Conflict, Power, and Influence in Interpersonal Communication

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Conflict management deals with many levels of communications. Power and influence play a key role in how conflict is resolved in situations involving conflict. The film Lean On Me was first and foremost about transformation on several different levels. At first glance the tactics of “Crazy Joe” Clark seem harsh and arbitrary. It helps to understand that Joe Clark in real life was a sergeant in the Army reserves. (Gallene 1989) Much of the tactics displayed in the movie would be familiar to anyone who had ever been to boot camp.

It is a tenant of modern police training that under stress people will revert to their latest or strongest training. For many years as a principal of a tough elementary school before arriving at Eastside High, Joe Clark used neither a bull horn nor baseball bat. In being faced with a situation beyond his control, and under tremendous pressure, his default training kicked in. The military values two traits above all, self-discipline and responsible leadership. Joe Clark set out to instill both of these in the students and staff of Eastside High. In doing so, he came into conflict with the dominant collective paradigm of modern education.

In this portion of the paper the writer will be contrasting the rules to avoid interpersonal conflict such as those that would be taught in the elementary school Joe Clark ran before the movie, and the actions of Joe Clark at Eastside High as shown in the movie.

“Treat each other with respect” might well be a poster on any wall, in any school in America. Firmly in crisis mode, Joe Clark did not have time to treat others with respect at first. His first priority was to gain control of the school as shown in the film. The real Joe Clark once said that “Discipline is the ultimate tenet of education. “Discipline establishes the format, the environment for academic achievement to occur” (Frederich & Bowen 1988). While he did not expel 300 students on his first day as principal as in the film, he did expel that number of students based on unsatisfactory attendance in his first year. Frequently these students created other problems in the school, but expelling them for attendance was much easier to prove and accomplished the same objective. “We challenge the behavior not the person” The film truthfully depicted Clark’s aggressive style with his own staff. Complacency and “business as usual” were not acceptable attitudes in the movie or with the real Joe Clark. He required an active engagement of all his teachers and staff. If students failed to learn it was the teachers fault. About 100 out of 300 teachers left during Clark’s tenure as principal. These included a basketball coach who was escorted from the building by security for failing to stand at attention while the school song was played. The real life Clark referred to disloyal teachers as “surreptitious snakes” often transferring those who disagreed with him, to avoid confrontation. Others were strongly encouraged to leave. (Gellene 1989) These are tactics familiar to any senior NCO taking over a new unit. “It’s OK to make mistakes” If the conflict depicted in the movie has a central theme it is the transformation of the character ably portrayed by Morgan Freeman from one style of conflict to another. At the beginning of the film, Freeman’s Clark clearly demonstrates a conflict style based on an “I win, you lose” philosophy as outlined by DeVito in the text. Here is a quote from the real Joe Clark that sums up this style. It appeared in a Time magazine article from 1988. “In this building, everything emanates from me. “Nothing happens here without me” (Frederich & Bowen 1988). The central change in the movie is the transformation of the character to a more cooperative “I win you win” style of conflict. Freemans’ Clark comes to realize that the teachers and staff are the key to him achieving his vision for the school. Freeman’s Clark admits the mistake. In real life, Joe Clark removed the chains from the...
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