Conflict Communication Chapter 1
How do you react to: “We need to talk”
Perception of Conflict? • Probably negative • All areas of life involve conflict • Interpersonal, group, religious, political, gender, age, power, ethnicity, etc. • Requires skillful management (not resolution) • Communication (verbal AND nonverbal) • Talk can’t fix everything • What works? What is ethical?
Research • Coser (1967, 8), asserts that conflict is "a struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power, and resources, in which the aims of the opponents are to neutralize, injure, or eliminate the rivals.” • Cold war era; win/lose perception
Research • 1973: Deutsch maintained that "conflict exists whenever incompatible activities occur . . . an action which prevents, obstructs, interferes with, injures, or in some way makes it less likely or less effective"
Research • Mack and Snyder (1973): two parties must be present, along with "position scarcity" or "resource scarcity," in addition to behaviors that "destroy, injure, thwart, or otherwise control another party or parties, . . . one in which the parties can gain (relatively) only at each other's expense"
Research • Donohue and Kolt (1992, 3): "a situation in which interdependent people express (manifest or latent) differences in satisfying their individual needs and interests, and they experience interference from each other in accomplishing these goals."
Research • Jordan (1990, 4): "conflict arises when a difference between two (or more) people necessitates change in at least one person in order for their engagement to continue and develop. The differences cannot coexist without some adjustment." • The concept of interdependence
Communication The vehicle of conflict
Conflict is normal • Neither negative nor positive • Like many other normal processes • We tend to focus on the negative examples • All growth (physical, cognitive, spiritual, etc.) is the byproduct of some form of conflict • No conflict: no growth: no life
Conflict • Management of conflict is a process • Chronological; has steps • Dynamic • Perpetual; ongoing • Source of stress • Conflict processes can be • Prevent (lessen), repair (to a degree) or restore (arrive at a new place)
Elements of Interpersonal Conflict • Situational: context is extremely important • A conflict situation requires: • Interdependent participants • Perception of incompatible goals or favor mutually exclusive means to the same end • Perception that, without some action, relationshiop will suffer • Some sense of urgency to resolve (change) • Return to perceived equilibrium
Conflict • Not all conflict is overt • Not all conflict requires verbal communication • Or even physical presence • Silent treatment, passive aggressive behaviors, avoidance, etc. • Some form of expression is required, however • Perception is all that matters • We should constantly challenge our own
Conflict • Normal part of all relationships, good or bad • The closer the relationship (good or bad): • The more frequent the conflict • The more intense the conflict • The more likely even very small issues trigger conflict • We must see this as normal; we must anticipate this in our relationships • Or they will deteriorate (entropy)
*Entropy • Systems (all dynamic processes) seek equilibrium • When output declines and inputs remain static • Resources, skills, information, experiences • Example: biosphere • Engines, organizations, families, dyads require new inputs, process changes, feedback from “outside” • Reasonable level of porosity • Without input, systems decay • Input requires conflict, which allows growth (or at least sustainability)
Conflict • The elements of a satisfying relationship are also where conflict arises: • Love • Status • Service • Information • Goods • Money • Time
The Inevitability of Conflict Principle There are no “perfect” people There are no conflict-free satisfying relationships
Violence is a special case Physical, verbal, psychological No growth, only harm Denies the autonomy of the individual: means, not an end
Chapter 2 Conflict is a Process
Conflict as Process • Not an isolated “event”; it is a series of events • When the series repeats: conflict cycle • Often destructive: they loop rather than “resolve” • There are “stages” to conflict • Processes have: • Stages of growth or decline • History: patterns emerge • Continuous change • Ingredients that interact
Conflict as Process • We tend to see ourselves, others, and relationships (ours and others’) as static • Static evaluations • “They’re a happy couple”; “He’s an angry man”; “You’re a pessimist”; “They’re so shallow” • Similarly, we tend to see conflict as a static “event” • We don’t see it’s a process (which can be managed)
Conflict as Process • Static view leads to perceptions: • We see others as unchanging, relationships are unchanging • We don’t consider the history • We don’t consider “now” as only a stage • We don’t pay attention to the “ingredients” • Others’ expectations, our fears, goals, abilities, time limits, context, place, etc.
Conflict as Process • A “resolved” conflict (one which moves us to a new place) has five stages: • Prelude to conflict stage • Frustration or latent stage • Triggering event • Initiation phase • Differentiation phase • Resolution phase • Which changes the “history,” and becomes a prelude
Conflict as Process • Prelude to conflict • The “who” (participants) • The relationship (power, history, closeness, attraction, etc.) • Other interested parties (including simple witnesses) • Physical environment • Social environment
Conflict as Process • Triggering event • A behavior that sparks a perception of conflict in at least one participant • Includes NOT doing something, as well • The trigger event may be different for each participant. Example: • For you: your best friend “made fun” of your clothes in front of others (your perception: in reality, she thought you’d find it funny, too). • For your friend: you scolded her as though she was a child (her perception: in reality, you were just hurt)
Conflict as Process • Initiation phase: • The conflict becomes overt (expressed) • At least one person lets the other know a conflict exists • Does not have to be verbal • Will often appear after a long time • Passive aggressive behavior during the wait • One or both may “play out” the initiation many times, creating and/or exaggerating the other’s responses/intentions
Conflict as Process • Differentiation phase: • Strategy to deal with the conflict begins • Constructive or destructive • Escalating and/or de-escalating • Obvious to outsiders • Opportunity for both sides to express feelings, what they intended, what they want • Sometimes, only one is willing to participate • The other may avoid, dismiss, deny, etc.
Conflict as Process • Resolution phase: • Participants agree to some outcome • Book: success = win/win (I disagree) • Avoid, ignore, etc. may be a successful, useful, “resolution” • Conflict process is cycle, so the resolution of one is part of the prelude (history) of the next • Satisfying resolution reinforces the positive perception of conflict management
Unsuccessful conflict scenarios are those that become diverted at one stage It may stop, or it may go back to an earlier stage
Conflict as Process • Conflict responses are often scripted behaviors (URP: undesired repetitive pattern) • We need scripts, but not with conflict • URPs can easily escalate the conflict cycle (schismogenesis) • Schismogenesis can be complementary or symmetrical
Common Conflict Cycles: • Confrontation avoidance cycle • A pattern of avoidance (since occasional avoidance is often useful) • Withdrawal at the first hint of conflict • Doesn’t get past stage 2 (the triggering event) • Conflict is bad perception- discomfort concerning a conflict-avoidance-conflict out of control-handle poorly-conflict is bad perception • Either conflict not resolved (hurts relationship), or it builds and erupts (mismanaged conflict and damaged relationship)
Conflict as Process • Confrontation avoidance cycle • Caused by the perception of conflict as abnormal • Excessive conflict is (like excessive harmony), but not occasional conflict • Excessive conflict andexcessive harmony prevent change, which is needed for growth • Regular conflict (not excessive) is a sign of a healthy relationship • How to deal with an avoider? Don’t let them avoid
Conflict as Process • Confrontation avoidance cycle • Special form: “chilling effect” • When one withholds conflict communication out of fear of reaction, or potential loss of realtionship • Common when the other has greater power (money, options, attractiveness, etc.) • Cycle: Fear – perception that confrontation is not worth the risk – decreased commitment or communication –back to beginning or death of the relationship
“Chilling Effect” • Similar, but is distinct from confrontation avoidance cycle • Unique to a relationship (two people) • Includes fear • Not necessarily true of one’s typical conflict response • Response? • Move past the fear, or get outside help (for abusive partners)
Common Conflict Cycles: • Competitive escalation • Fails to advance past the differentiation stage • Divergence rather than integration • Cause: desire to “win” • Cycle: unresolved conflict history – perception of conflict – competitive communication – competitive response – someone “wins” – loser adds another unresolved conflict
Competitive Escalation • How to respond? • See conflict communication as an exchange of ideas (true argument) rather than a competition • Ask yourself: what’s my goal? • To win the argument? • To learn, resolve, repair, heal? • Violence (physical or verbal) cycle is a special case • *
Competitive Escalation • Static evaluations and the use of absolutes become common • You are a … • You’re always… • Often grows from just wanting to win, to wanting to hurt • “Backing down” is seen as losing face, power • Anger leads to passive aggressive behavior, or to outright vengeful acts
Competitive Escalation • Behaviors that escalate: • Yelling, standing up, space invasion • Threatening gestures, pushing • Swearing, insulting, disconfirming, threatening • Relating to sensitive areas • Damaging possessions • Ignoring, avoiding • Notice how many are nonverbal?
Confrontation Process • Preparation • Express desire to talk • Confront • Listen with an open mind • Resolve • Follow up
Confrontation Process • Preparation: • Identify problem/needs/issues • Not a simple task; the most important step • Lack of a solution is not a problem • Self-talk needed: who, what, when, etc. • How serious is it, who’s responsible, me? • Most important: decide what you want • Use imagined interaction: be ready for responses • But do it with their point of view in mind, too • Self-fulfilling prophecies can affect outcomes
Confrontation Process • Express desire to talk • Agree on a time, don’t demand it, resist the need to do it NOW • Helps to mitigate strong emotional reactions • Don’t wait to long either • Pick a place appropriate for the talk, consider the impact of others, pressure of the environment, etc. • Private • Free of distractions
Confrontation Process • Confront • Assertiveness is important (but be careful) • Be aware of your nonverbals • Maintain comfortable eye contact (not too much or too little) • Speak in a controlled manner, but firmly • Explain your concerns (without judging the other), but find points of agreement, too • Avoid abstractions, exaggerations, absolutes, it statements, you statements
Confrontation Process • Listen with an open mind • Empathy, genuine listening (not just “hearing”), respect and protect face issues • Provide good, and honest, feedback • Speak about what YOU think or feel, don’t tell the other what he/she thinks, feels, etc. (disconfirming). Don’t “one-up” them in the desire to help • Anticipate informational reception apprehension • Respond: rephrase, ask about wants, supply answers when none are provided • Act, don’t react
Confrontation Process • Resolve • Be sure the agreement is mutual (are you sure?) • Put it in writing? Maybe • Be specific about what you’re agreeing about • Specific, observable actions, not vague concepts • Follow up • Set a time and place to talk again • Make sure enough time has passed; be reasonable • Balance negative feedback with positive • Stay on track; don’t allow minor issues to trigger new conflict situations
Confrontation Process • Does it work? • Not always, but it certainly optimizes the chance • Any improvement in the conflict experience helps one’s perception of conflict as natural, normal, even desirable • We begin to notice when it works (or not), why it did (or not) • Remember it’s a process (tool), so you can get better each time
*Emotional Expression in Conflict Communication • Use facilitative, rather than debilitative communication whenever possible • Rage, terror, depression, jealousy • These are debilitative emotions (weaken the relationship) • Contrast with facilitative: enable relationships • Facilitative emotions are not all positive emotions • Often only a difference in intensity and/or duration • Anger can be facilitative, rage is debilitative • True of fear, admiration, excitement etc.
Conflict Management Processes • *Gross et al (2004) studies show: • Controlling style judged inappropriate when used by others, but appropriate when used by the self (self-serving bias) • Kassing’s research on dissent as a conflict response • E.g. Employees more likely to express dissent about colleagues and organizational practices than about safety and ethical concerns
*Organizational Conflict (Van Slyke, 1997) • “Managers who thrive amidst the upheaval, caused by reengineering and downsizing, value conflict. Managers who lead, encourage conflict” • Not win/lose or right/wrong; see it as a puzzle and a potential resource • Deal with the genuine issue, not the stated one • How? Seek the core motivation (money, status, recognition, etc.?)
*Organizational Issue • Be aware of contradictions in expectations • Conformity/teamwork versus: • Flexibility • Spontaneity • Empowerment • Creativeness • Individuality
*Organizational Issue • Democratic form and Stohl and Cheney’s paradoxes • Structure: spontaneity and creativity, but our way • Agency: Do it your way, as long as it’s our way • Identity: Be self-managing to reach organizational goals • Power: I order you to be independent