Tipultech logo

Theoretical Limitations

Sarah Ogilvie

The area of conflict frame research has received increased attention in the past ten years. A search with Google Scholar using 'conflict frame' as a key phrase within the social sciences and between the years 1985-1995 yielded 7,910 results, whereas the same search between the years 1995-2005 yielded 44,900 results (Google Scholar search, October 2005). Along with the increase in attention, the use of the concept has significantly widened. Across this time, the notion of conflict frames has been conceptualised, operationalised and measured in a variety of different ways. This notion has been adopted by economic rationalists, behavioural decision researchers, social psychologists, and communication researchers to further our understanding of conflict-related behaviours and dispute settlement. Ultimately, this trend has served to complicate cross-research comparisons.

The current study conceived of conflict frames as cognitive structures or perceptions that were categorised once they were revealed through ongoing negotiator communication. In conceptualising frames and the measurement of frames in this way, several different approaches to framing and frame characterisations were invoked and selectively combined. Whereas some researchers have measured frame types according to the overarching themes within negotiation (e.g., Ury et al., 1988], other scholars have adopted more fine-grained approaches and analysed the individual utterances of each negotiator (e.g., Drake & Donohue, 1996; Brett et al., 1998). Still other researchers have assessed segments of negotiation and identified multiple layers or levels of abstraction within the communication (e.g., the discourse analytic approach of Donnellon & Gray, 1989). Each researcher in the field of conflict frame analysis has developed or adopted frame characterisations and applied these frameworks using widely varying measurement approaches. Selecting one approach to measurement amongst many, adopting an inclusive set of frame types from previous research, and then exploring the relatively uncharted territory of frame convergence and divergence complicated the process of developing predictions.

Moreover, the frame typology developed for the current study largely drew upon conflict frame research that has explored the settlement of disputes (e.g., Donnellon & Gray, 1989; Pinkley & Northcraft, 1994; Wehr, 1979) rather than the settlement of more business-related issues. As researchers underscore, the processes involved in resolving personal disputes differs from the way that more business-oriented issues are resolved (Thompson, 1990). The frame typologies that were utilised in the current study were based upon the use of conflict frames in disputes where the relationship between parties was a key component of the dispute, such as in divorce mediations (Wehr, 1979) and in outstanding conflicts with known others (Pinkley & Northcraft, 1994). In short, the frame typology that was developed was largely based on frames that were derived from disputes that substantively differed from the negotiation task that was used in the current study: a transactive business-related negotiation.

Because the current typology drew upon non-transactive type negotiations to analyse changes in frame use across the course of more transactive type negotiations, negotiator utterances may have been forced into categories that were not indicative of the frames in use. This assertion is, in part, supported by the observation that some frames were found to be minimally used. Hence, the frame typology excluded four frame types. This assertion would also explain why negotiators who were motivated in particular ways did not adopt the frame categories that were defined as being consistent with their motivational orientation.

Although the manipulation of motivational orientation did affect differences in the adoption of initial frames within the mixed motivation condition, the types of frames adopted by the two negotiators were not necessarily consistent with their prescribed motivational orientations. These findings were not consistent with previous research, which suggests that differentially motivated negotiators behave in predictable, contrasting ways (Olekalns & Smith, 2003; Putnam, 1990). In the current research, two possibilities may explain why negotiators did not adopt framing behaviours that align with their motivational orientation. The first is that the manipulation of motivational orientation was not powerful enough to induce the predicted split between competitive and cooperative frame adoption. The second is that the frame characterisations developed for the current research did not adequately capture the types of frames likely to be adopted by competitively and cooperatively motivated negotiators.

Because there is an abundance of research that finds cooperatively and competitively motivated negotiators to behave in cooperative and competitive ways respectively, and that the manipulation of motivational orientation in the current study was successful, the frame typology developed for the current purposes might have failed to definitively capture the types of frames likely to be used by cooperatively and competitively motivated negotiators engaged in a transactive type of negotiation. Further exploration and validation would involve testing the frame typology within dispute settings in which the relationship between disputants was a significant issue.

To explore further the utility of the frame typology, a negotiator reflection exercise could be used. After identifying instances of cooperative or competitive behaviour during the negotiation, negotiators would then be required to view these instances via videotape and describe their thoughts at these points in time. Their reflections could then be categorised by researchers and negotiators according to whether they were oriented towards self considerations as opposed to considerations of self and other. Levels of agreement between categories could then be used to determine the types of expressions, or communicated frames, that could most appropriately be labelled 'cooperative' or 'competitive.'

<< >>