Equality Versus Differentiation: Why Your Boss Shouldn’t Always Have the Stage

Topic: Conflict
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2010)
Article: Equality versus Differentiation: The Effects of Power Dispersion on Group Interaction
Authors: L.L. Greer, and G.A. van Kleef
Reviewed by: Holly Engler

It should be no surprise that power can shape an individual’s behavior. Just think about politics, past employers, or even your parents.  The dispersion of such power may also shape behavior.  Current research proposes that there are important relationships among power, power dispersion, and conflict resolution.

Power refers to an individual’s capacity to modify others’ states (e.g., emotions, behaviors).  Not surprisingly, in organizational settings, power is most common amongst top management employees.  For jobs such as factory line workers or retail associates, employees generally experience low power as they are not as likely to be able to influence others’ and thus organizational decisions.  The dispersion of power, on the other hand, refers to the differences in the concentration of group members. Where there is high dispersion, one person is likely to influence the group; where there is low dispersion, power is equal among group members.

Research conducted by Greer and van Kleef suggests that this knowledge of power may have an effect on conflict resolution in the workplace.  

This is important because when conflict cannot be resolved, employees are likely to be dissatisfied, frustrated, and experience disharmony.  By being able to predict an increase in conflict resolution, organizations can ensure that there is order and stability in the workplace.

The current research found that groups with high power (management teams) need high dispersion to ensure more effective group facilitation by allowing shared power amongst all team members.  If shared leadership is lacking amongst management members, individuals are likely to feel threatened.  Thus, groups with low group power (factory line workers) may need one person to take charge as they are more likely to accept hierarchy and need a superior to clarify roles and responsibilities.  When these scenarios occur, power struggles amongst group members are minimized and conflict is resolved allowing teams to practice effective conflict resolution.

By utilizing this research, organizations can help create appropriate power structures in the workplace. This may allow organizations to foster input and creativity from peers as well as minimize unresolved conflict.

Equality versus differentiation: the effects of power dispersion on group interaction. (2010). Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(6), 1032-1044.