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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 techniques of collaboration, compromise, and accommodation.

Collaboration doesn’t mean manipulation, collaborating allows people to learn another’s perspective. When individuals collaborate, they work with one another to understand the basis for disagreement, generate alternatives, and find a mutually satisfying solution. For everyone to feel satisfied with the resolution, each must have input in generating the solution; those involved should consider brainstorming possible scenarios and should be open to all ideas (even those that may never have been considered before). To best understand the other person wants and/or needs, all parties should employ good listening skills. Each individual should be encouraged to take their time and be given the opportunity to fully explain their feelings. Phrases like “I understand” and “I want to know” are helpful in keeping an open dialog. Focus should be on the information being conveyed, however, some of the information may also be found in the form of non-verbal communication. Eye contact, facial expression, posture, tone – these nonverbal signals also help convey what the person is trying to say. Responding with nonverbal signals – a calm tone of voice, concerned facial expressions, a reassuring touch if appropriate - helps convey there is understanding. Collaboration can actually present an opportunity for strengthening the relationship and collaboration, like compromise, is a useful tool for reaching an outcome that is fair and satisfying to both parties.

Compromise means each side is willing to “give and take”. Compromise is useful for making decisions where both parties have an “ideal” but are willing to accept something less if it is beneficial for both. The best approach to compromise is when individuals keep emotions, reactions, fears, etc., out of the exchange of information and explain their thoughts and feelings in reasonable words and tone. Employing logic and exercising emotional control allows individuals to communicate their position clearly and effectively. Some people may find compromise difficult because conflict itself can be an emotional trigger. People in a heightened level of distress are more apt to use sarcasm, criticism, show disgust or contempt, or attempt to place blame on others; this would make compromise a less likely outcome. Using a “cooler heads prevail” scenario, staying centered and in control allows an individual to react in a constructive way even when the other person does not. It is essential to resist the urge to reply in kind as it can only lead to an escalation when one party is already distressed, anxious or frustrated. Often if one party remains calm, it can cause the other person to react more positively and controls the escalation of conflict. Individuals may not always have time to use the proverbial “count to ten”, but taking a moment to edit one’s comments rather than responding with a negative message can ultimately result in negotiating an equally satisfying compromise. On the other hand, compromise will not work in the long term if only one party constantly agrees to make sacrifices; this can cause undue stress and resentment over the long-haul. Also, conflicts that involve principles or values are more difficult (but not impossible) to resolve with compromise; however, compromise that involves both sides being aware of the impact to the other is a strong building block in developing long-lasting relationships.
Accommodation requires the respect of another’s viewpoint which is invaluable in conflict resolution and it may be useful when compromise is not a viable option. Accommodation is nearly the antithesis of compromise in that one side totally gives in to the other person’s point of view, or gives complete attention to the other’s concerns while neglecting their own. Accommodation is often the best choice when it seems the “right thing to do” because one person’s circumstances are such that sacrifice seems necessary. Every successful marriage and business enterprise has seen accommodation. Utilizing accommodation is appropriate when an issue matters more to the other party or when peace is more valuable than winning; however, overall the accommodation approach is unlikely to give the best outcome for both parties. A great deal of consideration should be exercised before accommodation it is utilized. Although individuals see the world from their unique perspective, no one set of values or beliefs is the only “right” way. Everyone has his or her own biases but in generating an end that bests fits only their wants/needs is a limiting behavior. Conversely, focusing on only your own perspective and dismissing other’s views or values is counterproductive. Even if you don’t understand or entirely agree, acknowledge that the other person’s views have merit and accommodation may be the answer.

Conflict management is a process of events and choices. Individuals are as unique as snowflakes and each person has their own degree of comfort in dealing with conflict. By matching goals with the best style of conflict resolution, obtaining positive outcomes need not be painful. It is often helpful to practice the “golden rule” – treat others like you want to be treated. Keep in mind that sometimes you can successfully resolve a conflict by simply agreeing to disagree - in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress”. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing; conflicts can be constructive if used as an opportunity for improving communication within the relationship. Life offers up not a series of problems but a series of opportunities. Individuals can manage conflict productively utilizing collaboration, compromise, and accommodation; those that choose to do so are rewarded with successful interpersonal relationships.

Work Cited

Canary, Daniel J, and Marianne Dainton. Maintaining Relationships Through Communication: Relational, Contextual, and Cultural Variations. 1st ed. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Print. "Conflict Resolution | healthcenter.ncsu.edu." healthcenter.ncsu.edu |. North Carolina State University, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.
Drew, Naomi. The Kids Guide to Working Out Conflicts. 1st ed. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2004. Print.
Greene, John O, and Brant R. Burleson. Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills. 1st ed. Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Print.
Heathfield, Susan. "Dealing With People at Work - 10 Tips for Dealing With Everyday People at Work." Human Resources Management and Employment Information and Advice. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.
Kam, Katherine. "Anger Effects on Your Heart: Heart Disease, Atherosclerosis, and More." WebMD - Better information. Better health. N.p., Dec. 2009. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.
Knapp, Mark L., and John A. Daly. Handbook of Interpersonal Communication. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002. Print.
Parks, Malcolm R. Personal Relationships and Personal Networks. 1st ed. Mahwah, N.J: Erlbaum, 2007. 1-15. Print.
Sabourin, T. C., D. A. Infante, and J. E. Rudd. "Competence in Interpersonal Conflict." Human Communication Research 20.2 (1993): 245-67. Print.

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Cited: Canary, Daniel J, and Marianne Dainton. Maintaining Relationships Through Communication: Relational, Contextual, and Cultural Variations. 1st ed. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Print. "Conflict Resolution | healthcenter.ncsu.edu." healthcenter.ncsu.edu |. North Carolina State University, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2013. Drew, Naomi. The Kids Guide to Working Out Conflicts. 1st ed. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2004. Print. Greene, John O, and Brant R. Burleson. Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills. 1st ed. Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Print. Heathfield, Susan. "Dealing With People at Work - 10 Tips for Dealing With Everyday People at Work." Human Resources Management and Employment Information and Advice. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. Kam, Katherine. "Anger Effects on Your Heart: Heart Disease, Atherosclerosis, and More." WebMD - Better information. Better health. N.p., Dec. 2009. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. Knapp, Mark L., and John A. Daly. Handbook of Interpersonal Communication. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002. Print. Parks, Malcolm R. Personal Relationships and Personal Networks. 1st ed. Mahwah, N.J: Erlbaum, 2007. 1-15. Print. Sabourin, T. C., D. A. Infante, and J. E. Rudd. "Competence in Interpersonal Conflict." Human Communication Research 20.2 (1993): 245-67. Print. .

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