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Interpersonal Conflict Resolution. Tamara Arrington, MA University of Kentucky & BCTCS. CONFLICT. What do you think of when you hear that word? Write down the first 5 words that come to mind. Is This What You Thought Of?. POSITVE Air important issues New/creative ideas

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interpersonal conflict resolution

Interpersonal Conflict Resolution

Tamara Arrington, MA

University of Kentucky &




What do you think of when you

hear that word?

Write down the first 5 words

that come to mind.

were any of your words positive

Air important issues

New/creative ideas

Release tension

Strengthen relationships

Assist in reevaluating goals

Culture change

Normal and healthy

Prevents stagnation

Increase creativity & innovation

Positive learning experiences


Can spiral into frustration, tension, and more conflict

Can harm trust

Can create distance

Can hurt identity

Physical symptoms/illness

Can lead to abuse and/or violence

Can begin a spiral

Were any of your words positive?
there are a lot of ways to resolve conflicts
There are a lot of ways to resolve conflicts.

Some are more highly recommended than others.

interpersonal conflict is
Interpersonal Conflict is…
  • An expressed struggle (both parties have to know a conflict exists – if not, it’s intrapersonal conflict)
  • Between at least two interdependent parties
  • Who perceive incompatible goals, scarce rewards, and/or interference from the other party in achieving their goals

Hocker & Wilmot

conflict means
Conflict means…
  • I am an alive, thinking, and feeling HUMAN (and yet an ANIMAL)
  • I care about my job and the people I work with (I wouldn’t stick around and engage you in conflict if I didn’t)
  • I’m involved with the people I work with (and to some degree we need each other)
  • I “know” all about the great Social Exchanges of life – (pp=r-c) and the scarcity of rewards
two main types of conflict
Two Main Types of Conflict
  • Substantive conflict – conflict that is focused on the issues and on disagreements about possible solutions
  • Affective conflict – interpersonal conflict characterized by extreme frustration – highly correlated with how critical and punishing members are to each other and how unpleasant the emotional atmosphere in the group is. (“differention gone awry”)
what we know about conflicts
What we know about conflicts
  • Relationships become strained when group members disagree over important issues.
  • We tend to like people who agree with us and dislike people with whom we do not agree.
  • Strain is usually resolved by change in beliefs on an issue or change in the liking of another
  • We take the path of least resistance – the issue or the person (whichever is less important we will change)
  • Duration of tension can lead to decreased respect and increased hostility

Differentiation & EscalationBalance Theory (Swensen, 1973)

our reflexes are normal
Our Reflexes Are Normal
  • If someone makes a comment that we perceive as hostile, we are most likely to respond with further hostile responses (tit for tat)
  • Evaluative comments can easily elicit defensive responses from us because they seem threatening to us
  • Because differentiation calls for evaluation, defensiveness is likely to develop.

Leary, 1957; Gibb, 1961

what strengthens our commitment to conflict
What Strengthens Our Commitment to Conflict?
  • I make my position public or restate it several times - thereby increasing my commitment to the position or behavior.
  • When my position is called into question (via new information or argument) I often intensify my stand in an effort to preserve my “good name” and self-image.
  • I may respond to criticism with a more extreme position than I originally held.
  • Public commitment can increase defensiveness, rigidity and inflexibility.
what boosts anxiety
What Boosts Anxiety?
  • An initial personalization of the conflict
  • The stress of acknowledging opposing stands
  • Hostile and emotional statements
  • Uncertainty about the outcomes
  • Heightened awareness of the consequences of not reaching a resolution
we are resistant to change
We Are Resistant To Change!
  • Alfred Adler – we have consistent patterns of responses. This gives us our character and the guiding principles we use to make decisions.
  • Sometimes these principles clash with events.
  • Even worse, sometimes we fasten onto our orientations despite severe clashes with reality.
are you ready for help yet
Are you ready for help yet?

“Oh God, this relationship is killing me!”

how do we get to resolution
How do we get to resolution?
  • Differentiation – raise issues, clarify positions and reasoning, acknowledge severity of those differences
  • Integration – acknowledge common ground, explore options, move toward a LIVEABLE solution

Walton’s (1969) Two Phase Model

strategies vs tactics what s the difference
Strategies vs. Tactics:What’s the Difference?
  • Strategy – conscious plan
  • Tactics – actions for carrying out the strategy
  • Style – consistent, specific orientation towards the conflict; unifies specific tactics into a coherent whole; “the way a person usually responds to conflict” ; it is relatively stable, but has the capacity to change.
dimensions of conflict styles
Dimensions of Conflict Styles
  • Assertiveness – attempts to satisfy concerns with respect to the issues
  • Cooperativeness – attempts to satisfy concerns of the other
  • Disclosiveness – degree to share information
  • Empowerment – degree to which they grant some control
  • Activeness – degree of involvement
  • Flexibility – movement one is willing to make
  • Competing – active, concern for self, high involvement
  • Forcing – use power plays (superiority)
  • Contending – uses explanation and expression of sympathy
  • Avoiding – low concern for self & other, fear loss
  • Protecting – “shell”, low disclosure
  • Withdrawing – apologetic, address some
  • Smoothing – downplay differences, emphasize commonalities
  • Accomodating
  • Yielding – apathy, high flexibility, low activism
  • Conceding – firmer yielding
  • Compromising – NOT as good as some think!
  • Firm – limited flexibility of position
  • Flexible – less well-defined position
  • Problem-solving (a win-win approach)

The Conflict Grid



Disagreements are smoothed over so that harmony is maintained - one party gives into another.



A process used to assess several points of view and alternatives. Solutions involve meeting the minimum.





Compromise, bargaining, & middle-ground positions are accepted. “Divide the pie,” win-win is not possible. Win lose would cause negative repercussions.


Concern for satisfying other parties



Neutrality is maintained at all costs. Withdrawal from the situation relieves the necessity for dealing with conflict.


Win-lose power struggles are fought out, decided by the powerful, or through arbitration




0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Concern for results/production

selecting the best style for managing conflicts
Selecting the Best Style for Managing Conflicts
  • Is this worth addressing?
  • How effective will this style likely be?
  • What responses will this likely provoke? (What is the conflict style of the other party?)
  • What are the consequences to the long-term relationship?
  • Is this ethical?
what about gender
What About Gender?
  • Less differences than you might think
  • More difference in what is expected of them in conflicts
  • Different standard of interpretation
  • Men – task; women – interpretation
  • Women are more likely to compete back, reinforcing the demand-withdraw cycle
7 step problem solving approach
7-Step Problem Solving Approach
  • Define your needs
  • Share your needs with the other person
  • Listen to the other person’s needs
  • Generate possible solutions
  • Evaluate the possible solutions and choose the best one
  • Implement the solution
  • Follow up the solution
  • REWARD & REINFORCE (the Arrington addition to the model) – why is this important?

(Weider-Hatfield, 1981)