Conflict Resolution and Gender in the Workplace


Multiple studies have indicated that men and women approach conflict differently, using varying styles to attempt resolution. The problem with many of these studies, however, is that they rely heavily on college student samples to identify these differences. I don't know about you, but I think my 40-something self deals with conflict resolution a little differently than my 20-something self did! 

Davis, Capobianco, and Kraus, the creators of the Conflict Dynamics Profile, conducted a study of over 2000 real working adults (not college students!) who had participated in leadership programs through the Center for Creative Leadership. The goal of their research was to identify differences in conflict resolution behaviors between male and female leaders. Another interesting part of their study was that the data was collected not from the leaders themselves but from their supervisors, peers, and direct reports. 

What did they discover?

Women are more likely than men to engage in the conflict resolution behaviors of perspective taking, creating solutions, expressing emotions, and reaching out.

Among behaviors identified as active constructive conflict resolution behaviors, women were more likely than men to engage in perspective taking, creating solutions, expressing emotions, and reaching out. Women were also rated more highly on the passive constructive behaviors of delaying response and adapting. Male leaders, on the other hand, were rated more highly on the active destructive behaviors of winning, displaying anger, demeaning others, and retaliating. Female leaders were more likely to use the passive destructive behaviors of avoiding and self-criticizing. 

In addition to the research on the positive impact of female leadership on financial health, morale, and relationships, conflict resolution strategies represent yet another way in which women are valuable contributors to their organizations. If she isn't already sitting at the leadership table, however, her impact won't be as significant when the time comes to deal with difficult organizational conflict. 

Reference: Davis, M. H., Capobianco, S., & Kraus, L. A. (2010). Gender differences in responding to conflict in the workplace: Evidence from a large sample of working adults. Sex Roles, 63, 500-514.

Jaime GoffComment