An exploratory analysis of conflict dynamics in buyer-supplier relationships

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Conflict in buyer-supplier relationships is a regular occurrence (Koza and Dant, 2007), and therefore, scholars have sought to understand its nature, its antecedents, and its outcomes (Bai et al., 2016; Cai et al., 2017; Leonidou et al., 2017). While this literature has been valuable to our initial understanding of the phenomenon, conflict has largely been considered static, and the very nature of conflict as a process has been neglected (McCarter et al., 2018; Krafft et al., 2015). This theoretical limitation was reflected in a further methodological limitation where studies have used cross-sectional surveys to investigate a dynamic phenomenon. Theory on conflict dynamics, i.e. the process of emergence, management and resolution of conflict, remains significantly underdeveloped and poorly understood (Mikkelsen and Clegg, 2017). The present thesis addresses these gaps and aims at understanding longitudinal conflict and its resolution in buyer-supplier relationships.
This PhD thesis is structured around three separate, but interlinked, papers. Each study addresses different aspects of the main research objective, and provides its own theoretical and managerial contributions. Study 1 is a systematic literature review that identifies gaps in the current literature that merit further investigation. It highlights four ‘blind spots’ (cf.(Lumineau and Oliveira, 2018)) including 1) conflict asymmetry, 2) conflict valence, 3) conflict level of analysis, and 4) conflict temporality, and proposes research opportunities within and between each. Study 2 explores buyer-supplier conflict resolution including the range of resolution tactics and the context in which they are deployed. This study also provides a nuanced picture on the timing and the evolving importance of resolution tactics over the conflict episode. Study 3 aims at formulating a dynamic model of conflict processes to understand how conflict unfolds over time. It provides a phase-model with a particular focus on the dynamics of task and relationship conflict types.
The thesis seeks to contribute theoretically, methodologically and practically to the extant buyer-supplier conflict literature. Theoretically, the studies uncover dynamic complexities hidden within buyer-supplier conflict, which have hitherto been overlooked. Methodologically, the studies answer calls for more granular and longitudinal research both within the buyer-supplier (Krafft et al., 2015; Lumineau and Oliveira, 2018; Terpend et al., 2008), and more general operations management (Voss, 2010; Flynn et al., 1990) literatures. Practically, the studies seek to offer managers a more nuanced picture of conflict, as stated by Mikkelsen and Clegg (2017, p. 10) “for practitioners to feel that their experience of conflict is reflected in the theorization of conflict, such theorization must incorporate complex types of understanding”. Therefore, this study enhances managers’ understanding of the complexities inherent to conflict and its resolution, which are crucial aspects to the success of their exchange relationships (Pfajfar et al., 2017).
Date of Award13 Feb 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMichael Lewis (Supervisor) & Brian Squire (Supervisor)

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