Mindfulness facilitates constructive conflict management

Published March 2020

Kay, A. A., & Skarlicki, D. P. (in press). Cultivating a conflict-positive workplace: How mindfulness facilitates constructive conflict management. Organisational Behavior & Human Decision Processes.

Significance

Conflict is a pervasive and inescapable part of organisational life that is commonly assumed to be harmful. However, when conflict is managed constructively organisations can realise tremendous gains. Thus, an important question for research and practice is: what can organisations do to cultivate more constructive attitudes and behaviours around workplace conflict? This research shows that mindfulness – defined as self-regulated attention on present moment experience with an open, non-judgmental and accepting attitude – not only improves how employees feel around conflict, but also how they think about and behave in conflict. By consequence, this research shows that mindfulness is an effective tool for promoting constructive conflict management in the workplace, as it increases the most constructive form of conflict management – namely, collaboration – and also decreases the least constructive form of conflict management – namely, avoidance.

What’s new

  • First research on the effects of mindfulness on conflict management, whether in the workplace or otherwise.
  • Defines “constructive conflict management” as a two-pronged approach to conflict that benefits both disputants by increasing collaboration and reducing avoidance, and shows that mindfulness improves conflict management along with both prongs.
  • The largest and most exacting mindfulness training intervention study conducted in business research to date, involving 600 participants in a randomised controlled trial with both passive and active placebo control conditions, as well as three waves of data collection over a month-long training period.

Bottom line

  • Mindfulness does not make employees avoidant or otherwise shy around conflict; rather, it makes them more likely to deal with conflict in a more constructive “head-on” manner.
  • Online mindfulness training offers a flexible, low-cost, efficient, and effective way for any organisation to foster constructive conflict management among its managers and employees.
  • Benefits of mindfulness training can be achieved through web-based applications, which are considered “low dose” insofar as they involve less time, expense, and effort than more well-known and empirically established programs involving formal meditation training.
  • Mindfulness training can improve attitudes and behaviours around workplace conflict, and more constructive conflict management is but one by-product of an otherwise wide range of empirically demonstrated benefits.

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