Conflict and Creativity in Groups


  • The authors would like to acknowledge the helpful assistance they received in conducting the research from Clarissa Cuevas. In addition, they are grateful to anonymous reviewers who provided very constructive feedback on earlier drafts of the manuscript. The research was supported by the Center for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Iowa.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lisa Troyer, Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06268 [e-mail:].


Consultants and researchers have long recognized the debilitating effects that conflict between group members can have on both group and individual outcomes. Yetless attention has been paid to the important role that conflict may play in helping generate innovative solutions to ill-structured problems. Furthermore, conflict (properly managed) is critical to the avoidance of groupthink (i.e., the tendency to sacrifice quality decision making and problem solving for the sake of consensus and conflict avoidance). What strategies can group members use to incorporate conflict, or more specifically, dissent in group problem solving? We argue that the delivery of dissenting opinions (negative evaluations) affects the extent to which dissent fosters creativity. We report the results of an experiment in which the target of negative evaluations was varied (e.g., source of an idea vs. idea itself ) and compared to a condition in which no negative evaluations were incorporated. The results show that (1) creativity is higher in the conditions involving idea-targeted negative evaluations than source-targeted or no negative evaluations; (2) negative evaluations from others increase in conditions in which there are source-targeted negative evaluations and idea-targeted negative evaluations, compared to no negative evaluations; and (3) group members report higher levels of satisfaction when working under conditions involving idea-targeted negative evaluations, compared to source-targeted or no negative evaluations. We discuss the implications of this research for organizational settings, with particular attention to how they might inform the design of group decision support systems.