July 15, 2010

New Research Confirms Cost of Workplace Conflict and Reveals Benefit of Venting

Research by economists at the University of Nottingham has revealed that feuding opponents will continue to retaliation even when they realize their efforts are damaging their own interests.  Fortunately, the likelihood of vendettas is mitigated by giving participants the opportunity to vent their anger.

The study looked at the development of vendettas in games where participants were allowed to ‘steal’ a proportion of the others’ probability of winning. Researchers found that protagonists often pursued the conflict well beyond the reasonable limits of self-interest: 70% of the games showed ‘tit for tat’ stealing which resulted in both party’s chances of winning reducing below 10%, thus ending the game. The study thus confirmed earlier research that workplace conflict is often economically irrational.

More relevant to the work of Organizational Ombuds was the additional observation that the number of mutually destructive games fell when players could vent their feelings between rounds. Researchers found that the more open subjects were in venting their negative emotions state, the less aggressive they were in pursuing vendettas. “This research has obvious potential applications for attempts to reduce the level of conflict in settings such as the workplace,” said co-author Dr Jonathan Tan, of Nottingham University Business School.
We found venting provides an opportunity for people to channel their feelings, which is an alternative to engaging in destructive behaviour. Providing non-destructive ways for workers to channel such emotions could therefore be used to cut aggression in the workplace.
(Friedel Bolle, Jonathan H.W. Tan and Daniel John Zizzo, "Vendettas," (Discussion Papers 2010-02, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham, 2010); People Matters; Bulletin Academic.)

Ombuds everywhere are nodding in agreement.

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