One of the key definitions of conflict in Merriam-Websterdictionary is “competitive or opposing action ofincompatibles: antagonistic state or action”. As can be seen from thedefinition, the conflict clearly involves opposing – even sometimes conflicting- interests between two or more parties (in case with interpersonal conflict),two groups or more (intergroup), within a single group (intra-) or including asingle person (a conflict within an individual is called an “intrapersonal”). In most cases involving conflicts, however, there appears tobe a drastic change in relationships between the opposing sides. Mostfrequently, the relationships shift from being welcoming & warm to highlycompetitive and even hostile, if not aggressive, the overall balance betweenthe parties is disturbed: the tension & confusion enter the phase; as aconsequence of that, communication between the parties becomes uneasy toestablish – the contact is impaired and difficult to maintain, diminished levelof trust to other party takes its turn. Motivation to support, not to mentionhelp other party is on the decrease, polarization together with dehumanizationbecome the central subject of matter; the parties blame each other for thegrowing – or escalating – conflict issue & fairly often even forget aboutthe initial subject of argument due to their attention along with other vitalresources being concentrated on the personal issues of each other.
Each side isdetermined to gain more power than the other and to push away the other party. Eventually,the conflict gets out of hands and is usually seen as independent entity of theoriginal issue. As can be seen in this instance, the nature of these conflictis rather destructive, the partiescompete with each other over the resources, success & dominance. M. Deutsch (1973) in his eminent Crude Law argues that there are two types of conflict. An instanceprovided above can be conceptualized as destructive conflict, the one thatproduces competitive behavior, competitive orientation & rather negativeinterdependence between conflicting parties. In contrast, there is a cooperative– or constructive conflict.
The parties are willing & encouraged to trusteach other, favour each other & help – they cooperate and are more likelyto reach the desired state or the common ground in the conflict. In thissituation, the parties are inclined to approach their compatriot, to sharescarce resources as well as information that they have discovered with theother party, knowing that their goal is interconnected – and working together,the parties involved in this type of conflict, are perceive each otherpositively & are more likely to be seen as building a bridge rather than destroying it or building a fence.In terms of conflictescalation (some of it is already mentioned above) there are a few general stages (concept introduced by Pruitt-Rubin)that to be discussed.
At first, the light tactics (which are promises,arguments that seem persuasive at first & efforts to satisfy and delightthe other side) are seem to enter the “battlefield”, however they are abruptly changedby the heavy tactics (which might well sometimes involve threat & verbal aswell as physical abuse, blackmailing and other types of violence). Thesechanges, in turn, lead to a definite conflict escalation, the number of overallissues here gets wider, more resources and more people (possibly, the thirdparties and such) get involved in the conflict. Then the specific number ofissues grows into more general & wider, relationships between the parties worsens(if doesn’t get destroyed at all by this time).
By the end of it, the final goalbetween the parties usually changes to winning or hurting the other party evenmore. In turn, there are a few cognitivebiases to consider, that enter human mind & can affect, if not entirelychange the direction and trace of an ongoing conflict (presented by Thompson& Lucas in 2000). One of the most central out of those biases is a need tosimplify – it includes stereotyping (that may sometimes lead to oversimplificationand to offense of any type), ignoring the cause-effect relations, which as apartial consequence, can lead to ignoring and putting away any information thatappears inconsistent for any of the parties. Perception of opposing forces (anegative one) becomes a fixed value, devaluative processes mature and develop intoa central feature, which ultimately leads to exaggeration of an overall issueof conflict and the lose-lose outcome orientation (rather than lose-win, oreven win-win); the lose-lose outcome, as a result, is perceived as the onlyoption for conflict resolution.
Important to mention here another of suchbiases – egocentric judgement – the one is closely connected to biasedjudgement of fairness & wrongness, results in invalid perception of controland creates a false belief of transparency between the conflicting parties. Andlastly, there is the point where a false dichotomy between cooperation andcompetition arises and leaves the opposing sides with insufficient options forconflict resolution (which can seemingly satisfy the requirements for conflictresolution for any of the parties) and gives fair beginning to further conflictescalation.An example provided below, as can be seen later, can beconsidered to be a typical conflict ofinterests (Moore, 1996). The whole situation involves a mild disagreement between all five bandmatesconcerning how the first song on their debut LP should sound like. The peers goover the same issue more times that it can be counted, over and over, getting oneach other’s nerves. The conflict dynamically spreads: now originally innocent concerntransforms into something stronger than a plain disagreement. The pressurealong with high tension enter the game, and suddenly, all five peers findthemselves holding somewhat controversial positions (described by Pruitt &Rubin, 1986):One of them can be recognized as a competitive type – whichcan also be referred as a forcer or a fighter.
As a rule, this conflict stylemaximizes concern of self (commonly named as assertiveness) and minimizes sympathyfor others. Which may sound a little bit too much like an egoistic approach toa situation of the sort; the main distinction, however, between the two wouldbe the fact that the competitive type is to seek dominance & enjoy the wholeprocess of negotiation as well as to control the interaction between themembers. As a general tendency these are greater focused to rather win the debate, and pay little to noattention to the whole relationship scheme between the group members (as notedby Goldfien & Robbennolt, 2007).An accommodating,or yielding – conflict style is quite the opposing force as compared tocompetitive. It cares more about maintaining & sustaining relationshipswithin a group and often neglects or rather “forgets” about his/her ownconcerns. As noted in a recently mentioned journal article (Goldfien & Robbennolt,2007): “(…) accommodating types derive satisfaction from meeting the needs of others,are perceptive and intuitive about emotional states, detect subtle verbal andnonverbal cues, and tend to have good relationship building skills; they tendto deflect or give up in the face of conflict out of concern for therelationship, and tend to be vulnerable to competitive types”.
As a majorconsequence of that, the accommodating holds an opinion that agreeableness andhigh concern for others rather than the self is more important than winning.Right in the middle of the issue the compromising conflict style is to reside. As the name itselfstates, the compromising is an intermediate on both the assertiveness andempathy dimensions (which is, broadly speaking, high involvement (or concern) forself & others). “Compromisers value fairness and expect to engage in somegive and take when bargaining. Acompromise approach allows those in conflict to take a reasonable stance thatoften results in an efficient resolution to the conflict”. (Goldfien & Robbennolt,2007). As a twist, compromisers may occasionallymiss the suitable opportunities & options for resolution “by moving toofast to split the difference, failing to search for trades and joint gains, andmay neglect the relational aspects of the dispute”. The fourth type is a Collaborative.
These types are score higher in terms of assertiveness & empathy at thesame time (which sounds a lot like a compromising, at the very beginning). “Collaboratorsoften see conflict as a creative opportunity and do not mind investing the timeto dig deep and find a win-win solution, but may be inclined to spend more timeor resources than are called for under the circumstances” (by Goldfien & Robbennolt,2007). According to that, the collaborative is often seen as “the brain”, orsimply speaking, as a main problem-solving side of the conflict that searchesfor the middle ground – or optimal, – of conflict resolution. And lastly, the one that simply avoids the situation just bypacking its things and straight leaving an auditorium. That`s avoidant conflict style which is bothlow in assertiveness and low in empathy. It firmly beliefs that the issue canbe solved just by… leaving and letting someone else resolve the issue. They canbe seen as not caring about the whole relationships-within situation as well asnot caring about themselves, equally. “(…) the worst feature of theirs is neglectunderlying relationships, allow problems to fester by ignoring them”.
Thepassivity and lack of concern about the issue of conflict in their case can beperceived by others in a negative light – and arguing more about it leads to greateravoidance. The issue of conflict remains unresolved and hardly everwill, yet there still is a faint chance that all five of the bandmates willreunite to create a striking first-class LP.