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Conflict styles of men and women at six organization levels

Kenneth W. Thomas (Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, USA)
Gail Fann Thomas (Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, USA)
Nancy Schaubhut (CPP, Mountain View, California, USA)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




This study aims to provide a more detailed examination of the way conflict styles vary by organization level and gender.


The authors drew a stratified, random sample from a national database on the Thomas‐Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, selecting 200 fully‐employed men and 200 fully‐employed women at each of six organizational levels – from entry‐level positions to top executives. This design allowed them to test for linear and curvilinear relationships between style and organization level, as well as to compare gender differences in styles across organization levels.


Results showed moderate effect sizes for both organization level and gender, with negligible interaction effects. Assertiveness (competing and collaborating) increases monotonically at progressively higher organization levels, while unassertive styles (avoiding and accommodating) decrease. Compromising shows a curvilinear relationship to organization level, decreasing at both the highest and lowest levels. The strongest gender finding was that men score significantly higher on competing at all six organization levels. Thus, there was no evidence that conflict styles of men and women converge at higher organization levels.


The study provides a more detailed picture of conflict style differences by organization level and gender. Among other things, these differences suggest the usefulness of multiple sets of norms for conflict style instruments and the need for conflict training and team building to take into account the typical style patterns at a given organization level.



Thomas, K.W., Fann Thomas, G. and Schaubhut, N. (2008), "Conflict styles of men and women at six organization levels", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 148-166.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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