The directness and oppositional intensity of conflict expression

Laurie R. Weingart, Kristin J. Behfar, Corinne Bendersky, Gergana Todorova, Karen A. Jehn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Conflicts in the workplace have been characterized by their type (task, process, relationship), but little attention has been paid to how conflicts are expressed. We present a conceptual framework of conflict expression and argue that understanding how conflicts are expressed can help us gain new insights about the effects of conflict. We propose that conflict expressions vary in their directness and oppositional intensity and that these differences directly influence how people experience and react to conflict, resulting in dynamic escalatory or de-escalatory conflict spirals. We argue that directness of conflict expression is a function of the ambiguity of expression and who is involved (antagonists versus involving other people). Oppositional intensity of conflict expression is indicated by the communicated entrenchment in positions and subversiveness of actions. We argue that while oppositional intensity and directness are universal dimensions characterizing conflict expression, the cultural context and characteristics of the disputants will influence how conflict is expressed and perceived. We consider the implications of our conceptual framework for related research examining conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-262
Number of pages28
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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