Composition, Conflict Expression, and Psychological Safety in Teams: A Longitudinal Investigation
Research on conflict in organizations has previously been investigated as conflict management style, conflict content, and conflict culture. Weingart and colleagues (2015) proposed a new framework of examining conflict as conflict expression, which can be defined as an individual’s particular verbal or non-verbal behaviors in expressing disagreement. The current study aimed to expand the nomological network surrounding conflict expression in teams. First, the study examined the effect of each conflict expression on team performance. Second, the study examined team composition in terms of personality and political skill as antecedents of conflict expression. Third, the study examined the effect of political skill on escalatory conflict spiral. Finally, the study examined the bidirectional relationship between conflict expression and psychological safety emergence over time. To investigate these relationships, the current study used archival data collected over six-time points within 24 student project teams. To test for these hypothesized relationships, regression, moderated regression, latent growth curve modeling, and cross-lagged panel analysis were conducted. The results of the current study suggested that arguing, undermining, and disguising negatively predicted subjective team performance. Political skill was found to negatively predict arguing, undermining, and disguising. No support was found with regards to personality, escalatory conflict spirals, and the bidirectional relationship between conflict expression and psychological safety. Based on the current study’s results, organizations can use a political skill measure as part of their selection and team composition procedures. In addition, organizations should also implement interventions that aims to enhances a team’s psychological safety near the end of the team’s lifecycle to prevent the team from engaging in conflict expressions that are harmful to the team. Future research should continue examining the conflict expression framework. The current study’s limitations were also discussed.