Study Shows Relationship Conflict Can Squash the Benefits of Diverse Groups

Summary of:

Manata, B. (2019). Investigating the impact of racial diversity in decision-making groups: The moderating role of relationship conflict. International Association for Conflict Management and Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 1-11.  https://doi-org.mutex.gmu.edu/10.1111/ncmr.12173

Background & Theory

Diversity and inclusion is an important topic today, both in our personal and professional lives. This article aims to explore how diverse groups collaborate and whether this increases or decreases the quality of work. In summary, does group diversity make for a positive impact or a negative impact on work and projects? Specifically, this article approaches decision-making as a diverse group and the role relationship conflict might play.

Research Questions

The author addresses the following questions in their study:

  1. Does group diversity impact the quality of work being produced, and does relationship conflict play a role?
  2. Do diverse groups have more positive outcomes than homogeneous groups?

Methods

The method for this study involved evaluating 3-person groups in a decision-making task, specifically in this case, a hidden profile problem. Participants included 237 people, of which they identified as the following:

  • 55.7% female / 44.3% male
  • 79.6% Caucasian / 10% Black or African American / 8.3% Asian / 2.2% Hispanic

The hidden profile problem was based on hiring a candidate, and had the 3-person groups work together to evaluate the candidates together and discuss who was most viable, and then make a group decision on who they would hire. Each member was provided different information from the others, which required them to share the information they had available (i.e., different perspectives). There were three candidates, of which A and B had the same negative (6) and positive (4) traits, and C was superior with more positive (6) than negative (4) traits, and thus, the correct candidate to choose.

Group racial diversity, relationship conflict, and decision accuracy were evaluated, with the use of Blau’s heterogeneity statistic, Jehn’s classic relationship conflict scale, and STATA 14.0.

Results

The results prove Manata’s hypotheses, which inferred that diversity (in this case, specifically racial diversity) can absolutely create a positive outcome and accurate and quality work, but it is dependent upon relationship conflict remaining at a minimum; either the relationship conflict was at a minimum entirely, or the group found ways to mitigate it. Thus, diverse groups can indeed produce better outcomes and higher quality work than homogeneous groups, and can certainly be a strength, but it requires them to be open with one another and reduce any relationship conflict and tension.

Further studies are strongly recommended by the author to explore these areas in further detail and learn more about the potential impact this has on work and other environments.

What This Means

  • Diversity is a strength, but it also requires inclusion to create true positive impacts.
  • Groups need to be willing to share, be open, be honest, and as the author notes — trust one another; when this is done, the true value in diversity plays out, and the definite benefits of having people from different walks of life collaborate are shown.
  • Our attitudes shape more than just the outcomes of our work projects; they either limit us or help us go above and beyond. It’s up to us to be willing to learn from one another, as well as sharing our own unique perspectives and values.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: There is much we can all learn through diversity and inclusion; it’s a simple statement, and at times much harder to instill in those in the midst of conflict. Diversity trainings exist in many platforms, but perhaps an area peacebuilders can influence this area is through developing relationship conflict trainings through a diverse lens. Think about how you can put this into practice with your clients.

For everyone: Various cultures and values all play a critical role in shaping the world. Rather than focus on the differences, see what strengths you can learn from others, and go into it with an open mind. It’s nothing someone can particularly teach you, but it has to be your own attitude going into the situation.