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Perceived emotional intelligence and conflict resolution styles among information technology professionals: testing the mediating role of personality.

Abstract

This research studied the relationship between emotional intelligence and conflict resolution styles over and above personality. The sample comprised 81 information technology professionals working as software professionals, software engineers, software consultants or professionals for support and maintenance, between 21 and 33 years of age. Participants completed Palmer and Stough's (2000) workplace version of Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test, Rahim's Conflict Resolution Styles (1983), and Costa and McCrae's (1992) NEO-Five Factor Inventory. Results indicated that overall emotional intelligence, understanding emotions--external and emotional management were significantly correlated with integrating style of conflict resolution. Besides, overall emotional intelligence and emotional control were found to be negatively and significantly correlated with avoiding style of conflict resolution. Finally, the relationship between emotional intelligence and conflict resolution styles was found to be significant over and above personality.

Key Words: emotional intelligence; conflict resolution styles; personality, information technology

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The information technology (IT) industry is growing quickly in India. The IT professionals usually work in teams and there are various types of conflicts to which they need to respond. Conflict is probably embedded with different kinds of feelings. So, it is important to understand whether different interpersonal conflict resolution styles are associated with one's ability to identity (such as identification of facial emotional expression), understand (such as understanding the transition of anger into sadness), use (using emotions to facilitate thought), and regulate emotions (or management of emotions). These abilities are collectively called emotional intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Organisational scholars believe that emotional intelligence (EI) can play an important role in organisational and social behaviour (Daus & Ashkanasy, 2005). For example, Ilarda and Findlay (2006) in a recent study found that teamwork is correlated with overall self-reported EI.

Emotional intelligence: There are both self-report (for example, Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test; SUEIT, Palmer & Stough, 2000) and ability (Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test; MSCEIT, Mayer et al, 2002) measures of the above model of EI proposed by Mayer and Salovey (1997). Palmer, Gardner, and Stough (2003) reported that there were moderate correlations between the SUEIT scores and NEO-Five Factor Inventory scores (Costa & McCrae, 1992) scores. In particular, scores of neuroticism, extraversion, and openness factors of personality were moderately correlated with SUEIT scores, so the authors concluded that SUEIT was measuring something distinct from the normal personality (Palmer, Gardner & Stough, 2003). The MSCIET is also discriminable from the Five Factor theory of personality (see Thingujam, 2004). However, there are other models of EI which are conceptually corresponding to the facets of Five Factor theory of personality (McCrae, 2000).

Conflict: It is a process that is based on the perception of the conflicting parties. It could begin when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is likely to affect, something that the first party cares about (see Robbins, 2005). It could be within the individual (intrapersonal) or between the individuals (interpersonal). Some decades ago Thomas (1979) identified five categories of interpersonal conflict handling styles on the basis of cooperativeness (concerned for others) and assertiveness (concerned for self). They are: a) avoiding (unassertive and uncooperative behaviours); b) dominating or competing (assertive and uncooperative behaviours); c) accommodating (cooperative and unassertive bahaviours); d) compromising (based on giving concessions, that is intermediate level of cooperation and assertiveness behaviours); e) collaborating or integrating (strong cooperation and assertive behaviours). In organisational research these categories are still considered important and used by many researchers (for example, Jordan & Troth, 2004).

Emotional intelligence and conflict resolution styles: Past research has shown that self-reported EI is associated with conflict resolution styles. Jordan and Troth (2004) found that integrative and dominating styles of conflict handling are positively correlated with ability to deal with own and others' emotions and overall EI of the individuals members working in a team; however they also found that avoiding style of conflict resolution style is negatively correlated with ability to deal with own emotions and overall EI of individuals in the team. Further, Jordan and Troth found that integrating style of conflict resolution was positively correlated with ability to deal with own and others' emotions, and overall EI of the teams; but avoiding style of conflict resolution was negatively correlated with ability to deal with own emotions of the teams.

Role of Five Factor theory of personality: There are five major dimensions in the Five Factor theory of personality, that is, neuroticism (emotional instability or the general tendency of an individual to experience anger, anxiety, sadness, guilt, hostility), extraversion (extraverted, outgoing, active, high spirited, and preferring to be around people most of the time), openness to experience (open to new experiences, having broad interest in life, and very imaginative), agreeableness (being compassionate, good-natured, eager to cooperate with people, and avoid conflict), and conscientiousness (being well-organised, having high standards, and always striving to achieve goals) (Costa & McCrae, 1992).

Past research has shown that at the individual level, relationship conflict was related to agreeableness and openness. In the same study, relationship conflict was related to mean levels of extraversion and conscientiousness in a pair (Bono, Boles, Judge, & Lauver, 2002). In another study, the processes and outcomes related to adjustment and interpersonal conflict were related to agreeableness (Jensen-Campbell, Gleason, Adams, & Malcolm, 2003). Wood and Bell (2008) recently found that agreeableness and extraversion are the predictors of competing, collaborating, accommodating, and avoiding conflict resolution styles. Although these studies were not conducted among the employees it still tends to suggest that personality dimensions from the Five Factor theory of personality could play an important role in understanding conflict resolution styles in the workplace.

To date, there is no study exploring the relation between conflict resolution styles and EI controlling Five Factor theory of personality. This is the rationale for the present study. Such study is important because critics (Davies, Stankov, & Roberts, 1998) believe that the concept of EI is overlapping with existing concepts which are already well-studied in the field of psychology.

The following hypotheses were framed on the basis of the literature reviewed.

a. Integrating style of conflict resolution is positively correlated with self-reported EI.

b. Dominating style of conflict resolution is positively correlated with EI.

c. Obliging style of conflict resolution is not correlated with EI.

d. Avoiding style of conflict resolution is negatively correlated with EI.

e. Compromising style of conflict resolution is not correlated with EI.

f. Conflict resolution styles are correlated with EI over and above five factors of personality.

Hypotheses (a), (b), and (d) are derived by acknowledging the findings of Jordan and Troth (2004). Hypotheses (c) and (e) are derived as null hypotheses as these conflict resolution techniques could be usually employed when other techniques are failed. The last hypothesis (f) is also derived by acknowledging the findings of Jordan and Troth (2004) and for examining the view that EI is related to but different from personality (see Thinguj am, 2004) in spite of the opposite views expressed by the critics (Davies, Stankov, & Roberts, 1998).

Method Sample

The sample comprised 81 participants (60 males, 21 females), between ages 21 and 33 years (mean age = 25.23 years, SD = 2.82). All participants were IT professionals working as software professionals, software engineers, software consultants or professionals in support and maintenance. All the participants have experienced team work (for minimum of one year and maximum of eight years).

Instruments

a) Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test (SUEIT; Palmer & Stough, 2000): It is a 64-item self-reported measure of emotional intelligence designed for use only in the workplace. The subscales of SUIET are: 1) Emotional Recognition and Expression, 2) Understanding Emotions External, 3) Emotions Direct Cognition, 4) Emotional Management, and 5) Emotional Control.

The total score indicates the Total Emotional Intelligence. The test is to be responded to on a five-point scale, ranging from very seldom (1) to very often (5). Internal consistency reliabilities reported by the original author are all acceptable ([alpha] > .70). Higher scores indicate higher self-reported EI. The test-retest reliability of the test over a month period is acceptable as the correlation coefficients range from .82 to .95 (p<.001) for the five subscales.

b) Rahim's (1983) Organisational Conflict Inventory-H (ROCI- II): It is designed to measure five independent dimensions that represent the styles of handling interpersonal conflict: Integrating (involving the exchange of information and differences toward a solution favourable to both parties), Obliging (includes bringing down differences and emphasising commonalities to favour the concern of the other party), Dominating (involves a win-lose situation or forcing behaviour to win own goal), Avoiding (withdrawal from the situations), and Compromising (involves finding a middle path, that is, showing concern for own and others). The ROCI-II, Forms A, B, C measure how an organisational member handles conflict with his or her boss, subordinates and peers respectively. The present research uses the Form C (peers). The five styles of handling conflict are measured by seven, six, five, and four statements, respectively, selected on the basis of repeated factor and item analyses. A subject responds to each statement on a five-point Likert scale. The higher the score, the greater the amount of use of a conflict style. The test-retest reliabilities with an interval of one week, ranged from .60 to .83 (p = .0001). The internal consistency reliability coefficients were satisfactory.

c) NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; Costa & McCrae, 1991): It is a 60-item measurement of the five dimensions of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Subjects respond on a five-point Likert scale ranging from "Strongly Disagree (SD)" to "Strongly Agree (SA)". The test-retest reliabilities of NEO-FFI were reported to be more than .70. Internal consistency reliabilities were also more than .70 except for Agreeableness ([alpha] = .68).

Procedure

Participants from the IT companies in and around Pune city in Maharashtra state were approached either individually or in groups and their cooperation was solicited. They were requested to respond to the set of three tests after filling the demographic information. After establishing the rapport the respondents were given the standard instructions. They were informed about their participation as a part of study and confidentiality of their response. They were also told that the tests are not connected to appraisals of their performance in their organisations wherever the tests were conducted in official settings. They were requested to indicate their responses on the response sheet. The test was either conducted in an informal setting or in a formal setting with the prior permissions of the relevant human resource authorities. The entire test administration was done in English.

Results

Table 1 shows means, standard deviations, and alpha coefficient reliabilities of the measures included in the present study. The alphas for the overall EI and Understanding Emotions External are good although the other scales yielded relatively low alphas. Table 2 shows inter-correlations between EI and conflict resolution style measures. Many aspects of EI are significantly correlated with conflict resolution styles but some aspects of these two variables are not significantly correlated to each other.

Table 3 provides the correlations between EI and Five Factor theory personality, and it is observed that the two variables are significantly related to each other but the strength of relationship is not strong.

Table 4 reports the results of Pearson's correlation between conflict resolution styles and personality and it is observed that compromising, dominating and obliging conflict handling styles have nothing to do with the dimensions of the Five Factor theory of personality. But integrating and avoiding conflict handling styles are significantly related to some dimensions of the Five Factor theory of personality.

Since the Five Factor theory of personality is related to both EI and conflict handling styles partial correlations were computed to examine whether the relationship between EI and conflict handling styles are significant after controlling the Five Factor theory of personality. It was found that EI and conflict resolution styles were significantly related after controlling significant dimensions of personality. Specifically, correlation between understanding emotions external and integrating style of conflict resolution controlling all five dimensions of personality (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) was found to be 0.29 (p < 0.02). The correlation between emotional management and integrating style of conflict resolution controlling neuroticism and extraversion dimensions of personality (neuroticism and extraversion) was 0.27 (p < 0.02). The third correlation between emotional control and avoiding style of conflict resolution controlling neuroticism and conscientiousness dimensions of personality (neuroticism and conscientiousness) was found to be -0.26 (p < 0.03). The correlation between overall EI (total) and integrating style of conflict resolution controlling all five dimensions of personality (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) was 0.27 (p < .03). The correlation between overall EI (total) and avoiding style of conflict resolution controlling all five dimensions of personality (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) was found to be -.14 (not significant, p = .26).

Discussion

The main focus of this study was to examine the relationship between EI and conflict resolution styles over and above Five Factor theory of personality. It was found that there exist such links in the Indian context. EI, in this research will be considered as perception of EI as the self-report inventory was used instead of ability measure. Thingujam (2004) suggests that EI, as a type of intelligence should be measured with the help of an ability measure in which the most appropriate response is to be found with the help of a consensus from the particular cultural context. The present study employed SUEIT (workplace version) because this test was developed for use in the workplace and there is so far no ability measure that may be utilised in corporate India.

The hypothesis stating that "Integrating style of conflict resolution is positively correlated with overall EI" was accepted. This result is in accordance with the previous research (Jordan & Troth, 2004). The result can be simplified as emotionally intelligent employees tend to use more of the integrating style of conflict resolution in which there is high concern towards self and others (Rahim & Bonoma, 1972). Emotionally intelligent persons, as they hold an ability to deal effectively with emotions, might be more capable of reaching a solution acceptable to both parties. In addition, emotionally intelligent persons are able to regulate emotions (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). When the correlations between the components of EI and integrating style of conflict resolution were calculated (Table 2), it was found that there is a positive and significant correlation between integrating style of conflict resolution and understanding emotions external. The correlation between integrating style of conflict resolution and emotional management was also positive and significant. This can be explained in terms of the person's ability to understand emotions, as a result of his high concern towards others. The concern then, might lead to a style that is integrating, acceptable to both the parties. Emotional management includes the ability to reflectively monitor emotions in relation to oneself and others such as recognising how clear, typical, influential, or reasonable they are and the ability to manage emotion in oneself and others by moderating negative emotions and enhancing pleasant ones without repressing or exaggerating information they may convey (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). This explains the relation between EI and integrating style of conflict resolution.

Past research also found correlations between integrating and obliging styles of conflict resolution and adaptability and flexibility for organisational effectiveness (Mott, 1972). Thus, the use of integrating style by emotionally intelligent people can probably help in organisational effectiveness. It would be interesting to test whether there exists a relationship between EI (SUEIT) and organisational effectiveness in the Indian context. Integrating style was also found to be correlated with a stage of moral development (Chow & Ding, 2001).

The second hypothesis stating "Dominating style of conflict resolution is positively correlated with EI" was rejected. There was no significant correlation found between dominating style of conflict resolution and EI. The previous research conducted in Australia (Jordan & Troth, 2004) states that there is a link between dominating style of conflict resolution and EI. The persons who have a high concern for self but low concern for others use the dominating style of conflict resolution (Rahim & Bonoma, 1972). Borisoff and Victor (1998) note that the most effective conflict resolution strategy is contingent on the situation. Dominating style is most effective when the dilemma is important and there are extenuating circumstances (time constraints or negative consequences) (Jordan & Troth, 2004). The age range (21 to 33) and work experience of the current sample is not very high. The young IT professionals might not have experienced such kind of extenuating circumstances. Also, since the current research was conducted in the Indian context, cultural differences might have played a role. It is observed that the Indian culture, being collectivistic, overall shows a greater concern for others. Ignoring the needs of the other party and going to any measure to win one's objective is not approved culturally, in Indian setting.

The third hypothesis "Obliging style of conflict resolution is not correlated with EI" and the fifth hypothesis stating "Compromising style of conflict resolution is not correlated with EI" which were null hypotheses were supported. There was no correlation found between obliging and compromising styles of conflict resolution and EI. One possible explanation could be attributed to the low internal consistency reliabilities of these two conflict resolution styles (Table 1). The same explanation could also be considered for the above second hypothesis explanation.

The fourth hypothesis stating that "Avoiding style of conflict resolution is negatively correlated with EI" has been accepted. The literature suggests that lack of ability to deal with others' emotions and one's own emotions is related to the use of avoiding style of conflict handling (Jordan & Troth, 2004). The fourth hypothesis is in the line with the previous research. It is understandable in this case that where a person is not able to deal with the situation emotionally, he tries to avoid the situation. The use of avoiding the situation is seen to be high in such cases. The previous research has specifically stated that 'ability to deal with one's own and others' emotions is the component of EI, which is related to avoiding style of conflict. In the current research, when the correlations of the components of EI and various conflict resolution styles were calculated (Table 2), it was found that avoiding style is negatively and significantly correlated with the component of emotional control".

Emotional control is the component of EI in its application orientation. The use of the abilities to understand, express, and recognise emotions are necessary in dealing with other people. Controlling emotions thus, is crucial. The previous and the current research both support the lack of use of these abilities and its relation with the use of avoiding the style of conflict resolution. Avoiding the style of conflict resolution falls at the end of low concern towards self and low concern towards others (Rahim & Bonoma, 1972). Avoiding style of conflict resolution has been studied in its relation with higher level of anxiety, depression, and negative affect (Zapf, 1999).

Overall, it suggests that IT professionals with higher perceived EI are likely to adapt better styles of conflict resolution in order to deal effectively with the situations. The study can help managers better understand themselves and others on emotional grounds and use this knowledge in conflict situations. The findings of the present research have its implications in human resource in the areas of recruitment and training in the Indian context in terms of recruiting more emotionally intelligent individuals or training employees who are less emotionally intelligent for increasing productivity.

Conclusion

The present findings are similar to the ones reported by Jordan and Troth (2004) regarding EI's link with integrating and avoiding styles of conflict resolution. So, this link could be probably generalised across the nations and cultures. However, the link between EI and dominating conflict resolution style reported in Jordan and Troth' s study is not observed in the present Indian study, so this link could not be generalised across the nations or cultures. Another major contribution of the present study is that the EI-conflict resolution styles linkage (integrating and avoiding) observed is independent of the Five Factors of personality.

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Anand S Godse

Nutankumar S Thingujam

University of Pune, India

Table 1: Means, Standard Deviations, Alphas for EI, Conflict
Resolution Styles, and Personality Measures

     Sub scales                           M      SD    Alpha

1    SUEIT: Emotional Recognition      36.78    5.21     .62
       & Expression
2    SUEIT: Understanding              70.47    9.16     .80
       Emotions External
3    SUEIT Emotional                   32.73    5.54     .60
       Direct Cognition
4    SUEIT Emotional Management        39.74    5.24     .63
5    SUEIT Emotional Control           30.98    4.88     .61
6    SUEIT Total                      210.32   18.71     .82
7    NEO-FFI: Neuroticism              21.68    5.91     .66
8    NEO-FFI: Extraversion             29.77    4.87     .55
9    NEO-FFI: Openness                 26.42    4.61     .44
10   NEO-FFI: Agreeableness            27.71    5.33     .64
11   NEO-FFI: Conscientiousness        33.72    5.54     .72
12   ROCI--II: Integrating             28.88    3.32     .80
13   ROCI--II: Obliging                21.31    2.63     .59
14   ROCI--II: Dominating              14.56    3.16     .59
15   ROCI--II: Avoiding                20.15    4.42     .77
16   ROCI--II: Compromising            14.66    2.29     .54

N = 76 to 81

SUEIT = Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test

NEO-FFI = NEO-Five Factor Inventory

ROCI-II = Rahim's Organisational Conflict Inventory-II

Table 2: Results of Pearson's Product Moment Correlation
between El and Conflict Resolution Styles Measures

Subscales         2        3       4        5        6

1 Emotional
  Recognition
  & Expression    .34 **   -.11    .47 **   .34 **   .63 **

2 Understanding
  Emotions
  External                 -.19    .56 **   .42 **   .79 **

3 Emotional
  Direct
  Cognition                        -.15     -.16     .08

4 Emotional
  Management                                .61 **   .80 **

5 Emotional
  Control                                            .69 **

6 SUEIT: Total

7 Integrating

8 Obliging

9 Dominating

10 Avoiding

11 Compromising

Subscales         7        8       9        10       11

1 Emotional
  Recognition
  & Expression    .14      .16     -.03     -.22     -.05

2 Understanding
  Emotions
  External        .47 **   -.05    -.03     -.03     .07

3 Emotional
  Direct
  Cognition       .03      .04     .17      -.01     .05

4 Emotional
  Management      .35 **   -.07    -.14     -.19     .07

5 Emotional
  Control         .11      -.06    -.18     -.33 **  -.14

6 SUEIT: Total    .40 **   -.02    -.06     -.24 *   .03

7 Integrating              .19     -.21     .07      .32 **

8 Obliging                         .32 **   .32 **   .34 **

9 Dominating                                .31 **   .27 *

10 Avoiding                                          .47 **

11 Compromising                                      1.00

N = 73 to 81

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed)

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed)

Table 3: Results of Pearson's Product Moment Correlation
between Subscales of El and Personality Measures

Subscales           Neuroticism      Extraversion      Openness

1 Emotional
  Recognition
  & Expression        -.22               .21             .27 *

2 Understanding
  Emotions
  External            -.41 **            .26 *           .42 **

3 Emotional
  Direct
  Cognition            .39 **           -.20            -.21

4 Emotional
  Management          -.47 **            .40 **          .22

5 Emotional
  Control             -.45 **            .16             .16

6 SUEIT: Total        -.39 **            .28 *           .34 **

7 Neuroticism                           -.48 **         -.17

8 Extraversion                                           .09

9 Openness

10 Agreeableness

N = 73 to 81

Subscales          Agreeableness   Conscientiousness

1 Emotional
  Recognition
  & Expression          .18               .21

2 Understanding
  Emotions
  External              .31 **            .50 **

3 Emotional
  Direct
  Cognition            -.02              -.22

4 Emotional
  Management            .18               .36

5 Emotional
  Control               .19               .23 *

6 SUEIT: Total          .29 *             .41 **

7 Neuroticism          -.35 **           -.44 *

8 Extraversion          .32 **            .38

9 Openness             -.06               .24

10 Agreeableness       1.00              0.28 *

N = 73 to 81

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed)

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed)

Table 4: Results of Pearson' s Product Moment Correlation
between Conflict Resolution Styles and Personality Measures

    Subscales      Neuroticism     Extraversion        Openness

1   Integrating        -.22               .34 **          .21
2   Obliging            .03               .01            -.03
3   Dominating          .09              -.08            -.18
4   Avoiding            .31              -.19            -.16
5   Compromising        .13               .21            -.09

    Subscales      Agreeableness   Conscientiousness

1   Integrating         .24               .37 **
2   Obliging            .13              -.04
3   Dominating         -.15              -.10
4   Avoiding            .00              -.09
5   Compromising        .06               .11

N = 73 to 81

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed)

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed)
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Author:Godse, Anand S.; Thingujam, Nutankumar S.
Publication:Singapore Management Review
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 31, 2009
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