Our Students in Action

David Dunaetz

Conflict in Voluntary Associations

Conflict is unavoidable in organizations, but can be especially destructive in voluntary associations.  "People will put up with an awful lot of conflict when they’re being paid," says David Dunaetz, who has taken on the dynamics of volunteer associations as his area of doctoral research.  "The reasons for staying in a volunteer association are quite different. As a volunteer, you can only reap symbolic rewards, such as praise, positive feedback, or personal satisfaction of contributing to the organization’s goals. And there are so many volunteer associations out there that if you’re not happy at one, you can easily move to another. A lot of factors can be involved, but interpersonal conflicts play a major role in pushing volunteer members out of an association."

David lists a number of types of interpersonal conflict that can disrupt associations.  "There can be conflict over the content of what the association is doing, but that is usually the surface level of the conflict. Below are the questions of relationship—are people having the positive experiences they expect out of relationships? In addition, people aren’t comfortable discussing conflict caused by identity issues (such as when someone attacks your identity, causes you to lose face, or makes you look foolish), but they can discuss the color being chosen for the association’s carpet, if it should be blue or red. If you really want a blue carpet, there’s a good chance that someone you’ve hurt will find plenty of reasons why it is absolutely essential to have a red carpet. There are also process conflicts, when people are not happy with how a question is being dealt with, and so on."

As a social psychologist, David plans to explore these issues with the aid of the Five Factor Model of personality, which has become popular in personality psychology over the past fifteen years.  "The five factors are neuroticism, openness to new ideas, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion. Someone who is highly conscientious but not open to new ideas will tend to have different conflicts than someone who is less conscientious and more open, for example. And some people are more concerned with process goals, while others are more concerned with content goals. I’ll be studying how conflict is related to attrition, if certain combinations of personality effect how long someone stays in an association depending on the type of conflict being experienced. I’ll also look at the question of power in conflicts, as determined by age, sex, education, or organizational position."

David came to CGU with a colorful history, and plenty of professional experience. After graduating with a B.S. in engineering degree from Harvey Mudd College, he pursued a M.S.E.E. at USC, where he taught non-electrical engineers in required electrical engineering classes. Later he taught English courses at an engineering school outside of Paris, and is now teaching the flip-side, providing French language training for graduate students in CGU’s School of Arts and Humanities and School of Religion.

A father of two teenagers, David is now adding "psychologist" to his list of professional titles, having already been trained as an engineer and having spent many years as a pastor. His desire is to work after graduation as a consultant for Christian organizations facing the challenges of internal conflict.  "But I’m very curious to see how these issues play out in other settings," he adds.