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  • Writer's pictureNikki Latham

Conflict in swimming pools is ‘good for business’, study shows

Economists used a unique experiment to explore conflict dynamics and self-interest. They hired actors to approach unsuspecting swimmers in Brisbane's swimming pools and ask them to change lanes. By manipulating the actors' justifications and observing the swimmers' responses, the researchers discovered that swimmers were more likely to comply when actors emphasized the value of lane space. However, swimmers were more resistant and engaged in more conflict when there was limited lane space available. This experiment offers insights for improving conflict management strategies.

The study challenges the idea that conflict is solely driven by self-interest. It highlights the complex connection between scarcity, altruism, and conflict dynamics, suggesting that people can still be altruistic even in intense conflict situations. Published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the research provides insights into human behaviour during conflicts over limited resources. The researchers believe these findings can assist business leaders and managers in developing better conflict management strategies, fostering teamwork, and cultivating a cooperative and productive work environment.

Loukas Balafoutas, Professor in Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “In studying an environment where altruistic motives and self-interest co-exist and interact, our research has valuable implications for business leaders and organisations.
“Business leaders and managers should assess the availability of resources within their organisations and understand how employees perceive and value those resources. Organisations can mitigate conflicts and enhance cooperation among team members by aligning resource allocation with employees’ valuations of those resources.”
Co-author Dr Helena Fornwagner added: “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the study reveals that individuals can exhibit altruistic behaviour even in conflictual scenarios. This has implications for workplace dynamics and team management.
“Managers should foster a culture that encourages cooperation and empathy among employees, even when they are competing for limited resources or opportunities. By promoting pro-social behaviour, organisations can maintain a harmonious work environment and reduce the negative impacts of conflict.”

The study "Conflict in the pool: A field experiment" was conducted by Professor Loukas Balafoutas, Dr Helena Fornwagner, Associate Professor Marco Faravelli, and Associate Professor Roman Sheremeta. It was published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

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