Understanding conflict avoidance : relationship, motivations, actions, and consequences

Dean William TJOSVOLD, Haifa F. SUN

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

105 Citations (Scopus)


Because of their relationship-oriented values, avoiding conflict is thought to be particularly prevalent and appropriate in collectivist societies like China. Although research in the West has assumed that avoiding conflict is one approach and a largely ineffective one, collectivists may use conflict avoidance in different ways, including protecting the other protagonist. Eighty-five managers and employees in six State Owned Enterprises in South China described concrete incidents when they avoided conflict and responded to specific items to measure the prior relationship, motivation, strategies, and consequences. Results identify major motivations and strategies used in conflict avoidance. Findings indicate that Chinese managers and employees relied upon the other person, promoted task productivity, and strengthened the relationship when they had a prior strong relationship and cooperative goals. Cooperative goals and fear of revenge were both found to underlie outflanking (trying to work around the other). Results were interpreted as indicating that avoiding conflict can be useful and even reaffirm an already effective relationship, but like open conflict, it must be managed constructively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-164
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2002


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