The Nature of Conflict Chapter One
Conflict • Fact of human life • Constructive conflict is an essential set of interpersonal skills
Conflict Defined • Conflict varies in intensity. It may seen as a (1) mild difference, (2) disagreement, (3) dispute, (4) campaign, (5) litigation, or (6) fight or war • Is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals
Effective Conflict Management • Is one aspect of interpersonal therapy, a technique for dealing with depression • An interpersonal approach to conflict management focuses on the communicative exchanges that make up the conflict episode • Intrapersonal Conflict – internal strain that creates a state of ambivalence, conflicting internal dialogue, or lack of resolution in one’s thinking and feeling – accompanies interpersonal conflict
Application • Think of an intrapersonal strain you may be feeling right now, or felt for a while in the past. What is the struggle you feel? Think of a picture or metaphor to describe what you are feeling. What words describe the internal strain? Have you ever lived through an intrapersonal conflict that did not ever become expressed? If you answered yes to this question, ask yourself if you might have expressed the conflict ever so slightly in some way. How might you express the internal conflict nonverbally, or by actions you did not take?
Family of Origin • Our family of origin socializes us into constructive and destructive ways of handling conflict that carry over into how romantic relationships are later handled.
Parental Conflict • Conflict between parents predicts the well-being of the children • Conflict between parents tends to both change the mood of household interactions and shift the parents’ attention to the negative behaviors of their children
Effects of Conflict • The number of conflicts experienced does not seem to predict poor health and well-being as much as whether the individuals perceive the conflict to be resolvable • Common responses to abuse, including verbal abuse of yelling and the silent treatment, are hypervigilance; difficulty relaxing; withdrawal at the first sign of tension or conflict; floating away, or dissociating; and not knowing or expressing what one really wants
Effects of Conflict, cont. • A child’s general feeling of self-worth are directly affected by interparental conflict
Learning about Conflict • Can assist in the process of redrawing family boundaries, letting you see which styles backfire, and which ones work best • Learning effective skills for dealing with your younger brother or sister is far better than engaging in a family dispute that will affect your children and subsequent generations as well
Conflicts at Work • Presents important challenges that affect your career development • We carry interpersonal relationships into our workplace; work life and private life intertwine
Importance of Skill Development • The skills of conflict management are not intuitively obvious • In conflict, we must learn to do what comes unnaturally • How many of us intuitively know to tell more and more of the truth when a conflict is becoming destructive rather than keeping quiet or yelling?
Unresolved Conflict • In personal relationships, unresolved conflict leads to drifting away from one another and sometimes jettisoning the relationship entirely
Emotional Intelligence • Conflict management draws upon the skills of emotional intelligence • The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships
Application • Look on page 7, at the list of list of emotional intelligence • Discuss with a small group what you believe are your three key strengths from the list. What are three areas that you believe, or have been told, need development? Name and describe some people you know who model certain areas of emotional intelligence. What do you notice that they do?
Do we have an option? • We do not have an option of staying out of conflict unless we stay out of relationships, families, work, and community
Approach to Conflict • Your approach to conflict is not an inborn set of responses but rather a developed repertoire of communication skills that are learned, refined, and practiced
Destructive Conflict • We would like to do what we can to prevent destructive, time-wasting, relationship-harming conflict • Conflicts move from episode to episode in a continually unfolding pattern of interaction between the prime parties. • Destructive conflict rely on the same old (unproductive) strategies • Trying harder often doesn’t work
Destructive Conflict, cont. • If all participants are dissatisfied with the outcomes of a conflict and think they have lost as a result, then the conflict is classified as destructive • The four horsemen of the apocalypse – when these four behaviors “ride in” to a relationship, the end is near
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse • Criticizing • Defensiveness • Stonewalling • Contempt
Criticizing • The first moments of a conflict interaction – the critical start up – can set the scene for a constructive or destructive conflict
Application • In your small group, practice changing criticisms to complaints. Think of destructive criticism, maybe you have used, or that others have used against you, and practice brainstorming about how to change these critical comments to legitimate complaints • Avoid blame • Use “I” statement • Describe instead of judging • Leave the door open for change
A Constructive Complaint • Use an “I” statement • Describe the undesirable behavior • Use neutral, not judgmental, language • Ask for a specific, behavioral change
Defensiveness • When people use defensiveness communication, they are communicating a desire to protect themselves against pain, fear, personal responsibility, or new information • Some people seemingly can’t help adopting a devil’s advocate or contrary point of view. For them conversation is a battle of wits. The enjoy the game of “batting around ideas” and are often very good at the performance
Supportive vs. Defensive Climate • Evaluation vs. description • Control vs. problem solving • Strategy vs. spontaneity • Neutrality vs. empathy • Superiority vs. equality • Certainty vs. provisionalism
Support neutralizes defensiveness • Support does not mean agreement • You can disagree and still be supportive
Stonewalling • Is more than avoidance of conflict • An attempt to signal withdrawal from communication • Maintenance of a stiff neck and frozen facial features
Contempt • Often involves a nasty kind of mockery, put-downs, hostile corrections, and nonverbal expressions of contempt • Functions as a powerful attack on the personhood of the other • Full-blown continuing contempt means that intervention of some kind is needed, or the relationship is over
Reciprocity of Negative Emotion • Can lead to destructive conflict • Three kinds of reciprocity: • Low intensity emotion is respond to in kind (anger) • High intensity emotion is met in kind (fury) • Low intensity emotion is met with high intensity emotion (hurt with rage) • Meeting negative emotion with more, especially more destructive, negative emotion leads to big problems in relationships
Communicative Behavior • Easily identified with conflict, such as when one part openly disagrees with the other • An interpersonal conflict may be operating at a more tacit level • The interpersonal struggle is expressed by the avoidance
Intrapersonal perceptions • The bedrock upon which conflicts are built • But only when there are communicative manifestations of these perceptions will an “interpersonal conflict” emerge.
Communication is the central element in all interpersonal conflict • Communication and conflict are related in the following ways: • Communication behavior often creates conflict • Communication behavior reflects conflict • Communication is the vehicle for the productive or destructive management of conflict
Interdependence • Conflict parties engage in an expressed struggle and interfere with one another because they are interdependent • A person who is not dependent upon another – that is, who has no special interest in what the other does – has no conflict with that other person • In a healthy family, everyone can talk to every other member. This builds healthy interdependence
Strategic Conflict • Conflict in which parties have choices as opposed to conflict in which the power is so disparate that there are virtually no choices • No one party in a conflict can make a decision that is totally separate – each decision affects the other conflict participants
Gridlocked Conflicts • The conflict makes you feel rejected by your partner • You keep talking but make no headway • You become entrenched and are unwilling to budge • You feel more frustrated and hurt after you talk than before
Gridlocked Conflict, cont. • Your talk is devoid of humor, amusement, or affection • You become more entrenched over time so you become insulting during your talks • More vilification makes you more polarized, extreme, and less willing to compromise • Eventually you disengage emotionally or physically or both
Perceived Incompatible Goals • People usually engage in conflict over goals that are important to them • Opposing goals are a fact of life • If goals are reframed or put in a different context, the parties can agree • Trust is built through a discussion of goals
Conclusion • Conflict brings both danger and opportunity • Changing our usual behavior, learning to “do what comes unnaturally,” requires an examination of one’s most deeply held values and spiritual beliefs