Styles of managing interpersonal workplace conflict in relation to status and face concern: A study with anglos and Chinese

Frances P. Brew*, David R. Cairns

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    81 Citations (Scopus)


    Ting-Toomey's (1988) face-negotiation theory of conflict predicts that choice of conflict style is closely associated with face-negotiation needs, which vary across cultures. This study investigated this prediction in a workplace setting involving status and face-concern with a sample of 163 Anglo-Australian and 133 Chinese university students who were working full or part-time. The association of type of communication (direct or cautious) according to type of face-threat (self or other) and work status (subordinate, co-worker or superior) with preferences for three conflict management styles (control, solution-oriented, non-confrontational) was examined for the two cultural groups. The results showed that: (1) as predicted by the individualist-collectivist dimension, Anglo respondents rated assertive conflict styles higher and the nonconfrontational style lower than their Chinese counterparts; (2) overall, both Anglo and Chinese respondents preferred more direct communication strategies when self-face was threatened compared with other-face threat; (3) status moderated responses to self and other-face threat for both Anglos and Chinese; (4) face-threat was related to assertive and diplomatic conflict styles for Anglos and passive and solution-oriented styles for Chinese. Support was shown for Ting-Toomey's theory; however the results indicated that, in applied settings, simple predictions based on only cultural dichotomies might have reduced power due to workplace role perceptions having some influence. The findings were discussed in relation to areas of convergence and divergence between the two cultural groups; widening the definition of "face"; and providing a more flexible model of conflict management incorporating both Eastern and Western perspectives.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)27-56
    Number of pages30
    JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Management
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


    • Anglos
    • Chinese
    • Collectivism
    • Conflict management
    • Face
    • Individualist
    • Work status


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