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  • A Higher OrderA Developmental Approach to Conflict on the Baseball Diamond
  • Michele Millard (bio), David C. Ogden (bio), and Kevin Warneke (bio)


The college baseball coach says he is merely interested in the umpire's point of view when he questions a call. His intention is not to belittle or berate. He wants to listen and learn. "I don't want to belittle them or disrespect them in any way so after the game I can't look at them man to man and feel like I have integrity in the way I treat them as a person."

While seeking to better understand the umpire's rationale for his call, the coach, with eight years of experience, may be using stage four of the Social Orders of Consciousness as proposed by psychologist Robert Kegan.1 Kegan almost certainly did not have baseball coaches and umpires in mind when he developed his framework for explaining and exploring conflict. While research indicates that this framework, which is based on how people make meaning in their lives, is applicable to the workplace, its presence has yet to be examined on the baseball field.

literature review

Conflict, whether in the boardroom or on the sports field, is inevitable. Wherever more than one person is involved, conflict will likely arise. Additionally, add a competitive environment and conflict flourishes. The management of the conflict within an organization, however, determines whether it is a trigger for growth and development or if it becomes destructive and unproductive.2 Not addressing conflict will most likely negatively impact personnel, as well as organizational efficiency. The role of leaders within organizations also impacts the outcome of conflict when there is a gap between their worldviews and values with their behaviors and leadership style.3

Most conflict management strategies include a list of practices to improve [End Page 133] communication and build camaraderie and techniques to mitigate negative effects.4 A better approach, however, may be seeing conflict as a developmental construct. In other words, how does the development of the person involved in the conflict impact the outcome? This paper will explore conflict from an unusual angle by examining interviews with coaches about conflict with umpires on the baseball field as seen through the lens of Robert Kegan's theory of Social Orders of Consciousness.

A review of the literature reveals that most research on conflict occurs within the context of the workplace.5 Even though sports is a billion-dollar industry and is the focus of wide attention within our culture, little research on conflict in this competitive environment, especially that using Kegan's social orders, exists. Early theories that focused on the relationship between conflict and team outcomes typically promoted a negative relationship. By contrast, conflict could be healthy in an organization when approached with the correct intention and when embedded in a culture that embraces conflict.6

How conflict is managed in the workplace and on the ball diamond impacts outcomes on the individual and organizational level. Conflict management researchers, such as Jeannie Trudel and Thomas Reio, Jr. found a connection between conflict management styles and workplace incivility.7 Susan Meyer suggests that poorly managed organizational conflict negatively impacts employee learning and job performance.8 Conflict may spiral as a result of responses to uncivil behavior, with an escalation of those behaviors occurring.9 Unresolved conflict may lead to resistance with a decrease of job satisfaction and organizational loyalty.10 Relationship conflict negatively affects team outcomes, sparking emotionality among team members and distracting them from their responsibilities.11 Team members impacted negatively by conflict may also be less open to others' suggestions and ideas.12

However, some conflict in the workplace can result in positive outcomes in group situations resulting in a better understanding of individual opinions and creative options with improved organizational performance.13 Researchers Lindred Greer, Karen Jehn, and Elizabeth Mannix examined the relationships between task, relationship, and process conflict over time.14 They speculated that when team members resolve conflict early during their time together, conflict will less likely perpetuate itself and lead to other forms of conflict. They found that process conflict, but not task or relationship conflict, occurring early in a...


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pp. 133-149
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