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In their introduction to Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations, Folger, Poole, and Stutman present a case study (“The Women’s Hotline,” pp. 2-4) of a conflict that was successfully managed. As described, the resolution of the conflict seems deceptively simple.

Through the study, we are encouraged to explore several areas of conflict. First, we were tasked to review “The Women’s Hotline” case study and determine if the outcome of the conflict referenced was as quickly resolved as the authors suggested.

The climate Diane encountered was anything but what she was led to believe it would be if she ever discovered herself during a conflict at work. It seems the organization was dedicated to resolving conflict, so imagine Diane at the center of a conflict herself.

Of course, we must include a reference when appropriate to previous learning: Psychology 480. In this course, like the instant one, we discussed the idea of psychological contracts. Within this concept, Diane’s psychological contract was broken with her employer and coworkers when they refused to identify the reality of the situation Diane was in and offered her supportive solutions. In this climate study, the hostility and aggression related to workload were enough to sidetrack her coworkers on issues unrelated to Diane’s conflict with her employer. Diane wanted the supportive environment she provided to her clients, clients of the women’s organization. It was likely challenging for her psychologically to discover that her coworkers would not treat her issues with the same dignified care and concern they provide others.

In this case, the entire group got it right when they put down their baseball bats about workloads and gathered to validate Diane’s concern and give all parties a voice. They discovered the same negative direction of the environment our authors discuss when contemplating the direction of the conflict and where it would go. When her coworkers observed what they felt was Diane slacking off, they soon realized that the job stress connected to their positions presented the same difficulty for each employee.

In this context, an opportunity to improve the entire organization was created.

The definition outlined in prompt two is problematic for several reasons. The definition poses the interaction of interdependent people and the perception of incompatibility and interference as the core of the definition itself, but it appears not to be that simple. The definition should be scoped to remove language that frustrates it, like the term interdependent. While the term is accurate to the concept that conflict depends on two cooccurring parts, which are most certainly interdependent, it doesn’t capture the true nature of what I think conflict is. If I were to offer a revision, it would be something similar to:

Conflict: thoughts, attitudes, feelings, persuasions, or other characteristics that separate one’s opinion from that of another, which results in irreconcilable differences.

Ergo, divorce? Isn’t this the core of an irreconcilable difference?

Given the context of the arenas studied by Folger, Poole, and Stutman when identifying arenas for conflict, the most difficult conflict, in my opinion, is the interpersonal variety. Thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and persuasions account for individual differences in perception, which may not always align in interpersonal relationships. Accordingly, I have found these arenas most difficult to manage. Group conflict would be my second rank and order for difficulty, while organizations and intergroup conflicts fall to the bottom of the list. While a case can be made laterally for how each of these groups could present the most difficult conflict to manage, I firmly believe that interpersonal conflicts are the most difficult as they require the modification of individual differences.

Borrowing from Lewis Coser, Folger, Poole, and Stutman distinguish between realistic conflicts (ones involving differences concerning means to ends and the ends themselves) and nonrealistic conflicts (or expressions of aggression aimed at defeating or otherwise hurting others). If one misperceives the nature of a conflict experienced with another person, persons, or a group, efforts to manage it might be ineffective. Since realistic and nonrealistic conflicts may resemble one another on the surface, what cues could one use to determine which type of conflict in any given situation is operative? In addition, if the conflict appears to be nonrealistic, what do you think is the appropriate response upon coming to this realization? Why?

It is often challenging to recognize realistic and unrealistic conflicts. In one case, consider litigation. Essentially, two parties, the plaintiff and defendant, are at odds with each other. During litigation, in most jurisdictions, there is a mandatory settlement conference in which ADR strategies should be utilized to resolve the conflict at bar.

In this case, many times, the parties’ motivations can be misread by attorneys or litigation consultants, which either prematurely signals a willingness to avoid conflict or admit defects in their case at the expense of forgoing the nature of the conflict itself. In other words, no one wants to settle because both sides feel right and the other is wrong. The conflict is unresolved in this example as the party’s aggression clouds their judgment of reality. This illustrates the sole definition of our text:

“Nonrealistic conflicts are expressions of aggression in which the sole end is to defeat or hurt the other.”

In my view, productive conflict is a cornerstone attribute that I seek when attempting to identify resolvable conflict. The core question I have always asked in client meetings related to the adversity of parties in conflict is this:

“To what degree are you willing to accept some responsibility for the reason you find yourself in the situation you are in today?”

This is universally applicable to criminal and civil defendants and plaintiffs, as well as interpersonal, organizational, and group conflicts. In my view, this reveals the true motivation of each adverse party to neutralize their conflict. Even if there is a contributory negligence argument, to what end are both parties willing to put down the gloves?

.According to Folger, Poole, and Stutman, the success of efforts to manage conflicts is largely a matter of perception. When the parties think that they have gained more than they have lost, or at least have no net loss, are satisfied with the disposition of the issue(s) in dispute, believe that the settlement is fair (distributive justice), and think that the process of management has been fair (procedural justice), they see their efforts to manage a conflict as “successful.” To what extent, in your view, do such perceptions have to correspond to reality if the seemingly successful management of a conflict is to have any enduring effect? Think of cases (at least one) in which the parties to a conflict think that they have successfully managed it, only later to discover that they have not. To what do you attribute the parties’ misjudgments?

Perceived resolution to every conflict I have ever managed is the sole outcome measurement to determine my success. Recently, I was retained by two criminal codefendants to work with counsel to resolve their felony issue before the Court in an ADR-style mediation. In this vein, I approached the task with goals. I wanted to know the ideal resolution, the resolution they would accept, and unacceptable resolutions.

As I poured through discovery documents, I realized the proportionality of their conduct, which also revealed why one party was willing to accept a felony conviction and the other was not.

We successfully established a resolution in which their initial goals were met. The outcome of the case would have been resolved. An agreement was slated with the State, and a change of plea hearing was scheduled.

At the change of plea hearing, one party fired their counsel. As I was retained jointly, I was also fired for conflict-of-interest reasons. The result was what the clients asked for, but the reality wasn’t when faced with it. In this vein, the State recognized our many efforts to neutralize the conflict with the parties, and now, the conflict has become unmanageable.

In this illustration, I believe I have effectively showcased how the perception of the resolution seems to be the only guiding metric when determining the success or failure of conflict resolution.

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