Tips for Interpersonal Conflict*
NOTE: I wish somebody had given me these tips 20 years ago. Here I share some tips I have found useful for handling interpersonal conflict.**
Interpersonal conflicts arise with practically everybody we interact with on a sustained basis e.g. spouse, siblings, child/parent, boss/subordinate, coworkers, student/teacher.
Old Paradigm: interpersonal conflict is
New Paradigm: interpersonal conflict is
The new paradigm recognizes that conflicts can be destructive, if mishandled. However, when handled with sensitivity and "assertiveness", conflicts provide opportunities for building better relations, for change and renewal.
If interpersonal conflicts are a part of everyday life, and can be destructive, it only makes sense to have education about handling them.
What is interpersonal conflict?
An interpersonal conflict occurs when two persons, in a mutually dependent relationship, have incompatible desires or needs. Examples:
There are six recognized categories of conflict starter issues:
Conflicts Occur at Two Levels Simultaneously:
Most conflicts occur at two levels simultaneously: a) content level and b) power (or relationship) level. Content level refers to straight-forward situations that present themselves. An example of a content issue will be that garbage needs to be taken out. At the power level, it becomes an issue of power relationship such as hierarchy, a prestige and face saving. The relational level involves underlying problems related to the relationship between the parties and are commonly related to power, trust and affection issues.
Conflict outcomes tend to be of two types:
1. Win-win: Both parties are satisfied.
2. Lose-lose: Neither party is satisfied.
What should we do when conflict starting issues arise?
Describe objectively use only “rational” language. Avoid exaggerations (e.g. “always”, “never”, “nothing”, “can’t”), and metaphors (e.g. “trapped”, “picked on”).
Express in “I” language even when talking about other’s behavior. For example, instead of saying “you just don’t care”, say “I feel that you do not care.”
Specify how you would like it resolved. Keep focus on present/future. Remember, past cannot be undone.
Consequences: Mention negative and positive consequences
of conflict and resolution.
Gunnysacking: Conflict strategy of storing up grievances -- as if in a gunnysack -- and holding them in readiness to dump on the other person in conflict.
A tactic of excessive emotional display (such as crying) that literally
silences the other person in the conflict.
*Parts of this article are adapted and excerpted from Interpersonal Communication Handbook, (© 2004, Pearson Custom Publishing, Boston, MA.) written by Wright State University’s Department of Communication professors B. Robinson and J. Alexander.
**The scope of this article is quite limited.
The general topic of conflict and resolution is, in fact, very broad and