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Journal of
Managerial Resolving conflict with humor
in a diversity context
Wanda J. Smith
606 Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA
Received September 1999 K. Vernard Harrington
Revised February 2000
Accepted March 2000 AIS University Computing Support, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and
State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA, and
Christopher P. Neck
Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA
Keywords Conflict, Humor, Diversity
Abstract Examines how humor is related to alternative conflict resolution strategies. It also
seeks to advance understanding further by examining how respondents' group membership (race
and gender) and demographic similarity with the conflict party influence the use of humor.
Significant main effects and interactions were found. In short, the results suggest that humor is
related to different types of conflict management strategies and that diversity factors tend to
moderate this relationship.
People respond best to humor when it is delivered by those they trust the most and perceive
as fair in their dealings . . . humor is intensely personal and using it in certain situations and
with certain people could backfire (Linda Farrell).
In the 1930s, Louis Armstrong's record producer, with whom he had an exclusive contract,
heard a new record on another label and instantly recognized Armstrong's distinctive
trumpet-playing. He called Armstrong into his office and played the record for him. ``That's
NOT me'', Armstrong responded, ``and I'll never do it again''. Each man understood the other
perfectly (Morreall, 1991).
In today's increasingly diverse and competitive workplace, conflict management
skills and having a sense of humor are becoming requisites for every worker, not
just managers (Rasmusson, 1999; Farrell, 1998; Hemsath, 1997). Many studies
have investigated the effectiveness and constructiveness of the five strategies of
conflict management initially generated from Blake and Mouton's (1964) grid.
Similarly, there is a long, rich history of research on humor as a useful tool in
smoothing interpersonal relationships and handling ticklish situations
(Collinson, 1988; Coser, 1959; Cox et al., 1990). However, as yet few studies have
empirically examined the link between these two communicative processes.
Recently, there has been a call to examine both situational and relational
factors regarding the utility of humor in the workplace (Rothwell, 1996). Rather
than focusing on the utility of humor in conflict situations, the goal of this paper
is to examine the decision to use humor and the factors that drive that decision.
Journal of Managerial Psychology,
Vol. 15 No. 6, 2000, pp. 606-625.
When identifying factors that may influence this decision, the functionalist
# MCB University Press, 0268-3946 perspective of humor maybe useful. This perspective suggests that humor is a
useful tool in promoting social cohesion; in laughing together, people identify Resolving
with shared cultural meanings (Hall et al., 1993). The transfer of meaning of one's conflict with
humor, as with other types of communication, can be distorted by cultural humor
barriers (Munter, 1993). Two commonly used cultural classifications in
communication are gender and race. This paper seeks to examine the extent to
which these cultural classifications influence the decision to use humor.
A closer examination of this linkage is warranted for three reasons. First, 607
it has been suggested that the growing use of team-based work designs
and increasing diversity will likely generate greater instances of
miscommunication and interpersonal conflict (Knapp et al., 1988). Second, the
use of workplace humor is increasingly being viewed as a useful tool to defuse
critical situations, reduce stress (Rothwell, 1996), improve communication
(Wanzer et al., 1995) and increase group cohesion (Braverman, 1994). Third,
both the use of humor and how one chooses to resolve conflict are culturally
bound (Ziv, 1984).
To enhance our understanding of how conflict is communicated with humor
in a diversity context, this exploratory study was designed to examine the
following research questions:
(1) In a conflict situation, who is likely to use humor?
(2) What role does demographic similarity play in predicting the use of
humor in a conflict situation?
(3) What is the nature of the relationship between humor and Blake and
Mouton's (1964) five conflict management strategies?
(4) When using specific conflict management strategies, who is likely to use
humor and with whom? Specifically, should humor be used when
resolving conflict in a diversity context? Is humor more likely to be used
when using one conflict management strategy (e.g. forcing) versus
another (e.g. smoothing), particularly when in conflict with someone
who is demographically dissimilar?
An overview of this literature follows.

Review of the relevant literature

There is little agreement on the definition or operationalization of humor (Ziv,
1984). After reviewing the literature, this paper will adopt the definition that
humor is any communication (joke, witticism, pun, etc.) that results in laughter
or mirth. Literature indirectly examining the nature of the relationship between
humor and conflict indicates that these processes may be both positively and
negatively related. On the one hand, studies have found that humor helps
conflict parties adapt or cope by: facilitating the expression of negative
emotions (Pollio, 1995), saving face (Martineau, 1972), channeling hostility
(Wilson, 1979) and maintaining social order (Dwyer, 1991). In contrast,
Collinson (1988) found that humor can be the source of conflict when taken too
far or is deemed inappropriate.
Journal of Diversity (group membership) and humor
Managerial Gender differences in the use of humor have been reported in the literature. Cox
Psychology et al. (1990) investigated male-female differences in the use of humor in socially
awkward situations at work. Their findings, like others, indicate that humor is
15,6 less ± compared to males ± a part of the female's communicative pattern in the
workplace. However, with regard neither to gender differences nor racial
608 differences does research readily clarify the linkage between these groups and
the use of humor during conflict. However, there is ample anecdotal evidence
providing insight into anticipated race and gender effects and the use of humor.
During the 1970s and 1980s, a plethora of prescriptive books and articles were
written strongly encouraging women and minorities to avoid using humor (see
Harrigan, 1977; Foxworth, 1980). Explanations for this advice centered on the
fear of not being taken seriously and opening the door for others to use
inappropriate humor. Recently, books have been written challenging the myth
that women and minorities will not be taken seriously if they risk being funny
(see Mackoff, 1990). Fortune 500 companies like Kodak, IBM, and Du Pont are
hiring consultants to help their employees, especially women and minorities,
develop humor, both as an attitude and as a professional tool (Mackoff, 1990;
Caudron, 1992). Has this trend erased generations of conditioning on the part of
women and minorities to avoid humor in the workplace? We believe that, in the
risky context of conflict, women and minorities will still be more hesitant to use
humor than males and Anglo-Americans:
H1a. In general, males will use humor more than females.
H1b. In general, Anglo-Americans will use humor more than minorities
(Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics).

Demographic similarity
It seems likely that the decision to use humor is influenced in part by the
relative characteristics of one's audience (i.e. the conflict other). Research on the
similarity-attraction paradigm (Byrne, 1971; Harrison, 1976) has provided
substantial evidence, across diverse populations, that people tend to be drawn
to those who are similar to them in terms of demographic characteristics.
Studies have shown the similarity across demographic variables such as
gender (Tsui and Guteck, 1984), race (Kraiger and Ford, 1985), and tenure
(Gordon and Fitzgibbons, 1982), has a positive effect on communication,
integration in social groups, evaluations, attitudes, and affect. Similar favorable
outcomes are expected when using humor:
H2a. In general, respondents in same-race conflict dyads will report using
more humor than respondents in dissimilar-race dyads.
H2b. In general, respondents in same-gender conflict dyads will report using
more humor than respondents in dissimilar dyads.
H2c. In general, respondents in conflict dyads in same-seniority will report
using more humor than respondents in dissimilar dyads.
Conflict management strategies Resolving
Considerable theory and research have been devoted to identifying ways in conflict with
which interpersonal conflict may be handled. Much of this literature is centered humor
on two dimensions originally proposed by Blake and Mouton (1964):
(1) satisfying self-interest (assertiveness); and
(2) satisfying the concerns of the other conflict party (cooperativeness). 609
Graphing these two dimensions, Blake and Mouton (1964) and others have
generated five corresponding conflict management strategies:
(1) Compromising behaviors seek to find a middle-ground alternative.
Individuals are frequently willing to ``give a little to get a little''.
(2) Avoiding (withdrawal) occurs when parties choose to ignore the conflict,
try not to get involved or give in easily.
(3) Smoothing (accommodating) strategies play down differences and stress
the importance of common goals.
(4) Confronting (problem solving, integrating, or collaborating) tactics
consist of facing the conflict directly and examining possible solutions.
(5) Forcing occurs when one insists, or refuses to consider the other party's
These strategies, as defined, are not all-inclusive (Wall and Callister, 1995), but
serve as a starting point in the examination of the role of humor when resolving
conflict. Rather than examining additional strategies, this paper examines how
these often-used strategies are delivered. If ``communicative behaviors are how
conflicts are recognized, expressed, and experienced'' (Frost and Wilmot, 1978,
p. 10), how individuals choose to communicate their chosen conflict resolution
strategy merits study.

Humor and conflict

Many have suggested humor may be useful in defusing and reducing
organizational conflict (Duncan et al., 1990; Abramis, 1992; Rothwell, 1996).
Humor can be conveyed in a myriad ways, ranging from vindictive sarcasm,
lighthearted banter, telling jokes, to creative observations.
Practitioners, consultants, and scholars suggest that we use humor for
various reasons. Coser (1959) argues that people cannot always articulate the
reasons why they use humor. A few of the primary functions of humor outlined
in the literature are:
. coping;
. reframing;
. celebration;
. communicating ambiguity; and
. expressing hostility (Ziv, 1984; Morreall, 1991).
Journal of Parallels between these functions of humor and conflict management strategies
Managerial can be drawn. Figure 1 illustrates how they may correspond. Blake and
Psychology Mouton's (1964) two-dimensional grid serves as a framework. As with the
corresponding conflict management strategies, the two dimensions (self/other)
15,6 serve to classify the functions of humor.
For instance, the coping function of humor allows people to psychologically
610 detach from their immediate situation. People cope by making light of the
situation which may be linked to the avoidance conflict resolution style. Our
story about Louis Armstrong illustrates this coping function.
Another function of humor is to reframe the situation. Individuals use clever
or funny metaphors to cast matters in a different light. This type of humor
should prove useful when attempting to resolve conflict by confronting ±
facing the conflict directly and examining possible solutions.
Celebration humor focuses attention on the positives in a situation. For
instance, statements such as ``Boy, am I glad . . .'' Since a smoothing conflict
management strategy stresses the importance of common goals while playing
down differences, celebration humor may be used.
Ambiguous humor delivers messages in ways that other forms of
communication cannot. It enables people to say things that, if said more
directly, would make others feel hurt or defensive. The ambiguity of this humor
lets people ``save face'' and increase the likelihood of their being willing to ``give
and get a little'' ± in other words, compromise.
Humor can also be a means of expressing hostility. People find it less risky
to couch hostility within humorous bounds such as jokes or sarcasm. When
forcing to resolve conflict, individuals may chose to use this aggressive humor.

Figure 1.
Relationship between
types of humor and
conflict management
The grid in Figure 1 is not exhaustive; however, we have attempted to illustrate Resolving
that humor may be used in conjunction with any of the conflict management conflict with
strategies. Next, we consider the nature of that relationship. humor
The role of humor has not been entirely ignored in CMS literature. Most other
instruments designed to measure CMS have focused either on general strategies
or on specific tactics (Womack, 1988). While communication was implied in the
descriptions of tactics, no specific communicative behaviors were included. Our 611
search revealed two instruments measuring communicative behaviors in CMS:
(1) the organizational communication conflict instrument (OCCI) (Putnam
and Wilson, 1986); and
(2) the conflict management message style (CMMS) (Ross and DeWine, 1982).
Of these, the OCCI included one item reflecting humor. This item loaded most
often on non-confrontational conflict management strategies. As illustrated
earlier, humor may be used with confrontational as well as non-confrontational
Baron (1984) found that disagreements expressed in an arrogant and
demeaning manner produced significantly more negative effects than the same
sort of disagreement expressed in a reasonable manner. These feelings are
often reflected during future work interactions. Given concerns about the
possible backlash of a conflict episode, most individuals will seek alternative
ways to express their feelings. Humor may be one method. It seems likely that,
when resolving conflict between conflicting parties who expect continued work
interaction, avoiding escalation of emotions and saving face are dominant
concerns. As such, individuals will report combining humor with avoidance
and compromising tactics more than other strategies. On the other hand,
aggressive humor would be least desirable in these instances.
H3a. Humor will be positively related to smoothing, confronting,
compromising and avoiding.
H3b. Humor will be negatively related to forcing.
H3c. Humor will most often be used when avoiding and compromising.
No studies were found examining the moderating effects of conflict party
demographics on the link between humor and conflict management style. A
review of the literature examining direct effects of race and gender is outlined
below to provide preliminary guidelines for possible interaction effects.
The literature reveals varying conclusions about gender and conflict style.
Researchers have reported that males are apt to use confronting (Thomas, 1977;
Rosenthal and Hautaluoma, 1988) and forcing (Kilmann and Thomas, 1977),
while females rely on other conflict behaviors. Yet, other studies (Bigoness et
al., 1980; Shockley-Zalabak, 1988; Korabik et al., 1993) found no gender effects.
The disparity of conclusions about the differences between gender and conflict
behaviors led other researchers to examine variables that may moderate gender
effects. This study suggests the use of humor as a moderator.
Journal of Research on conflict management strategies clearly indicates differences in
Managerial conflict tactics used by Hispanic, African-Americans and Asian-Americans
Psychology when compared to Anglo-American subjects. Ting-Toomey et al. (1991) found
that, when comparing African-American and Anglo-American respondents,
15,6 African-American respondents tend to use more controlling strategies while
Anglo-American respondents tend to use more solution-oriented strategies. In
612 testing differences concerning Anglo-American and Mexican-American
subjects, Kagan et al. (1982) found that Mexican-Americans tend to use more
passive, avoidance conflict strategies, while Anglo-Americans tend to use more
active, confrontational strategies.
Much of the research on conflict strategies preferred by people of Asian
descent has centered on international boundaries using such cultural
distinctions as individualism (USA) and collectivism (such as China, Japan, and
Korea). However, studies have shown that Asian-Americans, especially those
newly residing in the USA, tend to retain the collectivist values thereby
reporting preference for more passive conflict strategies (Triandis et al., 1986;
Trandis, 1989).
No studies were found examining the extent to which the demographic
similarity of the conflict parties affects choice of conflict management
strategies. It is expected that the general effects of similarity and outcomes will
reflect those of other studies.
The following hypothesized interaction effects, though logically deduced
from the literature on conflict management strategies and humor, must be
viewed as speculative in nature due to the absence of specific research testing
such interactions.
H4a-b. The relationship between humor and conflict management strategies
(CMS) will be moderated by gender:
H4a. Females reporting high humor will smooth and compromise more
than males reporting high humor.
H4b. Males reporting high humor will force and confront more than
females reporting high humor.
H4c. The relationship between race humor CMS will be moderated by race:
high humor, minority respondents (Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics) will
report using smoothing and avoiding more than high humor, Anglo
H4d. The relationship between humor and CMS will be moderated by racial
similarity: high humor respondents in same-race conflict dyads will
force and confront more than high humor respondents in dissimilar-
race dyads when resolving conflict.
H4e. The relationship between humor and CMS will be moderated by gender
similarity: high humor respondents in same-gender conflict dyads will
report using smoothing and avoiding more than high humor
respondents in dissimilar dyads.
Methods Resolving
Sample and procedures conflict with
The survey instrument was administered by mail to a sample of 6,200 flight humor
attendants employed by a large international airline based in the USA. This
sample consisted of individuals based at six airports, two on the west coast,
three on the east coast, and one in the midwest. Two weeks after the initial
mailing, a follow-up mailing was performed. A total of 1,784 surveys were 613
returned. A total of 1,678 surveys provided usable data, for a 27.06 percent
effective response rate. Summary demographic statistics are given in Table I.
For the population as a whole, this sample slightly over-represents Anglos and
Asians, while under-representing African-Americans. Females and males are
represented approximately as they exist within the population of flight
attendants at this airline.
Flight attendants were chosen as a sample for this study because of their
unique work environment. Flight attendants are regularly required to spend
long hours on flights working with people whom they may have never worked
with before and perhaps have just met. During this time, they must blend their
personalities to function effectively as a team in meeting the requirements of
passengers. Many of these situations are ripe for conflict.

A questionnaire was designed to obtain information from individuals who were
or had been involved in an interpersonal conflict within their organization. The
questionnaire consisted of three parts: a demographics section, a conflict
information section, and a humor section. In the demographic section
(themselves and others), subjects provided statistical data including gender,
age, tenure with the airline, and racial group.
In the conflict information section, subjects completed Howat and London's
(1980) conflict resolution strategies instrument. This instrument uses five items
to describe each of the five conflict resolution strategies ± confrontation,
smoothing, compromise, forcing, and avoiding. Subjects were asked to
think about a fellow flight attendant with whom they have experienced

Variable Group n Percentage Mean

Gender Female 1,406 83.8

Male 261 15.5
No response 11 0.7
Age 38.72
Tenure 12.79
Race African-American 178 12.1
Asian-American 245 16.7
Anglo-American 919 62.5
Hispanic-American 112 7.6
Other 42 2.5 Table I.
No response 182 10.8 Demographics
Journal of conflict. Subjects completed the conflict resolution strategies instrument based
Managerial on their perceptions when in conflict with this individual. The instrument used a
Psychology five-point Likert-type scale with ``behavior never occurs'' and ``behavior usually
occurs'' as anchors. Sub-scale scores were obtained by averaging item scores.
15,6 Subjects also completed a three-item scale dealing with humor in the
workplace. The items were:
614 (1) ``I feel it is important to maintain a sense of humor in stressful work
(2) ``I would attempt to use humor to resolve a conflict situation.''
(3) ``I joke and laugh to downplay the severity of a disagreement.''
Item 3 was taken from the Putnam and Wilson's (1982) OCCI. These survey
items used a five-point Likert-type scale with ``strongly agree'' and ``strongly
disagree'' serving as anchors. Table II provides summary statistics for each

Analysis of variance and regression were used for hypothesis testing. H1a
(males will use humor more than females) was not supported (F [11,159] = 0.93,
n.s.). H1b (Anglo-Americans will use humor more than minorities (Asians,
Blacks, and Hispanics)) was supported (F [11,020] = 22.38, p < 0.001). A Tukey-
HSD test showed Anglo-Americans to be significantly more likely to use humor
in a conflict situation than all other racial groups. A summary of hypotheses
H1a and H1b is given in Table III.
H2a and H2c were supported. As expected, greater use of humor was
reported by same-race conflict dyads (F [1,959] = 6.30, p < 0.01) and similar
seniority dyads (F [11,170] = 3.80, p < 0.05). No differences were found in the
level of humor reported by similar or dissimilar gender dyads (F [11,110] =
0.80, n.s.). A summary of hypotheses H2a, H2b and H2c is given in Table IV.
H3a (humor will be positively related to smoothing, confronting,
compromising and avoiding) was partially supported. As shown in the

Scale 1 2 3 4 5 6

1. Confrontation
2. Avoiding 0.20***
3. Forcing ±0.39*** 0.36***
4. Smoothing ±0.16*** ±0.06* 0.34***
5. Compromising 0.15 0.71*** 0.33*** ±0.01
6. Humor 0.11 0.40*** 0.16*** 0.02 0.38***
n 1,160 1,179 1,166 1,154 1,162 1,219
Mean 3.26 3.23 2.29 3.43 3.78 3.67
SD 0.87 0.81 0.66 0.79 0.73 0.92
0.79 0.72 0.67 0.70 0.76 0.81
Table II.
Scale summary Notes: *** p < 0.001; * p < 0.05
Hypothesis Group n Mean F conflict with
H1a Female 965 3.69 0.93
Male 196 3.60
African-American 123 3.07 22.38***
Asian-American 178 3.51
Anglo-American 639 3.87
Hispanic-American 84 3.38
Table III.
Note: *** p < 0.001 H1 summary

Hypothesis Group n Mean F

H2a Same race 346 3.81 6.30**

Different race 615 3.62
H2b Same gender 730 3.65 0.80
Different gender 382 3.72
H2c Less seniority 462 3.77 3.80*
Approximately equal 167 3.74
More seniority 544 3.58
Table IV.
Notes: ** p < 0.01; * p < 0.05 H2 summary

correlation matrix of Table II, correlations for humor were positive and
significant with confronting, compromising , and avoiding. The correlation of
humor with smoothing was positive but not significant.
H3b (humor will be negatively related to forcing) was not supported. As
shown in Table II, humor was positively related to forcing.
H3c (humor will be most significantly related to avoiding and
compromising) was supported (r = 0.40 and r = 0.38, p < 0.001, respectively).
To test H4a-e, interaction effects were examined. In order to perform
ANOVA, a mean split was performed on humor (m = 3.67, nlow humor = 512,
nhigh humor = 707). H4a (females reporting high humor will smooth and
compromise more than males reporting high humor) was supported. The
interaction between gender and humor when smoothing was significant
(F [11,098] = 11.42, p < 0.001), as was the interaction between gender and
humor when compromising (F [11,102] = 3.60, p = 0.06). Females using high
humor reported using both smoothing and compromising less than males using
high humor. These interaction effects are shown in Figures 2a and 2b,
H4b (males reporting high humor will force and confront more than females
reporting high humor) was partially supported. While the interaction between
gender and humor when forcing was non-significant (F [11,110] = 0.17, n.s.), the
interaction between gender and humor when confronting was significant
Journal of


Figure 2.
(a) H4a smoothing
interaction. (b) H4a

(F [11,101] = 4.90, p < 0.05). Males reporting high humor reported using
confronting more than females reporting high humor. This interaction effect is
shown in Figure 3.
H4c (high humor, minority respondents (Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics) will
report using smoothing and avoiding more than high humor, Anglo-American
respondents) was not supported. The interaction between race and humor
when avoiding was not significant (F [1,998] = 2.23, n.s.), nor was the
interaction between race and humor when smoothing (F [1,987] = 0.13, n.s.).
conflict with


Figure 3.
H4b confrontation

H4d (high humor respondents in same-gender conflict dyads will report using
smoothing and avoiding more than high humor respondents in dissimilar
dyads) was partially supported. The interaction between race dyad and humor
when forcing was significant (F [1,924] = 8.14, p < 0.01). Members of same race
conflict dyads reporting high humor reported using forcing less than members
of dissimilar-race dyads reporting high humor. This interaction effect is shown
in Figure 4. The interaction between race dyad and humor when confronting
was not significant (F [1,914] = 0.004, n.s.).
H4e (when avoiding and smoothing to resolve conflict, respondents in same-
gender conflict dyads will report using more humor than respondents in
dissimilar dyads) was not supported. The interaction between gender dyad and

Figure 4.
H4d forcing interaction
Journal of humor when avoiding was not significant (F [11,075] = 0.44, n.s.), nor was the
Managerial interaction between gender dyad and humor when smoothing (F [11,053] =
Psychology 0.50, n.s.).
15,6 Discussion
The results suggest that humor is related to different types of conflict
618 management strategies (CMS) and that diversity issues tend to moderate this
relationship. Preliminary tests of who are likely to use humor indicated that
African-Americans use humor less than all other groups in the present study.
This result may be explained, in part, by perceptions of African-Americans
reported in the popular press. Many report fears of being misunderstood, not
being taken seriously, and being the brunt of future jokes (Kennedy, 1995).
Surprisingly, Asian- and Hispanic-Americans reported no differences in their
use of humor from Anglo-Americans.
Regarding similarity effects, results demonstrated that individuals are more
likely to use humor with others who are similar along racial and seniority
classifications. These findings, in part, are consistent with those reported by
Cronin (1985). He found that the rising number of minority and female
executives has inhibited the use of humor in business because of the greatly
increased fear of offending someone. If humor is said to be an index of trust and
intimacy (Ziv, 1984), then diversity training programs are advised to
incorporate awareness of the risks and utility of humor in a diversity setting.
Surprisingly, no gender or gender-similarity effects were found suggesting
that women did not use humor with other women more than they did with men
when resolving conflict, nor was the amount of humor use different.
Explanation of these findings may center on the nature of our sample. For
example, the composition of our sample is atypical (e.g. approximately 80
percent, which is representative of the organization's population). In such an
organization, concerns inhibiting the use of humor (e.g. being a lightweight,
giving rise to inappropriate humor) may not be as salient. In contrast, women
may use humor more cautiously when working in more traditional
organizations in which power is primarily held by males and they are a
demographic minority. As such, our results may underestimate gender effects,
and generalization of our results to other settings should proceed cautiously.
The central hypothesis of the present study is that humor is both positively
and negatively related to different CMS, and is most often used when avoiding
and compromising. Humor was positively related to all CMS except forcing.
Next, the study tested the extent to which the decision to use humor may
depend on demographic characteristics of the conflict parties.
Tests of the moderators influencing the link between humor and each CMS
indicated that gender interacted with humor to affect at least one CMS. For
instance, gender consistently buffered the use of humor when smoothing,
compromising, and confronting. Females reporting high humor chose
smoothing and compromising more than males reporting high humor. In
contrast, males reporting high humor chose confronting more than females
reporting high humor. One interpretation of these results is that males use Resolving
humor to problem solve while females use humor as a social lubricant. No conflict with
moderating effects of race were generated. humor
Regarding moderating demographic similarity effects, no gender similarity
effects were found. While racial similarity moderated the relationship between
humor and forcing, the results should be cautiously interpreted. Reporting
levels of forcing were very low, suggesting that it rarely occurs. Nevertheless, 619
some race dyads using high humor chose to force more dissimilar-race dyads.
These results suggest that, when it does occur, it is used by same-race dyads
using high humor. That is, similarity seems to permit more aggressive conflict
resolution with humor. The low reporting of forcing may indicate the presence
of social desirability that commonly plagues the study of CMS (Putnam and
Wilson, 1982).
The threat of common methods variance was curtailed by the demographic
nature of the moderators, which are less prone to percept-percept inflation than
attitudes or psychological states (Crampton and Wagner, 1994). The inclusion
of relative demographic similarity of the conflict parties in this study sheds
some insight on the impact of relational factors on CMS and the use of humor.
The methodology in this study ignored the persuasiveness and power of
nonverbals used to communicate humor. Future research, including
longitudinal and observational methodologies, is needed to draw richer
conclusions about the use of humor when resolving conflict. Future CMS
instrumentation development should consider the general strategies, the
messages, and how they are delivered when examining conflict management.
In closing, Cox et al. (1990) suggest that business schools reevaluate their
traditionally conservative approach to preparing students for managerial
success by instilling not only ``tough-mindedness'' but also ``a sense of humor''.
Our study seems to indicate that such instruction to business school students
would be beneficial. This is because the findings from our study provide
evidence for the connection between humor and different conflict management
strategies. While our results are a positive initial step in understanding the role
of humor on conflict management, we argue that more research is needed that
sheds light on who is likely to use humor, with whom and under what
circumstances to resolve conflict.

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Journal of
Managerial Abstracts from the wider
``Resolving conflict with humor
622 in a diversity context''
The following abstracts from the wider literature have been selected for their special relevance to
the preceding article. The abstracts extend the themes and discussions of the main article and act
as a guide to further reading.
Each abstract is awarded 0-3 stars for each of four features:
(1) Depth of research
(2) Value in practice
(3) Originality of thinking
(4) Readability for non-specialists.
The full text of any article may be ordered from the Anbar Library. Contact Debbie Brannan,
Anbar Library, 60/62 Toller Lane, Bradford, UK BD8 9BY. Telephone: (44) 1274 785277; Fax:
(44) 1274 785204; E-mail: quoting the reference number shown at the end
of the abstract.

Humour: an empowerment tool for the 1990s

Miller, J.
Management Development Review (UK), Vol 9 No 6 96: p. 36 (5 pages)
Claims that humour is the one consistent behaviour in organizations which
truly provide an environment of empowerment and describes the origin and
development of ``PlayShops'' which were designed to improve staff morale.
Asserts that business, educators, service agencies, churches, civic
organizations and many other groups are discovering the importance of
laughter and play to create more joyful and productive environments, then
considers how humour relieves stress, improves interpersonal skills, fosters
creativity and rapid learning, and can increase self-esteem. Offers some
suggestions for having more fun at work and bringing the positive inner child
to the surface.
Indicators: Research implications: * Practice implications: **
Originality: *** Readability: *** Total number: *********
Reference: 26AP499
Cost: £12 (plus VAT)
The effects of diversity on small work group processesand Resolving
performance conflict with
Shaw, J.B. and Barrett-Power, E. humor
Human Relations (USA), October 1998 Vol 51 No 10: p. 1307 (19 pages)
Notes research that indicates that diversity among members in small groups
can yield disadvantages and benefits, and points to the need for more research 623
to explain why differences among small group members should affect group
performance. Proposes a model, based on the ``forming, storming, norming,
performing'' group development model, to shed light on this. Sets out the model
which differentiates between two types of underlying attributes ± the first
being cultural values and perspectives, attitudes, values and beliefs and
conflict resolution styles; the second being socioeconomic and personal status,
education, functional specialization, past work experience and personal
expectations. Hypothesizes that these two groups of underlying attributes
would correlate differently with detectable attributes such as nationality, ethnic
origin, age and gender. Also hypothesizes that diversity in underlying
attributes will affect the effectiveness of group ``storming'' and ``norming''
activities, and that diversity management skills will act as a moderator in this.
Wholly theoretical
Indicators: Research implications: *** Practice implications: **
Originality: ** Readability: ** Total number: *********
Reference: 28AA132
Cost: £30 (plus VAT)

Conflict management style: accounting for cross-national

Morris, M.W., Williams, K.Y., Leung, K., Larrick, R., Mendoza, M.T.,
Bhatnagar, D., Li, J., Kondo, M., Luo, J.-L. and Hu, J.-C.
Journal of International Business Studies (Canada), 1998 Vol 29 No 4: p. 729
(19 pages)
Uses the findings of a survey of young managers in the USA, China,
Philippines and India to test hypotheses reflecting the obstacles which cultural
differences form in the resolution of conflict between joint venture managers.
Reviews cross-cultural literature on conflict management style and values,
questioning the validity of individualism-collectivism, the values in Chinese
culture that lead to conflict avoidance, the values in US culture that lead to
competing in conflicts and expectations about other countries. Concentrates on
the two conflict styles of avoidance and competitiveness, and the value
dimensions of social conservatism, self-enhancement and openness to change.
Discovers two patterns of differences between US and Asian managers in
conflict management style: Chinese managers tend to adopt an avoiding style
whereas US managers are more competitive; and country differences on value
Journal of dimensions are more pronounced than the country differences in conflict style.
Managerial Discusses the implications of the study for future research.
Psychology Theoretical with application in practice/Survey
15,6 Indicators: Research implications: ** Practice implications: ***
Originality: ** Readability: ** Total number: *********
624 Reference: 28AJ683
Cost: £18 (plus VAT)

Conflict and conflict resolution in a co-operative: the case of the Nir

taxi station
Darr, A.
Human Relations (USA), March 1999 Vol 52 No 3: p. 279 (23 pages)
Studies the conflict resolution mechanisms used at the Nir taxi station, a taxi
co-operative in Israel to understand how workers' co-operatives deal with
conflict. In particular, asks if these conflict resolution mechanisms are
democratic, as might be expected, given the democratic nature of co-operatives.
Reports the results of a six month period of observation. Finds three types of
conflict within the co-operative ± ``class'' conflict between members who owned
their own taxis and hired drivers who either rented their taxi or their license;
conflicts stemming from the changing power relations between ethnic groups;
and conflicts stemming from the division of labour. Analyses the formal and
informal methods used to resolve these conflicts: informal methods including
teasing and ritual jokes; formal methods centring on the complaints process
and the tribunal which sat every three weeks and dealt with any issues raised.
Identifies the tribunal system as differentiating the Nir taxi station from non-
democratic organizations because it offers a democratic method of conflict
Case study/Theoretical with application in practice
Indicators: Research implications: ** Practice implications: **
Originality: ** Readability: *** Total number: *********
Reference: 28AR878
Cost: £30 (plus VAT)

National brand responses to brand imitation: retailers versus other

Collins-Dodd, C. and Zaichkowsky, J.L,
Journal of Product & Brand Management (UK), 1999 Vol 8 No 2: p. 96
(10 pages)
Examines the practice of brand imitation, focusing on how and why
manufacturers respond to competitors that copy the trade dress, look and feel
of their brand. Provides a review of selected literature on the topic before
presenting the findings of a study of Canadian brand managers aimed at Resolving
eliciting four particular types of information: incidence of brand imitation as conflict with
well as firms' responses to imitation by retailers and manufacturers; humor
expectations of retailers' responses to litigation; expectations of the firms'
likelihood of using litigation under several conditions; and firm characteristics.
Highlights differences in how manufacturers treat producers of imitating
brands ± depending on the size and type of the firm undertaking the practice ± 625
some manufacturers being treated as a competitor, with the resultant reaction
of product improvement and increased legal action. Reports that retailers who
do copy brands are more likely to achieve negotiated settlements with the
original producer.
Indicators: Research implications: ** Practice implications: ***
Originality: ** Readability: ** Total number: *********
Reference: 28AN088
Cost: £12 (plus VAT)

A funny thing happened on the way to the bottom line: humour as a

moderator of leadership style effects
Avolio, B.J., Howell, J.M. and Sosik, J.J.
Academy of Management Journal (USA), April 1999 Vol 42 No 2: p.219 (9
Examines how the use of humour moderates leadership style and explores
whether it relates directly to performance, through a review of literature and an
analysis of the findings of a study of leaders drawn from four business units of
a large Canadian financial institution. Focusing on three particular leadership
styles, transformational leadership, contingent reward leadership and laissez-
faire leadership, finds that the use of humour had a positive direct relationship
on individual and unit level performance; transformational and contingent
reward leadership were positively related to the use of humour; but that a
laissez-faire style was negatively related to the use of humour. Suggests that
leaders may need to vary their styles of humour in line with group expectations
in order to positively influence performance.
Theoretical with application in practice/Survey
Indicators: Research implications: ** Practice implications: ***
Originality: ** Readability: ** Total number: *********
Reference: 28AR094
Cost: £12 (plus VAT)