Personality and organizational correlates of conflict resolution modes used by boundary personnel in a planning consortium of alcoholism agencies



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The general question investigated is the extent to which individuals in interorganizational situations act out their personalities, act as agents of their organizations, or do both in resolving conflict. Interorganizational conflict is defined as interaction between organizations which express opposing interests. Three resolution modes were operationally defined. The forcing mode of conflict resolution determines which organizations can dominate the others in a network by bringing superior power to bear. Smoothing involves exploiting affective ties between representatives of the organizations (boundary personnel) rather than power to resolve differences. Confronting has as its goal resolution of opposing interests to benefit the network of organizations. Four relationships were hypothesized between strength of personality needs of boundary personnel and the extent to which they used different modes, as followst Hla, need for aggression is positively correlated with forcing; Hlb, need for dominance is positively correlated with forcing; H2, need for affiliation is positively correlated with smoothing; and H3, need for achievement is positively correlated with confronting. Nine relationships were hypothesized between characteristics of boundary personnel's organizations and use of the three modes, as follows; H4a, number of employees is positively correlated with forcing; H4b, budget size is positively correlated with forcing; H5, organizational influence is positively correlated with forcing, H6a, number of employees is negatively correlated with smoothing; H6b, budget size is negatively correlated with smoothing; H7, organizational influence is negatively correlated with smoothing; H8a, span of control of a boundary person's supervisor is positively correlated with confronting; H8b, hierarchical level is positively correlated with confronting; and H9, organizational influence is positively correlated with confronting. The research setting was a network of six agencies which deliver services related to alcoholism. These six agencies had been linked into a planning consortium. Twenty boundary personnel were identified in the consortium. Nineteen completed the Edwards Personal Preference Scale, which measured strengths of the four personality needs. Top administrators in each agency supplied requisite organizational data. The 20 boundary personnel were asked to name at least two correspondents (representatives of other agencies with whom they conducted Interagency transactions). The 62 correspondents named were asked to rate the boundary personnel on extent of use of 12 aphorisms, which measureduse of the three conflict resolution modes. Of the personality hypotheses, H3 (need for achievement, confronting) was weakly supported (r=.32) if all 19 boundary personnel completing the personality test were considered; H3 was supported (r=.59) if only the 15 Ss passing Edwards' consistency criterion were considered. Of the organizational hypotheses, H6b (budget size, smoothing) was supported (r=.40); H8b (hierarchical level, confronting) was weakly supported (p=.26); H6a (number of employees, smoothing) was weakly supported (r=.24); and H4a (number of employees, forcing) was weakly supported (r=.15; but r=.22 with logarithms of employees). H4b (budget size, forcing) tested weakly in the predicted direction (r=.16). The correlation for H7 (organizational Influence, smoothing) was significantly positive rather than negative as hypothesized; that for H8a (span of control, confronting) was weakly negative (r=-.2O) rather than positive. Implications for further research and suggested improvements in method, particularly in means of measuring use of conflict resolution modes, are discussed. Tentative suggestions for application of research findings by organizational managers are also discussed. These suggestions are as follows: assigning personnel with high achievement needs to boundary positions; structuring of boundary positions to include personnel who are in an organization's higher levels and whose supervisors have narrow control spans; and predicting emphases on forcing by relatively large, smoothing by relatively small, and smoothing by relatively influential organizations in a network in which management is considering participation.