 .20 95% CI [0.08, 0.17] [0.09, 0.16] [0.13, 0.12] [0.10, 0.53] [0.44, 0.06] [0.30, 1.14] [1.10, 0.47] [1.15, 0.19] [0.11, 0.62]

Note. CI = confidence interval; T1 = Time 1; RC(1) = relationship conflict (at T1); TC(1) = task conflict (at T1); PF = problem-focused coping; EF = emotion-focused coping; = conditional intraclass correlation coefficient (after controlling for predictors); R2 = proportional reduction in unexplained variance at Level 1 (individuals) and 2 (groups) compared with the null model (see Snijders & Bosker, 1999). Unstandardized regression coefficients (B) are shown with standard errors (SE) between parentheses. All variables are grand mean centered. **p < .01.

2.4 Relationship conflict (Time 2) 2.2 2 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2 1

Low EF coping

Relationship conflict (Time 2)

High EF coping

2.4 2.2 2 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2 1

Low PF coping High PF coping

Low RC (Time 1)

High RC (Time 1)

Low RC (Time 1)

High RC (Time 1)

Figure 1. EF as a moderator for the effect of RC (Time 1) on RC (Time 2) (conflict escalation). RC = relationship conflict. EF = emotion-focused.

Figure 2. PF as a moderator for the effect of RC (Time 1) on RC (Time 2) (conflict escalation). RC = relationship conflict. PF = problem-focused.

supported. It seems that an individual who experiences high levels of task conflict is less likely to increase the other group members perceptions of relationship conflict in the future if his/her group members are high on problem-focused coping compared to low on problem-focused coping. An individual who perceives high levels of relationship conflict seems to increase the likelihood that other group members experience even stronger

relationship conflict in the future if his/her group members cope in a problem-focused (misfit) rather than an emotion-focused (fit) manner. The deviance test clearly indicates that this model including the higher order interaction terms is preferred over the main effects model, 2(4) = 24.26, p < .001, and it is also preferred on the basis of Akaikes information criterion (the lower the better; 263.56 vs. 276.46).

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu


2.4 Relationship conflict (Time 2) 2.2 2 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2 1 Low TC (Time 1) High TC (Time 1)
Low PF coping High PF coping

421 that impact on conflict transformation. Second, our findings support the moderating role of coping strategy in the evolution of relationship conflict over time (conflict escalation). Third, we examined the evolution of conflict in a multilevel manner by testing whether an individuals perception of conflict influences the aggregate groups perception of conflict at a later stage. In other words, our model explores the within-group dynamics of conflict using a multilevel dynamic perspective. In doing so, we answer the call for more multilevel process-oriented views on the dynamics of intragroup conflict (De Wit et al., 2012). We have also contributed to the literature on coping effectiveness. This study shows that the nature of the stressor matters a great deal for the effectiveness of coping strategies with reference to intragroup conflict, which is in line with studies on coping effectiveness in terms of individual outcomes which conclude that coping effectiveness is dependent on the context. In general, our findings indicate that problem-focused coping strategies are more effective in managing task conflict constructively and that emotion-focused coping is more effective in resolving relationship conflict. Groups whose members adapt their coping strategies to the type of conflict are more likely to benefit from task conflict because of their ability to decouple it from relationship conflict. In other words, these groups prevent task conflict to become disruptive and therefore mainly experience the functional sides of task conflict. When confronted with relationship conflict, groups consisting of members that are emotion-focused in their coping are able to decrease relationship conflict, which implies that coping strategies can have conflict resolution functions as well. It was beyond the present study to explore whether a particular coping strategy is more apparent in situations of task conflict compared to relationship conflict. Nevertheless, research has pointed to the role of compatibility between stressor and coping strategy as an antecedent of applied coping strategies (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980; Folkman et al., 1986), which implies that problem-focused coping is more likely in

Figure 3. PF as a moderator for the effect of TC (Time 1) on RC (Time 2) (conflict transformation). TC = task conflict. PF = problem-focused.

Discussion
This study extends previous research on the interplay between task and relationship conflict in groups by testing the moderating role of group coping strategy. The aim of this paper was to test whether a fit between conflict type and coping strategy has a negative effect on the occurrence of relationship conflict in the future. We show that the consequences of coping go beyond individual group members and aggregate to the group level to give rise to collective coping strategies that impact on how members deal with intragroup conflict. Not only do individuals make task and relationship conflict less stressful for themselves by using a particular coping strategy, but they can also prevent their group from experiencing relationship conflict by adapting their coping strategies to the type of conflict experienced by the group. This paper also points to an interesting dynamic between the individual and the group. An individuals perception of conflict within the group influences group conflict as perceived by the other members in the group, and this effect is dependent on the coping strategies that these other group members apply to deal with the intragroup conflict. Our main contribution is to the literature on contingency models of intragroup conflict. We extend these models in three important ways. First, we add coping strategy to the other contingencies

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

422 response to task conflict and emotion-focused coping is more likely in response to relationship conflict. This would suggest that the compatibility between stressor and coping strategy that impacts on coping effectiveness is at the same time an antecedent of coping so that the nature of the stressor pushes individuals to apply the effective coping strategies. Research should further explore these claims. A final contribution relates to our conceptualization of coping as a group-level construct, even though coping is an individuals response to a stressor. Viewing coping strategy as a variable that influences whether a group is able to deal with intragroup conflict so that it does not suffer from (high) relationship conflict implies that we contribute to insights on emergent collective competencies. The results indicate that the average coping in a group influences conflict transformation and escalation. More specifically, modal group copingwhen fitted to the conflict typehas conflict management and conflict resolution functions. We therefore argue that coping strategy as a configural group property enables the group to deal effectively with individual group members stress, resulting from perceptions of intragroup conflict, so that the group will not suffer from (high) relationship conflict. Research to date argues that collective cognitive competencies emerge from the interpersonal interactions and go beyond individual cognitive competencies (Cureu & Schruijer, 2012; Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, & Malone, 2010). In the affective domain, it has been stated that collective emotional intelligence emerges from interpersonal interactions and transcends the individual emotional intelligence of the group members (Yang & Mossholder, 2004). In the same vein it seems likely that, whenever group members interact and experience intragroup conflict, individual coping strategies converge to generate a group-level tendency in coping with stress as a result of conflict. In other words, a group coping strategy is likely to emerge from the individual coping strategies and the interactions among the group members. Our results show that exploring collective coping strategies is a meaningful endeavor, as dominant

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4) coping strategies in groups influence the transformation and escalation of intragroup conflict. We therefore suggest that future research should address the conceptualization of coping strategy as an emergent (collective) emotional competence by exploring the extent to which group-level coping can be influenced and manipulated. Researchers should also address other conceptualizations of group coping strategy as a configural construct. The operationalization of group coping strategy used here involves the average of individual coping strategies. Research to date evaluates not only the elevation but also the variability of particular individual attributes in groups (Klein & Kozlowski, 2000). It is therefore relevant to understand how the variability (e.g., only one member scoring high on a particular strategy) impacts on (a) the emergence of collective emotional intelligence, and (b) the transformation and escalation of intragroup conflict.

Limitations
In addition to its contributions, our study also has two limitations. First, we collected our data in student groups. Important differences exist between student groups and real organizational groups (e.g., degree of interdependence, involvement with the task, etc.), and therefore future research should replicate our results in real organizational groups. An important benefit, however, of using student groups is that in our longitudinal approach the measurements were performed in approximately the same stage of development and so we could control for this particular aspect which has important implications for the dynamics of intragroup conflict. Second, we have used a single source to collect our data and therefore common method bias is a possible limitation. In order to reduce the common method bias (Podsakoff, Mackenzie, & Podsakoff, 2011) we temporally separated our evaluations, eliminated the common scale properties (by using engaged and disengaged items in the coping scales), and we collected data from several respondents. Furthermore, the procedure of excluding information from the focal individual, which we used for our estimates of

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu relationship conflict at Time 2 and group coping strategy, reduces the possibility of common method bias (Glomb & Liao, 2003). Finally, the common method bias is less critical when testing interactions (Evans, 1985), and we can therefore conclude that, although plausible as a limitation for our design, common method bias is not a major drawback of our study.

423
Environmental Research and Public Health, 4, 289295. doi: 10.3390/ijerph200704040004 Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Ayoko, O. B., Callan, V. J., & Hrtel, C. E. J. (2008). The influence of team emotional intelligence climate on conflict and team members reactions to conflict. Small Group Research, 39, 121149. doi: 10.1177/1046496407304921 Barsade, S. G. (2002). The ripple effect: Emotional contagion and its influence on group behavior. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47, 644675. doi: 10.2307/3094912 Barsade, S. G., & Gibson, D. E. (1998). Group emotion: A view from top and bottom. In D. H. Gruenfeld, B. Mannix, & M. Neale (Eds.), Research on managing groups and teams (pp. 81102). Stamford, CT: JAI Press. Bodtker, A. M., & Jameson, J. K. (2001). Emotion in conflict formation and its transformation: Application to organizational conflict management. International Journal of Conflict Management, 12, 259275. doi: 10.1108/eb022858 Boyd, N. G., Lewin, J. E., & Sager, J. K. (2009). A model of stress and coping and their influence on individual and organizational outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 75, 197211. doi: 10.1016/j. jvb.2009.03.010 Cureu, P. L., Boro, S., & Oerlemans, L. A. G. (2012). Task and relationship conflict in ad-hoc and permanent groups: The critical role of emotion regulation. International Journal of Conflict Management, 23, 97107. doi: 10.1108/10444061211199331 Cureu, P. L., & Schruijer, S. G. L. (2010). Does conflict shatter trust or does trust obliterate conflict? Revisiting the relationship between team diversity, conflict and trust. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, 14, 6679. doi: 10.1037/a0017104 Cureu, P. L., & Schruijer, S. G. L. (2012). Normative interventions, emergent cognition and decision rationality in ad-hoc and established groups. Management Decision, 50(6), 10621075. doi: 10.1108/ 00251741211238337 DeChurch, L., Hamilton, K. L., & Haas, C. (2007). Effects of conflict management strategies on perceptions of intragroup conflict. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, 11, 6678. doi: 10.1037/ 1089-2699.11.1.66 De Dreu, C. K. W., & van Vianen, A. E. M. (2001). Managing relationship conflict and the effectiveness

Practical Implications
We see two main implications following from this paper for individuals working in teams and for managers working with teams. First, group members should be aware that they have a hand in the interplay between task and relationship conflict and in this way influence group outcomes. Although coping strategies are related to personality (e.g., OBrien & DeLongis, 1996), individuals are not necessarily consistent in their coping over time (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980) due to the changing nature of stressors and contexts. This implies that individuals, at least to a certain extent, can adapt their ways of coping to the situation at hand. Since our study has shown that individual coping strategies influence whether relationship conflict occurs or perpetuates, group members should consciously consider which strategy of coping to apply. Second, managers can use normative interventions to train groups in the development of coping as a collective competence (see for instance Cureu & Schruijer, 2012). Intragroup conflict is a common occupational stressor (Richmond & Skitmore, 2006), yet managers can safeguard groups against relationship conflict by establishing norms on how to cope with task and relationship conflict in the group; the group should cope with task conflict by addressing the problem at hand, while relationship conflict requires a focus on group members emotions. References
Addison, C. C., Campbell-Jenkins, B. W., Sarpong, D. F., Kibler, J., Singh, M., Dubbert, P., Taylor, H. (2007). Psychometric evaluation of a Coping Strategies Inventory Short-Form (CSI-SF) in the Jackson Heart Study cohort. International Journal of

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

424
of organizational teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22, 309328. doi: 10.1002/job.71 De Dreu, C. K. W., & Weingart, L. R. (2003). Task versus relationship conflict, team performance, and team member satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 741749. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.88.4.741 De Wit, F. R. C., Greer, L. L., & Jehn, K. A. (2012). The paradox of intragroup conflict: A metaanalysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 360390. doi: 10.1037/a0024844 Epstein, S. (1973). The self-concept revisited: Or a theory of a theory. American Psychologist, 28, 404416. doi: 10.1037/h0034679 Evans, M. G. (1985). A Monte Carlo study of the effects of correlated method variance in moderated multiple regression analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 36, 305323. doi: 10.1016/0749-5978(85)90002-0 Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1980). An analysis of coping in a middle-aged community sample. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 21, 219239. doi: 10.2307/2136617 Folkman, S., Lazarus, R. S., Dunkel-Schetter, C., DeLongis, A., & Gruen, R. J. (1986). Dynamics of a stressful encounter: Cognitive appraisal, coping, and encounter outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 9921003. doi: 10.1037/00223514.50.5.992 Garcia-Prieto, P., Bellard, E., & Schneider, S. C. (2003). Experiencing diversity, conflict, and emotions in teams. Applied Psychology, 52, 413440. doi: 10.1111/1464-0597.00142 Glomb, T. M., & Liao, H. (2003). Interpersonal aggression in work groups: Social influence, reciprocal, and individual effects. Academy of Management Journal, 46, 486496. doi: 10.2307/30040640 Greenwald, G. A., Banaji, M. R., Rudman, L. A., Farnham, S. D., Nosek, B. A., & Mellott, D. S. (2002). A unified theory of implicit attitudes, stereotypes, self-esteem, and self-concept. Psychological Review, 109, 325. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.109.1.3 Greer, L. L., Jehn, K. A., & Mannix, E. A. (2008). Conflict transformation: A longitudinal investigation of the relationships between different types of intragroup conflict and the moderating role of conflict resolution. Small Group Research, 39, 278302. doi: 10.1177/1046496408317793 Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of

Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(4)


Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348362. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.348 Isenberg, D. J. (1986). Group polarization: A critical review and meta-analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 11411151. doi: 10.1037/00223514.50.6.1141 Jehn, K. A. (1994). Enhancing effectiveness: An investigation of advantages and disadvantages of value-based intragroup conflict. International Journal of Conflict Management, 5, 223238. doi: 10.1108/eb022744 Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multimethod examination of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256282. doi: 10.2307/2393638 Jehn, K. A. (1997). A qualitative analysis of conflict types and dimensions in organizational groups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 42, 530557. doi: 10.2307/2393737 Jehn, K. A., Rispens, S., & Thatcher, S. (2010). The effects of conflict asymmetry on workgroup and individual outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 596616. doi: 10.5465/amj.2010.51468978 Klein, K. J., & Kozlowski, S. W. J. (2000). From micro to meso: Critical steps in conceptualizing and conducting multilevel research. Organizational Research Methods, 3, 211236. doi: 10.1177/109442810033001 Latack, J. C., & Havlovic, S. J. (1992). Coping with job stress: A conceptual evaluation framework for coping measures. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13, 479508. doi: 10.1002/job.4030130505 Lowe, R., & Bennet, P. (2003). Exploring coping reactions to work-stress: Application of an appraisal theory. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 76, 393400. doi: 10.1348/ 096317903769647247 Newton, T. J. (1989). Occupational stress and coping with stress: A critique. Human Relations, 42, 441 461. doi: 10.1177/001872678904200505 OBrien, T. B., & DeLongis, A. (1996). The interactional context of problem-, emotion-, and relationshipfocused coping: The role of the Big Five personality factors. Journal of Personality, 64, 775813. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1996.tb00944.x Ouwehand, C., De Ridder, D. T. D., & Bensing, J. M. (2006). Situational aspects are more important in shaping proactive coping behaviour than individual characteristics: A vignette study among adults preparing for ageing. Psychology and Health, 21, 809825. doi: 10.1080/14768320500537639 Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2011). Sources of method bias in social science

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013

Pluut and Cureu


research and recommendations on how to control it. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 131. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100452 Ptacek, J. T., Pierce, G. R., & Thompson, E. L. (2006). Finding evidence of dispositional coping. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 11371151. doi: 10.1016/j. jrp.2005.12.001 Richmond, A., & Skitmore, M. (2006). Stress and coping: A study of project managers in a large ICT organization. Project Management Journal, 37, 516. Simons, T. L., & Peterson, S. R. (2000). Task conflict and relationship conflict in top management teams: The pivotal role of intragroup trust. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 314322. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.85.1.102 Smith, C. A., & Lazarus, R. S. (1993). Appraisal components, core relational themes, and the emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 7, 233269. doi: 10.1080/ 02699939308409189 Smith, M. C., & Dust, M. C. (2006). An exploration of the influence of dispositional traits and appraisal on coping strategies in African American college students. Journal of Personality, 74, 145174. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00372.x Snijders, T. A. B., & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis: An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London, UK: Sage.

425
Steinel, W., van Kleef, G. A., van Knippenberg, D., Hogg, M. A., Homan, A. C., & Moffitt, G. (2010). How intragroup dynamics affect behavior in intergroup conflict: The role of group norms, prototypicality, and need to belong. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 13, 779794. doi: 10.1177/1368430210375702 Uehara, T., Sakado, K., Sakado, M., Sato, T., & Someya, T. (1999). Relationship between stress coping and personality in patients with major depressive disorder. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 68, 2630. doi: 10.1159/000012307 Weingart, L., Bear, J., & Todorova, G. (2009, June). Excited to disagree? A study of conflict and emotions. 22nd Annual International Association of Conflict Management Conference paper. Retreived from http://papers. ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1488626 Woolley, A. M., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330, 686688. doi: 10.1126/ science.1193147 Yang, J., & Mossholder, K. W. (2004). Decoupling task and relationship conflict: The role of intragroup emotional processing. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 589605. doi: 10.1002/job.258

Downloaded from gpi.sagepub.com at Alexandru Ioan Cuza on December 13, 2013