Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Nursing Best Practice Guidelines

Outcomes of Interpersonal Conflict

Unaddressed interpersonal conflict can interfere with the personal well-being of the individual; result in negative co-worker relationships; undermine safe patient care/outcomes; and be disruptive to the organization. Perceived disagreements and interference about different desires/goals/approaches often results in negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration, and jealousy. As an outcome of interpersonal conflict, individuals experience negative emotions such as feeling angered, betrayed, frustrated and dismayed by workplace relationships that are abusive and not supportive (Bishop, 2004).

When examining the different types of conflict, research has shown that relationship and task conflict have different consequences or outcomes. The existence of relationship conflict produces negative emotional reactions in individuals such as anxiety, fear, mistrust or resentment (Jehn, 1995). High relationship conflict also means that individuals suffer frustration, tension and fear of being rejected by other team members (Murnigham & Conlon, 1991). At the same time, high relationship conflict appears to cause dysfunction in team work, diminish commitment to team decisions, decrease organizational commitment (Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale, 1999), raise communication problems within team members (Baron, 1991), job dissatisfaction (Jehn, 1995); Jehn, Chadwick, & Thatcher, 1997), and increase stress levels (Friedman et al., 2000).

In contrast, findings concerning task conflict are not as conclusive. Task conflict has been associated with several beneficial effects such as improving the quality of ideas and innovation (Amason, 1996; West & Anderson, 1996), increasing constructive debate (Jehn et al., 1999), facilitating a more effective use of resources, and leading to better service provision (Tjosvold, Dann, & Wong, 1992).However, other studies have shown that task conflict may also have harmful effects by decreasing individuals' perceptions of teamwork and job satisfaction (Jehn et al., 1997), increasing anxiety (Jehn et al., 1997), burnout (Wolff, 2009) and greater intentions to leave (Jehn, 1995).

Although high levels of intense and prolonged conflict hurt individual and team performance, moderate levels of task-related conflict can be beneficial by mitigating biased and defective group decision-making (Brodbeck et al., 2002). These positive consequences of conflict tend to come about especially when relationship conflict is absent (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003a; Simons & Peterson, 2000), and when members engage in problem-solving dialogue and thus debate in an open-minded way about their opposing views, beliefs and opinions (De Dreu & Weingart, 2003; Tjosvold, 1998).Some studies show that on certain occasions, conflict may increase creativity and job quality in a group (Amason, 1996), and improve organizational effectiveness and development (Eisenhart & Schoonhoven, 1990).