Did the conflict interaction have uncontrolled escalation or avoidance?

Assigned Discussion Questions: after reading all of Chapter 1, think of a specific conflict situation you experienced or observed. Analyze the situation using concepts from this chapter.

  1. Did the conflict interaction have uncontrolled escalation or avoidance?
  2. Did the conflict go through differentiation and integration stages?
  3. What moves and countermoves did the involved parties use and did these moves affect the course of interaction in the conflict?
  4. Did the conflict interaction change the relationship?
  5. What was the climate of the situation and how did it affect the conflict interaction?

Each post should do the following:

  • Analyze the assigned discussion questions according to requirements for the week.
  • Make specific connections to the reading.
  • Posts will be made in the Canvas discussion forum
  • Each post should be at least 3 paragraphs in length.

    Working Through Conflict

    Now in its eighth edition, Working Through Conflict provides an introduction to conflict and conflict management that is firmly grounded in current theory, research, and practice, covering a range of conflict settings (interpersonal, group, and organizational). The text includes an abundance of real life case studies that encompass a spectrum of theoretical perspectives. Its emphasis on application makes it highly accessible to students, while expanding their comprehension of conflict theory and practical skills. This new edition features a wealth of up-to-date research and case examples, suggested readings and video resources, and integrated questions for review and discussion.

    Joseph P. Folger is Professor of Adult & Organizational Development at Temple University. He is co-founder and current president of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation.

    Marshall Scott Poole is the David L. Swanson Professor of Communication, Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Director of I-CHASS: The Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

    Randall K. Stutman is Managing Partner of CRA, Inc. He is the author of Communication in Legal Advocacy (with Richard D. Rieke, 2008).




    Working Through Conflict

    Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations

    Eighth Edition

    Joseph P. Folger Marshall Scott Poole Randall K. Stutman




    Eighth edition published 2018 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

    and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN

    Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

    © 2018 Taylor & Francis

    The right of Joseph P. Folger, Marshall Scott Poole, and Randall K. Stutman to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

    Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

    First edition published by Pearson Education, Inc. 2001

    Seventh edition published by Routledge 2016

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Folger, Joseph P., 1951– author. | Poole, Marshall Scott, 1951– | Stutman, Randall K.,

    1957– Title: Working through conflict : strategies for relationships, groups, and organizations /

    Joseph P. Folger, Marshall Scott Poole, Randall K. Stutman. Description: 8th edition. | New York, NY : Routledge, 2018. Identifiers: LCCN 2017029114 | ISBN 9781138238954 (hardback) | ISBN 9781138233928 (pbk.) Subjects: LCSH: Social conflict. | Conflict (Psychology) | Conflict management. | Social

    interaction. | Interpersonal conflict. Classification: LCC HM1121 .F65 2018 | DDC 303.6—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017029114

    ISBN: 978-1-138-23895-4 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-23392-8 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-29629-6 (ebk)

    Typeset in ITC Giovanni by Apex CoVantage, LLC

    Visit the companion website at www.routledge.com/cw/folger










    To our parents:

    Ed and Virginia Ed and Helen Bernie and Marge





    List of Cases Preface Acknowledgments

    Introduction Case I.1A The Women’s Hotline Case Case I.1B The Women’s Hotline Case I.1 Conflict Defined I.2 Arenas for Conflict I.3 Communication Media and Conflict Interaction I.4 Productive and Destructive Conflict Interaction I.5 Judgments About Conflict Outcomes I.6 Plan of the Book I.7 Summary and Review I.8 Activities

    Chapter 1  Communication and Conflict 1.1 A Model of Effective Conflict Management

    1.1.1 Moving Through Differentiation and Integration 1.1.2 Taking the Middle Path: Moving Toward Integration 1.1.3 Recognizing Destructive Cycles 1.1.4 Tacking Against the Wind

    1.2 Properties of Conflict Interaction 1.2.1 Property 1: Conflict Is Constituted and Sustained by Moves and Countermoves During Interaction 1.2.2 Property 2: Patterns of Behavior in Conflicts Tend to Perpetuate Themselves 1.2.3 Property 3: Conflict Interaction Is Influenced by and in Turn Affects Relationships

    Exhibit 1.1 Confrontation Episodes Theory 1.2.4 Property 4: Conflict Interaction Is Influenced by Context

    Case 1.1 The Columnist’s Brown Bag 1.3 Summary and Review 1.4 Activities 1.5 Conclusion

    Chapter 2  The Inner Experience of Conflict




    Case 2.1 The Parking Lot Scuffle 2.1 The Psychodynamic Perspective Exhibit 2.1 Collusion and Intractable Conflict Case 2.2 Psychodynamic Theory and the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.2 Emotion and Conflict Exhibit 2.2 Verbal Aggressiveness Case 2.3 Emotion in the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.3 Social Cognition and Conflict

    2.3.1 Social Knowledge About Conflict and Conflict Interaction 2.3.2 Social Cognitive Processes and Conflict

    Case 2.4 Social Knowledge About Conflict and the Parking Lot Scuffle Case 2.5 Expectancy Violations and the Parking Lot Scuffle Case 2.6 The Role of Attributions in the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.4 The Interaction of Psychodynamics, Emotion, and Social Cognition in Conflict 2.5 Summary and Review 2.6 Activities 2.7 Conclusion

    Chapter 3  Conflict Interaction 3.1 Stages of Conflict

    3.1.1 Rummel’s Five-Stage Model 3.1.2 Pondy’s Model 3.1.3 Stage Models of Negotiation 3.1.4 Insights of Stage Models of Conflict

    Case 3.1 Stage Models and the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.2 Interdependence Case 3.2 Interdependence and the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.3 Reciprocity and Compensation Exhibit 3.1 Can Conflict Competence Be Assessed? Case 3.3 Reciprocity and Compensation in the Parking Lot Scuffle Exhibit 3.2 The Tit-For-Tat Strategy 3.4 Framing Issues in Conflict Interaction Case 3.4 Issue Framing and the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.5 Social Identity and Intergroup Conflict Case 3.5 Intergroup Conflict Dynamics and the Parking Lot Scuffle Exhibit 3.3 Counteracting the Negative Impacts of Social Identity and Intergroup Conflict 3.6 Summary and Review 3.7 Activities 3.8 Conclusion

    Chapter 4  Conflict Styles and Strategic Conflict Interaction 4.1 Origins of Conflict Styles Case 4.1 Conflict Styles in the Parking Lot Scuffle




    4.2 What Is a Conflict Style? 4.3 An Expanded View of Conflict Styles

    4.3.1 Competing 4.3.2 Avoiding 4.3.3 Accommodating 4.3.4 Compromising 4.3.5 Collaborating

    4.4 Determining the Styles of Others 4.5 Pairings of Conflict Styles 4.6 Shifting Styles During Conflict Episodes Case 4.2 College Roommates 4.7 Selecting Conflict Styles Exhibit 4.1 A Procedure for Selecting Conflict Styles 4.8 Cultural, Gender, and Racial Influences on Conflict Styles

    4.8.1 Cultural Influences 4.8.2 Gender Influences 4.8.3 Racial and Ethnic Influences

    4.9 Styles and Tactics in Practice Case 4.3 The Would-Be Borrower 4.10 Summary and Review 4.11 Activities 4.12 Conclusion

    Chapter 5  Power: The Architecture of Conflict 5.1 Power and the Emergence of Conflict Case 5.1A A Raid on the Student Activity Fees Fund Case 5.1B A Raid on the Student Activity Fees Fund 5.2 A Relational View of Power

    5.2.1 Forms of Power Case 5.2 The Amazing Hacker

    5.2.2 Social Categorization 5.2.3 The Mystique of Power 5.2.4 Interaction 5.2.5 Legitimacy 5.2.6 Endorsement and Power

    5.3 Power and Conflict Interaction Case 5.3 The Creativity Development Committee 5.4 The Use of Power in Conflict Tactics

    5.4.1 Threats and Promises 5.4.2 Relational Control 5.4.3 Issue Control

    5.5 The Balance of Power in Conflict 5.5.1 The Dilemmas of Strength

    Case 5.4 The Copywriters’ Committee Case 5.5 Unbalanced Intimacy




    Case 5.6 Job Resignation at a Social Service Agency 5.5.2 The Dangers of Weakness 5.5.3 Cultural Differences in Values Concerning Power

    5.6 Working with Power 5.6.1 Diagnosing the Role of Power in Conflict 5.6.2 Fostering Shared Power in Conflicts 5.6.3 Bolstering the Position of Those Not Typically in Power

    5.7 Summary and Review 5.8 Activities 5.9 Conclusion

    Chapter 6  Face-Saving 6.1 The Dimensions of Face 6.2 Face-Loss as It Relates to Face-Saving 6.3 A Threat to Flexibility in Conflict Interaction Case 6.1 The Professor’s Decision Case 6.2 The Outspoken Member Case 6.3 The Controversial Team Member 6.4 Conflict Interaction as a Face-Saving Arena 6.5 Face-Saving Frames in Conflict Interaction

    6.5.1 Resisting Unjust Intimidation 6.5.2 Refusing to Give on a Position 6.5.3 Suppressing Conflict Issues

    6.6 Face-Saving in Other Cultures 6.7 Face-Giving Strategies Exhibit 6.1 Why Do Meteorologists Never Apologize? Exhibit 6.2 Disagreeing Agreeably 6.8 Working with Face-Saving Issues Exhibit 6.3 When Honor Can Kill Case 6.4 The Productivity and Performance Report 6.9 Summary and Review 6.10 Activities 6.11 Conclusion

    Chapter 7  Climate and Conflict Interaction 7.1 Climate and Conflict Case 7.1 Riverdale Halfway House

    7.1.1 More Precisely Defining Climate 7.1.2 Climate and Conflict Interaction

    Exhibit 7.1 Identifying Climates 7.2 Working with Climate Case 7.2 Breakup at the Bakery Exhibit 7.2 Climate and Predicting What Marriages Survive Case 7.3 The Expanding Printing Company 7.3 The Leader’s Impact on Climate




    Case 7.4 The Start-Up 7.4 Summary and Review 7.5 Activities 7.6 Conclusion

    Chapter 8  Managing Conflict 8.1 Review of the Normative Model for Conflict Management 8.2 Navigating Differentiation

    8.2.1 Framing Problems or Issues 8.2.2 Rethinking How Problems Are Defined

    Case 8.1 The Psychological Evaluation Unit 8.2.3 Cultivating a Collaborative Attitude 8.2.4 Moving from Differentiation to Integration

    8.3 A Procedure for Managing Conflicts Exhibit 8.1 A Procedure for Moving Through Differentiation and Integration 8.4 Addressing Severe Challenges to Conflict Integration

    8.4.1 Challenging Belief Systems That Escalate Conflict Responses 8.4.2 Moving Beyond Deep Transgressions Through Forgiveness

    8.5 Dispute Systems: Managing Conflicts Within Organizations Exhibit 8.2 What Type of a Dispute Resolution System Does an Organization Have?

    8.5.1 Working with Organizational Dispute Resolution Systems 8.6 Summary and Review 8.7 Activities 8.8 Conclusion

    Chapter 9  Third Party Intervention 9.1 Property 1: Conflict Interaction Is Constituted and Sustained by Moves and Countermoves During Interaction

    9.1.1 Third Party Mandate 9.1.2 Responsiveness to Emerging Interaction

    Case 9.1 Organizational Co-Heads Case 9.2 The Family Conflict Case 9.3 Mediator Pressure and the Intransigent Negotiator 9.2 Property 2: Patterns of Behavior in Conflict Tend to Perpetuate Themselves

    9.2.1 Third Parties and Conflict Cycles Case 9.4 Party Process Control Case 9.5 Neighbor Noise Problems

    9.2.2 Third Parties and the Overall Shape of Conflict Behavior Exhibit 9.1 Third Parties, Differentiation, and Integration 9.3 Property 3: Conflict Interaction Is Influenced by, and in Turn Affects, Relationships 9.4 Property 4: Conflict Interaction Is Influenced by the Context in Which It Occurs




    9.4.1 Third Party Roles and Ideologies Exhibit 9.2 Transformative Mediation: A Relational Approach to Conflict Intervention

    9.4.2 Third Party Roles and Climate Exhibit 9.3 Testing Your Own Ability to Intervene Transformatively 9.5 Summary and Review 9.6 Activities 9.7 Conclusion

    References Index





    I.1A The Women’s Hotline Case I.1B The Women’s Hotline Case 1.1  The Columnist’s Brown Bag 2.1  The Parking Lot Scuffle 2.2  Psychodynamic Theory and the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.3  Emotion in the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.4  Social Knowledge About Conflict and the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.5  Expectancy Violations and the Parking Lot Scuffle 2.6  The Role of Attributions in the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.1  Stage Models and the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.2  Interdependence and the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.3  Reciprocity and Compensation in the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.4  Issue Framing and the Parking Lot Scuffle 3.5  Intergroup Conflict Dynamics and the Parking Lot Scuffle 4.1  Conflict Styles in the Parking Lot Scuffle 4.2  College Roommates 4.3  The Would-Be Borrower 5.1A A Raid on the Student Activity Fees Fund 5.1B A Raid on the Student Activity Fees Fund 5.2  The Amazing Hacker 5.3  The Creativity Development Committee 5.4  The Copywriters’ Committee 5.5  Unbalanced Intimacy 5.6  Job Resignation at a Social Service Agency 6.1  The Professor’s Decision 6.2  The Outspoken Member 6.3  The Controversial Team Member 6.4  The Productivity and Performance Report 7.1  Riverdale Halfway House 7.2  Breakup at the Bakery 7.3  The Expanding Printing Company 7.4  The Start-Up 8.1  The Psychological Evaluation Unit 9.1  Organizational Co-Heads 9.2  The Family Conflict 9.3  Mediator Pressure and the Intransigent Negotiator 9.4  Party Process Control




    9.5  Neighbor Noise Problems





    The Study of Conflict The main objective of Working Through Conflict is to provide a summary and synthesis of social science research and theory on conflict. It offers students of conflict a review of the core concepts and theoretical frameworks that enhance an understanding of human behavior in a wide range of conflict situations. The research and theory covered in this book reflect the many social science disciplines that have contributed to the study of conflict.

    Although it takes an interdisciplinary view of conflict, this book emphasizes understanding conflict as a communication phenomenon. It assumes that conflict is something that people create and shape as they interact with each other. Sometimes conflict interaction is immediate and face-to-face. In other instances, it is played out in a series of moves, actions, and responses that occur over time and in different places. This book highlights the interactive nature of conflict, no matter what form it takes. This focus on communication means that readers gain an appreciation for how mutual influence occurs, how language and message choices shape conflict, and how patterns of behavior and the structure of human discourse create important dimensions of any unfolding conflict.

    In addition, Working Through Conflict offers a road map for how theory and research can be used to understand and influence conflict dynamics in everyday life. The field of conflict management is supported by a long history of useful research and theory that forms a basis for a wide variety of conflict management work. This book demonstrates how conflicts across settings can be understood by seeing them through a range of theoretical lenses. It illustrates how students of conflict can begin thinking and acting in ways that can have profound effects on the dynamics of difficult conflicts.

    New to This Edition We have revised this eighth edition of Working Through Conflict to reflect new developments in theory and research on conflict and conflict management. We also clarified and expanded certain discussions to make this the most user-friendly edition to date, with special emphasis on applying theory to practical, contemporary topics. Here are the highlights of the changes in this eighth edition:

    Updated citations and inclusion of new literature throughout the volume; Suggested activities for each chapter to engage students in exploring the meaning and significance of the ideas discussed in the chapter; A new section on the impact of communication media on conflict and conflict interaction in the Introduction;




    Inclusion of the latest scholarship of the impact of media on conflict throughout the book; Updating of Chapter 4 to include new research on conflict styles and discussion of racial and ethnic impacts on conflict styles; A revised Chapter 5 to streamline and better define how power is produced in interaction and the role this plays in conflict; A new case study has been added to Chapter 5; Discussion of the leader’s role in shaping climate in Chapter 7.

    While we capture the most current thinking about the topics covered in this book, we have also retained older references because they point to classic, core work that has served as the foundation for more recent studies. New, contemporary scholarship is important, but we believe that students should also be aware of the field’s conceptual roots as represented in classic conflict literature.

    We consider conflicts occurring in a wide range of arenas, from intimate relationships, marriages, and friendships to group, inter-group, organizational, and negotiation settings. This added breadth makes the book suitable as a primary text for courses in conflict and conflict management, as well as a useful supplement to courses that devote substantial attention to conflict or third party work.

    The title of this book is an intentional double entendre. Because its major emphasis is on communication patterns people use when attempting to manage conflict, we hope that the book will help people successfully work through difficult conflicts. The book is also built on the assumption that effective work is often promoted by the emergence and productive use of conflict. It is our hope that this book will encourage people to confront their conflicts and to work through them creatively rather than suppressing or superficially “resolving” conflicts.

    Developing Theory-Based Intuition It is often said that people who are good at their work have excellent intuition. Usually this means that they instinctively make good decisions and employ effective strategies to create change or accomplish productive objectives. Intuition is often assumed to be innate—it is seen as a gift that some people have. But in most cases effective professional intuition comes from a broad background of knowledge, study, and experience gained over time. Working Through Conflict is written for those who want to develop their intuition about how to react, interact, and intervene in conflict situations. Conflict is usually complex—it is often multilayered, steeped in a history of events, and shaped by diverse perspectives and understandings. As a result, having good intuition about conflict starts by mastering a broad repertoire of ideas— ideas that create different explanations for why conflict interaction moves in destructive or constructive directions.

    Working Through Conflict covers a wide range of essential concepts and theories that clarify the practical implications for managing conflicts in relationships, groups, teams, and organizations. It is a primer for those who might want to pursue professional work in the conflict management field as mediators, ombudspersons, facilitators, or conciliators. It can also help build a strong intuition in those who deal with conflict daily in work and professional




    settings and in those who want to have an impact on conflicts in their personal lives within families, romantic relationships, marriages, and friendships.





    We thank Ann Bryan and David Roache for assistance and ideas related to this revision. Once again, we owe our greatest debt to our colleagues at the Center for Conflict Resolution in Madison, Wisconsin. We are very grateful to Lonnie Weiss for her insight and help with our analyses. We also thank Syd Bernard, Jim Carrilon, Betsy Densmore, Robert Everett, Jay Herman, Jan Shubert, Rick Sloan, Dennis Smith, Tommy Vines, and Kathy Zoppi for their responses to parts or all of the initial manuscript of the first edition of this book. We also thank Linda Klug, Jean Kebis, and Wayne Beach for supplying the transcript of interaction in Chapter 6. Subsequent editions were greatly improved by comments from Charley Conrad, Melissa Dobosh, Mistee Freeman, Tricia Jones, Leanne Knobloch, Phoebe Kruger, Kevin Real, Bethany Sills, Cynthia Stohl, Shirley A. Van Hoeven, and Elizabeth Vegso.

    We appreciate the feedback reviewers provided for this revision: Stuart Allen, Corey Young, Michael Comos, and Kathy Krone. We also want to express our continued gratitude to reviewers of previous editions, whose wisdom persists still: Wayne Beach, Tom Biesecker, Lori Carrell, Steven Colmbs, Charles R. Conrad, Alice Crume, Robert J. Doolittle, David A. Frank, Dennis Gouran, Bruce Gronbeck, Dale Hample, Thomas Harris, Gary Hartzell, Tricia Jones, Keven E. McCleary, Laura L. Jansma, Sara E. Newell, Linda Putnam, Susan Rice, Gale Richards, Tracy Routsong, Dale L. Shannon, Cynthia Stohl, Michael Sunnafrank, Stella Ting- Toomey, Shirley Van Hoeven, Hal R. Witteman, and Paul Yelsma.

    The excellent editorial and production staff at Routledge, Linda Bathgate, Laura Briskman, Nicole Salazar, and Jenny Guildford have greatly assisted with the production of this volume.

    Joseph P. Folger Marshall Scott Poole Randall K. Stutman





    Conflict offers a mixture of the good, the bad, and the uncertain. On the positive side, conflicts allow us to air important issues; they produce new and creative ideas; they release built-up tensions. Handled properly, conflicts can strengthen relationships; they can help groups and organizations to re-evaluate and clarify goals and missions; and they can also initiate social change to eliminate inequities and injustice. These advantages suggest that conflict is normal and healthy, and they underscore the importance of understanding and handling conflict properly.

    But perhaps more familiar is the negative side of conflict. Heated exchanges spiral out of control, resulting in frustration, tension, hard feelings, and, ultimately, more conflict. Low- grade family conflicts, perpetuated through criticism, arguments, nagging, and verbal abuse, not only distance parents from children and spouses from one another but also lower self- esteem and create problems that can follow people throughout their entire lives. Additionally, conflicts are sometimes violent, not only between strangers but also in the workplace and within the family. Sometimes the source of frustration is not being able to get someone else to engage a conflict. If one friend persistently denies that a problem exists or changes the subject when it comes up, the other cannot discuss the things that are bothering her or him, and the friendship suffers. The various negative experiences we all have with conflict are reinforced in the media, where it often seems that the only effective way to solve problems is to shoot somebody.

    Conflicts also bring uncertainty. As we will see, the great “unpredictables” in life often arise in interactions we have with others. Conversations, meetings, and conflicts all have in common the fact that they may suddenly move in unexpected directions. Indeed, the uncertainties that arise during conflicts often cause them to move in negative directions.

    The twists and turns of the following case—in this instance a conflict in a small office—offer a good illustration of the positive, negative, and uncertain sides of conflict. The conflict in Case 1.1 at the women’s hotline initially exhibits several negative features and might easily move in a destructive direction.

    Case Study I.1 A The Women’s Hotline Case

    Imagine yourself as a staff member in this organization. How would you react as this conflict unfolded? What is it about this particular conflict that makes it seem difficult to face—let alone solve?

    Women’s Hotline is a rape and domestic crisis center in a medium-sized city. The center employed seven full- and part-time workers. The workers, all women, formed a cohesive unit and made all important decisions as a group. There were no formal




    supervisors. The hotline started as a voluntary organization and had grown by capturing local and federal funds. The group remained proud of its roots in a democratic, feminist tradition.

    The atmosphere at the hotline was rather informal. The staff members saw each other as friends, but there was an implicit understanding that people should not have to take responsibility for each other’s cases. Because the hotline’s work was draining, having to handle each other’s worries could create an unbearable strain. This norm encouraged workers to work on their own and keep problems to themselves.

    The conflict arose when Diane, a new counselor who had only six months of experience, was involved in a very disturbing incident. One of her clients was killed by a man who had previously raped her. Diane had trouble dealing with this incident. She felt guilty about it; she questioned her own ability and asked herself whether she might have been able to prevent this tragedy. In the months following, Diane had increasing difficulty in coping with her feelings and began to feel that her co-workers were not giving her the support she needed. Diane had no supervisor to turn to, and, although her friends outside the hotline were helpful, she did not believe they could understand the pressure as well as her co-workers could.

    Since the murder, Diane had not been able to work to full capacity, and she began to notice some resentment from the other counselors. She felt the other staff members were more concerned about whether she was adding to their workloads than whether she was recovering from the traumatic incident. Although Diane did not realize it at the time, most of the staff members felt she had been slow to take on responsibilities even before her client was killed. They thought Diane had generally asked for more help than other staff members and that these requests were adding to their own responsibilities. No one was willing to tell Diane about these feelings after the incident because they realized she was very disturbed. After six months, Diane believed she could no longer continue to work effectively. She felt pressure from the others at the center, and she was still shaken by the tragedy. She requested two weeks off with pay to get away from the work situation for a while, to reduce the stress she felt, and to come back with renewed energy. The staff, feeling that Diane was slacking off, denied this request. They responded by outlining, in writing, what they saw as the responsibilities of a full-time staff worker. Diane was angry when she realized her request had been denied, and she decided to file a formal work grievance.

    Diane and the staff felt bad about having to resort to such a formal, adversarial procedure. No staff member had ever filed a work grievance, and the group was embarrassed by its inability to deal with the problem on a more informal basis. These feelings created additional tension between Diane and the staff.

    Discussion Questions

    Can you foresee any benefits to this conflict? Is it possible to foresee whether a conflict will move in a constructive or destructive direction? What clues would lead you to believe that this conflict is going to be productive?




    Several elements of this case suggest a move in a negative direction. First, the situation at the hotline was tense and threatening. This was a difficult time for the workers. Even for “old hands” at negotiation, conflicts are often unpleasant and frightening. Second, the parties experienced a great deal of uncertainty. They were unable to understand what was going on and how their behavior affected the conflict. Conflicts are confusing; actions can have consequences quite different from what is intended because the situation is more complicated than we had assumed. Diane did not know her co-workers thought she was slacking even before the tragedy. When she asked for time off she was surprised at their refusal, and her angry reaction nearly started a major battle. Third, the situation was fragile. A conflict may evolve in very different ways depending on the behavior of just a single worker. If, for example, the staff chose to fire Diane, the conflict may have been squelched, or it may fester and undermine relationships among the remaining staff. If, on the other hand, Diane won allies, the others might split over the issue and ultimately dissolve the hotline. As the case continues, observe staff members’ behavior and their method of dealing with this tense and unfamiliar situation.

    Case Study I.1B The Women’s Hotline Case (Continued)

    Imagine yourself in the midst of this conflict. What would you recommend this group do to promote a constructive outcome to this conflict?

    The committee who received Diane’s grievance suggested that they could handle the problem in a less formal way if both Diane and the staff agreed to accept a neutral, third party mediator. Everyone agreed that this suggestion had promise, and a third party was invited to a meeting where the entire staff could address the issue.

    At this meeting, the group faced a difficult task. Each member offered reactions they had been previously unwilling to express. The staff made several pointed criticisms of Diane’s overall performance. Diane expressed doubts about the staff’s willingness to help new workers or to give support when it was requested. Although this discussion was often tense, it was well directed. At the outset of the meeting, Diane withdrew her formal complaint. This action changed the definition of the problem from the immediate work grievance to the question of what levels of support were required for various people to work effectively in this difficult and emotionally draining setting.

    Staff members shared doubts and fears about their own inadequacies as counselors and agreed that something less than perfection was acceptable. The group recognized that a collective inertia had developed and that they had consistently avoided giving others the support needed to deal with difficult rape cases. They acknowledged, however, the constraints on each woman’s time; each worker could handle only a limited amount of stress. The group recognized that some level of mutual support was essential and felt that they had fallen below an acceptable level over the past year and a half. One member suggested that any staff person should be able to ask for a “debriefing contract” whenever he or she felt in need of help or support. These contracts would allow someone to ask for




    ten minutes of another person’s time to hear about a particularly disturbing issue or case. The group adopted this suggestion because they saw that it could allow members to

    seek help without overburdening one other. The person who was asked to listen could assist and give needed support without feeling that she had to “fix” another worker’s problem. Diane continued to work at the center and found that her abilities and confidence increased as the group provided the support she needed.

    Discussion Questions

    In what ways did the parties in this conflict show “good faith”? Is “good faith” participation a necessary prerequisite to constructive conflict resolution?

    This is a textbook case in effective conflict management because it led to a solution that all parties accepted. The members of this group walked a tightrope throughout the conflict, yet they managed to avoid a fall. The tension, unpleasantness, uncertainty, and fragility of conflict situations makes them hard to face. Because these problems make it difficult to deal with issues constructively and creatively, conflicts are often terminated by force, by uncomfortable suppression of issues, or simply by exhaustion after a prolonged fight—all outcomes that leave at least one party dissatisfied. Engaging a conflict is often like making a bet against the odds: you can win big if it turns out well, but so many things can go wrong that many are unwilling to chance it.

    The key to working through conflict is not to minimize its disadvantages, or even to emphasize its positive functions, but to accept both and to try to understand how conflicts move in destructive or productive directions. This calls for a careful analysis of both the specific behaviors and the interaction patterns involved in conflict and the forces that influence these patterns.

    This chapter introduces you to conflict as an interaction system. We first define conflict and then introduce the four arenas for interpersonal conflict that this book explores. Following this, we discuss an important reference point—the distinction between productive and destructive conflict interaction—and the behavioral cycles that move conflict in positive and negative directions. Finally, we lay out the plan of this book, which is written to examine the key dynamics of conflict interaction and the forces that influence them.

    I.1 Conflict Defined Conflict is the interaction of interdependent parties who perceive incompatibility and the possibility of interference from others as a result of this incompatibility. Several features of this definition warrant further discussion.

    The most important feature of conflict is that it is a type of human interaction. Conflicts are constituted and sustained by the behaviors of the parties involved and their reactions to one another, particularly verbal and nonverbal communication. Conflict interaction takes many




    forms, and each form presents special problems and requires special handling. The most familiar type of conflict interaction is marked by shouting matches or open competition in which each party tries to defeat the other. But conflicts can also be more subtle. People may react to conflict by suppressing it. A husband and wife may communicate in ways that allow them to avoid confrontation, either because they are afraid the conflict may damage a fragile relationship or because they convince themselves that the issue “isn’t worth fighting over.” This response is as much a part of the conflict process as fights and shouting matches. This book deals with the whole range of responses to conflict and how those responses affect the development of conflicts.

    People in conflict perceive that there is some existing incompatibility with others and that this incompatibility may prompt others to interfere with their own desires, goals, personal comforts, or communication preferences. The key word here is perceive. Regardless of whether incompatibility actually exists, if the parties believe incompatibility exists then conditions are ripe for conflict. Whether one employee really stands in the way of a co-worker’s promotion, or if the co-worker interprets the employee’s behavior as interfering with his promotion, then a conflict is likely to ensue. Communication is important because it is the key to shaping and maintaining the perceptions that guide conflict behavior.

    Communication problems can be an important source of incompatibility. You may have experienced times when you got into a disagreement with someone else, only to realize it was due to a misunderstanding rather than a real conflict of interest. However, although communication problems may contribute to conflicts, most conflicts cannot be reduced to communication. Rather, real conflicts of interest underlie most serious conflicts.

    Conflict interaction is influenced by the interdependence of the parties. Interdependence determines parties’ incentives in the conflict. There is an incentive to cooperate when parties perceive that gains by one will promote gains by the other or losses for one party will result in corresponding losses for the other. There is an incentive to compete when parties believe that one’s gain will be the other’s loss. Resentment of Diane built up among the other workers at the hotline because they felt that if she got what she needed—time off—it would result in more work and pressure for them. This set up a competitive situation that resulted in conflict escalation. However, purely competitive (or cooperative) situations rarely occur. In most real situations there is a mixture of incentives to cooperate and to compete. The other staff members at the hotline wanted to maintain a cordial atmosphere, and several liked Diane. This compensated, to some degree, for their resentment of Diane and set the stage for a successful third party intervention.

    The greater the interdependence among parties, the more significant the consequences of their behaviors are for each other. The conflict at the hotline would not have occurred if Diane’s behavior had not irritated the other workers and if their response had not threatened Diane’s position. Furthermore, any action taken in response to a conflict affects both sides. The decision to institute a “debriefing contract” required considerable change by everyone. If Diane had been fired, that, too, would have affected the other workers; they would have had to cover Diane’s cases and come to terms with themselves as co-workers who could be accused of being unresponsive or insensitive.

    There is one final wrinkle to interdependence: When parties are interdependent they can potentially aid or interfere with each other. Parties know at least something about their




    respective abilities to cooperate or to compete, and their interpretations of one another’s communication and actions shape how the conflict develops. In some instances, one party may believe that having his or her point accepted is more important, at least for the moment, than proposing a mutually beneficial outcome. When Diane asked for two weeks off she was probably thinking not of the group’s best interest, but of her own needs. In other cases, someone may advance a proposal designed to benefit everyone, as when the staff member suggested the debriefing contract. In other instances, a comment may be offered with cooperative intent, but others may interpret it as one that advances an individual interest. Regardless of whether the competitive motive is intended by the speaker or assigned by others, the interaction unfolds from that point under the assumption that the speaker is competitive. As we will see, subsequent interaction is colored by this negative interpretation, and parties’ experiences may further undermine their willingness to cooperate in a self- reinforcing cycle. The same cyclical process also can occur with cooperation, creating positive momentum.

    I.2 Arenas for Conflict This book examines a broad range of conflicts in four general settings. One important conflict arena is the interpersonal relationship. Interpersonal conflicts include those between spouses, siblings, friends, and roommates. But interpersonal relationships are broader than this, encompassing those among co-workers, supervisors and employees, landlords and tenants, and neighbors. Interpersonal conflicts tell us a great deal about styles of conflict interaction, emotional and irrational impulses, and the diversity of resources people exchange in short- or long-term relationships.

    A second important genre of conflicts are those that occur in groups or teams. This arena includes families, work teams, small businesses, classes, clubs, juries, and even therapy or consciousness-raising groups. Because much work is done in groups, this arena has been studied extensively and offers a wide range of conflict situations for analysis. Conflicts in this arena offer insights about group cohesion; the influence of climates, coalitions, and working habits; and the distribution of power.

    A third important arena for conflict is the organization. Many relationships and groups are embedded in organizations. Organizations often engender conflict when they create issues for parties, such as struggles over promotions, battles over which projects should be funded, and debates over strategic directions. Sometimes conflicts in organizations are displaced; parties angry due to perceived personal slights may express their frustration in ways that are more legitimate to the organization, such as attacking a plan the transgressor is presenting in a meeting. By cloaking their personal grievance in formal terms, they are able to exercise their anger. Organizations also constrain conflict behavior. In an organization that is comfortable with disagreement, expressing conflict is acceptable. In one that is uncomfortable, conflicts may be suppressed.

    Finally, the book examines conflicts that occur in intergroup settings. In this case, the focus is on individuals as representatives of social groups rather than as unique individuals. This arena includes conflicts among people who represent different gender, ethnic, or cultural groups. Intergroup conflicts can also arise among parties who are viewed as representatives of




    different teams, organizations, or political action groups. In these conflicts, the individual’s identity is supplanted by issues of group identity. Prejudice, stereotyping, and ideologies often come into play (Putnam & Poole, 1987).

    The four arenas differ in several respects. One obvious difference is in the number of parties typically involved in a conflict. Interpersonal conflicts are characterized by face-to-face exchanges among a small number of people. The parties may belong to a larger group or organization (e.g., siblings are part of the same family), but the divisive issues are personally “owned” by the parties. The conflict plays out between them and does not involve the group as a whole. Group conflicts are focused on issues related to a group as a unit. The parties generally interacted with each other in meetings or work settings and attempted to reach decisions for the group. The divisive issues in these conflicts are centered on the group itself. Organizational conflicts have implications for the organization beyond specific individuals or groups. They include conflicts between parties from different departments or levels of the organization and may draw in other people such as managers or human resource professionals. The conflicts may be complex and open-ended in terms of the number of people involved. Intergroup conflicts involve parties representing two or more large groups such as organizations, cultural groups, or genders. Issues in intergroup disputes are often carried over from long-standing grievances and conflicts between the “parent” units.

    As the number of parties involved in a conflict increases, important features of the interaction change as well. For example, in interpersonal conflicts, people usually speak for themselves. In group, organizational, or intergroup conflicts, spokespersons, representatives, or various counselors such as attorneys, union representatives, and presidents of organizations, are more likely to speak for the collective. In addition, the group, team, or organizational climate becomes important as the number of people in a conflict increases.

    These arenas of conflict also differ in the type of interdependence that typically exists among the parties. The resources available to parties shift across these contexts. In interpersonal relationships, parties depend on each other for a wide range of emotional, psychological, and material resources (Cahn, 1990; Levinger, 1976; Roloff, 1981). The resources involved in interpersonal relationships include emotional support; images one holds of oneself as a talented, generous, loving, sensuous, or loyal person; financial security; and the ability to meet physical needs. In group, organizational, and intergroup conflicts, the range of interdependence is generally narrower. In task-oriented units, people are dependent on each other for achieving the goals the group has set for itself, for financial security (if the group provides income for members), and for a person’s professional or public identity (e.g., images parties hold of themselves as competent, fair-minded, or cooperative). In intergroup relationships, individuals are dependent on each other for the advancement and continuation of the group vis-à-vis other groups (e.g., some Shiites in Iraq worked to achieve control by attacking other groups such as the Sunnis), and also for their identities as members of a well- defined social unit (e.g., the sense of self one has as a human being, a Christian, a Hispanic American, a Republican). The different types of interdependence in each arena make the use of power different in each of them.

    Although these arenas differ in important ways, they are similar in one important sense: In all of them interaction is central to conflict (Roloff, 1987a). Regardless of the number of parties involved or the type of interdependence among them, conflict unfolds as a series of moves and




    countermoves premised on people’s perceptions, expectations, and strategies. Because of this fundamental similarity, many of the principles of conflict examined apply across the arenas. As Putnam and Folger (1988, p. 350) put it:

    Theoretical principles apply across (conflict) contexts because interaction processes form the foundation of conflict management. Fundamental to all conflicts are the series of actions and reactions, moves and countermoves, planning of communication strategies, perceptions, and interpretations of messages that directly affect substantive outcomes.

    The centrality of interaction to all four arenas creates commonalities across them as well. For example, violent exchanges can occur in interpersonal, group, organizational, or intergroup conflicts. So too, can parties engage in negotiation in any of these settings. Because labor- management or political negotiations are the most commonly reported examples in the media, people often think of negotiation or bargaining as a separate arena. However, husbands and wives can negotiate divorce agreements, a professor and student can negotiate a grade, environmental groups can negotiate a land-use policy, or neighborhood groups can negotiate historical preservation standards. Another aspect of conflict common to all four arenas is power, because power is integral to all forms of interdependence. These and other commonalities are explored throughout this book.

    I.3 Communication Media and Conflict Interaction Conflict is also shaped by the communication media parties utilize in all four arenas. Conflict interaction differs in face-to-face, telephone, email, and social media contexts because each medium offers different capabilities. Scholars have been working to sort out the impacts media have on conflict. One influential theory—media richness theory—argues that media vary in terms of their ability to transmit information that will change understanding in others (Rice & Leonardi, 2014).The richness of a medium depends on four factors: (1) its ability to handle multiple information cues simultaneously; (2) its ability to facilitate rapid feedback; (3) its ability to personalize the message; and (4) its ability to utilize natural language. Commonly used media can be ranked in terms of richness, with a ranking being (from richest to poorest): face-to-face communication, telephone call, text message, electronic mail, paper memo, and a numerical table. The basic premise of media richness theory is that media choice should depend on the ambiguity there is in a task or situation. Rich media are more effective for highly ambiguous situations, and in less ambiguous situations “leaner” media are workable and more efficient.

    Conflicts are highly ambiguous, so richer media would be expected to promote more effective conflict interaction. Based on media richness theory, we would expect face-to-face communication to be more effective for managing conflict than email or social media because it allows multiple cues (verbal, visual, and aural), personalization, rapid feedback, and natural language. Electronic mail and social media allow fewer cues, and email may also have slower feedback if not checked constantly. Readers who have inadvertently sparked a conflict because of a poorly worded email or text message know firsthand the limitations of text-based media compared to face-to-face communication.

    Studies of virtual relationships and groups—those whose members are distributed across different locations (and often time zones) and who use information and communication




    technologies for most of their communication—indicate that they are more likely to experience conflict than collocated relationships and groups (Garner & Poole, 2013). Conflicts in virtual relationships and groups are worsened by the absence of a common physical context, which makes it difficult to establish mutual understanding and gives rise to misinterpretations and mistaken conclusions about others parties’ motives. Consider, for example, a case in which one party is teleconferencing from home and is distracted by his children’s interruptions. He may come across as confused and disinterested to the other party (who is not aware of the distracting children), and the other may conclude with irritation that the first party is not committed to their common task, setting the stage for a conflict. If more than one person is at each location in a distributed group, then distance can also foster a “we” versus “they” orientation between the sites, which increases the likelihood of conflict.

    While it does give some important insights into the impact of media on conflict, the media richness perspective is overly simplistic. As everyone knows, information and communication technologies (ICT) also give us capabilities that traditional face-to-face, telephone, and written modes of communication do not. Communicating via email is slower, but it also gives the sender time to reflect and compose a message more thoughtfully than he or she may in face- to-face conversation. Hence, when used properly, email may facilitate conflict management (Caughlin, Basinger, & Sharabi, 2016).The lack of nonverbal cues in text and email also may enable parties to focus more on the content of the conflict, as opposed to negative emotions conveyed by eye contact, facial expression, and tone of voice. Perry and Werner-Wilson (2011) report that some relational partners utilize ICTs in conflicts because these media allow them to get their emotions under control and communicate more clearly. Emojis, pictures, and links inserted into emails and text messages add additional meaning and can be used to move the discussion in a positive direction.

    Experience with a medium can also increase our skill in using it. Carlson and Zmud (1999) argued that greater experience with a medium causes this channel to “expand” in the information it can carry. Email may seem low in richness to a novice user, but more experienced users learn that they can make email messages richer by using emoticons, emojis, pictures, attachments, etc. A channel can also expand between two people or a group who use a common medium. They can develop understanding of one another’s styles and work out common code words to stand in for complex ideas. People who often text or tweet one another are well aware of this.

    Of course, not all capabilities afforded by ICTs are beneficial. Twitter and other social media also enable “mobs” to level online attacks. Online bullying, stalking, and troll attacks operate at a level and intensity unthinkable in most face-to-face interactions. The relative anonymity provided by the internet facilitates—and some argue encourages—such negative conflict behaviors (Lowry, Zhang, Wang, & Siponen, 2016).

    I.4 Productive and Destructive Conflict Interaction As previously noted, people often associate conflict with negative outcomes. However, there are times when conflicts must be addressed regardless of the apprehension they create. When parties have differences and the issues are important, suppressing conflict is often more dangerous than facing it. The psychologist Irving Janis points to a number of famous political




    disasters, such as the failure to anticipate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, where poor decisions can be traced to the repression of conflict by key decision-making groups (Janis, 1972). The critical question is this: what forms of conflict interaction will yield obvious benefits without tearing a relationship, a group, a team, or an organization apart?

    The sociologist Lewis Coser (1956) distinguished realistic from nonrealistic conflicts. Realistic conflicts are based on disagreements over the means to an end or over the ends themselves. In realistic conflicts, the interaction focuses on the substantive issues the participants must address to resolve their underlying incompatibilities. Nonrealistic conflicts are expressions of aggression in which the sole end is to defeat or hurt the other. Participants in nonrealistic conflicts serve their own interests by undercutting those of the other party involved. Coser argues that because nonrealistic conflicts are oriented toward the expression of aggression, force and coercion are the means for resolving these disputes. Realistic conflicts, on the other hand, foster a wide range of resolution techniques—force, negotiation, persuasion, even voting—because they are oriented toward the resolution of some substantive problem. Although Coser’s analysis is somewhat oversimplified, it is insightful and suggests important contrasts between productive and destructive conflict interaction.

    What criteria can be used to decide whether a conflict is productive? In large part, productive conflict interaction depends on flexibility. In constructive conflicts, members engage in a wide variety of behaviors ranging from coercion and threat to negotiation, joking, and relaxation to reach an acceptable solution. In contrast, parties in destructive conflicts are likely to be much less flexible because their goal is more narrowly defined: they are trying to defeat each other. Destructive conflict interaction is likely to result in uncontrolled escalation or prolonged attempts to avoid issues. In productive conflict, on the other hand, the interaction changes direction often. Short cycles of escalation, de-escalation, avoidance, and constructive work on an issue are likely to occur as participants attempt to manage conflict.

    Consider the Women’s Hotline Case. The workers exhibited a wide range of interaction styles, from the threat of a grievance to the cooperative attempt to reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Even though Diane and others engaged in hostile or threatening interactions, they did not persist in this mode, and when the conflict threatened to escalate, they called in a third party. The conflict showed all of the hallmarks of productive interaction. In a destructive conflict, the members might have responded to Diane’s grievance by suspending her, and Diane might have retaliated by suing or by attempting to discredit the center in the local newspaper. Her retaliation would have hardened others’ positions, and they might have fired her, leading to further retaliation.

    In an alternative scenario, the Hotline conflict might have ended in destructive avoidance. Diane might have hidden her problem, and the other workers might have consciously or unconsciously abetted her by changing the subject when the murder came up or by avoiding talking to her at all. Diane’s problem would probably have grown worse, and she might have had to quit. The center then would have reverted back to “normal” until the same problem surfaced again. Although the damage caused by destructive avoidance is much less serious in this case than that caused by destructive escalation, it is still considerable: The Hotline loses a good worker, and the seeds for future losses remain. In both cases, it is not the behaviors themselves that are destructive—neither avoidance nor hostile arguments are harmful in themselves—but rather the inflexibility of the parties that locks them into escalation or




    avoidance cycles. In productive conflicts, all parties believe they can work together to attain important goals

    and meet their needs (Deutsch, 1973). Productive conflict interaction exhibits a sustained effort to bridge the apparent incompatibility of positions. This is in marked contrast to destructive conflicts, where the interaction is premised on participants’ beliefs that one side must win and the other must lose. Productive conflict interaction results in a solution satisfactory to all and produces a general feeling that the parties have gained something (e.g., a new idea, greater clarity of others’ positions, or a stronger sense of solidarity). In some cases, the win-lose orientation of destructive conflict stems from the fear of losing. Parties attempt to defeat alternative proposals because they believe that if their positions are not accepted they will lose resources, self-esteem, or the respect of others. In other cases, win-lose interaction is sparked not by competitive motives, but by the parties’ fear of working through a difficult conflict. Groups that rely on voting to reach decisions often call for a vote when discussion becomes heated and the members do not see any other immediate way out of a hostile and threatening situation. Any further attempt to discuss the alternatives or to pursue the reasons behind people’s positions seems risky. A vote can put a quick end to threatening interaction, but it also induces a win-lose orientation that can easily trigger destructive cycles. Group members whose proposals are rejected must resist a natural tendency to be less committed to the chosen solutions and avoid trying to “even the score” in future conflicts.

    Productive conflict interaction is sometimes competitive. Both parties must stand up for their own positions and strive for understanding if a representative outcome is to be attained. This may result in tension and hostility as they work through the issues, but it should be regarded as a difficult path to a higher goal. Although parties in productive conflicts adhere strongly to their positions, they are also open to movement when convinced that such movement will result in the best decision. The need to preserve power, to save face, or to make their opponent look bad does not stand in the way of change. In contrast, during destructive conflicts parties may become polarized, and the defense of a “noble,” nonnegotiable position often becomes more important than working out a viable solution.

    Of course, this description of productive and destructive conflict interaction is an idealization. It is rare that a conflict exhibits all the constructive or destructive qualities just mentioned. Most conflicts exhibit both productive and destructive interactions. However, better conflict management will result if parties can sustain productive conflict interaction patterns, and it is to this end that this book is dedicated.

    I.5 Judgments About Conflict Outcomes To this point we have focused on assessing conflict interaction. This is because we believe it is important to know where a conflict is heading while we are in the midst of it. But the outcomes of conflicts are also important. Parties must live with the outcomes, and whether they accept and are satisfied with them determines whether the conflict is resolved or continues to smolder, waiting for some future spark to set it off again.

    The most obvious and most desirable outcome measure would give an objective account of the gains and losses that result for each party. If these can be assessed in an objective way for each party they can then be compared to determine how fair the outcome of the conflict was




    and whether a better outcome was possible. We can determine relative gains and losses in more or less objective terms if the outcome can be stated in numerical terms. Some numerical measures use values that correspond to real things (e.g., money or the number of hours in a day someone agrees to work), whereas others simply measure value on an arbitrary scale such as the “utility” of an outcome to a party.

    As desirable as it is, determining gains and losses is more difficult for outcomes that cannot be reduced to numerical terms. For example, the outcome of a conflict between a brother and sister over who gets the corner bedroom is difficult to quantify, though a winner and loser can be identified immediately afterward—who got the bedroom? However, over the longer term, the “winner” may discover that he or she finds the room too hot because the sun beats through the windows in the afternoon and too noisy because it is right over the game room. Outcomes, such as bedrooms, are complicated to measure, and while there might be gains on some dimensions, there may be losses on other dimensions. Whether there is an overall gain or loss depends as much on what aspects parties choose to emphasize the actual values of the items. If the winner chooses to regard the sun as cheerful (but hot!) and instead focuses on the nice furniture in the room, outcomes are more favorable than if heat is the main emphasis. Moreover, as our example illustrates, outcomes can change over time. What appears to be a fine outcome right after the conflict is settled may turn out to be negative over the long run, and vice versa.

    A second way to evaluate conflicts is in terms of the level of satisfaction people feel about the resolution. One definition of an integrative resolution is that solution which all parties are most satisfied with. This criterion avoids some of the limitations of objective outcome measures because we can always determine parties’ perceptions and evaluations, even when there is no direct measure of outcomes. The satisfaction criterion also enables us to compare outcomes—at least in relative terms—because parties may be more or less satisfied.

    Two other judgments that can be made about conflict outcomes concern their fairness. Two types of fairness, or social justice, have a bearing on evaluation of conflict outcomes. Distributive justice refers to the fair allocation of resources among two or more recipients. Procedural justice is concerned with the fairness of the process by which decisions are made to resolve the conflict.

    The answer to the key question regarding distributive justice—have outcomes been allocated fairly?—depends on the value system we apply. Thompson (1998, p. 194) distinguished three value systems: (a) “The equality rule, or blind justice, prescribes equal shares for all.” The U.S. legal system is an example of this value system. (b) “The equity rule, or proportionality of contributions principle, prescribes that distribution should be proportional to a person’s contribution.” A case in which it was decided that workers who put in more hours on a project should get a greater share of the bonus earned than should those who put in relatively little effort would be following the equity rule. (c) “The needs-based rule, or welfare-based allocation, states that benefits should be proportional to need.” Universities give out much of their financial aid based on this principle. Exactly what is regarded as a just outcome will differ depending on which of these three systems applies.

    Judgments about procedural justice focus on the process by which outcomes are determined and concern whether this process is legitimate and fair. Consider the example of grade appeals. Most colleges have specific procedures in place to handle student grade appeals. In




    one college, there is a three-step process. The student must first talk to the instructor. If this does not result in a satisfactory resolution, the student can then appeal to the department chair. The next step is to take the appeal to a committee consisting of three professors and four students. There are detailed rules specifying what types of evidence are required and how the committee hearing will be held. The procedure allows each appeal to be thoroughly considered. The final step involves judgment by the student’s peers, who are in the majority on the committee that makes the final determination. The process is set up the way it is so that both students and faculty will agree that there has been a fair hearing. Regardless of the outcome, if students and faculty believe they have participated in a legitimate process, they are more likely to accept the outcome, and they are also likely to have their faith in the “system” renewed. So, procedural justice can be just as important as the actual outcome.

    In evaluating the outcomes of conflict, it is important not to overemphasize one of these four criteria—gains and losses, satisfaction, distributive justice, or procedural justice—so much that we forget about the others. Each of the outcomes may cloud the others. For example, an objectively good outcome for both parties may also be perceived as unfair because the proper procedures were not followed. And an outcome that satisfies both parties may be grossly unfair from the viewpoint of distributive justice. Ideally all four criteria will be considered in evaluating the outcomes of a conflict.

    I.6 Plan of the Book The key question this book addresses is: how does conflict interaction develop destructive patterns—radical escalation, prolonged or inappropriate avoidance of conflict issues, inflexibility— rather than constructive patterns leading to productive conflict management? A good way to understand conflict interaction is to think of parties in a conflict as poised on a precipice. The crest represents productive conflict management and the chasm below the downward spiral into destructive conflict. Maintaining a productive approach to a conflict requires diligence and the ability to strike a careful balance among all of the forces that influence interpersonal conflict interaction. Managed properly, these forces can be used to maintain a proper balance and to keep the conflict on a constructive path. However, lack of attention to powerful dynamics surrounding conflicts can propel them into developing a momentum that pushes the parties over the edge.

    This book considers several major forces that direct conflicts and examines the problems people encounter in trying to control these forces to regulate their own conflict interactions. To sort out the most influential forces in moving conflicts in destructive or constructive directions, we examine the major theoretical perspectives on communication and conflict. Chapter 1 offers an introduction to communication in conflict centered on four properties of conflict interaction, each of which highlights key influences on conflict. Chapter 2 focuses on the inner experience of conflict—psychological dynamics that influence conflict interaction, specifically emotion and social cognitive processes that affect conflict. Chapter 3 then considers conflict interaction and explores several processes that affect conflict.

    Building on this theoretical foundation, we devote the next four chapters to understanding important forces that influence conflict interaction—styles, power, face-saving, and climate— and how to work with each of them to encourage productive conflict management. Chapter 8




    discusses conflict management. Chapter 9 turns to third party intervention in conflicts and examines how third parties can facilitate constructive conflict interaction.

    I.7 Summary and Review

    What Is Conflict?

    Conflict is interaction among parties who are interdependent and perceive incompatibility with one another. It is important to recognize that conflicts can be driven by perceptions, not merely by the objective situation. Interdependence plays a critical role in conflict because it sets up tendencies to compete or cooperate that drive conflict interaction.

    What Are Important Arenas for Conflict?

    Interpersonal conflicts occur in interpersonal relationships, small groups, organizations, and intergroup settings. Each of these arenas differs in terms of the number of people potentially involved in the conflict and in the type of interdependence among parties. They have in common the fact that conflict in all four arenas is first and foremost a type of interaction.

    What Is the Role of Communication Media in Conflict?

    Communication media influence how parties in the conflict can interact. Some media carry more information than others and this can shape parties’ perceptions of one another, sometimes in productive ways and sometimes in destructive ways. The impacts of media on conflict depend on parties’ experience and skill at using them to communicate.

    What Is the Role of Interaction in Conflict?

    Conflicts are constituted by interaction among parties in that conflicts only exist in the moves and countermoves of parties. Conflicts unfold as parties act them out. This means that conflict is never wholly under the control of any single party; all parties involved have at least some degree of control over how the conflict is to be pursued over time. One particularly strong force in conflict interaction is the tendency of behavioral cycles to be self-reinforcing, such that competitive behavior begets competition in response, and cooperative behavior prompts cooperative responses, and so on, in a repeating spiral.

    Can Different Types of Conflict Be Distinguished?

    Scholars have distinguished productive from destructive modes of conflict. In productive conflicts, parties take flexible approaches and believe a mutually acceptable solution can be developed. Destructive conflicts are characterized by inflexible behavior and attempts to defeat the other party. In destructive conflicts, parties’ goals often shift from achieving an acceptable outcome to defeating the other party, regardless of other considerations. It is worth noting, however, that destructiveness and competitiveness are not synonyms. Competition can




    occur in constructive conflicts; it just never leads parties to excesses.

    What Are the Standards by Which Conflict Outcomes Can Be Evaluated?

    We can distinguish four different criteria that can be used to evaluate conflict outcomes— objective gains/losses, participant satisfaction, distributive justice, and procedural justice. Because most conflicts are complex, it is desirable to use more than one of these criteria to judge the quality of outcomes for participants.

    What Are the Major Factors Influencing Conflict Interaction?

    As we will see in the remainder of this book, particularly important factors are conflict styles and strategies, power, face-saving, and climate. Several other psychological and social dynamics also play a role in conflicts, and we will consider them as well. One moral of this book is that conflict is a complex phenomenon, and that no single factor is the key to effective conflict management. Like all communication skills, conflict management requires us to be aware of the forces that influence conflict and to be capable of working with those forces to channel conflicts in productive directions.

    I.8 Activities

    1. Free associate conflict: Write down twenty words that describe conflict as you see it. Now look over your list. What are the main themes in your list? What does it tell you about how you view conflict? Have a friend look over the list and tell you how they think you see conflict. What themes do they see in your list?

    2. Think of a conflict you participated in. It can be one that was resolved sometime ago or one you are currently involved in. What types of interdependence do you and the other party have? Did media play a role in your conflict, and if so, how did media affect your conflict? Was your interaction with the other party primarily productive or destructive? What were the outcomes of the conflict?




    Chapter 1 Communication and Conflict

    We have argued that conflicts are best understood if we view them as a form of interaction. But interaction is an extraordinarily complicated phenomenon. How can we get a grasp on what happens in conflicts? How can we use that knowledge to turn conflict interaction in productive directions?

    This chapter provides an introduction to conflict interaction. First, we describe a model of conflict interaction as a “balancing act.” The model proposes that in order to manage a conflict effectively, parties must first articulate and understand the differences in their positions and interests. Only after this has been done can they move toward a mutually acceptable, integrative solution. However, this is a precarious process, fraught with difficulties. If parties make the wrong moves, their differentiation may spiral into uncontrollable escalation or, alternatively, to rigid suppression and avoidance of a conflict that they should be able to face and manage. Walking the tightrope to productive conflict management requires insight into the forces that push conflict in negative directions and the appropriate actions required to control them.

    The second part of this chapter presents four basic properties of conflict interaction which suggest a number of factors that are important in conflicts. These factors, discussed in subsequent chapters, can move conflict in productive and destructive directions and suggest various levers parties can use to manage conflict effectively.

    1.1 A Model of Effective Conflict Management At the outset it is a good idea to consider effective conflict management, the type of interaction that will lead to productive conflict. In his book, Interpersonal Peacemaking, Richard Walton (1969) described a simple yet powerful model of effective conflict management that reflects insights echoed by a number of other influential writers (Fisher & Ury, 1981; Pruitt & Carnevale, 1993; Putnam, 2010). The model views conflict in terms of two broad phases: a differentiation phase followed by an integration phase. In differentiation, parties raise the issues underlying the conflict and spend time and energy clarifying positions, pursuing the reasons behind those positions, and acknowledging their differences. As Putnam suggests, “Differentiation refers to the pattern of interaction that sharply distinguishes opposing positions” (2010, p. 327).This first phase is sometimes uncomfortable and tense, and it may evoke unpleasant emotions, but it is valuable because it helps parties to become more knowledgeable about the issues and the different goals and points of view they have (Wageman & Donnenfeld, 2007). After some time differentiating, the process reaches a




    “tipping point,” and an integration phase begins. Parties begin to acknowledge common ground, explore possible options, and move toward some solution—sometimes one that meets everyone’s needs, and sometimes simply one they can live with. If integration is not completely successful, the conflict may cycle back through a new differentiation phase.

    This two-phase model of conflict may seem elementary, but it is highly suggestive because it indicates what parties must do to move through a conflict successfully. How and whether conflict interaction moves from differentiation through integration is complicated.

    1.1.1 Moving Through Differentiation and Integration

    The differentiation stage of conflicts is often difficult because of the seemingly unbridgeable differences that emerge and the intense negative emotions these differences often spark. The combination of hostility and irreconcilable positions may encourage behavior that spurs uncontrolled escalation into a destructive conflict. In a different overreaction, parties fearful of escalation and loss of control may “sit on” and suppress the conflict, which then festers and undermines their relationship. But it is important to navigate differentiation successfully in order to set up the conditions for integration, during which “parties appreciate their similarities, acknowledge their common goals, own up to positive aspects of their ambivalence, express warmth and respect, and/or engage in other positive actions to manage their conflict” (Walton, 1969, p. 105). The simultaneous need for and fear of differentiation poses a difficult dilemma for parties who want to work through important conflicts.

    Adequate differentiation is necessary for constructive conflict resolution. Without a clear statement of each party’s position, finding a satisfactory result—one in which “the participants all are satisfied with their outcomes and feel they have gained as a result of the conflict”—is a hit-or-miss venture (Deutsch, 1973, p. 17; Putnam, 2013). Unless parties honestly acknowledge their differences and realize that they must tackle the conflict and work it out, they may not be sufficiently motivated to deal with the problem. And unless they understand their points of difference, they do not have the knowledge required to find a workable solution. Expressing different points of view and dissenting from consensus are often the foundation for creativity and high-quality decision making (Behfar & Thompson, 2007; Schulz-Hardt, Mojzisch, & Vogelgesang, 2008). Similarly, parties’ ability to confront another’s unacceptable or nonnormative behavior is often tied to greater productivity and satisfaction with participating in groups (Urch, Druskat & Wolff, 2007).

    Despite its real value and critical importance, differentiation may also lead to open confrontation and competition. Discovering that others disagree or want something that threatens our best interests is frustrating. Others may be combative, demanding and angry, or complaining and insistent, as they express their demands and air grievances. Differentiation may initially involve personalizing the conflict and blame-placing as parties clarify their stands and identify with positions. Due to these and other potential problems, parties may be reluctant to openly explore and understand their differences (Putnam, 2010).

    Paradoxically, though, it is not until opposing positions are articulated that the conflict can finally be managed. Once individual positions have been clarified, it is just a short step to the realization that the heart of the conflict lies in the incompatibility of positions and is not the other party’s “fault.” If parties can clarify the issues and air diverse positions without losing




    control (a difficult problem in its own right), they can recast the conflict as an external obstacle that they can work together to surmount.

    Once achieved, this depersonalized and more accurate view of the issues serves as a basis for commonality. It often marks the beginning of an integrative phase, but by no means does it signify the end of the conflict process. The parties must still generate ideas and choose a solution that, as Simmel (1955, p. 14) puts it, “resolves the tension between contrasts” in the group or social relationship. From this point of view, people can build on the accomplishments of differentiation.

    Differentiation and Escalation Although differentiation is necessary for constructive conflict resolution, it can also nourish destructive tendencies. Differentiation surfaces disagreements and makes them the center of attention. It raises the stakes, because failure to resolve the disagreements means that members must live with a keen awareness of this failure and with the negative consequences it entails.

    In some cases, the process of differentiation can spiral out of control into “malevolent cycling”—highly personalized or hostile conflict that is not directed toward issues (Walton, 1969). Baxter, Wilmot, Simmons, and Swartz (1993) conducted open-ended interviews with students that suggested that spiraling escalation is common in interpersonal conflicts. They labeled one commonly occurring type of conflict in their interviews “Escalatory Conflict” because it involved increasing emotional intensity and multiple stages in which the scope and intensity of the conflict increased over time. One female respondent provided this example from a romantic relationship: “I might bring up a topic. Then he will get mad that I brought up this particular topic. Then I will lose my patience and get frustrated. He, in turn, will get more mad” (Baxter et al., 1993, p. 98). “Serial arguing,” in which unresolved conflicts manifest over the course of many interactions, is a common feature of many interpersonal relationships (Roloff & Wright, 2013; Johnson, 2002; Koerner, 2013).

    This type of escalation also occurs in workplace conflicts, conflicts between groups, and international conflicts (North, Brody, & Holsti, 1963; Garner & Poole 2006; Walton, 1969). As we discuss in Chapters 2 and 3, it is fueled by negative emotions such as anger and hurt, by social cognitive processes such as attributing fault for the conflict to the other, and by interaction processes such as reciprocity.

    Differentiation and Avoidance A second, equally damaging pattern in conflict interaction is overly rigid avoidance. Parties may sometimes fear the consequences of open conflict so much that they refuse to acknowledge the conflict and avoid anything that might spark a confrontation. They may respond to potential conflicts with ambiguous statements (“I’m not sure how I feel about that”) and skirt troublesome issues. They may openly suppress discussion of the conflict (“Let’s not talk about that”) and refuse to acknowledge it (“There’s really no problem here”). Even when both parties know there is a conflict, they may simply avoid discussing it, even if there is palpable discomfort with that “elephant in the room,” the potential conflict. Even when someone is being bullied by another person, he or she is often likely to avoid addressing the behavior (sometimes by leaving a group or organization) rather than confront the issues (Coyne et al., 2011; Raver & Barling, 2008). The fear of conflict escalation easily motivates people to avoid talking about the conflict (Pruitt, 2008; Speakman & Ryals, 2010).




    The problem with rigid avoidance is that parties may never realize their own potential for finding creative solutions to important problems (Garner & Poole, 2013; Tjosvold, 1995). Trying to avoid conflict at all costs, parties may quickly accept an unsatisfactory solution.

    A classic study by Guetzkow and Gyr (1954) provides a vivid picture of the consequences of rigid avoidance. In a sample of seventy-two decision-making groups they compared interaction in groups with high levels of substantive conflict (conflict focused on the issues and on disagreements about possible solutions) to interaction in groups with high levels of affective conflict (interpersonal conflict characterized by extreme frustration, according to an outsider’s observations). They were interested in the difference between substantive and affective conflicts because affective conflicts are more likely to exhibit spiraling escalation. Affective conflict was highly correlated with how critical and punishing members are to each other and how unpleasant the emotional atmosphere is. In essence, affective conflict is a sign of differentiation gone awry. The objective of Guetzkow and Gyr was to determine what conditions allowed groups with substantive and affective conflict, respectively, to reach consensus.

    Guetzkow and Gyr found that different behaviors contributed to each group’s ability to reach consensus. Groups that were high in substantive conflict and were able to reach consensus sought three times as much factual information and relied on that information more heavily in reaching a decision than did groups that were not able to reach consensus. In other words, substantive conflict was resolved by determined pursuit of the issue.

    In contrast, groups high in affective conflict engaged mostly in flight or avoidance to reach consensus. Members withdrew from the problem by addressing simpler and less controversial agenda items, showed less interest in the discussion overall, and talked to only a few others in the group. When consensus was achieved in the affective conflict groups, it was most often the result of ignoring the critical problem at hand and finding an issue on which members could comfortably reach agreement. If the primary goal is to reduce tension and discomfort at any cost, then flight behaviors will serve well.

    When people cannot easily ignore an issue, however, destructive tension can result from their inability to pursue the conflict. Baxter et al. (1993) also found this type of avoidance in their study of interpersonal conflict. One of the interviewees in their study called this type of conflict “don’t talk about it” conflict. When confronting particularly serious issues, friends reported that they would change the subject and avoid the conflict because they did not want to threaten their relationship. Results similar to those in the two studies just summarized have been found in numerous other studies (Nicotera & Dorsey, 2006; Garner & Poole, 2013).

    Differentiation and Rigidity In the Greek epic poem The Odyssey, Ulysses and his men must sail through a narrow strait guarded by two monsters. On one side is Scylla, a ravenous six- headed snake who would seize six men from each passing ship to satisfy her ravenous hunger. On the other is Charybdis, a whirlpool that would suck unsuspecting ships into the deeps. Ships had to navigate the strait very carefully to escape the two monsters. To drift too far one way or the other was to court death and disaster. Avoidance and hostile escalation are the Scylla and Charybdis of differentiation, and carefully navigating a course that escapes both is key to effective conflict management.

    Differentiation is often threatening or anxiety-ridden, and this makes sticking to the straight and narrow course toward integration difficult. Threat and anxiety tends to produce




    rigidity that causes people to cling inflexibly to patterns of interaction that emerge during differentiation.

    We will consider the relationships among threat, anxiety, and rigidity in more detail in Chapter 2, but we will undertake some preliminary discussion here to explain the normative model. Figure 1.1 illustrates the relationship among differentiation, inflexibility, and the course of conflict interaction.

    Psychodynamics, discussed in Chapter 2, are one source of inflexibility. Psychodynamic theory traces maladaptive, repetitive behavior—behavior that persists despite its destructive outcomes—to a threatening or anxiety-inducing environment (Volkan, 1994).During differentiation parties in conflict are faced with anxiety-inducing pressures that work against flexibility and adaptability: (1) an initial personalization of the conflict; (2) the stress of acknowledging opposing stands; (3) hostile and emotional statements; (4) uncertainty about the outcomes of the conflict; and (5) heightened awareness of the consequences of not reaching a resolution (Holsti, 1971; Smart & Vertinsky, 1977). These pressures tend to lead toward radical escalation

    Failure to differentiate and search for an acceptable resolution can rigidify relationships as well. The Baxter et al. (1993) interviews indicated that relational conflicts sometimes exhibit predictable repetitions, and they labeled these déjà vu conflicts. In these cases, the parties enact the same conflict over and over again. In one case, an interviewee indicated that “she and her partner ‘know in advance’ that they will (a) enact a conflict on a certain topic or issue, (b) know how the conflict will play itself out, and (c) know that the enactment will never end in genuine resolution” (p. 97). This sort of frustrating “broken-record” interaction is fed by rigidity and can be overcome if parties engage and explore their differences directly.

    Differentiation is a necessary but anxiety-provoking process that people face during any conflict. If parties pursue issues and work through the demands of differentiation without rigidly adhering to counterproductive interaction patterns, there is a clear promise of innovation and of finding an integrative solution to the conflict (Alberts, 1990). The pressures toward escalation are formidable, however, and the anxiety of differentiation can promote rigidity of behavior, resulting in either spiraling conflict or flight from the issue.

    1.1.2 Taking the Middle Path: Moving Toward Integration

    The key to effective conflict management is to achieve the benefits of differentiation—clear understanding of differences, acceptance of others’ positions as legitimate (but not necessarily agreeing with them), and motivation to work on the conflict—and to make a clean transition to integration, which sets the conflict on an entirely different course (Putnam, 2009). Making the transition from differentiation to integration is not always easy. It requires parties to make a fundamental change in the direction of the conflict, turning it from a focus on differences— often accompanied by intense emotions and a desire to defeat each other—to negotiation and cooperative work. Several measures can facilitate this transition.

    Figure 1.1 Possible Responses to the Demands of Differentiation in Conflict Situations




    First, it is important to ensure that differences have surfaced as completely as possible. Diverse points of view are valuable in finding and creating solutions and outcomes, but only if diverse perspectives are articulated clearly by the parties (Cassidy, 2010; Gouran, 2010). If parties do not feel that they have articulated their issues completely, they are likely to return to them later on, moving what had been constructive work back into differentiation. There is less temptation to do this if parties attain a thorough understanding of each other’s positions, even if they do not agree with each other.

    A second condition that promotes a transition to integration is when parties realize that others will not give into them or be pushed into an inferior settlement. It is an old adage that armies go to the negotiating table when they reach a “standoff.” Chapter 5 discusses how the balance of power affects conflicts and how parties can attain a workable balance.

    Pruitt, Rubin, and Kim (1994) recommend that parties be encouraged to set ambitious goals for themselves in negotiation. If parties “aim high” and strive for outcomes that are truly meaningful to them, rather than settling for subpar results, they are more likely to stand their ground and act decisively. This, in turn, is likely to convince others that they will not be intimidated or easily moved, and those others are likely to recognize the need to deal with the party on terms other than competition.

    Experiencing the negative consequences of differentiation can also motivate parties to work on the conflict. Sometimes parties must inflict serious practical or emotional damage on each other before they realize that it is not appropriate or workable to compete, but that some other route must be taken to resolve the situation. For example, many married couples seek counseling only after repeated, damaging fights. This is unfortunate, but a case can be made that these couples seek counseling only because they finally realize the dire consequences of continuing in their present, miserable patterns. This last point reemphasizes the paradox of the positive results that can emerge from enduring the often negative and unpleasant experience of differentiation.

    It is important for parties to synchronize their transition to the integration stage (Walton, 1969). If one party is ready to work on the problem, but the other still wants to fight, the first might give up on cooperation and restart escalating conflict. The burden of synchronizing often falls to the one who first develops cooperative intentions. This party must endure the other’s “slings and arrows” and attempt to promote cooperation and a shift to collaborating. The transition to integration will be easier if the other feels that his or her position has been heard. Active listening—in which the party draws out the other’s issues and grievances and responds in a respectful manner—encourages conciliation. This enables both parties to build “positive face,” as explained in Chapter 6.

    Chapter 4 discusses strategies and tactics that promote integration. One such strategy is the “reformed sinner”—after an initial period of competition, the party offers cooperation and signs of goodwill in response to the other’s behavior; if the other continues to compete, the party responds with competition and then returns to cooperation. This indicates that the party




    could compete if he or she wanted to, but instead prefers cooperation. A final condition that promotes integration is a cooperative climate—the general situation surrounding the conflict is not threatening or defensive. The ways in which climates are created and sustained are discussed in Chapter 7.

    In many cases, a third party can be a great help in making the transition from differentiation to integration. People sometimes become so involved in the conflict that they have neither the motivation nor the insight to take the necessary actions. A third party has a more objective stance and can often determine what must be done to move the conflict into integration. In addition, individuals often trust the third party and will follow advice that they would not accept from each other. A discussion of third parties and their role in sharpening conflicts and inducing integration can be found in Chapter 9.

    One key to moving through differentiation and integration is the ability to recognize destructive and productive patterns, which we will now address.

    1.1.3 Recognizing Destructive Cycles

    It is often difficult to determine when conflict interaction has turned in a destructive direction. Conflict can develop tendencies in gradual and subtle steps, and sometimes it is difficult to assess the consequences of gradual changes. Conflicts can also be difficult to understand due to conscious efforts by some parties to keep the conflict “hidden”—out of the more public forums in a group or organization (Kolb & Bartunek, 1992). Unsuspecting parties may suddenly find themselves caught in an escalating spiral or persistent avoidance. Once in these destructive cycles, the rigidity that sets in may prevent parties from pulling out. It is important to be constantly on the alert for signs of destructive patterns and to act quickly to alter them. Developing the ability to recognize protracted, destructive spirals is a key conflict management skill because such insight is the first step in taking some control over the conflict. People in conflict must be aware of concrete symptoms that signal the possible onset of escalation or avoidance.

    Table 1.1 summarizes several symptoms of when a conflict is heading toward destructive escalation or avoidance. The mere appearance of any symptom should not be an automatic cause for concern. Productive conflict interaction can pass through periods of escalation, avoidance, constructive work, and relaxation. Cycles become threatening only when they are repetitive and preempt other responses.

    Once a destructive cycle has been recognized, parties (or third parties) can intervene to break it. The previous section mentioned some measures, and we will explore these and other interventions throughout the remainder of this book. Countermeasures against destructive cycles need not be formal or particularly systematic. Simply making a surprising comment can jolt a conflict out of a destructive cycle. We recall a group member who recognized a fight developing and suddenly said, “Are we having fun yet?” This cliché got others to laugh at themselves, defusing the situation.

    1.1.4 Tacking Against the Wind

    Effective conflict management is much like tacking a sailboat to move upstream against an unfavorable wind (and steering it so as to avoid Scylla and Charybdis!). A sailor wishing to




    move her boat against the wind can do so by directing the boat at an angle, back and forth across the water, taking advantage of the sail’s ability to capture some force from the opposing wind if they are set at an angle to it, as illustrated in Figure 1.2. In the same way, the tensions introduced by the danger points of escalation and avoidance may provide useful forces to move the conflict in productive directions, because they “jar loose” parties’ assumptions that things are going well and encourage them to realize that others may have opinions/needs that differ from their own. Even though tacking a sailboat takes time and does not seem as direct as moving straight to one’s destination, it is in fact the only choice we have when we want to steer our ship in a productive direction. There is no way to get a sailboat to go against the wind without tacking, and there is no way to work through a conflict without braving the balance between rampant escalation and stubborn avoidance.

    Table 1.1 Interaction Symptoms of Escalation or Avoidance Cycles Symptoms of Avoidance Symptoms of Escalation • Marked decrease in the parties’ commitment to

    solving the problem (“Why would we care?”) • An issue takes much longer to

    deal with than was anticipated • Quick acceptance of a suggested solution • Parties repeatedly offer the same

    argument in support of a position • Parties stop themselves from raising

    controversial aspects of an issue • Parties overinflate the

    consequences of not reaching agreement

    • People “tune out” of the interaction • Threats are used to win arguments • Unresolved issues keep emerging in the same or

    different form • Mounting tension is felt

    • Discussion centers on a safe aspect of a broader and more explosive issue

    • The parties get nowhere but seem to be working feverishly

    • Little sharing of information • There is name-calling and personal arguments

    • Outspoken people are notably quiet • Immediate polarization on issues or the emergence of coalitions

    • No plans are made to implement a chosen solution

    • Hostile eye gaze or less-direct eye contact occurs between parties

    • No evaluation is made of evidence that is offered in support of claims

    • Sarcastic laughter or humor is used as a form of tension release

    • Heated disagreements seem pointless or are about trivial issues

    In performing this balancing act, it is important to manage conflict interaction effectively. This is no easy task because, as noted in the Introduction, interaction often seems to have a “mind of its own.” It seems to be driven by forces beyond our control, and sometimes may even seem incoherent and uncontrollable. This encourages people to ignore the give-and-take of interaction and rely instead on generalizations or rules of thumb.

    For instance, there is a temptation to say “she is just a difficult person to get along with” as a way of explaining why discussions with Joelle always seem to end in conflicts. Of course, this ignores the fact that Joelle might be reacting to the aggressive presentation of our


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