The critical role of emotion regulation on conflict management in groups

This study indicates that emotion regulation can benefit group effectiveness by directly reducing relationship conflict as well as by reducing the chance that task conflict escalates into relationship conflict.

Although conflict is closely connected with the emotional life of groups, until now no empirical tests have been conducted on the moderating role that emotion regulation (a core component of collective emotional intelligence) plays between task conflict (disagreements about the content of the task due to different viewpoints, opinions and ideas) and relationship conflict (interpersonal incompatibilities and frictions among the group members resulting in tension, annoyance and animosity).

Therefore, the authors of this article conducted a field study of 43 short-term (temporary) groups and 44 long-term groups to test the triple interaction of task conflict, emotion regulation and group temporariness on the emergence of relationship conflict.

The authors tested their hypotheses that: In groups with effective emotion regulation processes, task conflict is less likely to evolve into relationship conflict, and that this moderation effect is stronger in long-term than in short-term groups.

Key findings

The authors found that task conflict has the lowest predictive value for relationship conflict in long-term groups with high emotion regulation mechanisms. Furthermore, they found that that this moderating role is also influenced by the degree of group temporariness. Their results show that emotion regulation decouples task from relationship conflict in long-term rather than short-term groups.

Thus, their results point at two ways in which emotion regulation can benefit group effectiveness:

  • First, by directly reducing relationship conflict, and
  • Second, by decreasing the chance that task conflict escalates into relationship conflict.

Although more research is needed on the mechanisms through which emotion regulation impacts the interplay between task and relationship conflict before specific recommendations can be made for practice, the authors do put forward an important suggestion: To keep task conflict decoupled from relationship conflict, groups should develop effective emotion regulation processes. By paying attention to the moderation effects of this process, we open up possibilities for the control of relationship conflict in groups.

Source: "Task and relationship conflict in short-term and long-term groups. The critical role of emotion regulation" by professor Smaranda Boros (Vlerick Business School), Petru L. Curseu (Tilburg University, The Netherlands) and Leon A.G. Oerlemans (University of Pretoria, South Africa; and Tilburg University, The Netherlands). International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 23 Issue 1, pp. 97 - 107 (2012)

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