Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Neil H. Katz

Second Advisor

Robin Cooper

Third Advisor

Urszula Strawinska-Zanko

Abstract

Conflict is a predictable aspect of organizational life. Research indicates that workers spend the majority of their lifetime at work and that unresolved conflict is one of the largest reducible costs in organizations. However, the majority of employee conflicts are not accurately addressed by rights-and-power based conflict management systems. This Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study explored the experiences and perceptions of workers who had been involved in an unresolved or escalated workplace conflict that was of consequence in their lives. The study sought to learn how it impacted them and how they made sense of the conflict, their organizations, and their options. Nine workers from seven different industries were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. Central to this study’s gestalt is the square peg in a round hole phenomenon that symbolizes what it means to live through a significant workplace conflict. The participants experienced emotional turmoil, a sense of powerlessness, and a perception that their interpersonal conflicts did not fit within their organizations’ conflict management systems. Participants’ stories are woven throughout the analysis and highlighted in six superordinate themes (1) Impact from Negative Work-Life Events, (2) Costly Reactions, (3) Covert Conflict, (4) Reducing Dissonance to Facilitate Resilience, (5) Detachment from the Organization, (6) Learning through Reflection. This study contributes to the field of conflict resolution with insights on workplace conflict costs including the pervasiveness of presenteeism, how a sense of powerlessness can lead to detachment from the organization, and how valuable dialogue can be in reframing workers’ experience.

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