In both the Russian and U.S. space programs, crew safety and mission success have at times been jeopardized by critical incidents related to psychological, behavioral, and interpersonal aspects of crew performance. The modes used for handling interpersonal conflict may play a key role in such situations.
This study analyzed conflict-handling modes of three crews of four people each before and after a 264-d spaceflight simulation that was conducted in Russia in 1999-2000. Conflict was defined as a situation in which the concerns of two or more individuals appeared to be incompatible. Participants were assessed using the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which uses 30 forced-choice items to produce scores for five modes of conflict handling. Results were compared to norms developed using managers at middle and upper levels of business and government.
Both before and after isolation, average scores for all crews were above 75% for Accommodating, below 25% for Collaborating, and within the middle 50% for Competing, Avoiding, and Compromising. Statistical analyses showed no significant difference between the crews and no statistically significant shift from pre- to post-isolation.
A crew predisposition to use Accommodating most and Collaborating least may be practical in experimental settings, but is less likely to be useful in resolving conflicts within or between crews on actual flights. Given that interpersonal conflicts exist in any environment, crews in future space missions might benefit from training in conflict management skills.