Email Adaptation for Conflict Handling: A Case Study of Cross‐border Inter‐organisational Partnership in East Asia

Joyce Yi‐Hui Lee, Niki Panteli, Anne Marie Bülow, Carol Hsu

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This paper explores the context of email‐based communication in anestablished but fragile, inter‐organisational partnership, which wasoften overlain with conflict. Drawing upon adaptation theory, thisstudy explores how participants adapt to the use of email to handleconflict. Extensive data were obtained during a 6‐month field studyof a case of cross‐border inter‐organisational collaboration in EastAsia. We observed that the individuals involved in the cross‐borderpartnership used email as a lean form of communication to stopcovert conflict from explicitly emerging. In contrast to prior researchon the leanness of email in managing conflict, we found that underthe described conflict situation the very leanness of emailwas appreciated and thus, exploited by those concerned tomanage the conflict situation. Specifically, we identified 4 keyconflict‐triggered adaptation strategies, namely, interactionavoidance, disempowering, blame‐protection, and image‐shelteringthat drove the ways in which email was adapted to maintainorganisational partnerships under conflict.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Systems Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)318-339
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Published online: 27 January 2017


  • Adaptation theory
  • Conflict
  • Email
  • Inter‐organisational partnerships
  • Virtual teams

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