Thursday, 3 May 2012

An Integrated Understanding of Affective and Substantive Conflicts in the Turkish Organizational Context

Although up until now, affective and substantive conflicts have received a substantial amount of scholarly interest, no prior effort has been evidenced within the relevant accumulated literature for integrating the assessed identifying characteristics of these two concepts. In other words, the purpose in presenting all of the
above listed characteristics of affective and substantive conflicts was to develop an enhanced and integrated understanding of these concepts and to improve their inadequately formulated conceptualizations and operationalizations as perceived. In order to do so, the above listed characteristics of these processes are synthesized in this research, which produced the following definitions for affective and substantive conflicts.

Affective conflict is an awareness or perception of interpersonal incompatibilities between disputants. The sources of these incompatibilities are (objectively or subjectively) attributed by one of the disputants to factors associated with the other party(ies) to the conflict and / or to the relationship between the primary parties. The latent or overt issues in affective conflicts are not related to the content or process of organizational tasks performed. Thus, it would be appropriate to further propose that these types of conflict experiences are not unique to the context or dynamics of organizations but eminent in everyday life. These conflicts embody significant affective components, and that is why they are labeled as such. The inherent affective components in these conflicts often give rise to expressed, suppressed or displaced emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, friction, tension, animosity, annoyance, irritation, and distrust.

However, it should be noted here that merely depending on emotional assessments as the identifying factors or characteristics of affective conflicts might be tricky and might lead one to conduct spurious diagnosis. Research indicates that hidden, expressed or even displaced emotions – such as anger, fear, and frustration, are sources of conflict in general, in addition to being detrimental psychological states contributing to conflict escalation. Not only affective conflicts but also, content and process related substantive conflicts involve high levels of emotion and negative affect. Simply put; different kinds of emotions and negative affect might be inherent in any type of conflict and it is not appropriate to associate them merely for one type. Hence, it is suggested here that although emotions are characteristically and significantly prevalent in the discourse of affective conflicts, researchers should refrain from mere dependence on emotional assessments when operationalizing affective conflicts and when making inferences about affective conflict existence.

Substantive conflict is an awareness or perception of disagreement on a specific work-related matter, which might be a goal, a task, a project, a problem and the like. The sources of such disagreements stem from individual differences in opinion, ideas, and viewpoints pertaining to that specific work-related matter. These differences of opinion, ideas, and viewpoints on a work-related matter might center around issues that are either content-related or process-related. In other words, at the crux of the conflict are ideational, intellectual and / or judgmental differences pertaining to the content or process of a work-related task.

Finally, theoretically speaking affective and substantive conflicts are two separate but interdependent dimensions. Both conflicts can breed into one another and if such a reinforcement or correlation exists, numerous variables other than the conflicts might be necessary to explain the amount and direction of such a correlation. Hypothetically speaking, the specific issues embedded in the conflict, level of conflict intensity, stage of the conflict process, disputant’s personality and attachment to the conflict issues are amongst the variables that might account for a substantial amount of this correlation and thus, these and other potentially relevant variables are worth to be subjected to further research considerations.

Furthermore, apart from breeding each other, arguably both types of conflicts might be displaced to one another. In other words, due to the cognitive nature of conflicts, parties’ may subjectively attribute originally and objectively substantive issues so as to perceive an affective conflict and vice versa. In such a situation, an objective diagnosis of the conflict would require a thorough analysis of the underlying causes of manifest conflict. Summarily stated depending upon disputants’ cognitive schemas and perceptions, the issues to a conflict can be of affective nature, substantive nature and sometimes both at the same time.

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