The effects of cognitive appraisals of communication competence in conflict interactions: a study involving Western and Chinese cultures

Frances P. Brew, Justin Tan, Helen Booth, Irum Malik

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    This study investigated differences between people from Western and Chinese cultures on perceived competence (effectiveness and appropriateness) of the other party's communication during conflict. First, a pilot study with 30 employees in Singapore examined appraisals of communication competence in recalled intercultural conflict incidents. Western expatriates judged competence of the other party mainly on whether the communication style was direct and engaged, deemed to be judgments of effectiveness. However, host-nationals judged competence mainly on interactional skills and cultural knowledge, deemed to be judgments of appropriateness. Following the pilot study, a quasi-experimental study (128 Australian and 108 Chinese university students) showed that Australians discriminated between four different types of conflict styles more distinctly with effectiveness than appropriateness judgments and vice versa for Chinese. This supports the pilot work. Furthermore, both effectiveness and appropriateness judgments predicted relationship outcomes postconflict for both groups. For Australians, the trend of effectiveness judgments across the four conflict styles paralleled exactly the trend of their predictions for how much the relationship would improve postconflict, whereas their appropriateness judgments did not. For Chinese, neither competency judgments mirrored predictions on relationship improvement. However, their appropriateness judgments paralleled their predictions for level of status quo maintenance, but their effectiveness judgments did not. The evidence supports the hypothesis that people from different cultures hold dissimilar implicit cognitive theories of what defines in/competent communication in interpersonal conflict. The potent association of competency judgments with relational outcomes signals a new cognitive direction for conflict research, long fixated on behavioral manifestations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)856-874
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


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