What Drives a Tough Call: Determining the Importance of Contingency Factors and Individual Characteristics in Communication Executives’ Stance Decision-Making through a Conjoint Analysis

Abstract: To further the understanding of how communication executives make tough calls in times of organizational-public conflict, we use a conjoint analysis to identify key drivers for organizational stance decision-making. This is the first-ever conjoint analysis applied to advancing the contingency theory of strategic conflict management by examining the relative importance of key contingency factors as determined by practitioners with varied individual characteristics. This study investigates: 1) the relevant importance of and dynamics between three key contingency factors (i.e., external threats, organizational characteristics, and dominant coalition characteristics); 2) the influence of individual characteristics (e.g., gender, experience, and personal ethics) in stance decision-making process; and 3) how different types of organizational stances (i.e., general stance, action-based accommodation, and qualified-rhetoric-mixed accommodation) are determined by these contingency factors and individual characteristics in different conflict situations. Results generated among our communication executive participants include: individual characteristics (i.e., gender, ethics and social responsibility, whistleblowing tendencies, and over 20 years in the communications field) are influential for their strategic conflict management decision-making. Implications for refining the contingency theory and unearthing complex public relations decision-making processes via novel statistical techniques are discussed.