When the Bases of Social Hierarchy Collide: Power Without Status Drives Interpersonal Conflict
Author(s): Eric M. Anicich, Nathanael J. Fast, Nir Halevy, Adam D. Galinsky
Abstract: Leveraging the social hierarchy literature, the present research offers a role-based account of the antecedents of interpersonal conflict. Specifically, we suggest that the negative feelings and emotions resulting from the experience of occupying a low-status position interact with the action-facilitating effects of power to produce vicious cycles of interpersonal conflict and demeaning behavior. Five studies demonstrate that power without status leads to interpersonal conflict and demeaning treatment, both in specific dyadic work relationships and among organizational members more broadly. Study 1 provides initial support for the prediction that employees in low-status/high-power roles engage in more conflict with coworkers than all other combinations of status and power. In Studies 2a and 2b, a yoked experimental design replicated this effect and established low-status/high-power roles as a direct source of the interpersonal conflict and demeaning treatment. Study 3 used an experimental manipulation of relative status and power within specific dyadic relationships in the workplace and found evidence of a vicious cycle of interpersonal conflict and demeaning treatment within any dyad that included a low-status/high-power individual. Finally, Study 4 utilized survey and human resource data from a large government agency to replicate the power without status effect on interpersonal conflict and demonstrate that power interacts with subjective status change to produce a similar effect; increasing the status of a high-power role reduces conflict whereas decreasing its status increases conflict. Taken together, these findings offer a role-based account of interpersonal conflict and highlight the importance of making a theoretical distinction between status and power.
Publication Title: Organization Science, Vol. 27 (1)
Pub Year: 2016
Pages: 123 – 140
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2015.1019
Keywords: power, status, hierarchy, conflict

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