Open Access
Dodd, Ann H.
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 15, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Jon F Nussbaum, Committee Chair
  • Dennis Stephen Gouran, Committee Member
  • Michelle E Day, Committee Member
  • Michael John Dooris, Committee Member
  • conflict management
  • quality management
  • higher education
  • group communication
  • organizational communication
ABSTRACT This dissertation examined conflict communication and quality management practices in four academic departments at a large public research institution. Four conflict communication styles were identified, including interactive equality, supportive dissension, suppression, and deconstructive dissension. Three conflict types were observed, all having an identity element: task, process, and relationship conflict. Further, five quality management domains were identified, including systems thinking, strong leadership and decision making, focus on continuous renewal, faculty development and generativity, and stakeholder engagement. Constructive conflict communication patterns and quality management practices are two important processes in the development of an academic department. Both co-exist in a mutually reinforcing developmental framework. The goal of each process is the same: to enhance departmental effectiveness. Supportive dissension and interactive equality may be the developmental tasks that departments need to master in order to achieve the cooperation and learning recommended by Deming (1993) in his framework of profound knowledge. Conversely, quality management practices may be the developmental tasks best suited to enhancing supportive dissension and interactive equality. It also appears that an important aspect of their successful interaction is strong leadership that facilitates systems thinking. This dissertation employed descriptive case study methodology (Yin, 2003). Data collection included the following methods: survey, interview, observation, and document analysis. Pattern matching (Campbell, 1975) served to reveal the degree to which the data matched the patterns for each study variable as suggested by face negotiation theory and cooperative conflict theory. Tenets of both theories, with the exception of their propositions regarding the use of cooperating, yielding, and avoiding conflict styles, received support. Significant differences among departments surfaced in the degree to which the three conflict types were present and also in the degree to which the departments used quality management practices. Departmental differences for the use of conflict communication styles also emerged. Additionally, significant differences in the ways tenured and non-tenured faculty viewed their departments’ use of the two quality constructs of information and analysis and process excellence were in evidence. The developmental framework proposed in this dissertation provides indicators that can be used to recognize the organizational structures and processes that are critical to the development of quality management and constructive conflict patterns. The framework also provides guidelines for conflict management, including when to increase, maintain, or reduce conflict. Leaders and accreditors could use the indicators as they work to facilitate positive change in academic departments. This positive change could, in turn, enhance the quality of teaching, research, and service to the benefit of future generations and society at large.