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Impact of Strategic Conflict Management on the Growth and Success of the CPA Firms in Singapore



            Organizations normally encounter professional conflict – whether it is owner disagreements, personnel issues, vendor relations matters, client concerns or competitive situations, but there are always some effective ways in managing it.  According to Wilson (2002), those people or organizations that are able to manage conflict strategically are those who have most success in their endeavor. 

            Most organizations view professional conflict in a negative way; it drains energy, reduces focus, causing discomfort, hostility and eventually costing much time and money.  However, if conflict is well-managed, it can also be a very positive, transforming influence on the organization's practice.  The good thing about conflict is that it highlights problems and promotes change.  Additionally, it often encourages shared solutions and can enhance the morale and team spirit of the organization's practice when it is dealt with openly and promptly.  Finally, conflict can stimulate the creativity and innovation in the organization. 


              I.      Research Problems


In modern organizations, including CPA firms in Singapore, conflict is a serious problem.  In many cases, it wastes precious human resources that would be better directed to other activities, including the primary work of the organization.  According to surveys, practicing managers suggest that they spend more than 20% of their time dealing with conflict or its aftermath (Thomas, in press; Thomas & Schmidt, 1976). 


            II.      Purpose Statement


This paper concerns mainly on the impact of strategic conflict management on the growth and success of the CPA firms in Singapore.  In line with this, problems recently occurring in accounting firms were disclosed for the focus of the study.  Moreover, this paper identifies and analyzes several main causes of conflict in the organization.  Furthermore, this paper gives importance, implications, and proposals to the subject of the study. 


          III.      Initial Findings


1.      A number of studies in Singapore have shown the undesirable effects of job stress on individual effectiveness.  In the study, it investigated the main relationships of conflict, stress, hardiness, and social support to job burnout and performance. 

2.      To work, manage, and live in an organization is to be in conflict.  People in organizations conflict about vague assignments, the refusal to accept feedback, unfair distribution of work, incompatible goals, downgrading coworkers, and personalities (Bergmann & Volkema, 1989) which has been true to most of CPA firms in Singapore which gives a direct impact on the organization's development and success. 


3.      Communication is a central issue in conflict research (Putnam & Jones, 1982).  In fact, communication is widely recognized as an integral component of conflict management.  Researchers have used a variety of approaches to identify the kind of communication and interaction that contributes to conflict management. Experimental studies have tried to document the impact of particular strategies, such as promises, concessions, and threats. Observational studies have coded messages and related them to the outcomes of the conflict. These schemes include such strategies as threats, information seeking and giving, problem solving, and procedural statements (Bales, 1950; Donohue, 1981; Morley & Stephenson, 1977).


         IV.      Research Methodology

(Stress, Hardiness, Social Support, Job burnout, Job Performance)


In responding to the above-mentioned relationship between job stress and conflict, indices of role conflict and ambiguity developed by Kahn, Wolfe, Quin, Snoek, and Rosenthal (1964) and Rizzo, House, and Lirtzman (1970) were used to measure stress.  These indices of role conflict and ambiguity were to measure stressors rather than stress. 


   A 21-item instrument used a 5-point Likert scale to measure the perceptions of the three types of conflict.  A higher score indicates a greater amount of one type of conflict.  Rahim (1983b) has provided evidence of construct and criterion-related validities, internal consistency (ranging between .79 and .82) and retest reliabilities (ranging between .77 and .85) for the three subscales. 



Perceptions of stress were measured with the 13 items developed by the first author and his colleagues (e.g., "There is a lot of tension in my job"; "At times I feel nervous on my job."). Each item was cast on a 5point Likert scale. A higher score indicates a greater amount of stress experienced by a subject. The scale was constructed by factor analysis of data collected from 275 faculty members of a university. Internal consistency reliability of the scale was .8 1.


The control dimension of hardiness was measured with five items from the internal locus of control developed by Levenson (1973). Commitment and challenge dimensions were measured with eight and seven items, respectively, developed by the author and his colleagues (e.g., "I like to set high standards of accomplishment for myself" [commitment]; "I like to work on something challenging" [challenge]). The three subscales were factorially independent. The internal consistency reliability coefficients for the subscales were above .75. In the present study the items were cast on a 5-point Likert scale. A higher score indicates perceptions of greater hardiness by a subject.

Social Support

Social support from supervisor, coworkers, and family members was measured with the Social Support scale designed by Caplan, Cobb, French, Harrison, and Pinneau (1975). Each of the three subscales consists of four items cast on a 5-point Likert scale. A number of studies have reported satisfactory internal consistency reliability and criterion-related validity of the scale.

Job Burnout

Job burnout was measured with Maslach Burnout Inventory (Maslach & Jackson, 1981a). The MBI measures emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment with 22 items. Each item is rated on both an intensity and frequency dimension. In the present study the respondents rated each item on the frequency dimension. Previous studies have indicated that the intensity and frequency ratings are highly correlated (Constable & Russell, 1986; Maslach & Jackson, 1981b). The instrument appears to have sufficient construct and criterionrelated validities and reliability ranging from .71 to .90 for the three subscales (Maslach & Jackson, 1981a).


Job Performance


Job performance was measured with the Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales (Gibson, Weiss, Davis, & Lofquist, 1970). The MSS is a 28-item questionnaire designed to be completed by an employee's supervisor. The items are cast on a 3-point Likert scale. The four subscales of the MSS are performance, conformance, dependability, and personal adjustment. The performance subscale measures the subordinate's promotability and the quality and quantity of work. The conformance subscale measures how well the subordinate gets along with the supervisor and coworkers as well as the observance of rules and regulations. The dependability subscale measures the frequency of disciplinary problems created by the subordinate. The personal adjustment subscale measures the subordinate's emotional health or wellbeing. The four subscales together measure overall performance of a subordinate.


(Communication Conflict)


a.      Participants and Organization

An accounting agency was interested in how its employees handled conflicts with each other.  At the time of the study, it had approximately 30 full-time employees. From all the groups 20 employees were selected and agreed to be interviewed for the study. Each was asked to describe two conflicts; they gave a total of 15 incidents.

Interviewees were assured that their responses would be held confidentially by the research team. Results were given to the organization, but only general findings and incidents whose source could not be identified were used in the feedback.


b.      Qualitative interview

Respondents were asked to describe in detail a recent, significant incident in which they had a problem involving other employees. Previous discussion with the organization revealed central issues that generated considerable conflict.     Employees were asked to discuss an incident in which they had opposing views, had difficulty getting support from their supervisor, confronted a change in the work place, were developing an innovation, or engaged in team decision making. To give a variety of ways conflict was managed, they were to select a conflict that was handled relatively well and one that was handled less effectively. Interviewees first described the setting, what occurred, and the consequences. Then they answered specific questions to code the incident.

Interviewees responded to a series of questions using 7-point scales to code their expectations and the communication that occurred in the incident. First the interviewees indicated their expectations by rating the extent they had been confident they could manage the conflict successfully. To code the communication, they rated the extent they expressed their own views, tried to understand the other, worked for mutual benefit, put together the best of the ideas expressed, felt accepted, tried to influence the other, and tried to dominate (reversed).


           V.      Data Analysis

   (Stress, Hardiness, Social Support, Job burnout, Job Performance)

To simplify data analysis and interpretation, composite hardiness, social support, conflict, burnout, and performance scales were constructed by adding their respective subscale scores. Two stepwise multiple regression analyses were performed to test the main effects of hardiness and social support on conflict and stress. Eight hierarchical regression analyses were computed to investigate the main effects of conflict, stress, hardiness, and social support and the moderating effects of hardiness and social support on job burnout and performance.

(Communication Conflict)

In conflicts regarding cooperative goals, employees were confident they could handle them well, communicated effectively, made progress on the task at hand, used their time and resources efficiently, and developed confidence they could work together in the future. In comparison, employees who had competitive goals lacked confidence they could work together, thought they communicated ineffectively, worked inefficiently, made little progress, and thought they would work less effectively in the future. Independence was negatively associated with communication, progress, and efficiency. Cooperative goals were expected to contribute to constructive conflict by promoting effective communication.


         VI.      Benefits of Proposed Research Project

This study gives essential information on the fundamental causes of conflict and its corresponding effects to the organization that will assist in the proper management of conflict.  What has been presented is a general structure that describes how conflict is managed in accounting firms.  This paper can be usefully employed as a heuristic tool for conflict management researchers and practitioners both to understand better and to predict decision modes and methods that are likely to be used by decision makers in CPA firms in Singapore to address conflict. 

More importantly, the presented research work takes into account the critical influence of the policy process and the way in which conflict is treated at each of its various stages for the growth and success of an organization. 


       VII.      References

Bales, RF 1950), Interaction process analysis: A method for the study of small groups, Addison-Wesley, Cambridge, MA:

Bergmann, T.J, & Volkema, RJ 1989, "Understanding and managing interpersonal conflict at work: Its issues, interactive processes, and consequences", In M. A. Rahim (Ed.), Managing Conflict: An inter-disciplinary approach (pp. 7-19), Praeger, New York.

Caplan, RD et al 1975, Job demands and worker health (Publication No. NIOSH 75-160), Washington, D.C.: Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Constable, JF, & Russell, D 1986, 'The effect of social support and the work environment upon burnout among nurses', Journal of Human Stress, 12, pp. 20-26.

Donohue, WA 1978, 'An empirical framework for examining negotiation processes and outcomes', Communication Monographs, 45, pp. 247-257.

Gibson, DL, Weiss, DJ, Davis, RV, & Lofquist, LH 1970, Manual for the Minnesota satisfactoriness scales, University of Minnesota. Minneapolis, MN.

Kahn, RL et al 1964, Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity, Wiley, New York.

Levenson, H 1973, Multidimensional locus of control in psychiatric patients, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 41, pp. 397-404.

Maslach, C & Jackson S 1981a, Maslach burnout inventory manual, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA.

---, 1981b, The cost of caring. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.


Morley, I, & Stephenson, G 1977, The social psychology of bargaining, Allen & Unwin, London.


Rahim, MA 1983a, 'A measure of styles of handling interpersonal conflicts', Academy of Management Journal, 26, pp. 368-376.

---, 1983b, 'Measurement of organizational conflict', Journal of General Psychology, 109, pp. 189-199.

Rizzo, JR, House, RJ, & Lirtzman, SI 1970, 'Role conflict and ambiguity in complex organizations', Administrative Science Quarterly, 15, pp. 150-163.

Thomas, KW & Schmidt, WH 1976, 'A survey of managerial interests with respect to conflict', Academy of Management Journal, 19, pp. 315-318.

---, in press, 'Conflict and negotation processes', In M. Dunette (Ed.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed.), Rand-McNally, Chicago, IL.

Wilson, J 2002, 'Managing Conflict Successfully – If Not Cheerfully!', ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, viewed 17 March, 2006, <>.




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