Conflicts emerge every day, and based on different circumstances and behavior, we react differently towards each conflict. Understanding how we usually manage our conflicts using the five style mentioned by Blake and Mouton (1984), we can formulate our own strategies in dealing with conflicts. The paper begins with a brief review of what is known about conflicts in interpersonal relationships. By knowing what is known in the field, we can fully grasp how conflict management style can help in resolving conflict. The paper ends with several tips on how conflict can be approached and resolved.
Interpersonal Conflict Resolution: The Five Principles of Conflict
Our daily lives have brought different situations and instances wherein conflicts arise. Different attitudes, behaviors, and people can make conflict yield different results. Sometimes when dealing with conflict, we feel reluctant, angry, nervous, or confident. However, no matter how stressful conflict can be, there is an opportunity for individuals to learn and develop every time it occurs.
Based on the readings of DeVito (2001), there are five key principles in understanding conflict and how individual copes and reacts with conflict. The paper will discuss personal accounts as to how it can be related in everyday situations, perceptions, and attitudes towards interpersonal conflicts. Conflict style are mentioned in DeVito (2001), citing Blake and Mouton (1984) proposed conflict management styles, which provides an understanding as to how people confront conflicts in different ways.
People deal with conflict at an individual level. As Hocker and Wilmot (1991) defined conflict, it is an intended expression of struggle between two individuals or parties, who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference among others in achieving individual goals. Based from the discussions in class, there are two major premises realized about conflict. The first one is that it is normal to experience conflicts, and second, it does not entail complete avoidance because of its negative implications, it can become productive once an individual realizes the merits of experiencing conflicts.
Interpersonal conflict: A brief literature review
Conflict may arise due to the inability of parties to resolve a variety of issues and problems. Some of which involves time and financial management, distribution of chores, habits, personality, inherent attitudes and behaviors, beliefs, and other related characteristics. However, these attributes only accounts for the emergence of disparity among individuals, and often times, conflicts arise because of verbal and behavioral expressions of incompatible interest (Zhang, 2004).
Similar to Hocker and Wilmot (1991) study, conflicts has been studied extensively in interpersonal relationships. Conflicts in interpersonal relationships is deemed pervasive, and many previous studies has gained knowledge on the different conflict management styles such as the one proposed by Blake and Mouton (1984) (see DeVito, 2001).
In 1992, Witteman explored in his study interpersonal conflicts of college students and how they were made aware of the conflict, and dealt with it. In the interpersonal scenarios mentioned by the respondents, six initiating factors were determined (cumulative annoyance, mutually cumulative annoyance, rebuff, illegitimate demand, non-cumulative annoyance, and criticism) based on three types of interpersonal relationships determined (for example, romantic relationships, friendships, and acquaintances) (Witteman, 1992). This has significantly contributed to the knowledge gained in understanding conflict and its initiating factors.
The Five Conflict Styles in Real-Life Contexts
We form different types of interpersonal relationships everyday, and nurture relationships we had for many years. As individuals mature and develop, we accumulate everything learned and taught through the years. All of our individual characteristics are shaped and molded by our opinions, beliefs, habits, and we have developed our own self based on what we know, learned, practiced, and behaved.
All the diversity in the social conditions around us permits the chance of meeting a person relatively different from us. The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine in class and we were discussing the recent on-going primary elections and campaign in the country. It became a heated debate, primarily because we have opposing political views and candidates.
It was a healthy and zealous discussion about strongly-held beliefs in the political systems each of us believes in, and as we discussed further, both of us are confronted with the conflict. We began to raise each other’s voice, interrupt while the other person is talking, making justified gestures, and making unsatisfied expressions. Suddenly, I realized that the discussion is going nowhere.
I would not give up my political beliefs, and so does he. This experience is an example of how we compete with each other to gain the advantage in discussing the issue, and eventually winning the argument. Competing is a response wherein individuals are placed in a situation where ideals, reputations, or space is violated. We sometimes respond to this situation with passive aggression, or open resistance, depending on how we became violated (Winstok, 2006).
In another situation, a group task enabled me to understand the context of collaborating with my fellow group mates. Each of us has a different approach in solving the problem. We know our individual strengths and our capabilities to do a specific task. In a group activity, it is inevitable that we come to terms with our synergy right away, thus, conflict may arise at some point. The collaborating conflict management style entails settling issues within the group by consolidating every idea into a decision which benefits the group as a whole.
I am a working student and as hard as it is to juggle priorities and responsibilities, I try to manage my time efficiently as possible. I recalled an instance wherein while I was waiting for the person to replace me on my job, he called and said he can not go to work that day because of papers he has to submit that day. I was furious, because I am also a working student.
I have a strict schedule to follow which allows me to allocate time in between classes, doing assignments, and work. It is not fair to give excuses because I also have things to do that time. As I realized the conflict, we were able to settle it with a compromise. He promised to cover my shift the next day so I can do what I was supposed to do that day. In that way, we were able to attain our own needs by considering each other’s needs.
In the case of avoiding conflict, sometimes it is better if the two parties involved were made to respect each others space and own time in contemplating the problem. This can be further exemplified in the case of intimate interpersonal conflicts which are dealt first-hand with anger and frustration (Londahl, Tverskoy, and D'Zurilla, 2005). I have the tendency to avoid confrontation especially when we both feel anger towards each other. Avoiding does not necessarily mean escaping the problem, rather it provides an opportunity from both individuals to think with an open mind, and evaluate the problem rationally. When the anger subsides, communication between individuals becomes more civil, mannered, and clear.
In the accommodating principle, individuals succumb to losing the argument for the sake of letting the other person win. As DeVito (2001) mentioned, relationships with most parents exemplifies this conflict management style. I have several reasons for accommodating my parent’s beliefs and ideals. First, I know that they know what’s best. Second, I respect them.
Third, I simply try to maintain a strong relationship with them. I experienced this the most before attending college, and like any adolescent struggling to become independent, I challenged their opinions with aggression. However, as I became mature, I became more accommodating of their opinions because I know that they know life well better than I do. In some cases where I strongly feel the opposite towards them, I simply give in, just to allow them to behave and react as any parents would.
Reacting to Conflict
Most of us have our own way to react in different conflict situations. These reactions can be regarded as conditioned responses, wherein our behavior inevitably makes as react in a certain way. However, not all reactions are conscious choices. In facing conflict, we deal with responding to the situation, and sometimes, we forget the implications of our reactions and behaviors towards the conflict.
For example, as Troop- Gordon and Asher (2005) detailed in their study of children’s goal associated with peer relationships, children aged 9 to 12 has changed their goals after encountering obstacles to conflict resolution. Both aggressive and submissive-rejected children were more likely to show anti-social behavior as they change their goals, and most of the time, their behavior towards conflict is to retaliate.
Through this study, we realize that even children, are faced with conflicts among their peers, and this has significant influence in their conflict strategies and reflected behavior. In another qualitative study by Tuval-Mashiach and
Shulman (2006) about negotiating differences and resolution skills between adolescents and young adult romantic partners, adolescent interactions were concluded to be concrete, concise, and brief. Resolution of conflicts between adolescents was based on superficial agreements or coercion of one partner. In the case of young adults, their interactions were more rich and developed, realizing that conflicts emerge because of the metaphors for the relationships. Young adults resolve conflict by either compromising or accommodating each other opinions and beliefs.
Five Tips in Managing Conflict
Drawing form real-life experiences, these are the tips I have adopted in my own conflict situations which are beneficial in different circumstances. Formulate a strategy. In understanding how we behave towards conflict, we adopt a certain behavior. A strategy maintains a behavior we consciously choose to respond with. By using a strategy, we are able to determine our purpose in resolving conflict based on what is best for both the parties involved.
When conflicts arise, discern the reaction and behavior of a partner or the other person. Know if he or she is dealing the conflict with flexibility and control over his or her behavior. If he or she is yelling, emotionally-charged, threatening, or behaving in an aggressive manner, think of a way to provide a productive resolution to the conflict.
Learn to abandon conflict once in a while. Abandoning a conflict could means you treat the conflict as pointless, not worthy of your time and effort. Sometimes when you find yourself in other people’s conflict, personal, professional, or ethical dilemmas, you have to choose not to participate in the conflict. Abandoning provides a best choice only if you deem that it is not necessarily for you to participate in the conflict.
Communicate your opinions and ideas to the person. Let him or her also say his or her own. When conflicts arise, it is sometimes due to the fact that a convergence is not made to benefit both parties involved. Communication will lead to an assurance and agreement on possible win-win situations. When talking about the problem or conflict, break it down in several parts. Try to deal with the issues involving the conflict one at a time; do not try to provide a solution just for the sake of ending the argument.
In the paper, conflict management styles and approaches wee related to real-life situations and experiences. These experiences, together with a brief literature review, provide an understanding on how conflicts emerge, and how it can be dealt with, with the proper behaviors and context based on different conflict situations. Conflicts primarily arise when two parties do not come in terms with their own personal needs and wants. Several tips in managing and approaching conflict are deeply-rooted in communication skills, and strategizing on the proper way to react to certain conflicted situations.
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- Hocker, J.L. & Wilmot, W.W. (1991). Interpersonal Conflict (3rd edition). Dubuque, IA: Wm. C Brown.
- Londahl, E., Tverskoy, A., and D'Zurilla, T. (2005). The Relations of Internalizing Symptoms to Conflict and Interpersonal Problem Solving in Close Relationships. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 29 (4), p445-462.
- Troop-Gordon, W. and Asher, S. R. (2005). Modifications in Children's Goals when Encountering Obstacles to Conflict Resolution. Child Development, 76 (3), p568-582.
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