What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: How teams rebound from early-stage relationship conflict

April 2019 | ,

Past research overwhelmingly suggests that relationship conflict (RC) has negative effects on team processes and performance. However, little research has investigated the effects of RC through a temporal lens with an eye toward overcoming the short-term deleterious consequences of RC. Integrating threat rigidity and threat regulation theories, we first argue that RC disrupts team processes over time because members feel threatened and, second, that cognitive reappraisal, as an emotion regulation strategy, is a threat regulation mechanism by which teams can overcome RC. Specifically, we examine the influence of early-stage RC on team process trajectories, the moderating effect of team-level cognitive reappraisal on these trajectories, and the team performance implications of team processes. Testing our predictions in both field and laboratory studies with conditional linear growth modeling, we show that while teams with high early-stage RC are lower initially on critical team processes (coordination and interpersonal processes), they incrementally “rebound” from these lower levels of team processes if team members have a tendency to cognitively reappraise past affective events. Further, we find that changes in perceived threat stemming from early-stage RC drives these effects. Finally, we find that as a result of managing early-stage RC through cognitive reappraisal, team performance does not suffer. Overall, these results suggest that teams can overcome the negative effects of early-stage RC by addressing underlying appraisals of threat, and that they may benefit in the long run from the struggle of doing so. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.



  • Chase Thiel
  • Jaron Harvey
  • Bret Bradley


Journal of Management