Meet AC4 Visiting Scholar, Michael Gross


Dr. Michael Gross is a Visiting Research Scholar at AC4 this Fall 2016, coming from Colorado State University. Dr. Gross is the Editor-in-Chief for Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, the 2016 Past Division Chair, Conflict Management Division, Academy of Management, and the 2015 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award for the College of Business. While at Columbia, he is continuing research and also teaching a class for the School of Professional Studies on Leadership and Framing, which focuses on organizational behavior and management.

What got you into the intersection of workplace management and conflict resolution?

When I was a young child, I used to try to solve any sort of conflicts or arguments. My sister told me that I always had the knack to be a mediator and to solve problems. When I was working on my PhD I had the opportunity to teach a Negotiation and Conflict Management class, and that is when I knew what I wanted to do for sure. I saw what a huge difference I was making when teaching students how to find an “interest” vs “position” and the different integrative tactics. Conflict provides the opportunity to transform something negative or avoided to something that can strengthen relationships, increase satisfaction, and clarify values.

Is managing conflict in a nonprofit vs. a for profit business different?

Having conflict is inevitable and a natural part of life. When handled appropriately and effectively, conflict can be constructive; otherwise, it’s destructive.

On the surface it looks different, but it’s largely similar. There are the same types of problems at any organization – people clarifying what intentions/interests are, getting on the same page, and addressing different frames of references. I think all conflict is relational. It’s the task that allows for the conversation and task conflict covers relational conflict.  Employing conflict management processes uncovers relational conflict. Conflicts are largely about not feeling respected; trust violations, less satisfaction in working relationships, and issues of social support. If you solve the relationship problem, the task conflict solves itself. If you spend time fixing the task, the relationship problem comes back.

Can you give an example when you’ve been successful by approaching the relationship rather than the task?

It’s always easier to begin by talking about task, as it’s explicit in everyone’s mind. Then you unpack by identifying what the expressed struggles are, how two parties are interdependent, how they need each other in order to attain each party’s goal, perceptions of incompatibility, perceptions of scarce resources, and perceptions of interference. If you talk about task aspect of those first, then people are primed to talk about the relationship aspect of these 5 elements of conflict. It’s easier to begin conversations with task elements – the content and the process, what needs to be done and how things are done, – and then you continue to talk about relationship aspect of conflict. I usually begin by asking “what brought you here today”.

What are some things in your field has changed or caused you to adapt?

Being increasingly sensitive and aware of gender and culture issues, issues, status, and inequality.

When you go into different organizations, what things do you try and figure out before you sit at the table?

The power dynamics and the culture of the workplace. What is the essence of the complaint? If you take care of the relationship problem, the task takes care of itself. People will dig in their heels if they feel disrespected, but they will cooperate if they feel like they are being respected. Management can be overbearing, and leadership can try to be controlling and power wielding over employees.

What is the focus of your research currently?

I am conducting research on Crying at the Workplace. About a year ago I began branching out into emotional expression and got invited onto a research team. We have a theoretical paper under review, and our current project is our first effort at collecting data for an empirical study testing our theoretical work. Crying has many different emotions associated with it. Crying could be sadness, anger, happy, compassion; crying is an expression that is not just one emotion.

Framing is something you are teaching about. What is framing?

A frame is a concept, and framing is the process of communicating and persuading people to look at the concept from your point of view.

As you’ve focused on this, are there any surprises that you’ve found or questions that you think you should be asking?

Teaching Leadership and Framing allows me to get back into this topic and broaden and deepen my understanding. One interesting research question could be around the interaction of framing; how the frames a person uses changes in response to someone else’s frames. How does this change the way we interact?

Interview conducted by AC4’s Meredith Smith and Arishaa Khan.

To learn more about Dr. Gross and his teaching, check out his recent webinar on Framing Communication: here

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