Direct and Indirect Conflict at Work in China and the United States

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interpersonal conflict, job stress, cross-cultural comparison, China

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Most studies on interpersonal conflict at work have been conducted in Western countries. However, cultural differences may affect how people behave towards each other, and understanding these differences may shed light on how people in culturally dissimilar countries experience stress. Using the Cross-Cultural Interpersonal Conflict Scale (CC-ICS) developed for this research, we assessed both direct (face-to-face) and indirect (negative behaviour behind someone's back) conflict at work in 166 and 204 university employees from China and the United States (US), respectively. Confirmatory factor analyses supported a three-factor structure (direct conflict, indirect conflict engaged in by oneself, and indirect conflict by others) of the CC-ICS in both countries. MANCOVA and Bonferroni-adjusted univariate tests revealed that US employees reported more indirect conflict, both by self and by others against self. Moderated regression analyses showed that country moderated the relations between interpersonal conflict and job strains. Direct conflict played a more important role in predicting US employees’ psychological strains, whereas indirect conflict played a more important role in predicting Chinese employees’ physical symptoms. Hotelling t-tests showed that in China indirect conflict by others was more strongly related to psychological strains than was direct conflict. Thus, employees’ cultural backgrounds appear to be associated with how they express conflict behaviours.

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Work & Stress, v. 22, issue 4, p. 295-313