Conflict perceptions change based on gender, study says

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Leah Sheppard
Leah Sheppard

Women involved in workplace disputes are believed to be less likely to repair their relationship, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business asked study participants to evaluate identical conflict scenarios with one difference: one conflict involved Adam and Steven; one involved Adam and Sarah; and one was with Sarah and Anna. With the last one, study participants were less likely to believe the managers would repair their frayed relationship and that the all-female conflict would be more likely to lead to less job satisfaction. 

Female study participants were just as likely as male participants to see the female-female conflicts as more negative, researchers noted. 

Doctoral candidate Leah Sheppard conducted the study, with the assistance of UBC's Karl Aquino, Ph.D.  The concern is executives might hesitate to assign several female workers to a project.

“I was constantly hearing about the problems women have working together,” Sheppard tells McKnight's. But the study indicates people's biases factor into how they see a situation, whether they involve account managers or nurses.

These perceptions “can be difficult to overcome,” she says. But a certain amount of job conflict can be healthy because it can be a way to problem solve, she adds.

Findings were expected to appear in Academy of Management Perspectives.