Article Summary of "Conflict Assessment" by Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot

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Chapter Six describes ways of assessing conflict and identifying conflict patterns. Conflicts can seem very complex and confusing. Additionally, "most of us are notoriously inaccurate at describing our own behavior in a conflict."(p. 129) System theory offers an organizing scheme for conflict assessment. A full assessment will describe the workings of the overall conflict system, identify recurring patterns within the conflict, and identify individuals' contributions to the conflict system.

Systems theory analyzes conflicts in terms of roles, processes, and patterns. It seeks to discover the rules that govern the system's behavior, and the function that the conflict serves within the system. The systems theory approach starts with some basic principles. The first is that "systems operate as an interdependent unit with no villains, heroes, good and bad people, healthy or unhealthy members."(p. 131) Systems analysis focuses on the patterns of interaction between people. Such patterns of interaction show circular causality: each element of the system is affected by all the others, and affects all the others in turn. A second principles is that people in a system are assigned specific roles, and the system works to keep people in their assigned roles.

Systems, including conflicts, are sustained by the cooperation of their members. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. Fortunately, this means "the cycle can be changed be any one person changing his or her behavior."(p. 132) Another principle is that systems with intense relationships tend to produce triangles, as low power members form alliances. Triangles behave in predictable, and sometimes toxic, ways over time. The authors note that "systems develop rules for conflict that, no matter how dysfunctional, are followed as long as the basic structure of the system does not change."(p. 132) Finally, conflict serves some function within the larger system. Resolving the apparent conflict may create a vacuum...
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