Conflict Management Conflict Management

Why the study of conflict is important

Key elements of conflict

The nature of conflict

Variables in the study of conflict

Skills for conflict managers

Self test

Sources for this Web site



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The Nature of Conflict

Characteristics of conflict: What it is and what it is not
Destructive and constructive conflict
Competitive and cooperative conflict
Mutual gains negotiation

Characteristics of conflict: What it is and what it is not  

To review, conflict has the following characteristics:  

  • Interpersonal conflict requires at least two people. (Conflict within one’s self, or intrapersonal conflict, generally is studied by psychologists. Communication students and scholars are interested in communication between people.)
  • Conflict inherently involves some sense of struggle or incompatibility or perceived difference among values, goals, or desires.
  • Action, whether overt or covert, is key to interpersonal conflict. Until action or expression occurs, conflict is latent, lurking below the surface.
  • Power or attempts to influence inevitably occur within conflicts. If the parties really don't care about the outcome, the discussion probably doesn't rise to the level where we call it a conflict. When people argue without caring about what happens next or without a sense of involvement and struggle, it probably is just a disagreement.

Conflict also can be understood by examining what it is not:  

  • Conflict is not a breakdown in communication, but a process that is ongoing. The communication process is not like a car that can break or cease to function. Conflict entails communication about disagreements.
  • Conflict is not inherently good or bad. While people may tend to remember only the conflicts that were painful, conflict itself is a normal part of being human. Harmony is neither normal nor necessarily desirable as a permanent state of being. It is normal in relationships for differences to occur occasionally, just as it is normal in businesses for changes in goals and directions to occur. Conflict is normal.
  • Conflict is not automatically resolved by communication. Managing conflicts productively is a skill.

Sources for the discussion of the nature of conflict include Wilmot and Hocker, 1998; Lulofs, 1994; McCorkle and Mills, 1992; McKinney, Kimsey, and Fuller, 1995.


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