Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Diagnostic Tool for Managing Conflict at its Sources

To successfully resolve a conflict or dispute, Alex Colvin (Cornell), Dionne Pohler (Saskatchewan), and I assert that you must first understand its roots or sources, and then appropriately match a dispute resolution method. We call this "managing conflict at its sources." To this end, we’ve created a three-part typology of the roots of conflict—specifically, structural, cognitive, and dispositional sources of conflict—to facilitate the identification of effective dispute resolution methods tailored to the particular sources of a given dispute. 

This can be facilitated by a diagnostic tool that helps parties to a conflict ask the right questions. For starters,

1. Diagnose the structural nature of the relationship between the parties

  • What are their interests or goals, rights, and sources of power? 
  • What are their value orientations or identity needs?
  • What are the rules or institutions that govern their relationship?
  • Are there scarce resources involved? 
  • Why are the parties in a relationship together? Are there better alternative options? How much does their success depend on the other’s?
  • If there are reasons for a lasting interdependency, are their interests mostly able to be aligned (mutual self-benefit), mostly conflicting with each, or a mixture of both?

2. Diagnose the cognitive sources of conflict

  • What cognitive frames shape how each participant perceives and interprets the situation, and influences desired action? This can reflect culture, individual experiences, and individual preferences.  
  • Are there cognitive limitations (e.g., information overload) or cognitive biases (e.g., loss aversion, anchoring, framing, fixed-pie perception, exaggeration of conflict, illusions of transparency, decision fatigue, or overconfidence)?
  • Are there information limitations, imbalances, and/or uncertainties?
  • Are there intergroup tensions based on in-group/out-group identification?
  • Are there sources of miscommunication, such as noisy communication channels, different meanings, incorrect filtering of intent, and misinterpretation of nonverbal cues and personal demeanor?

3. Diagnose the dispositional sources of conflict

  • What emotions or mood might be positively or negatively affecting the situation?
  • Are there personality factors that shape how one or more participants feel, think, and/or behave? 
  • Are there differences in personality that clash?

Not all of these will apply in every situation. But for those that do, the diagnostic tool then helps connect these underlying sources with the implications for how to manage this kind of conflict. 

The animated version of "Managing Conflict at its Sources" also provides an introductory overview: 


Monday, September 20, 2021

The Importance of Political Systems for Trade Union Membership, Coverage, and Influence

Here's the Twitter thread version of my new article:

Excited that “The Importance of Political Systems for Trade Union Membership, Coverage, and Influence: Theory and Comparative Evidence” with @jryanlamare is in the current BJIR issue.

Ideological links between the state & industrial relations have-of course-been recognized as important for a long time. We build on this to consider the influence of the structural nature of a country’s political system, irrespective of the ideological leaning of the state.

By political system, we mean 1) the extent to which a national electoral system yields a legislative body that is (dis)proportional to the fraction of votes each party received, 2) effective number of parties, 3) multiparty ruling coalitions.

We theorize that these can influence workplace-level unionism, holding state ideology constant, via incentives for inclusionary governance & legislative body diversity. In short, a pol. system that rewards compromise rather than competition may create similar workplace norms.

Eg, in more representative & coalitional systems, unions have more opportunities to use their extra-parliamentary status to act as consensus-builders, increasing their legitimacy. Also, employers have incentives to influence as a social partner, so can't bust unions.

Using @eurofound establishment data & @ESS_Survey individual data for 25+ European countries, increased political representativeness (lower disproportionality,  coalitions) is a statistically significant predictor of a greater likelihood of individual trade union membership.

And competitive fragmentation, measured by greater numbers of political parties, is associated with weakened collective voice. Causal ambiguity is likely the strongest for the multiparty coalition outcomes.

The importance of cross-national institutional differences in the nature of trade unions & workplace voice, supportive legislative policies, and varieties of capitalism needs to be complemented by a deeper understanding of the role of varieties of political systems.

Non-paywall version:
9-minute animation (fewer details, more fun):
And we are deeply touched by the care shown to us & our work by the late David Marsden who was the editor.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Worker Voice and Political Participation in Civil Society: Lousy Work Is Bad for Democracy

The stories are familiar by now: businesses claim that there’s a labor shortage and others reply that they need to pay more. Pay is obviously an important part of a job, but we need to remember that the positive and negative aspects of work are complicated, which means that we must consider more than pay when evaluating job quality and worker well-being. Among many important things, this includes paying attention to how the quality of work affects society.  

Concerns with how workplace experiences affect the political arena are longstanding. Over 150 years ago, John Stuart Mill advocated for worker cooperatives and participatory economic systems because he believed economic democracy fostered political democracy. Most workers, however, do not work in cooperatives. But varying forms of worker voice can have elements of economic democracy, or more widely-speaking, at least some degree of autonomy. In a seminal book, Carole Pateman argued that individuals with autonomy in their work—e.g., the ability to control certain aspects of the job—develop confidence that they are capable of autonomous action. This confidence can spill over to the political and civic arenas leading to higher levels of participation in these arenas. In other words, workplace voice can create “psychological supports” for political and civic engagement. A second line of theorizing focuses instead on skill development. That is, exercising voice in the workplace can enhance skills pertaining to things like advocacy, negotiation, and communication, which can also be useful in the political and civic arenas. So workplace voice can lead to greater political and civic participation through skill enhancement.

Stronger forms of workplace democracy include being represented by a labor union or works council, and being involved with these forms of voice can also trigger both of these channels. That is, participating in a union or works counciland probably a worker center, toocan enhance confidence, instill beliefs about the importance of democratic decision-making, and develop skills that translate into greater political and civic engagement. 

If individual or collective voice prompts greater political and civic participation through these channels, it’s a happy byproduct of workplace voice rather than intentional one. But labor unions and other collective bodies can also intentionally try to increase political and civic participation through voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, campaigns to contact politicians or join demonstrations, and training programs for political advocacy and running for political office. So unintentionally and intentionally, unions, works councils, and worker centers can build “democratic character: the willingness and capacity of individuals to engage in democratic politics and to do so in ways that are informed by judgements of the common good.” Conceptually, then, we should expect workers involved with these forms of collective voice to participate more readily in the political and civic arenas compared to workers that lack avenues of workplace voice.

But does this happen in practice? Ryan Lamare and I have recently reviewed the literature, and we conclude quite strongly that there are strong relationships between individual or collective voice on the one hand, and political and civic participation on the other. One of our favorite studies—because we authored it!—shows that across 27 European countries, workers with greater individual workplace voice are more likely to vote, contact politicians, work in a political party, and engage in other activities. This is just one of a number of studies on individual voice that have broadly similar findings across various samples and using diverse measures of individual voice and political participation. But spillovers are not guaranteedsupervisor support or suppression can also affect the workplace-political linkage. There is also a large literature on the effects of union voice. Empirical results show that union members are more likely to vote (in the US, Canada,  and Europe), engage in other political activities, and give to charity. There's also evidence that unions can also mobilize non-members to engage in protests. 

Admittedly, specifically identifying causal relationships can be challenging. For example, workers who are pre-disposed toward political and civic participation might look for jobs with individual and/or collective voice, so their observed participation was not caused by workplace voice. But the studies that are able to specifically address issues of causality typically find that non-causal explanations cannot fully explain the observed empirical relationships. In other words, it appears that individual and collective voice prompt some additional political and civic participation that would not have occurred in the absence of this workplace voice. In this way, having more individual and collective voice would be good for society.

Consequently, while individual and collective forms of worker voice are accurately viewed primarily as workplace phenomena, the interconnections to and ramifications for political and civic engagement should not be overlooked. Labor unions, with their own internal participatory, democratic systems and their incentives for political education and mobilization, are perhaps the form of worker voice in which it is easiest to expect there to be spillovers into the political and civic arena—including spillovers that are the byproduct of experiencing unionization and others that result from intentional union strategies. But even the experience of individual forms of workplace voice such as in-job autonomy can have spillovers by fostering democratizing attitudes and civic skills.

Across time and space, then, what happens at work is not expected to stay at work. Researchers and commentators often present this in a positive frame, as has been done here—that is, higher levels of workplace voice are associated with higher levels of political and civic participation. But it is important to remember that if this is true, then so is the corresponding negative framing—that is, dictatorial and authoritarian workplaces in which workers lack individual and/or collective voice likely lead to lower levels of political and civic participation, with consequent negative impacts on society. Pay might be the #1 concern of workers struggling to make ends meet, but societally we should be pushing not only for jobs that allow workers to support themselves and their families, but also that contribute to the broader health of our society.

Source: John W. Budd and J. Ryan Lamare (2021) "Worker Voice and Political Participation in Civil Society," in Klaus F. Zimmermann, ed., Handbook of Labor, Human Resources and Population Economics (Cham: Springer). [free access to the pre-publication version here].