Topic: Emotion and Organizational Conflicts

Author(s), Title and Publication

Gayle, B. M., & Preiss, R. W. (1998). Assessing Emotionality in Organizational Conflicts. Management Communication Quarterly, 12(2), 280-302.


The level of emotions remaining after an organizational conflict has the potential to alter organizational relationships. This study investigated the relationship between emotions and conflicts in organizational settings; 174 employees and supervisors from 11 organizations reported their memories of a workplace conflict they had experienced in the last six months. Their descriptions were coded for language intensity, identities of other persons involved in the conflict (coworkers, subordinates, supervisors, administrators), conflict topic (work climate, organizational policies, authority issues, task issues, interpersonal relationship difficulties), conflict status (resolved, unresolved), conflict management strategies (no discussion, ceased discussion, discussion for mutual benefit), conflict nature (isolated event, one of a series of related events), person responsible for the conflict (self, others), and whether or not they talked about the conflicts with a third-party.

A majority of conflicts reported were with supervisors or managers (60%), followed by conflicts with coworkers (33%), and administrators (7%). Those conflicts were mainly about work tasks, interpersonal problems, work climate, organization policies, and authority issues. Only a few conflicts were resolved (21%), or managed with communication that sought mutual understanding and mutual benefits (22%). Nearly 90% of respondents blamed others for the conflicts.

Respondents showed more anger in their narratives of organizational conflicts when they perceived the conflicts as unresolved, remembered them as an ongoing series of events, or discussed them with a third-party involved. Also, the conflict descriptions were more emotional if the respondents were supervisors or managers, or if it was a conflict with an administrator. Conflict types, conflict management strategies, and person(s) perceived to be at fault did not significantly impact the emotional intensity of the reports.

Implications for Practice

Leaders might reduce employees’ negative emotions after organizational conflicts if they try to resolve conflicts in a timely fashion, avoid similar conflicts in the future, improve the quality of leader-member relationships, offer employees more trust, and empathize with them and understand reasons for their emotional upset.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (free abstract, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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