Bridge over the River Kwai

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Bridge over the River Kwai

In the beginning of the film there were task, relationship, and process conflicts between Saito and Nicholson, never mind the obvious underpinnings inherent between a captor and his captive. They had opposing views when it came to the design of the bridge: location over the river, materials, etc. They themselves fought to establish their roles respective to one another: dealing with ego, ethics, and military customs. And they also conflicted when it came to command roles and delegation: officers verses enlisted, work rate, etc. At the onset Saito and Nicholson found themselves locking horns in a dysfunctional conflict (hindering group performance), but by the film’s end they had established a working functional conflict (supporting the goals of the group and improving performance).

When it comes to conflict resolution, and when there is no way around it, parties can either compete or collaborate. Unfortunately, in the beginning of the film, both Saito and Nicholson pushed to compete, believing that each held the sole means to an end: the building of the bridge. I wish I could say that, in time, both saw the value of collaboration and were able to build a far superior bridge because of it. But that just isn’t the case. (Could I assume that a movie produced by The West in 1957 would never propagate a message of compromising with the enemy?) In the end the bridge was built with British designs, by British oversight, and by British ingenuity. There was no collaboration. Nicholson strong-armed, and Saito wilted. It was Nicholson’s stubbornness (after a lengthy avoidance) and Saito’s caving (and then complete accommodation) that got the bridge built. There are two types of bargaining approaches: distributive and integrative. The distributive approach is one of opposition, believing that you hold the only way to succeed and thus must impose your views and win out. It’s a very narrow-minded and near-sided approach. The...
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