Resolving Interpersonal Conflict

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Positive Ways to Resolve Interpersonal Conflict
Conflict is a normal, healthy, and inevitably a part of interaction with other people. Interpersonal relationships develop with friends, colleagues, life partners, children, even casual acquaintances. The more often there is interaction , the more opportunity for conflict. Arizona State University Professor Daniel Canary humorously noted, “a lack of conflict is assured in one of two extremely unlikely conditions: when people are entirely constrained from thinking, feeling, and acting, or when they are talking to clones of themselves”. Conflict happens when people have differing outcomes in mind or differing points of view; it may involve financial issues, division of labor, broken promises, false accusations, even moral issues. The way individuals manage interpersonal conflict is an indicator of their personal development – the better they understand how their wants and needs must fit in with another’s wants and needs, the easier it is for them to resolve conflict in a mutually beneficial way. When conflict is considered and treated as just a normal and expected part of life, “there are proven ways for handling conflict that are positive and fair, ways that allow both people to feel okay at the end” (Drew 1). Productive and positive conflict resolution can be accomplished by utilizing collaboration, compromise, and accommodation.

To better understand conflict and sources of conflict in interpersonal relationships and how they are entwined is an important component in being able to put resolution skills into play. Conflict is inescapable; the more people interact with one another, the more the need to negotiate who does what, when and how, and the greater the likelihood conflict will arise. In the Handbook of Interpersonal Communication, Knapp states “humans face the challenge of managing their everyday conflicts so as to maximize positive consequences while minimizing negative ones”(475). Conflict can also be affected by outside influences such as relationship history, financial difficulties, cultural differences, social network loyalties, and even environment (i.e., “cabin fever” after being shut in by a snow storm). Perceived, or real, personal affronts like criticism, frustration, or resentment can bring about anger, and anger itself can fuel conflict. Incivility, creation of a hostile work environment, abusive language and threats are often a result of an individual’s inability to manage interpersonal conflict effectively and productively. The Communication Skill Devicity Hypothesis states “people who lack communication skills rely on more aggressive and abusive behaviors to express themselves” (Sabourin, Infante,Rudd 513). The American Heart Association asserts that both withholding anger and exaggerated expression of anger during conflict has been linked to heart disease. According to Dr. Laura Kubzansky, of Harvard School of Public Health, “expressing anger in reasonable ways can be healthy..tell[ing] people that you're angry can be extremely functional. But explosive people who scream at others may be at greater risk for heart disease as well as those who harbor suppressed rage"(Kam). Additionally, information published by the U.S. Department of Justice’ Office on Violence Against Women states that skillfully managing conflict can be effective in preventing physical or verbal abuse in close relationships. A study conducted by McGonagle, Kellser and Gotlib found “the strongest predictor of divorce among couples was how negatively they characterized their arguments (i.e., cruel or intense)… and how frequently they disagreed”(Knapp 516), and the amount of arguing was directly related to overall satisfaction with the marriage. In themselves, the health and emotional benefits of positive conflict resolution are valuable; however to maintain and sustain interpersonal relationships, it is not only helpful but necessary to utilize the...
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