COMPETENCE IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STYLES AND PERCEIVED COMPETENCE OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT STYLES BY THAIS AND AMERICANS IN MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS IN THAILAND

Open Access
Author:
Boonsathorn, Wasita
Graduate Program:
Speech Communication
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
August 14, 2003
Committee Members:
  • Dennis Stephen Gouran, Committee Chair
  • Ronald L Jackson Ii, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Judith Ann Kolb, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • intercultural workplace
  • multinational corporation
  • intercultural communication
  • organizational communication
  • conflict management
  • conflict management styles
  • conflict
  • intercultural competence
  • communication competence
  • Thai
  • Thailand
  • qualitative
  • quantitative
  • mixed methods
Abstract:
Over the past decades, researchers have paid substantial attention to conflict interaction in various settings. This has not been the case in multinational corporations. The multinational corporation is one of the contexts in which conflict plays a crucial role, however. Understanding conflict interactions, as well as the way in which people from different cultures perceive conflict behavior, can enhance the working environment, not to mention benefit organizations in various ways. The purpose of this study was to explore Thais’ and Americans’ preferences for styles of conflict management and the way they perceive these styles in terms of competence. The individualistic-collectivistic orientation of Thai and American participants in the study was determined to see how they fit into the general assumptions concerning the two types. This study also explored how such variables as gender, culture of the conflict counterpart (in-group/out-group), and exposure to other cultures relates to these preferences and the perceptions. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to obtain a more precise and complete picture of conflict phenomena in multicultural organizations. The quantitative part of the study involved 319 Thai and American participants from 73 American-owned/co-owned multinational corporations in Thailand, and the qualitative part involved 27 interviewees from 13 such companies. More often than not, the statistical and interview data were consistent. In regard to the preference for styles of conflict management, both statistical and interview analyses indicated that Thais preferred nonconfrontational indirect conflict styles (e.g., avoiding and obliging) more than Americans did. However, Thais also reported enacting direct confrontational styles (e.g., integrating, and compromising) to an extent similar to that of American participants. Dominating styles were reportedly displayed by Americans more than by Thais in the qualitative examination, but ANOVA results showed no significant differences in preferences. In addition to the five styles, interview data showed that Americans resorted to third-party help and emotional expression more than did Thais. Thais exclusively used neglect and a combination of styles. The survey and interview data showed slightly different results for perceived competence. Both methods indicated that American and Thai participants evaluated integrating and compromising, or the direct, open, and honest expressions of ideas, more favorably than they did other styles, with Americans mentioning this topic more frequently than did Thais in qualitative examination. However, whereas ANOVA showed that Thais did not rate avoiding and obliging as highly as expected in competence, the qualitative part of the study revealed that Thais, nevertheless, focused on harmonious relationships and mutual face concerns to a much greater extent than did Americans. Dominating was viewed as relatively low in competence by both Thai and American participants in the quantitative analysis; on the other hand, in the interviews, Americans saw aggressiveness or emotional displays as more acceptable than Thais did. National and organizational culture tended to have a considerable effect on the ways Americans and Thais dealt with conflict. For the most part, the participants reported values that were consistent with their expected individualistic-collectivistic orientations. Some deviation occurred in the manner that Thais reported relying on many individualistic values, such as directness and task accomplishment, more than Americans reported adopting collectivistic values. From the discussion regarding values and practices in their organizations, it appeared that most organizations in the study relied on the Cultural Dominance Model, which emphasized reliance on management’s standards as basis for policy formation and behavioral guidance. For the effects of the culture of the counterpart on conflict behavior and perceptions of it, the qualitative results indicated that Americans and Thais tended to assess the behavior of the conflict targets on the basis of similar criteria, regardless of the culture backgrounds of the other person. Different reactions toward Thai and American target cultures were prevalent. However, when different behavior or judgment criteria were reported, they were expressed in a way that showed understanding, adaptability, and cultural sensitivity. Neither Thais nor Americans appeared to be biased in favor of their in-groups. The quantitative analysis showed similar results for Thai participants’ perceptions. The small number of American participants did not allow for the test of American perceptions toward different conflict targets. Gender stereotypes relating to preferences for and evaluations of conflict styles did not appear to be operative in this study, as no differences in the preference for conflict styles between males and females surfaced. In respect to perceptions of competence, males and females tended to show small differences in their evaluation of styles. When different evaluations occurred, in large part, they ran counter to gender stereotypes (e.g., males evaluated obliging as higher in effectiveness than other styles). Statistical analysis revealed only a few significant results for the correlations of exposure to other cultures to preferences for given styles or perceptions of corresponding levels of competence. In contrast, the qualitative examination showed that exposure to other cultures seemingly affected Americans and Thais’ behavior and perceptions in conflict situations substantially. The evidence produced from these two methods led to the conclusion that exposure to other cultures may influence Americans and Thais in conflict situations in many ways; however, the impact showed in a variety of aspects of conflict phenomena, not merely conflict styles nor perceptions regarding each style. In addition, and contrary to expectations, ANOVA results revealed that Thai participants scored higher on the individualism scale (INDCOL) than American participants did. However, the data were not sufficient to reject the assumption that the Thai participants tended more toward collectivism than did the American participants.