Conflict avoidance in cooperative and competitive relationships : a cross-cultural study between Chinese subordinates and western superiors

  • Chun Yan PENG

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Many international companies have entered China because of its expanding opportunities. However, for expatriate managers to innovate and implement their strategic plans in order to exploit these opportunities, they must know and work with their Chinese subordinates. But conflict is inevitable within organizations, especially when people with different cultural backgrounds work together. Culture not only affects people’s preferred ways of doing things but also influences their styles to deal with conflicts. Compared with Westerners, Chinese people have been found to employ indirect ways and prefer to avoid conflict. To facilitate effective communication, it is imperative for Western managers to understand why local subordinates might avoid conflicts and what strategies they will use.

This paper explores the dynamic structure of conflict avoidance between Western managers and Chinese employees; we want to understand the different strategies used to avoid conflict. Specifically, this study uses the theory of cooperation and competition to predict people’s responses toward conflict avoidance. We hypothesize that conflict avoidance is not always negative but depends on the specific actions the protagonists adopt and their perceptions of the goal interdependence with each other (cooperative or competitive) greatly influence their tactics to avoid conflict. The study extends research on conflict avoidance to foreign invested companies in China and develops a typology of the dynamics of conflict avoidance.

Altogether 132 face-to-face interviews were carried out in Hong Kong and Beijing, China. Participants who work with Western managers were asked to describe an incident in which they avoided a conflict with their foreign superiors; it included the setting, what occurred, the reasons, and the consequences. Then they rated specific questions on 7-point Likert-type scale based on the recalled incidents. Employees whose bosses are local managers were also recruited as a control group. Structural equation modeling and other analyses will explore the proposed model and help to compare cultural differences in handling conflicts between the Western and Chinese managers. The paper draws implications for managing in foreign invested firms.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Management
SupervisorDean William TJOSVOLD (Supervisor)

Cite this