Active or Passive Conflict Management

Active or passive distinction fits exactly the control or escape distinction. Activeness refers to the extent to which conflict behaviors make a responsive and direct rather than inert and undirect impression. Experimental results indicate that integrating and dominating are the most active or confrontational of the conflict styles described by the dual-concerns model. This is not surprising since both styles are characterized by the expression of one’s own interests and thus suggest an active engagement with the other party. And, correspondingly, it can be characterized as the least active or non-confrontational of the dual-concerns styles. The lack of advocacy for one’s own position avoiding the conflict altogether or reflexively giving in to others represented by these styles is consistent with their description as less active or passive. A few studies suggest that actively dealing with role pressures decreases their negative impact. The high ability individuals responded better to the demands of role conflict because of increased levels of adaptability. Recent research on the moderating effect of self-esteem on the impact of role conditions on stress offers support for the idea that those individuals who are actively engaged in their work environments respond less negatively to role pressures.

Individuals employing an active conflict management style are more likely to express their individual needs and concerns to the individuals who are the source of their conflicting role demands. It is more likely that the expectations of those role senders may be modified to decrease the conflict, thus decreasing uncertainty, the use of active conflict management style represents a type of resistance in the role behavior of the focal individual. While this behavior may or may not impact the underlying sources of role conflict, it offers the possibility of effectively managing or at least clarifying its immediate consequences. It is important to note that it is not necessary for an individual to be in direct interpersonal conflict with a particular role sender. Our argument is not that there is an explicit fight with role senders, but that there is an implicit dispute that needs to be managed actively.

The consequences for those individuals employing a greater emphasis on less active conflict styles should be very different. Previous research has shown that individuals who respond passively to their environment in general, and role conflict are more susceptible to its negative effects. And to predict that those individuals low in self-esteem are more likely to respond passively or in a passive manner to their environment and hence are less likely to actively cope with the sources of stress.

As conflict increases, introverts become increasingly independent of those around them. The characteristic coping style of the introvert thus produces and intensifies a vicious cycle; the more he withdraws, the more he is seen as too independent. He is subjected to more intense pressures to change and to become more responsive; his emotional tensions are increased, and he is stimulated to further withdrawal. Thus, the introvert’s very effort to reduce the conflict may bring it back to him intensified.

Passive conflict management styles represent a similar lack of engagement in the work environment. Individuals who enact higher levels of passive conflict styles avoiding and obliging do not express their own concerns when faced with conflict. As such, role senders lack the information necessary to modify their expectations and it is unlikely that the pressures imposed by the conflict are addressed. Therefore, for these individuals, their failure to signal to others the existence of a problem in terms of their uncertainty over how to successfully perform or what will be the consequences of their performance is likely to exacerbate the underlying problem. Again, acting passively in the face of conflicting role expectations could be categorized as compliance. While compliance with role expectations is not in and of itself a negative reaction, doing so when there are conflicting expectations does nothing to address the underlying conflict. For individuals employing a more active overall approach to managing conflict, the relationship between role conflict and uncertainty will be less positive than for those employing a less active overall approach to conflict. 

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