Equality versus differentiation: The effects of power dispersion on social interaction

Equality versus differentiation: The effects of power dispersion on social interaction

By
Lindred Leura Greer, Gerben Van Kleef
Journal of Applied Psychology.
2010, Vol. 95, Pages 1032-1044

Power is an inherent characteristic of social interaction, yet research has yet to fully explain what power and power dispersion may mean for conflict resolution in work groups. We found in a field study of 42 organizational work groups and a laboratory study of 40 negotiating dyads that the effects of power dispersion on conflict resolution are contingent on the level of interactants’ power, thereby explaining contradictory theory and findings on power dispersion. We found that when members have low power, power dispersion is positively related to conflict resolution, but when members have high power, power dispersion is negatively related to conflict resolution (i.e., power equality is better). These findings can be explained by the mediating role of intragroup power struggles. Together, these findings suggest that power hierarchies function as a heuristic solution for conflict and contribute to adaptive social dynamics in groups with low, but not high, levels of power.