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Up Next

The Misconception of Constructive Conflict feat. Professor Daan van Knippenberg

Owl Have You Know

Season 4, Episode 9

Conventional wisdom says that conflict and dissent among an organization’s top leaders can improve strategy and performance. But new research indicates the opposite is true. In fact, dissent at the top often damages working relationships, communication and decision quality.

In this episode of Owl Have You Know, Houston Endowed Professor of Management Daan van Knippenberg joins host Scott Gale ’19 to talk about his research on conflict in leadership. It turns out there is little evidence to support the idea that outcomes improve when leaders disagree on strategy. He explains what CEOs and leaders can do to foster open and constructive dialogue on strategy, even when viewpoints differ.

Daan discusses his transition from the Netherlands to the U.S. and the cultural differences he's noticed between the two countries. He also shares his research on the value of diversity in team decision-making and his passion for developing equity and inclusion practices.

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Check out Daan's Rice Business Wisdom article to learn more about his research on conflict.

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00]Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Up Next series, where faculty, researchers, and alumni weigh in on the trends currently shaping the world of business.

    [00:12]Scott: All right, I'm your host, Scott Gale, excited to be here today with Daan van Knippenberg, the Houston Endowment Professor of Management.

    Daan, welcome to the Owl Have You Know Podcast.

    [00:24]Daan: Thank you.

    [00:25]Scott: Excited to have you on the show. We've been chatting here, sort of, in, like, the front end, just, sort of, a little bit about the history of Rice, etc. You joined Rice in July of 2022.

    [00:36]Daan: That's correct.

    [00:37]Scott: And so, I want to just, sort of, start a little bit back in your history, ultimately leading to, kind of, why Rice and how you got here.

    [00:46]Daan: Sure.

    [00:47]Scott: But you teach organizational behavior, broadly. What got you into that, in the first place?

    [00:54]Daan: What got me into organizational behavioring? I started out studying psychology. I'm Dutch, and I studied in the Netherlands. I got a job in psychology in the Netherlands, in social psychology. And at a certain point, I realized that what I'm… what I was most interested in, which was social influence processes, group dynamics, etc., was increasingly studied less in social psych and more in organizational psych and organizational behaviors from the business schools.

    So, I moved from social psych to organizational psych to follow my interests. And then, from organizational psych to the business school, when I realized that the biggest community of people that studied what I was interested in were actually in the business school and not in psychology. So, it was, kind of, I transitioned from one discipline to the other because that's where my interest had transitioned, apparently.

    [01:49]Scott: Sure. So, just, kind of, pulling on that thread, ultimately, kind of, got you towards, kind of, business school. Was that transition, did that take place in the Netherlands?

    [01:57]Daan: That was in the Netherlands, yeah. So, I did my… now I'm going to throw out a bunch of Dutch names. I studied in Groningen, did my PhD in Leiden, and then I worked in Leiden Amsterdam all in psychology, and then I transition to the Rotterdam School of Management at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. So, the transition to the business school was in the Netherlands. I think it made it easier, maybe, to transition… then transition to a U.S. business school, but maybe also not that much easier because organizational psychology, organizational behavior has tremendous overlap.

    [02:33]Scott: So, I want to ask a question, but chronologically, I want to get us to Rice. So, let's talk about that. And so, you were at Drexel for how long?

    [02:42]Daan: Five years.

    [02:43]Scott: Five years, and came to Rice summer of last year. So, just tell us a little bit about, kind of, why Rice?

    [02:51]Daan: Why Rice? Yeah.

    [02:51]Scott: A bit about that transition from the northeast of the U.S. now here to the Gulf Coast region. How has that transition been, so far? And yeah. Fill in some of the blanks.

    [03:03]Daan: Fill in some of the blanks. So, when we… and maybe the point to start is when we made up our minds. Like, we will be open, probably not open. We want to move. We want to move to the U.S. That will be awesome. We need to find jobs. So, that's the challenge. And we, and we don't want to live just anywhere. So, for instance… nd it's different things. Like, we bring two little kids. So, we want, we want them to be in a place where it's good for them to grow up.

    We like to be in a bit more, sort of, you know, a bit of a cosmopolitan, open-minded place. My wife, in particular, said, “I'm not going to move all across the ocean to a place that's colder than the Netherlands. That doesn't make sense to me.” So, one restriction is it has to be better weather than the Netherlands.

    [03:55]Scott: A bit more temperate.

    [03:55]Daan: Yeah. It has to be… there has to be some enjoyment also in the fact that, “Hey, we moved to this really nice place.” And we did our homework on all kinds of everything, talked to people, looking for options. And options are limited. Like, if you're, if you're a… if you're, if you have just got your PhD, you're a rookie in the job market, you need one job is one thing. But if you're a senior researcher, tenured and everything, you need two jobs, it gets a bit more challenging.

    And Houston already showed up high on the radar as a, as a place. We're like, “Well, that's super cosmopolitan, super diverse, maybe, kind of, hard on some of them, but otherwise, awesome.” And I was working with Ringo. So, I reached out to him and said, “Any chance at all that, you know, you'd be desperate to hire a senior?” He said, “You would actually be a good fit here. But that's not going to happen because we're in this dean transition, whatever. And no way you're going to make a senior hire in a dean transition.” I'm like, I glad I asked, but so it's not going to happen.

    We keep on looking. Philadelphia, it stood out as a, as a, as a… in Pennsylvania, as a, as a good option region-wise. Drexel reached out to us, and we saw lots of reasons where that will be great. So, we ended up there. But there was not… no thinking that it had to be the East Coast or whatever it was. I said, “So, we would consider different options. This was one, and this worked out. So, this is what we do.” And then, five years later, I get an email from the same Ringo saying, “We're looking to make a senior hire. Would you be interested to talk?”

    And then, and so why, why Rice? One other thing that I didn't realize at the time, because my wife didn't tell me when it was clear that Houston wasn't going to happen and Rice wasn't going to happen, that this would always have been the number one choice. So, when Ringo reached out and I said to her, “Probably not interested in moving,” her response was, “Oh.”

    [05:58]Scott: “I’m ready.”

    [05:58]Daan: “Yeah, I'm ready. I'll move there, for sure.” And the other thing was that Rice has always stood out for me as a really, really good school. And now I'm going on a record saying something nasty about other schools not naming names. Some really, really good schools have a bit of an attitude that's wasted on me, a bit too much of a sense of we're awesome which, sort of, rubs me the wrong way.

    [06:23]Scott: Sure, sure.

    [06:24]Daan: And Rice has always struck me as a place that is awesome but doesn't have that attitude. I knew several of the senior people here, and I got to know some of the junior people here. I think the OB group is a great group of great colleagues. So, it may… you also think it's very… and Drexel is a fine university, but it's not Rice. Rice is at a different level. Rice make… has resources at a different level that make it easier to accomplish that things. And then, when my wife told me that this was her number one choice, I go, “Yeah, done deal.”

    [06:59]Scott: Yeah, pretty clear, pretty clear.

    [07:00]Daan: “Done deal, yes.” I visited here. I had a day here that I thought, “Oh, man, I want to work here. I know I want to work here.” So, that's… and now we're here, it's like, “Oh, this is, this is a place…”

    [07:13]Scott: And you survived two summers here.

    [07:15]Daan: I survived two summers here. We can do, we can do heat. We very much enjoy the fact that we're not shoveling snow in winter.

    [07:21]Scott: I love it.

    [07:22]Daan: So, this is a place for us longer term, absolutely. And people often say, ask us, like, “How is that, you know, you move from Pennsylvania to Texas?” And it implies someone, you know, isn't that a challenge to be in Texas? But no, it fits us very well. It's a, it's a, it's an awesome place to be.

    [07:41]Scott: That's super cool. That's great. We're thrilled to have you here. So, I wanted, I want to explore some of the, sort of, research, conclusions, and some of the things, you know, obviously the… maybe obviously or not. Those that listen to the podcast are primarily Rice alum. And this Up Next, kind of, series give, sort of, an opportunity to, kind of, maybe identify some opportunities that they might be able to take into their current leadership roles or future leadership roles.

    [08:11]Daan: Sure, yeah.

    [08:13]Scott: So, I want to, kind of, get to maybe a point of, kind of, practicality here.

    [08:17]Daan: Sure, yeah.

    [08:18]Scott: But as we, sort of, march towards that end, you've shared a few themes that you've explored, kind of, through the course of your research. And so, wanted to just, sort of, double click into one of those, if we could.

    [08:30]Daan: Yeah, absolutely.

    [08:31]Scott: And you talked about, kind of, diversity and creativity and, sort of, strategic conflict, maybe, sort of, at the organizational level. So, maybe digging into the one around strategic conflict first. Should you tell us a little bit about the premise that you explored and some of the findings as well?

    [08:52]Daan: Yeah, I'd be delighted, because that's one where… the short version of it is the world is full of people that believe that conflict is good, that there is such a thing as constructive conflict. And the evidence, really strong evidence, says that's just not true. And for me, that was inspired, that whole research was inspired by studying diversity and inclusion. You have this notion, long-standing notion, that there's value in diversity, and the value in diversity, which is true, which the evidence also supports. You need to create the conditions to be able to realize that value, but it's there.

    And what I realized is that there is overlap in where one thing is true and the other isn't true. The notion that there is value in diversity is based on the idea that, you know, if people have different perspectives, you can benefit from the diversity of perspectives.

    It makes you understand things better. It can make you more creative, can make you make better decisions. It can prevent you from blind spots in your decision-making, etc. And people that believe in, and I'm already going to turn slightly nasty here, believe in constructive conflict seem to have a very similar logic in mind. There is such a thing as constructive conflict, because conflict can force you to dig deeper into what you do and think better about it. And that way, you would locate your blind spot, etc.

    [10:22]Scott: Avoid some local optima.

    [10:24]Daan: Exactly. So, it sounds very much like an argument very similar to why we say that there is value in diversity. And the difference that I observed in the literature is for the value and diversity argument, there's actually quite consistent evidence. We know you cannot just put a diverse team together and then just, sort of, lean back and say, “Let the good stuff happen.” It takes more than that. But yes, there is value in diversity: for quality of decision-making, for creativity and innovation, knowledge work, in general.

    We also know quite consistently, no, conflict is not good. There's no such thing as constructive conflict. It backfires. So, that really got me interested in digging deeper into… to better, be able to better articulate why seemingly such similar arguments, apparently, are not the same argument because very different outcome. The one, the one is associated with evidence that consistently shows, no, conflict is not a good thing. It actually is bad for team performance. And the other is shown that, yes, if you create the right conditions and the conditions that support open-minded discussion of those diverse perspectives and integration of those diverse perspectives, yes, you will have those positive outcomes.

    [11:47]Scott: Can we talk a bit about those circumstances to extract the value of diverse teams?

    [11:51]Daan: Yeah.

    [11:52]Scott: I mean, I'm assuming it's some things like psychological safety or trust. Sort of, like, what are, sort of, the more statistically significant sort of…

    [12:00]Daan: No. You're assuming correctly. It starts with understanding that diversity, from this perspective, is a resource. It's an informational resource. So, if you have a more diverse team, you have more diversity perspectives, information, knowledge.

    [12:18]Scott: A potential for….

    [12:19]Daan: It's potential, exactly. So… but potential is not the same as… having the resource is not the same as using the resource effectively. So, what we're talking about is, what is necessary to use the resource effectively? And how do you use it? It’s knowledge, right?

    [12:34]Scott: And maybe the opposite as well. Like, what, sort of, suppresses, kind of, what are those?

    [12:38]Daan: Yeah, exactly. And what we know is, to use that resource effectively, what does it mean to use it resource effectively? It means open-minded exchange, discussion, and integration of those diverse perspectives. I need to say, so, you know, “You know stuff that I don't know. So, educate me.”

    [12:56]Scott: Sure, a willingness to listen and open.

    [12:57]Daan: Yeah, willingness to listen, a willingness to ask questions, to understand, to recognize that there's stuff you don't know, and for instance, in this example, also willingness in your side to invest in bringing me up to speed, to explain to me. “You tell me something. I don't get it.” You're willing to invest in explaining it, etc.

    So… and that is, as you say, psychological safety, but it also starts with what we call mental models of what you're doing. It starts with understanding that this is the process you need to benefit from diversity.

    [13:29]Scott: So, members of the team appreciating that this is…

    [13:31]Daan: Yeah. The more we all understand this is what we should be doing, we should be focused on learning from each other, we should be focused on exchanging our different perspectives and trying to make sense of those different angles on whatever we're doing to… and if we're able to do this, we'll probably are able to make better decisions or be more creative or be better problem-solvers or whatever.

    And then, taking one step back from this, whatever helps create those conditions, like, elements of leadership. We know that from when you talk about psychological safety, for instance, leaders can build psychological safety. They can also be the most destructive force when it comes to psychological safety. Like, nobody can ruin psychological safety more than we've had.

    [14:15]Scott: And maybe inadvertently.

    [14:16]Daan: Yeah, exactly. So, whatever… and we know, for instance, if this process of information exchange integration is important, we know there are, for instance, personality differences in how much people are open-minded or how much people are focused on learning and understanding things. So, the personality composition of your team is going to make a difference.

    [14:36]Scott: Patience to, sort of, allow that to play out.

    [14:40]Daan: Yeah, or just interest. Like, you know, you're saying, “I don't understand what you said. So, that piques my interest now. But now, I want you to explain, not because I want to understand.” And other people might be more like, “Yeah. Well, you said something I don't understand, whatever. Let's move on to something. Let's move on to something I do understand.” So, anything, as I said, from personality to leadership, to prior history of the team, have they, have they learned through experience how to have that process of information integration and knowledge integration in place? Anything that supports the team to drawing on that informational resource helps, anything on the flip side that leads to more close-mindedness, and we know, for diversity, stereotypes can get in the way, right? So… and it can be stereotypes of whatever. It can be stereotypes about gender or race, but it can also be stereotypes about your functional background. Like, “Why would I listen to a computer scientist?”

    [15:38]Scott: Sure.

    [15:38]Daan: “It's just a bunch of nerds.” Or why would you listen to the person from HR?

    [15:42]Scott: Does that end up being, sort of, problem-dependent? That's, sort of, a question around, like, there's, sort of, the team discovery of what actually needs to be solved versus clarity and harmony around the problem that needs to be solved, and now you're, sort of, going to work on a particular solution. I don't know if that's an appropriate line of demarcation.

    [16:03]Daan: Well, so, you could already say… what we know is, like, probably, for anything where there's not an obviously right answer. Diversity can help. And this could also be already the problem definition or the problem. What exactly are we trying to do here?

    Diversity can help. Diversity perspectives can help. If it's crystal clear what you do, then you move on to the next thing. But in principle, the open-mindedness of figuring things out can be useful in every aspect of what you're doing.

    [16:35]Scott: Depending on where that fits, that bias may lean one way or another.

    [16:41]Daan: Yeah, exactly. And then, the flip side is, if there's anything, like, if you have, if you don't have an open-mindedness, you have a close-mindedness. And it can come from, as I said, stereotypes. We know, like, birds of a feather flock together.

    [16:55]Scott: Sure.

    [16:55]Daan: Much more than opposites attract. That's the reality. So, we know that, all other things being equal, it's easier for people to get, to get along well with more similar others. So, those kinds of things can make it more difficult for diverse teams to get to that level of psychological safety and that open-minded learning and discussion. And once those things are in place, they can also be self-reinforcing. If we never talk, if we never have an open discussion, I'm not all of a sudden going to say, “Scott, you know.” That’s the…

    [17:31]Scott: There is a lack of sincerity in that, all of a sudden. Whereas…

    [17:33]Daan: So… and that's why benefiting from diversity is not a given, because the flip side of it is, sometimes, we find in diversity is actually negatively related to performance, to team performance, because you have those negative processes, those negative dynamics in place.

    [17:50]Scott: Was there, sort of, like, an authenticity metric to that, then, as well, like, a sincerity to that? Like… or is that, maybe, not so much the case? It's, sort of, in the fixed, sort of, environment of that particular group?

    [18:04]Daan: So, this can really get us off on a tangent, because I have, I have issues with that term, “authenticity.”

    [18:11]Scott: Sure.

    [18:12]Daan: Because it…

    [18:13]Scott: We don't have to, like… well, I'm trying to get to, like, and I'm happy to talk about, sort of, whichever aspect of it. But I want to ask this question of, like, the tool or a diagnostic for a leader. And so, that's what I'm trying, like, trying to put a word to, what does that, what does that look like if it's working?

    [18:32]Daan: Yeah, okay. And I think, so why say, why not authenticity? Because authenticity, the way we, in science, think about it is there's some true self. And the question is whether you're, whether you're expressing your true self. And it is debatable whether such a thing is a true self. You know that we are, we have multifaceted selves. So, the fact that you behave one way in one situation, other way in another situation doesn't mean you're inauthentic. It’s just you…

    [18:57]Scott: Sure, dynamic, you're mimicking the circumstances…

    [18:59]Daan: When I go home and I'm with my family, I'm a parent and I'm not so much a parent here. I mean, of course, I'm still a parent, but that's not, that's not part of the conversation we're having, right?

    [19:08]Scott: Yeah, I like that.

    [19:09]Daan: It doesn't mean, it doesn't mean that I'm inauthentic, not expressing my father self here. It's just, like, this is not relevant to this situation. But what it gets to, I think, is the notion of inclusion. So, the way, if you say insincerity, that's what it reminds me. So, the reason why we're not just focused on diversity, which is, kind of, getting the, getting the differences between people together in the organization and teams, but also inclusion is people need to have that sense of psychological safety that they can act like they want to act. “So, I have something to say and I can say it. I dress in this way, and if you don't like it, that's fine. You're not going to judge me for not, you know, whatever. I can do what I, what I want to do.” That is important to be able to benefit from diversity, that people don't feel that they have to engage in a lot of self-censorship. I mean, there's limits, of course. We have to stay, has to stay professional, but at least, you know, at the professional level.

    [20:11]Scott: Right, but allow them to perform to their best ability in the context of the challenge that they, sort of, stepped into. That's helpful. That's helpful. Are there some kind of diagnostics, sort of, individually or as a team, whether it's phrases or attitudes or, sort of, outcomes to, sort of, say, like, “Hey, this is, maybe, not as inclusive of the team?” Or, is there, sort of, like, a barometer or, like, a gut check to, sort of, look out for?

    [20:35]Daan: So, if you, if it would say behavioral, and this is difficult because you have to, sort of, monitor yourself doing it. But I think, and you said… you came up with a notion of psychological safety for a reason. It's very obvious, very salient. And it's very central to what we're talking about.

    So, I would say the way, if you can monitor your own team in action, being in the action at the same time, sort of, having this third-person perspective, the way people respond to diversity of perspectives is probably the most important thing. First of all, do you share diverse perspectives? Or, is it, as soon as somebody suggests something, everybody seems to be agreeing? Possibly, in situations where everybody always seems to be agreeing.

    [21:19]Scott: There's no counter argument. There's no, sort of, new information.

    [21:22]Daan: Are we really always agreeing on everything? Or, are we just so nice that, whenever somebody says something, we all agree?

    [21:28]Scott: So, the whole thing, at the end, becomes some just mashed-together Frankenstein of everybody.

    [21:32]Daan: Exactly, exactly. And that's not what you want. And that's also, like, the champion of psychological safety, Amy Edmondson, she would always say, “This is not what you want.” Psychological safety means being comfortable being uncomfortable.

    [21:46]Scott: Yeah, I love that.

    [21:48]Daan: So, what you should be able to see your team, as you, if you want to, sort of, measure it, it's subjective, but still is, you should see diversity perspectives expressed. If there's no diversity of perspectives ever shared, I mean, that sign, that doesn't seem like a good sign.

    The other thing is what… how do you see people engage with this? If there's no response, which can happen, like, I say something and then you politely listen and then you move on to the next thing. This is actually what happens a lot with diversity perspectives. One safe way if you're uncomfortable with diversity perspectives to deal with it is just to politely hear it out and then move on but not engage with it. A really bad sign is if it's very judgmental, like, “You're wrong. You're stupid. You're whatever.” And a good sign is anything where you see people make an effort to understand what's said, to understand the other perspective, and to try to relate it to how they understand things.

    [22:50]Scott: Curiosity that needs to, sort of, be present.

    [22:52]Daan: Yeah, it does, it does. Perspective taking is a, is a, is a term we use. Is there a genuine effort to understand what somebody else is saying what they're saying? Is there an effort to understand how what they're saying relates to how you understand things? And if you can see those things in actions… in action, you're in a good place. And if you don't see them, you have to wonder what, maybe, that's where you want to bring... that's the place you want to bring the team to.

    [23:18]Scott: That's helpful. I want to explore a little bit this strategic conflict and constructive conflict because there's, sort of, this, it feels to me there's like a threshold where you've, like, spilled over in the conflict versus you're just, sort of, talk, doing the things that we're just talking about, which is you're bringing in new ideas and different perspectives. And so, is it just, sort of, tone and intentionality that, sort of, it's got a conflict, kind of, flavor to it? Or, are there… what is, what is the characterization of a conflict that, sort of, defines it in that way?

    [23:51]Daan: So, the way researchers, conflict researchers, understand conflict is there is… it's a subjective experience. There is conflict when you experience that somebody else is getting in the way of what you're trying to achieve. That's the broadest definition.

    [24:07]Scott: You've got some agenda or some outcome and you're driving towards it.

    [24:12]Daan: Yeah. And one of the things it means is, is if you feel that we have a conflict, I cannot make the conflict go away by denying it. It is, if you feel we have a conflict, then I know we don't. Scott's crazy, we don't. So, if that's your experience, that's conflict. And why I'm interested in conflict and why we have this research, also, in conflict is one of the notions that was really early on in diversity research is conflict about what you're doing, which we call task conflicts. It's not just… it's not interpersonal conflict, but it's really disagreements about our goals and how to get there is a good thing. That is the notion, that there's a task conflict. And diversity would have positive effects because it inspires task conflict.

    And that didn't make sense to me, but it was in the space I was doing my research. And I also recognized that, actually, there was very strong evidence in the conflict literature to suggest that it didn't make sense.

    So, what got me on that track was if you want to talk about how to realize the value in diversity and there are people walking around saying, “Well, you want conflict because that's a good thing,” and the evidence says it's wrong, you have to address that issue, because there's some… well, misinformation sounds like people are deliberately lying. That's not what I mean. But it's like it's incorrect. It isn't helpful if you tell people that there is such a thing as constructive conflict when the evidence says there isn't. And so, that got us to dig deeper. And maybe, if I can bore you a little bit with the evidence, because I think, I think there's so many people that believe that there is such a thing as constructive conflict, that when I just say, “Well, research shows,” I'm willing to predict that people think, well…

    [26:15]Scott: “Well, I've been in a meeting. This is serious.”

    [26:16]Daan: Yeah. Plus, I want to know about this research because I think there must be something wrong with this research. So, there's a, there's a thing we do, which is called meta-analysis. So, if you do, if you do a regular, like, a regular study, you'd get our data and you study relationships between A… with things, A and B. You can express that relationship quantitatively. Like, if, sort of, kind of, leadership has a positive influence on team performance, well, you can capture that in the metric. You can say, “Well, there's the effect sizes. This is the correlation,” whatever, whatever you want to call it. You can, you can, you can capture that quantitatively. So, you can also capture the relationship between conflict and team performance quantitatively. And there is a ton of studies out there doing that. And what a meta-analysis does, it gets all the studies you can get published, unpublished, whatever you can get your hands on that study that particular relationship. In this case, we're talking about conflict and team performance and quantitatively integrates it, taking into account sample size. So, bigger sample is stronger evidence. So, that counts more reliability of measurement, those kinds of things.

    And what you then see is meta-analysis. That's why I say I'm going to bore you a little bit with the research behind it to make clear. It's not just one study or two studies where you can say, “Well, that's a weird study or that's a weird sample.” It's like all the available studies show that task conflict, that supposedly the group conflict is negatively related to team performance. And this has been shown in the meta-analysis in 2003 from all the teams, all the performance, whatever data they can get. And then, similar analysis has been, has been published in 2012. So, updated with a lot more studies, same conclusion. And then, we did a study digging deeper into the why of this. It's not only capturing the conflict performance relationship, but also the intermediate process. And this we did in 2018. So, that's… one, it's even more data. On the other hand, it’s less data because we narrowed it down to top management teams. These are senior management teams and it's conflict, it's disagreement about the strategy.

    [28:39]Scott: So, it's the strategic level, sort of, as an organization.

    [28:40]Daan: Yes, the strategic level. So, these are the people that determine the strategy. They own the strategy. So, what is the strategy of a company? Typically, senior management, like, the top management team, whatever you want to call them, those are the people that formulate a strategy. And there's widespread belief among practitioners, as well as researchers, that if you have conflict about this, if you have dissent, as they call it, strategic dissent as they call it, but it's usually measured in the exact same way as task conflict in teams is measured, so, it is a conflict, then it would be a good thing, for all the reasons that we've discussed earlier, because it would force you to dig deeper, to make more of an effort to understand what you're saying. And in the end, you understand things better, so you develop better strategy.

    And our starting point was, this can't be true, given all the evidence, like, the meta-analytic evidence more generally, that task conflict is bad. No way this is. So, our focus at the time was testing a model that says, “Well, what everybody believes is not true.” And it really was what everybody believes, because we got, like, whatever, 78 studies together from top management teams, not 78 top management teams, 78 studies. So, it was a zillion top management teams. And every single study that made a prediction about whether conflict about the strategy would be a good thing or not predicted that it would be a good thing. So, it's really, that's what people believe, including that, sort of, researchers that study this believe. And we said, “No, it will not be a good thing. And here's why.” And that's the model we tested. We said, “Well, there's one thing.” If you have conflict, people explicitly put themselves in opposition to others. And we like to think that what happens is it makes you think deeper. You know, that would be wonderful, but…

    [30:41]Scott: We're all human.

    [30:42]Daan: Well, yeah, people are human, exactly. So, what happens is, if you explicitly put yourself in the opposition to me, I'm going to dig in because I'm right and you’re wrong. And the more you, and the more you make a point of disagreeing, the less I like you, the less I'm, the less I'm, which is important. It's not irrelevant. It's important because it gets to a closing of the mind. The less I like you, the less I'm willing to listen to you.

    [31:07]Scott: Interesting, a battle line is drawn.

    [31:09]Daan: A battle line is drawn. The more this feels like a, like a competition, I want to win this argument. The more I'm closing my mind to what you have to say, the more I'm engaging in what do you call motivated, motivated information processing. I'm gathering arguments why I'm right and you're wrong rather than open mind.

    [31:30]Scott: [crosstalk 31:29].

    [31:31]Daan: Yeah, exactly what it is, exactly what it is.

    [31:33]Scott: Affirms my stance.

    [31:34]Daan: Yeah. It's selective information process. When I'm saying, let's see about all the things that on the table, I'm trying to make sense of this, so, what it ideally would do is exactly what it doesn't do. It makes you close. It's a selective bias information process, closing of the mind. And you're committed to winning. You want to win the arguments. And the fact, and the longer the stakes and the more intense it is, the less I like you and the less you like me, the more…

    [32:05]Scott: Yeah, it starts to break down.

    [32:05]Daan: Yeah, it starts to break down. So, whatever you say, I'm not even sure that it's true. You might be lying to me, et cetera. So… and that's, and that's what we're able to show. We can show in that meta-analysis, bringing all those studies together. We show that conflict is negatively related to knowledge integration in the top management teams, both directly and via its negative influence on the quality of interpersonal relations.

    And unfortunately, knowledge integration is positively related to the quality of strategic decision-making, which is positively related to firm performance. So, if you break down the knowledge integration, you have the downstream effects of poor strategic decision-making and poor firm performance. So, where the idea is, all those researchers that believe in positive effects embrace that it would stimulate the quality of decision-making because it forces you to process the information better. What actually happens is it reduces quality of decision-making because information processing becomes worse.

    [33:12]Scott: How is that, I guess, as a leader, I would, I would assume in this case you'd have, sort of, like, a CEO of a large company and, sort of, their immediate report.

    [33:21]Daan: That's a lot of this, yeah.

    [33:23]Scott: So, I would assume that it's, sort of, the CEO's job to, sort of, ensure that information is shared in the spirit of diverse input and other things. But are there, are there clear, I don't know, indicators that are showing that that battle line is being, sort of, drawn? Because it seems like there's this moment of, is it when a decision is taken and we're going to go down this path and somebody is, sort of, fully bought into that? It's, sort of, it's, kind of, a question of how to avoid it or how to do it.

    [33:53]Daan: Yeah, of course. So, my intuition, because this is the downside of a meta-analysis is you work with all the available studies, whatever is… which is awesome because you have all this data. Like, it really is saying it's not just a study, like, another sample. It is like, with all the information, all the research available, this is the best conclusion we can draw. And usually, once you find, you find something like that, another 10 studies are not going to make a difference. You're going to find the exact same thing.

    But what is not in the studies you use, well, you don't have the data, you don't have information if it's not, so your question. The answer to that question is not in those studies, so I can only, sort of, speculate about it. My sense is that part of the problem, and that's why I'm so happy to talk about it because it's good to share the knowledge, part of the problem is that people believe that conflict is, that there is such a thing as constructive conflict.

    [34:46]Scott: So, ultimately, a key takeaway is just eliminate that as, like, a good management practice.

    [34:51]Daan: So, if you… if you're the CEO and you think, “Yeah, let me find it out. We'll make better decisions because of it, because constructive conflict is good,” so, you might, you might encourage it. You might say, you know… and I've heard people say something that essentially imagine something like, “If you believe something really, almost, like, dig in, really go for it.”

    [35:12]Scott: “Are you actually bought in or are you willing to go all the way?”

    [35:14]Daan: Yeah. And until you reach the point that you can no longer defend it, but then we've learned something. And that's bad advice. But people say those things because there's this, you know, urban legend.

    [35:28]Scott: Sure. This truism that, sort of, leads out there. There is such a thing as constructive conflict. So, an important part of the problem might be that CEOs… or I mean, it's shared responsibility. Like, you're going to say, “Well, you're a CEO, you should do this.” They're all, they're all C people. So, shared responsibility, they don't intervene because they think it's healthy and they don't realize that it's actually hurting them rather than helping them.

    And I think, so, the key takeaways, as you, as you said, is you want to, you want to avoid the conflict. So, you want diversity of perspectives, absolutely. But you want to avoid the moment that it becomes oppositional. So, if we have diversity of perspectives, we see things differently. But we can avoid saying, “I disagree with you. I'm right, you're wrong.” But we're still at the point of saying, “Well, I want to… so, this is how I understand it. And you say something that is really, really different. I need to understand why you say this. Can you explain to me why you say this, and I will try to explain to you why I say what I say? And then, you know, you and I figure out how we can say such different things.” As long as it, as it's, we together as a team, we're trying to figure out how we can have diverse perspectives.

    [36:43]Scott: Yeah, this face to face, but it's, sort of, hey, shoulder to shoulder.

    [36:45]Daan: Exactly. You can benefit, you can benefit from the diversity of perspectives. As soon as it becomes oppositional, then you go down that path where, “I have a sense of ownership of my position, I dig in.” Especially when it's teamwork, right? Because that's also public. Like, you and I might disagree about something, but it's not just you and I. It's the other people in our meeting also. And they know that I said A, you said B. And I'd rather leave this meeting with you, with you saying what I said than with me saying what you said, because it also has this, has this, ahs this, that the public cost of changing your mind.

    [37:28]Scott: Interesting. So, lowering that cost.

    [37:30]Daan: Yeah. And it can lower the cost by not making it oppositional. And I think it starts with realizing that you, that that's not what you want. And in part of this, it is not stimulating the conflict because you believe it's a good thing. But also what we know is teams function better if they have clear shared mental models of how they should function, shared mental models just saying, like, “what are our rules of engagement?”

    And I think, when it comes to psychological safety, for instance, people make very clear, what does it mean to have psychological safety here? We don't criticize people. We, you know, for the sake of we're always welcoming, what people say doesn't mean we agree with everything, but we're respectful about it. And we, we want…

    [38:14]Scott: Clarity of what we're solving for.

    [38:15]Daan: Yeah. We want to… we make an effort to understand why they're saying what they're saying. So, one rule of engagement, ideally, will be, should be we avoid taking oppositional stances. We can, we should express our diverse viewpoints, but we try to see it as something that we deal with together as a team.

    [38:37]Scott: Disconnect the human from the suggestion or the path forward and debate the idea and not that it's owned by a particular person.

    [38:47]Daan: Yeah. And that is, and the ownership is, yes, and the ownership is exactly because there is such a thing as psychological ownership.

    [38:53]Scott: Sure.

    [38:53]Daan: Once you associate a position with yourself, it, kind of, hurts to give it up.

    [39:00]Scott: Sure.

    [39:01]Daan: If you, if you can distance and go, “This is, this is, this is, this is intellectual. This is the challenge. It's not about me or you. We're trying to solve this together,” it's just easier to solve the issue.

    [39:10]Scott: Interesting. It's super hard to do. It's, sort of, reflecting over, sort of, my own leadership and strategy roles and stuff. And there's the moments where you can see it full, sort of, one side or another.

    [39:20]Daan: Yeah. But for instance, if you think about… when I think about constructively handle, constructively handling conflict, not constructive conflict, usually, what I think of is, things we learn about negotiation. And the… one of the most influential, maybe the most influential, work on negotiation is Fisher and Ury on their approach to integrative bargaining, win-win negotiations. And one of the practical advices they also give, is, if you're really finding it difficult to reach an agreement, one of the things you might do, you might want to create a shared document in which you both work and you revise. And the way I would understand it is, it is exactly as you said, it takes, it changes from being…

    [40:11]Scott: You and I at a stage.

    [40:13]Daan: You and I are in opposite, into, so we're both trying to figure out what we want to have in this document.

    [40:19]Scott: Yeah. And that helps to, sort of, shift the focus elsewhere. That's really interesting. I like that.

    [40:24]Daan: And I think, and I think that, I would say the exact same thing should work here because it's the exact same logic. We want, we want this to be our shared problem, how we make sense of our diverse perspectives. You think we should expand our business. And I think we'd be really stupid. So, what do we do? It's a shared problem to figure out, and not who's going to win this argument.

    [40:48]Scott: I had an experience recently. I'm going to share it. And I'm curious if, like, this is, like, a good thing or a bad thing. Like, just, like, a tactical thing. I'm going into a meeting and just, sort of, saying, there's no right answer. Collectively, though, we all have different perspectives on what could be a better answer than others, and, sort of, framing a discussion around, in this case, it was a very specific sort of outcome, but it was one of these that has the tendency to be, like, “Hey, I contributed this way of saying how we maybe describe ourselves as an organization.” You know, some of these marketing and branding exercises that end up being very, sort of, visible in public. And so, people take, sort of, like, weird perception. Is there a way to, sort of, like, frame the room in some of that, that is, like, helpful to, sort of, keep people? Or, is it, hey, you just, kind of, have to let things go and then, kind of, work that in later on? I mean, this is all speculation.

    [41:44]Daan: No, no, and I would say you probably don't want to let things go, because especially in a situation like you described, then you…

    [41:53]Scott: The tendency is high.

    [41:53]Daan: Yeah, the tendency is high to have that sense of ownership and “I want my perspective to win,” etc. And one of the things that I think is really important, maybe that's what you mean when you say frame the room, like, when I said earlier about mental models, we know that what often goes wrong in decision-making is that people, if they have to share decision-making, team decision-making, they understand what they're doing as seeking agreement, finding out what they can agree on. And that focuses you on exchanging positions, like, “This is what I think we should do.” Well, no, I think, and what the research shows is that, if you can get people to understand the exact same decision-making task not as an agreement-seeking task but as an information integration task, the focus becomes different. And people are much better decision-makers because they think, well, information delays. So, we need to get all the relevant information on the table. We need to make sense of all the facts. What do you know? What do I know? And then, and it makes it easier, then, so we don't need to know your position. We need to know the relevant considerations.

    And then, it also becomes easy to say, “So, I didn't know this. Where did you learn this? Like, what is, what is the context behind this perspective? Tell me more.” It's easier than when the anchor is, “This is your decision preference. My decision preference is different.”

    [43:16]Scott: Because you're removing all of the decision criteria that led you to a particular, sort of, statement. And you actually, the team needs the criteria in the context of the fact.

    [43:27]Daan: And interestingly, and I think not accidentally, the Fisher and Ury negotiation stuff also says the positions are the problem in negotiation. If you say, “I want this,” and they say, “Well, I want this,” that's different, and then, we find it very difficult to agree on those things. What you want, you don't want to talk about positions. You want to talk about what they call the interests behind the positions. Why do you want this? If you understand why people want whatever they say they want, then you can think of alternative ways for you to get what you want and me to get what I want that are less in opposition.

    And I think this is a similar logic here. If you, if you talk about the considerations behind what might be your decision preference, we are better positioned to figure out what we can all agree on in the end than when we, when we take the decision preferences as a start.

    [44:21]Scott: Yeah. This is, this has been super interesting. I'm curious, sort of, and it may be too soon to, sort of, see it in, like, research or the things, but, you know, we're coming out of the pandemic. It's shifted into this kind of work from home, quiet quitting, like, the workplace dynamic is changing in a bunch of ways and lots of arguments about, sort of, hey, everyone needs to be in the office, everybody… I'm curious, like, in all of that, kind of, frothy, because there's no organization or country on the planet that wasn't impacted in this form or fashion, are there aspects of that that, sort of, contribute to this team dynamic and, sort of, the… we have Zoom only teams versus we talked about being here in a three-dimension, sort of, the difference in that? Are there, sort of, threads of that, sort of, experience that we're coming out of that interest you as a researcher, that you'd want to, sort of, explore more?

    [45:17]Daan: So, I think, if we relate it to what we're now talking about, because I think it's interesting, and I think what I think is interesting about the remote working experiences is the situations in which it seemed to work much better for people than working from the office.

    And I think it's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to think that people should come back to the office or should at least be three days a week, whatever.

    [45:43]Scott: Sure. That's some arbitrary mandate.

    [45:44]Daan: Yeah, some arbitrary mandate, exactly. I think it would be healthy for organizations to be, to be a lot more open to the possibility that, actually, you know, maybe people do really well if they work remotely a lot of the time.

    The one thing, and I don't know research about it, so I'm really speculating, the one thing where I, where I think could be an exception is exactly what we're talking about, really benefiting from diversity in perspective in decision-making. Because being in person together, as you say, as we also talked about this, it's easier to do it like this than to do it on a Zoom call, and we get a lot of information, much more than we, than we realize from nonverbal communication. So, it's easier to have a constructive conversation if you're face to face.

    [46:31]Scott: More data is exchanged than just…

    [46:31]Daan: Literally in person together, especially when it gets more complex. And there, there it's really diversity of perspectives that are not simply, not simple to integrate, but it takes some effort to do it. So, for those kind of meetings, I would think that, actually, it really helps to come back to the office and meet. For lots of other stuff, I think it's the office is overrated. But here, yes. Although I don't know the research, I would imagine that, if you do the research, you'd find that for creating synergy from diversity and preventing conflict, it helps if you're face to face.

    [47:19]Scott: Interesting. It'd be interesting to see how that plays out over time. Like you're saying, there's… it's pretty early overall just to see what those outcomes are. What's next for you from a research standpoint? What are some of the, kind of, areas of interest that you are actively thinking about exploring or working towards to the extent that you can, kind of, give us a peek behind the curtain.

    [47:42]Daan: Yeah. So, I think, so part of it is what I'm, sort of, actively exploring, because I haven't quite figured out how to use it. What I'm, what annoys me, whatever it is, like, the scientific annoys me, is the, is the, the nerd is annoyed, we know a lot more about how to benefit from diversity of perspectives from team diversity research than we see reflected in DEI practices.

    [48:21]Scott: So, a disconnect.

    [48:21]Daan: There's a disconnect. And that seemed to be, like, a missed opportunity. And normally, you would say, “Well, if I want to study something, okay, I can go and study it.” But something that doesn't exist yet is a little bit, is a little bit more difficult to study. So, you need to be able to create the situation that you could, like, pilot something, whatever, and then study however that works out. But I really think we leave a potential unexplored by having DEI practices much more, not really… much less focused on creating value and diversity than I think many people in the space think they are.

    What we know from, and going back to the stuff we discussed earlier, is there are certain things that can get in the way. If you, if you, if you have diversity, it can also lead to a closing of the mind. And that seems to be, sort of, a naive idea that if you only can prevent those negative outcomes, you'll be good.

    And we know from team diversity research that that's not true. You also need to actively invest. And beyond not having biases and stereotypes play out or whatever, you need to actively invest in creating the context that people actually understand. We can benefit from diversity. It really takes an effort. So, we have to make that effort to learn from each other, to integrate what we have to say.

    And I don't see that reflected in DEI practices, or maybe there is now some company somewhere that says, “That's what we do. Clearly, you don't know us.” And then, I'm guilty of, “No, I don't know you,” but most DEI practices that I am aware of are very much focused on equal employment opportunity owning. And equal employment opportunity is super important. So, I'm not arguing against it at all. All I'm saying is we're leaving a lot of potential on tap by not investing more in DEI practice, in creating value from diversity.

    [50:22]Scott: Interesting.

    [50:23]Daan: And I would really love to, sort of, figure out, what kind of practices could support this? And as a leadership researcher, usually, like, my knee-jerk response is leadership development, because leadership development programs, typically, also are not focused on diversity, or nowadays they might be focused on inclusion, but not in a, but not in a value of diversity way, but more like you should prevent somebody feeling excluded, which I agree. Of course, you should prevent somebody… but preventing somebody feeling excluded is not, in and of itself, is not enough to have that information integration and active… people actively seeking out diversity of perspectives to benefit from it as a team.

    [51:08]Scott: Interesting.

    [51:08]Daan: So, my angle would be, if ever an opportunity arose, because people typically arises… because people typically don't let you mess around with our leadership development programs, but if ever I could do something, like, introduce an element in there that is really about value from diversity and set up research around it to evaluate whether it actually makes a difference, that would be pretty awesome.

    [51:30]Scott: Love it. As we as, we wrap up here, I want to do, I don't do this too often, but, like a, like a rapid fire, totally unrelated… I'm just going to ask you, like, a couple of questions, all right?

    [51:41]Daan: Yeah.

    [51:43]Scott: So, you've been in Houston now a little over 12 months, favorite restaurant.

    [51:46]Daan: Ah, that's it. That is a trick question. What is it like? So, I'm… because we live in Foreshore, so I haven't actually seen many Houston restaurants, but I would more generally say the Mexican food is so much better here.

    [52:01]Scott: Yeah. Than Philadelphia? I agree.

    [52:03]Daan: It's always like, a favorite restaurant, any Mexican restaurant.

    [52:08]Scott: Perfect.

    [52:08]Daan: No, but actually, so, I'm… I forgot what it's called. There is a Chinatown. There is a Vietnamese place. And I've been so frustrated with how sweet… every Asian restaurant that we've been to in the Philly region makes the food way too sweet. And going to it is like, “This is what I want.” But forgot the name, but that would be my favorite restaurant.

    [52:35]Scott: And I'm curious when you're not here at Rice, like, recreationally, how do you spend your time?

    [52:43]Daan: I exercise every day. I’m obsessive-compulsive, so I get up at 5:00. I work out in my gym garage, which gets very hot in summer. And then, I ride my bike for half an hour, and then I swim for 20 minutes.

    [53:03]Scott: That’s awesome.

    [53:04]Daan: And every opportunity, which is, I'm happy if it's once a week, I go hiking for a couple of hours.

    [53:09]Scott: Sure. That's one thing that Houston doesn't have in its topography.

    [53:11]Daan: No. I always say that was a lot easier in Pennsylvania where, you know, 30 minutes from home you go nice, hilly country, whatever. And here, that's a bit more challenging.

    [53:20]Scott: Indeed. And then, favorite non-fiction book?

    [53:25]Daan: Oh, that is also a tricky one because I read a lot of non-fiction.

    [53:30]Scott: And unrelated to, sort of, the work that you do, but if there's a particular…

    [53:40]Daan: I read so many different things.

    [53:43]Scott: Maybe the most recent one that [crosstalk 53:43].

    [53:44]Daan: So, I'm currently reading the most recent one, because I don't want to think of a favorite. I'm bad at favorites. The most recent, I'm currently reading the history of Texas, which seems, kind of, appropriate moving on.

    [53:55]Scott: Absolutely. That's awesome. Daan, it's really been awesome to have you on the show. Appreciate you taking the time.

    [54:00]Daan: My pleasure.

    [54:02]Scott: All right. Stay well.

    [54:03]Daan: Thank you so much.

    [54:04]Scott: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, business.rice.edu. Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcasts. We'd love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Scott Gale, and Maya Pomroy.

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On October 24, we hosted our first live podcast taping event at Rice Business, with Owl Have You Know host Maya Pomroy ‘22 and Associate Professor of Strategic Management, Anastasiya Zavyalova. Listen as they dive into Anastasiya’s research on reputation management, how social media has changed the landscape of the field, how that relates to the Russia-Ukraine war, and her hopes for the future.