Contagious Defenses : Interaction of Emotional Contagion and Defense Styles in a Business Context with Regard to the Resistance to Change

University essay from Blekinge Tekniska Högskola; Blekinge Tekniska Högskola

Abstract: Companies have always had to adapt to external changes by innovation and reorganisation, in order to stay competitive and survive. For many industries, such as the automotive industry for example the need to quickly adapt to new conditions is expected to increase. In the automotive industry this is due to amongst other factors the globalised value chains and megatrends such as decarbonisation, autonomous vehicles and shared mobility. The megatrends could possibly be disruptive for the industry. Therefore, the ability to successfully implement necessary changes is a key ability. Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings. While protecting the individual from anxiety, they often result in a resistance to changes and is therefore problematic for organisations in need of implementing change. Emotional contagion is a subconscious process that can make people emotionally converge.  The authors propose that within a business context, emotional contagion enables stable organizational groups to converge with regard to which defense mechanisms that are employed. Within a case study of the automotive supplier Swedish Electro Magnets a quantitative analysis of defense styles was conducted based on the Defense Style Questionnaire on groups in the organisation. Three defense style categories were analysed Mature, Neurotic and Immature defense styles.  For Mature defense styles significant findings confirmed that stable groups do converge with regard to what mechanisms are employed. Neurotic defense styles were not found significant, however these results are rather uncertain with a power of 15 %. Immature defense styles could not be analysed because of inhomogeneity of variance between the groups on this variable.  The study shows that the two theories of Emotional contagion and Defence mechanism are interacting within the organisation of Swedish Electro Magnets with regard to Mature defense styles. The study also finds a large effect size, that suggests that the differences in the defense styles are visible to the naked eye of a careful observer. The large effect size makes the findings a promising field for further research to ultimately reduce the resistance to change in organisations. 

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