The virtue and vice of workplace conflict: food for (pessimistic) thought


  • Carsten K.W. De Dreu

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    • Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
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Many authors, myself included, have suggested that workplace conflict may be beneficial to the organization. I argue that the support for this conclusion is rather weak. A selective and necessarily limited review of the literature shows that: (1) the positive functions of conflict are found only under an exceedingly narrow set of circumstances, (2) the conclusion that (particular forms of) conflict and conflict management has positive functions can be criticized on methodological grounds, (3) even under favorable circumstances a number of serious negative functions can be identified as well, (4) negative functions easily outweigh positive functions, prohibiting the emergence of ‘positive workplace conflict’ (where conflict has predominantly positive consequences), and (5) organizations need cooperative conflict management not because it brings positive conflict, but because it prevents workplace conflict to hurt too much. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.