A Process Perspective on Inter-organizational Conflict: Splitting at Work in Mental Health Care

Elisabeth Naima Mikkelsen, Anne Petersen, Anne Reff Pedersen, Barbara Gray

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


An important but overlooked issue in the study of inter-organizational conflict concerns its psychological dynamics and how they constitute and drive organizational members to persist in conflict between organizations. Following the idea that social phenomena are constituted by not only discourse but also by unconscious dynamics, we present a process perspective on interorganizational
conflict that integrates sensemaking theory with psychodynamic psychology to address unconscious subtexts alongside textual analysis of sensemaking and organizing. Drawing on a qualitative case study of conflict between interacting mental health care organizations, we show that unconscious group mechanisms of defense against anxiety permeate professionals’ sensemaking about their inter-organizational relationship in ways that reveal that their active engagement in splitting processes come to take hold of their collective mental functioning and enactments towards each other. Based on these findings, we develop a model of the cyclic pattern of professional groups' stereotypic sensemaking of selves and the other that drive the emergence and maintenance of conflict between organizations, contributing to the literatures on sensemaking and inter-organizational conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event13th Organization Studies Workshop : Responding to Displacement, Disruption, and Division: Organizing for Social and Institutional Change - Samos, Greece
Duration: 24 May 201826 May 2018
Conference number: 13


Conference13th Organization Studies Workshop
Internet address

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