Project #42335 - Conflict


Project Task for Module 6: Conflict


This week, look at specific conflicts and examine the conflict styles and tactics involved. How do groups and individuals react in conflicts? Do they engage in conflicts productively? Analyze how conflict is handled and resolved in your school or organization. Record any examples that support your observations. Analyze the communication practices observed.


Consider the following in your analysis:


•Description of conflicts and methods for resolution


•Conflict styles and strategies used in the organization


Your paper should be in Microsoft Word 2000 or higher. Follow current APA style guidelines. Your paper should be 1–2 pages in length, double-spaced, and in 12pt font.


Grading Criteria


                                                                                                                                   Maximum Points


 Identified the conflict styles and tactics involved in specific conflicts.      4


Analyzed how groups and individuals react during conflict.                            8


Analyzed whether people engage in productive conflicts in the school or organization. 4


 Analyzed how conflict is handled and resolved in the school or organization. 8


 Recorded supporting examples.  4


 Analyzed the observed communication practices. 4


 Wrote in a clear, concise, and organized manner; demonstrated ethical scholarship in accurate representation and attribution of sources, displayed accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation. 4


 What is Conflict?


How do you know when you are in conflict? Typically, people perceive they are in conflict when they experience anger or frustration, or when they want one thing and their interactional partners want another. However, scholars describe conflict in another way:


Conflict occurs when interdependent parties perceive they have incompatible interests related to the distribution of limited resources (Mortenson, 1974; Donohue & Kolt, 1992).


What exactly does this description mean? Let’s look at each of the components of this description closely.






Parties are interdependent when they must rely upon each other in some way to achieve their goals or fulfill their interests (Putnam & Poole, 1987; Putnam, 2006). For example, if you share an office with someone at work, the two of you must rely on each other to create an environment that you both find comfortable. Interdependent parties are affected by each other, though they often wish they were not. This interdependence can set the stage for conflict (Roloff & Soule, 2002).




Interests refer to your goals, needs, desires, values, and beliefs (Simons, 1974; Ting-Toomey, 1985). For example, if you want a student to turn in a paper on time while she wants an extension, the two of you are experiencing a conflict in your goals. A beliefs conflict is when you argue with a political adversary over the value of tax cuts for the wealthy. An example of conflicts over desires is when you disagree with an airline attendant regarding your need to board a plane after the doors have closed. Conflicts arise when you perceive that your interests and the interests of other parties with whom you are interdependent are not compatible.




Incompatibilities refer to communicators’ beliefs that their interests (goals, values, needs, desires, and beliefs) are mutually exclusive or in opposition to one another (Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2001; Putnam, 2006). The word "beliefs" is stressed because conflict arises when people perceive their goals are incompatible with someone else’s, even if they are not. For example, co-workers often believe that their bosses have favorites or “pets,” and may clash with their colleagues while attempting to achieve this preferred status. They may believe this even if their bosses do not prefer one employee over another.


Alternatively, you may believe that you and your colleague both want the same promotion, only later to discover that your co-worker wasn’t interested at all. On the other hand, you and your conflict partner may have legitimate incompatibilities regarding your goals. Whether you have actual or simply perceived incompatibilities, conflict is likely to result.


Limited Resources


Limited resources describe the reality, or perception, that sufficient resources do not exist for all parties to achieve their goals or fulfill their interests (Mortensen, 1974; Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2001). For instance, if you are on the personnel benefits selection committee for your organization, you and the other members will have to choose from the array of benefits available to offer employees. If committee members disagree on those choices, conflict is inevitable. Of course, sometimes people have conflict over a resource that is not truly limited but is perceived to be so.




Interdependent people experience conflict when they believe another party prevents them from gaining access to desired, but limited, resources. Remember that these resources can be concrete “things” such as money, jobs, and relationships, but they also can be more abstract concepts such as respect, affection, and power.


Functions of Conflict (1 of 3)


 If people feel negatively toward conflict, why do you think they still engage in so much of it? They do so because conflict serves important functions for individuals and relationships. Most obviously, individuals engage in conflict to get what they want. But sometimes they continue to argue even when the other person has given in. They also fight about trivial issues and matters that they don’t really care about. They behave in this way because conflict interactions serve a variety of functions in addition to solving problems. One function of conflict is that it can help individuals regulate their relationships, emotions, and lives.


Here are some of the functions of conflict:


Conflict is Persuasive


Most obviously, conflict serves as a type of persuasive discourse; you have arguments when others interfere with your ability to achieve your goals. You engage in conflict in an attempt to persuade them to stop interfering and allow you to fulfill your desires. If your colleague insists on smoking in your office and you don’t smoke, you may engage in conflict in an attempt to persuade him or her to quit. As you have seen in the examples, most conflicts are attempts to influence others.


Conflict Helps You Regulate Your Relationships


Another function of conflict is to help people manage their relationships. Routinely, family members, friends, lovers, and colleagues have to regulate issues of power and control, intimacy and distance, and novelty and predictability. Whenever people begin to feel they have too little power or too much responsibility, too much distance or closeness, or too much predictability or unpredictability in their relationships, they experience dissatisfaction. They may attempt to redress their dissatisfaction by engaging in conflict.


For example, if you find that your supervisor has changed your work hours without consulting you, you may resent having no control over the decision, even if the hours are no less convenient. In order to reestablish your control in the relationship, you may decide to engage in conflict.


Adolescents typically experience many such conflicts with their parents as a way to establish more independence and control (Montemayor, Adams, & Gullotta, 1990). Similarly, at times you may feel distant or disconnected from your friends or loved ones so you initiate conflict as a way to pull them back into the relationship. Through airing grievances and, more importantly, making up after the argument, you may begin to feel closer to one another. However, people rarely do this consciously, and it is not always effective. Unfortunately, sometimes the conflict can spin out of control and rather than increasing closeness it can destroy it.


Conflict is Cathartic


Conflict can also function as a catharsis for people. The word "catharsis" comes from the Greek term meaning “to cleanse.” People try to avoid conflicts only to discover that they have really just been delaying them. They become tense or irritated, and they find that they have to confront whatever is bothering them. After they talk with the other person, they may feel much better just to have “gotten it out in the open,” even if the issue itself is not resolved. In this way, they feel cleansed of their bad feelings. However, if the conflict is managed poorly, the participants may end up feeling worse rather than better.


Conflict Can Help You Clarify Issues


Conflict interactions also help people clarify how they feel and what they want. For example, when you enter an argument you may think you are upset about one issue—that your colleague is always late. Once you begin to discuss the issue, however, you may discover that you are actually upset because you believe your colleague does not value you and your time. In this way, engaging in conflict with others can help make your concerns and needs clearer—both to you and to others.


However, it is important to realize that your purposes for engaging in conflict may not always be clear to you, and any specific argument may serve more than one purpose. Nonetheless, the next time you engage in a conflict, you may find it useful to think along the following lines:


•Why are you having the argument?


•Why are you having it at this time?


This awareness may help you understand the underlying reasons you are in conflict and perhaps put the conflict in perspective


Competence Approach to Conflict (1 of 4)


 The competence model of conflict is the best model for guiding communicators as they work to improve their conflict management skills. This model was developed by communication scholars Dan Canary and Brian Spitzberg. A competence-based approach to managing conflict is valuable, both because it works, and because it is an ethical approach to conflict management. The competence model is ethical because it emphasizes the rights of all conflict parties. Its presuppositions include respect for opposing parties and ensuring that participants are not exploited, harmed, or even ignored by one another (Canary & Lakey, 2006).


Competence is composed of two elements:


•Appropriateness (defined as following the relevant rules, norms, and expectations for specific relationships and situations)


•Effectiveness (achieving one’s goals successfully)


A conflict behavior is judged to be effective only within specific situations or relationships (Spitzberg, Canary, & Cupach, 1994; Canary, Cupach, & Serpe, 2001; Canary & Lakey, 2006). For example, while competitive strategies may be competent (appropriate and effective) in the context of a sales contest at work, they wouldn’t be competent for a family discussion. As this example indicates, competence requires both appropriateness and effectiveness, though individual behavior may be appropriate or effective without being both.


Contributors to Competence during Conflict


Competence during conflict interactions requires a degree of “mindfulness” or attentiveness (Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2001). This isn’t too difficult to ensure since, as Canary and Lakey (2006) point out, conflict is not routine behavior and people tend to pay more attention to nonroutine behavior and interactions. Consciously choosing conflict strategies and tactics, while initially challenging, can be accomplished. Over time this can become unconscious behavior (Langer, 1989; Canary, 2003).


Canary and Lakey (2006) provide a variety of strategies than can help people engage in conflict more effectively. First, they suggest that individuals should learn to anticipate conflict situations so they can exercise control once the situation arises. For example, if you are in a bad mood, running late for an appointment, and/or you are under a lot of stress, you can anticipate you are more likely to feel irritable and engage in a conflict due to these contributing factors.


Similarly, you most likely know that certain topics, people, or situations can precipitate aggression, irritability, or feelings of powerlessness that will lead to conflict interactions. However, if you can anticipate your negative reaction to potential conflicts, you can limit your reactions and control your behavioral choices (Zillman, 1993).


However, if conflict is still necessary despite your efforts, you can still be mindful of the choices you make (Zillman, 1993). First, remind yourself that the outcome of the conflict is determined largely by your own skills and abilities. This will help you exert control over yourself and the situation.


Next, recognize the type of attributions you are making regarding the conflict, yourself, and the other party. Once you accept responsibility for your own contributions to the conflict, postpone making negative attributions regarding your conflict partner, and consider your own and your partner’s goals in the interaction. This will make you much more effective at managing your emotions, choice of conflict strategies, and reactions to your conflict partner (Canary & Lakey, 2006).


Once people understand the desired goals of their interactions, they can more easily choose relevant and competent communication or conflict strategies (Clark & Delia, 1979; Cody, Canary & Smith, 1994). During the conflict interaction, however, you need to be aware not only of your content goals, but of your goals for the relationship and how you wish to be seen in the interaction as well.




Communicating During Conflict


Overall, you’ll find that conflict interactants make two general choices regarding their communication with other conflict parties. People decide how direct or indirect they want to be, and decide how cooperative or competitive they will be (Sillars, Canary & Tafoya, 2004). Based on these dimensions, individuals can choose to be direct and cooperative (e.g. use agreement, conciliation, express feelings, problem solving, reconciling) or direct and competitive (e.g. blame, personal attacks, invalidation, confrontation, rejection).


Alternatively, they might choose to be indirect and cooperative (joking around, being noncommittal, changing the topic, or agreeing) or indirect and competitive (denial, withdrawal, evasion). As you can see, conflict participants make a general strategic choice that affects the specific conflict tactics they choose.


What does all of this mean in terms of conflict behavior? It means that individuals should engage in strategy control (Canary & Lakey, 2006). When behaving mindfully, one assesses more information and options and, therefore, understands the conflict and the partner better. As a result, people choose conflict behaviors that are responsive to the partner and themselves, increasing the possibility for cooperation, collaboration, and compromise (Canary & Lakey, 2006).






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