Perspective Taking, Empathy, and Relational Conflict at Work: An Investigation Among Participants in a Workplace Conflict Resolution Program

21 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2012

See all articles by Diane LeBlanc

Diane LeBlanc

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Debra A. Gilin

Saint Mary's University, Canada

Kate Calnan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Barbara Solarz

Nova Scotia Health Authority

Date Written: June 18, 2012

Abstract

Evidence for an intriguing pattern has recently emerged, that of higher-empathy individuals — who have shown prosocial and self-sacrificing behaviour in other contexts (Batson, 1991; Batson & Ahmad, 2001) — becoming retaliatory under threat, such that joint resources are destroyed and conflict escalates (Gilin Oore, Maddux, & Galinsky, 2008). We investigate this phenomenon by contrasting how trait perspective taking and empathy may restrain versus escalate conflict, respectively. Perceptions of relational conflict were reported by health care workers seeking services (including education, coaching, mediation) through a conflict training and resolution program. Preliminary results (n=64; data collection still in progress) replicate the expected patterns of empathy-escalation versus perspective taking-restraint under threat: Workers reported significantly higher relational conflict the higher their empathy levels, with negative emotions — a proxy for emotionality — trending toward mediation of the effect. In contrast, higher perspective takers showed lower relational conflict perceptions, mediated by cognitive flexibility. We develop hypotheses to guide future research regarding how empathizing with others may ironically lead to greater conflict escalation under threatening or distressing circumstances.

Keywords: Relational conflict, empathy, perspective taking, threat, well-being

Suggested Citation

LeBlanc, Diane and Gilin, Debra A. and Calnan, Kate and Solarz, Barbara, Perspective Taking, Empathy, and Relational Conflict at Work: An Investigation Among Participants in a Workplace Conflict Resolution Program (June 18, 2012). Intl. Association for Conflict Management, IACM 25th Annual Conference. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2086578 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2086578

Diane LeBlanc

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Debra A. Gilin (Contact Author)

Saint Mary's University, Canada ( email )

Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 3C3
Canada

Kate Calnan

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Barbara Solarz

Nova Scotia Health Authority ( email )

Halifax
Canada

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