Interpersonal conflict occurs when people:
- are interdependent (meaning they are connected, and what one person does impacts the other)
- are mutually aware that their goals are incompatible (one person will achieve while the other will not)
- perceive each other as interfering with the attainment of their own goals.
There are some common myths about conflict that should be corrected:
- Conflict is best avoided.
- Conflict means a relationship is in trouble.
- Conflict damages an interpersonal relationship.
- Conflict is destructive because it reveals our negative selves.
- Conflict always has a winner or loser.
Many issues that start conflicts within romantic relationships include: intimacy issues, power issues, personal flaws, personal distance issues, social issues, and distrust issues. One study found that the first fights were centered around uncertainty over commitment, jealousy, violation of expectations, and/or personality differences.
In workplace relationships, conflicts were around executive responsibility and coordination, as well as on organizational objectives, resources, and management style.
Friendship conflicts revolve around shared living spaces, violation of rules, sharing of activities and disagreements of ideas.
Principles of interpersonal conflict:
There are five principles of interpersonal conflict.
- Conflict is inevitable--It is a part of every interpersonal relationship. One study found that on average couples have 182 conflicts per year, which is approximately 3.5 conflicts a week, with each lasting approximately 25 minutes long, and another 30 minutes to sulk. Just because you have conflict doesn't mean your relationship is in jeopardy either. It just means that you have a relationship.
- Conflict can have negative and positive effects--It's all about the way you deal with conflict.
- Negative effects:
- Often leads to increased negative regard for the opponent.
- May deplete energy better spent elsewhere.
- May lead you to hide feelings or close yourself off from a more intimate relationship.
- Rewards may become more difficult to exchange leading to dissolution.
- Positive effects:
- Forces you to examine a problem and work toward a solution.
- May emerge with a stronger relationship.
- Enables you to state your needs.
- Often prevents hostilities from festering.
- Emphasizes the relationship is worth the effort.
- Conflict can focus on content and/or relationship issues--Content conflict focuses on objects, events, and persons usually external to the people involved in the conflict. Relationship conflict focuses on a concern with relationship issues such as who is in charge. These issues are often hidden or disguised as content conflicts.
- Conflict styles have consequences--There are five basic styles of engaging in conflict. When you compete, the person who loses concludes the conflict hasn't been resolved, just concluded for now. When you avoid, the conflict festers and probably grows, which will likely resurface later on. Accommodating means that you sacrifice your own needs to maintain harmony, but your needs are not likely going to go away. Compromising maintains the peace, but there will still be dissatisfaction over the losses endured. Collaborating is the ideal style.
Conflict management stages:
Before a conflict begins, it's important to make sure that (1) the fight is in private, (2) you are each ready to fight, (3) you know what you're fighting about, and (4) you fight about problems that can be solved.
- Define the conflict: When defining the conflict, you must define both content and relationship issues, define the problem in specific terms, focus on the present, empathize, and avoid mind reading. You also want to avoid gunnysacking (the practice of storing up grievances so they can all be unloaded at another time.
- Examine possible solutions: Brainstorm both by yourself and with your partner to try and find good possible solutions. When coming up with solutions, make sure you weigh the costs and rewards as well.
- Test the solution: Mentally practice the solution before it's put into play, and also practice the solution.
- Evaluate the solution: Is the situation better now than before? Use the six "thinking hats" to see the situation from different perspectives.
- The fact hat examines facts and figures in the problem.
- The feeling hat examines the emotions involved.
- The negative argument hat allows you to be the devil's advocate.
- The positive benefits hat looks at the upside of the solution.
- The creative new idea hat examines the problem in new ways.
- The control of thinking hat reflects on your own thinking.
- Accept or reject the solution: If you accept the solution, put it into permanent use. Also be ready to try another solution, or go back and redefine the problem. Resolve the conflict so it doesn't generate other conflicts.
Each group will take one of the conflicts below to analyze. Once you're in your groups, work through the stages of conflict management to find a solution to the problem. Once you reach the stage of evaluating the solution, each member will choose a different "hat" to portray. Discuss the different viewpoints.
- The sales person at your job is constantly late inputting figures into the system, which means you (as the accountant) are always late as well.
- You have a rather large project to do in a very short period of time. You and another person are left in charge to determine how the project will play out. You would like to get the work done quickly, but the other person wants things done in a particular way different from your own.
- Your supervisor (who has had less experience and education than you have) tells you to solve a problem in a way you know will not work, or is ineffective.
- You are an employee at a retail store. You overhear your co-workers saying very racist and sexist remarks.
- Your boss is constantly on your case about raising your sales numbers when you know that you are one of the top sales members in the business. How would you approach your boss?
- There are rumors spreading about you through the grapevine regarding your work ethic. Some employees have brought it to your attention, and have informed you as to who started the rumor.
Conflict management strategies:
There are a variety of influences that help determine the conflict strategy you will use. Some of these influences include the goals you want to achieve, your emotional state, your cognitive assessment of the situation, your personality and communication competence, and your family history.
Avoidance of conflict can involve physical flight, but can also be emotional or intellectual avoidance. This pattern is unproductive, but either individual in the conflict can fix it.
Nonnegotiation is a special type of avoidance where you refuse to discuss the conflict or even listen to the other person.
Silencers are people who literally silence the other person in the conflict.
Instead of using these techniques, take an active role, and take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Some individuals may use force and talk strategies to deal with conflicts. These people can forceful emotionally and physically. The only real alternative is to talk.
Face-detracting strategies treat the other person as incompetent or untrustworthy. One type of face-detracting strategy is beltlining. This is when you attack people's vulnerabilities to seriously injure the person or relationship. Another strategy is blaming the other person. Instead it is better to use face-enhancing techniques with help the other person maintain a positive image as able and good.
Finally there is verbal aggressiveness and argumentativeness.
Verbal aggressiveness is when you try to win an argument by inflicting psychological pain, which is a type of disconfirmation. Several tactics include teasing, cursing, ridiculing, and threatening. It also reduces the credibility of the person using the aggressiveness, but increases the credibility of the target.
Argumentativeness is your willingness to argue for a point of view, your tendency to speak your mind on significant issues, and the mode of dealing with disagreements that are the preferred alternative to verbal aggressiveness.
To use argumentativeness effectively, one must:
- Treat disagreements objectively as possible.
- Avoid attacking the other person.
- Reaffirm the other's competence.
- Avoid interrupting.
- Stress equality.
- Express interest in the other's point of view.
- Avoid presenting arguments too emotionally.
- Allow the other person to save face.
- Which is harder to achieve: compromise or win-win solutions? Why? And Which is more rewarding in the long run?
- What did your family or role models teach you about conflict? Provide examples.
- What does the media teach you about conflict? Provide examples.
- Verbal aggressiveness