Taking Advantage of Conflicts in Group Decision Making

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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

Taking Advantage of Conflicts in Group Decision Making

In past research it was often argued that group decision making (GDM) improves if task-conflicts are present.
Task-conflicts are different opinions about the content and outcomes of the task being
performed.
Why this positive effect? Because task-conflicts prevent premature consensus and encourage critical thinking. It seems obvious. But other studies found no such relationship or even a negative one. The relationship between tasks conflicts and good GDM is thus ambiguous.

De Wit, Jehn and Scheepers have recently discovered that another factor is playing an important role when we're analyzing the extent to which task-conflicts are beneficial for GDM: the presence (or absence) of a relationship conflict.
According to the authors, task conflicts are more likely to have a positive effect on GDM if relationship conflicts are absent in the company.

They suggest 2 possibilities in which a relationship conflict negatively affects the relationship between task conflict and GDM:
1. A relationship conflict causes rigidity: Frictions, negative emotions, or antipathy towards others leads to certain reactions in a debate that are likely to spill over to other group members. The flexible, open-minded attitude in debates becomes more rigid and closed as a result and the willingness to accord to opinions of other group members is reduced. Rather people will rigidly hold their initial opinions.
2. A relationship conflict creates processing information biases: In healthy decision-making processes, group members use their own information as well as information they can obtain from other team members. However, if relationship conflicts are present group members often decide to only use their own information when making decisions.
Both of these possibilities are hard to measure. However, the study of de Wit argues that in assessing the relationship between task conflicts and GDM it is important to take other factors into account that indirectly affect this relationship.
Source: de Wit, F. R., Jehn, K. A., and Scheepers, D. (2013). Task conflict, information processing, and decision-making: The damaging effect of relationship conflict. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 122(2), 177-189.

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