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1. List 5 ideas that can be used to avoid a win/lose situation in the negotiation process.

2. List 3 indicators that the person with whom you are negotiating is using competitive negotiation techniques. How could you deal with each of these?

3. Discuss the value of collaborative negotiation.

4. Why is it important to separate people from problems?

5. Give three situations in which intervention would be appropriate.

6. In the workplace, what role do you believe a manager should have in intervention?

7. In what situations do you believe intervention should be mandated? Voluntary?

8. What should be the goal of mediation?

9. What is arbitration? Give an example of when it would be appropriate.


Title of the paper
Student Name
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Course Name
Professor/Instructor Name
Q1. Conflict involves an expressed struggle. Discuss two negative ways one can express a
struggle and two positive ways one can express a struggle.
Conflicts is the where two or people stuck somewhere and arguing to making things happen.
Conflicts can be expressed in two ways: positively and negatively. Positively, one can express
a struggle in conflicts by taking control of the situation and making it work the way he wants
it to. The other way is when a person expresses his struggles negatively, in this one can express
struggle in such which results in disaster.
Examples of two positive ways one can express a struggle in conflicts are: The first is a process
of conflict resolution. This is when the parties involved in the conflict sit down and discuss
their issues and try to reach an agreement on how to proceed with the problem. The second
way is through mediation. Mediation is processes in which third party peacekeepers help solve
disputes between parties. Also, it involves the use of counselors or mediators who act as
impartial third party facilitators and help members from both sides reach an agreement that will
lead to peace and harmony among them.
Examples of negatively expressed conflicts: One is to be passive and the other is to be
aggressive. First, some people express their struggle by talking about their feelings and
emotions. This is called internalizing the conflict. For example, someone may be angry at a
specific person and they may express this anger to themselves by thinking about how angry
they are, feeling sad or frustrated, or having negative thoughts about the person who has upset
them. Another way to express one’s struggle in conflicts is working on a solution to the
problem. This is called externalizing the conflict. An individual might work on a solution by
talking about what needs to be done to resolve the problem and then actually doing it.
Q2. What role do you believe communication has in conflict?
Communication is a vital part of conflict resolution. It helps parties involved in a conflict
understand the perspective of their opponents and develop a shared understanding of what
transpired. Communication can help prevent misunderstandings from leading to violence and
war. The role of communication in conflict is to help people understand each other’s positions
and points of view, and to facilitate the negotiation process. Communication is a two-way
street; the parties must both listen and speak. In order to be effective, communications must be
clear and unambiguous. Each party must understand exactly what he or she is being told;
otherwise it is impossible for that person to respond in an appropriate manner. Communication
may fail because one party does not understand what was said, or because the words themselves
were unclear.
In addition to providing information about the nature of the conflict situation (e.g., who you
are negotiating with), communicating your position can help you become more assertive and
make your point of view known. It is important that both sides have clearly defined positions
before negotiations begin so that everyone knows where they stand from the start. For example,
two people may come together over something as simple as language. If one person speaks
English while another speaks Spanish, both parties need to communicate before they can bridge
this gap.
Q3. What role does interdependence play in conflict?
The role of interdependence in conflict is that the parties engage in an expressed struggle and
interfere with one another because they are interdependent. The interdependent relationship
exists between the parties, which mean that they must depend on each other for survival.
Having this type of relationship, the parties tend to rely on each other for support and help.
Their reliance on each other makes them vulnerable to a conflict situation because if one party
experiences a problem or crisis, it affects all parties involved.
If we look at how interdependence plays a role in conflict, we can see that it affects how people
interact with others, how they communicate with them and how they respond to others’ thoughts
and feelings. The way people act when there is an issue that involves someone else can be
affected by their interdependence with that person. For instance, if two people have an intimate
relationship where there is deep trust between them, then if one person finds out something
about their partner that causes problems for them, then this may lead to some sort of conflict
situation between them both.
Q4. Conflict involves perceived incompatible goals. How do these goals work? Why is the
word “perceived” emphasized?
Perceived incompatible goals are goals that the person perceives as being
incompatible(Hocker, J., Berry, K. and Wilmot, W., 2021). The goal is one of two or more
goals that the person has in mind. The goal is then perceived to be incompatible if the person
believes that they cannot have both goals. Perceived and incompatible indicate that the person
perceives his goals as being incompatible with those of the organization. Incompatible goals
are often related to each other, such as when a person wants to make more money and also
want to spend more time with their family. They may decide that they can’t have both, which
creates an incompatibility between the two goals.
Perceived incompatibles are very common in people’s lives and they can occur with any goal.
For example, a young woman may want to get married but also wants to stay single for a while
longer so she can focus on her career instead of having children right away. Or perhaps another
woman may want to marry but doesn’t want children yet either because she wants to travel or
work abroad for some time before having any children. In these instances, there’s an
incompatibility between the two goals because it means that the person won’t be able to achieve
both at once and will have to choose between them – something many people find difficult due
to conflicting priorities within themselves
Q5. What is a resource? Describe two examples of resources in the workplace and two
examples of resources in the home.
Resources are the things that you use to get your job done. Resources can be anything from
supplies to equipment, and they can be found in many different places. Some examples of
resources in the workplace include a computer, manpower and machines. These are all things
you must have on your desk if you want to do your job well. Another example would be the
lunchroom where employees eat their meals together. Employees need this room because it is
where they can socialize with other employees and talk about work-related issues. (Hocker, J.,
Berry, K. and Wilmot, W., 2021)
Resources play an important role in every aspect of life, especially at work. Resources also
found in home, For example, if you were asked to do something at home but didn’t have the
proper supplies on hand, then you might need to go out and buy some new tools or supplies so
that you could complete your work properly. Examples of resources at home are Dining table
is resource which help family to eat together and increase bonding of relationship, 2) Father’s
decision making power is resource for all the members of family because he is a supreme man
who has plenty of responsibilities
Q6. In a couple of paragraphs, discuss the concept of interference.
The concept of interference is useful to understand a conflict in which there are two or more
parties that have different interests and goals (Hocker, J., Berry, K. and Wilmot, W., 2021).
Interference implies that one party has an interest conflicting with the other party’s interest, and
this can lead to problems. Interference can occur when individuals with different goals come
together to form a group. The group may have a goal that is in conflict with the goals of some
of its members. For example, a group of people may want to reach the summit of Mount
Everest, but one member wants to train for an arduous climb while another member just wants
to enjoy the view at base camp. In this case, it would be hard for the group to reach its goal
because each member’s goal conflicts with at least one other member’s goal.
A second reason for interference is when individuals have different interests and goals within
the same organization or institution (such as school). For example, an employee may have a
higher salary than another employee in his department but also wants more vacation time than
his colleague does. This could lead to conflict because both employees want something
different from what their company offers them.
Q7. Create a scenario that depicts a negative escalatory conflict spiral.
The negative escalatory conflict spiral is a process that begins with a negative event and is
characterized by an increase in intensity and severity of the conflict.
-Scenario that depicts a this concept;
Employer 1: Hey employee, your past two quarter performance is lower than expected; I know
you have vast experience in the field you are in that not means that you gave us low
performance as we are medium scale business. May I know the reason?
Employee: (aggressively) Sir, I know about my performances you don’t have to remind it all
the time. I didn’t like the company’s culture, I am quitting.
Employer 1: that’s so rude, I am disappointed and I accept you resignation.
(After employee try to apply at employer 2 company)
Employee: I want to for this position; I have vast experience in this field
Employer 2: Nice, I saw your profile, it’s impressive. And you also have given good interview.
We will let you know by doing your due diligence.
(For due diligence company ask to employer 1 about his performance, and they got negative
Employer 2: Hey employee, I saw your profile it was impressive but your past performance is
not good, we will not be able to provide you this position.
In the above scenario, we can see that how a rude and negative expressed behavior of employee
escalated conflict spiral and results in no job offer.
Q8. What words do you typically associate with the word “conflict”? What emotions are
generally coupled with the concept of conflict?
The word “conflict” is often used to describe situations where there is a disagreement,
disagreement between parties, or a clash. The word “conflict” can also be used to describe the
emotional state that results from such situations.
Conflict can be positive or negative depending on how it is handled and what kind of emotions
is felt during the conflict. A conflict can be defined as an obstacle that prevents two or more
parties from reaching agreement or harmony. When conflicts arise, they create an
uncomfortable atmosphere for all involved parties and prevent people from reaching their
maximum potential in terms of productivity and efficiency. The emotion of conflict is generally
associated with anger, frustration, fear and anxiety. When a person feels angry and frustrated
over an issue, he or she may feel helpless because his or her efforts have been frustrated by
others who do not agree with him or her on this particular issue.
Q9. In a paragraph, describe what your family of origin taught you about conflict and
how this has affected your approach to conflict.
My family of origin taught me that conflict is inevitable. They also taught me that you can’t let
conflict affect your work because it will affect your relationships. Conflict is a natural part of
life, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. They taught me how to deal with conflict in a
healthy way if we take the time to understand each other’s perspective and find common ground
together. This is what I try to do with my clients. They also taught me that keeping away from
conflict is also a good approach to dealing with conflicts. I have learned that this way of
thinking can be counterproductive, especially if you need to resolve an issue. In my case, I have
experienced times when my attitude towards conflict was more negative than positive and it
negatively affected my relationship with my family. In this situation I try to ignore the situation
till I can adjust with outcome of ignoring conflict. It helps me to save relationships.
Q10. Describe five negative metaphors associated with conflict and discuss what you
would expect from a person who views conflict accordingly.
1. Conflict is war; The first negative metaphor associated with conflict is that it is a war.
This metaphor can be used to describe any time two people are in a disagreement and
they are fighting each other
2. Conflict is a heroic adventure; The second negative metaphor associated with conflict
is that it is an adventure. This means that when two people disagree with each other,
it’s like they are on an adventure trying to prove who is right and who is wrong about
something important in their lives.
3. Conflict is a game; sometimes disagreements lies due to different thinking but their also
some similarities bin thinking which plays role of game, and keep this conflict to on for
long time.
4. Conflict is the mess; Most of the times conflicts are disaster because it shows that you
are agree with your partner’s opinion. And it creates mess
5. Debate for solution: The idea that we can only solve problems by fighting them is also
unrealistic because sometimes fighting isn’t the answer; sometimes it’s better just to sit
down and talk things out instead!
(Hocker, J., Berry, K. and Wilmot, W., 2021)
11. In one paragraph each, describe three positive metaphors dealing with conflict.
1. Conflict Resolution as Quilt Making: Finding solution by using information in pieces
and joined together to finding favorable outcome. The quilt metaphor suggests that
conflict resolution is more like a quilt – it takes time to stitch the pieces together and
there are no shortcuts.
2. Conflict is like a dance: Conflict and the dance metaphor are both helpful in
understanding how we should deal with conflict: by dancing together instead of fighting
each other. It explains that group should resolve conflict by expressing the truth and
enjoy the process of resolution.
3. Conflict is garden: A garden is a space where people grow together in harmony. Just
like that groups should also try to find out win-win situation for all of the people in
12. Describe a low context culture. What are its strengths and weaknesses? How would
conflict be handled?
A low-context culture is a social system in which people are expected to be self-reliant and
make decisions based on their own experiences. Low-context cultures have strengths because
they encourage people to do things by themselves, rather than relying on others to solve
problems. This can be good for individuals who want to learn more about the world, but it can
also lead to conflict when people have different opinions or approaches.
The strengths of a low-context culture are flexibility, adaptability, and creativity. This type of
culture allows for change and growth to occur in a natural way; individual members of the
community will often take initiative to solve problems or make improvements. The downside
of this type of culture is that communication is not overly complicated or formalized. It also
has the tendency to result in feelings of isolation because people are not always able to
communicate with one another at the same level of sophistication as those who live in highcontext cultures do.
The conflict would be handled in a low-context culture by the person who is being criticized.
The person who is being criticized will most likely be the one to apologize and say they were
wrong. They will also respect the other person and try to understand why they may have acted
that way, instead of just dismissing them as being stupid or maybe even crazy, which would
happen in high-context cultures.
13. Describe a high context culture. What are its strengths and weaknesses? How would
conflict be handled?
High context cultures are characterized by a stronger social and cultural element in
communication. In high context cultures, people are more likely to rely on symbolism and
social norms for communication rather than literal meanings. This means that you will have to
be more flexible when you’re communicating with people from a high context culture. In highcontext cultures, conflict is dealt with indirectly and pragmatically. No one speaks out directly
about a problem unless that is what is needed. For example: Conflict arises between two
departments of the organization and they are arguing, but top management is coming into game
to resolve conflicts because as social norms top management thought that we should get into
any conflict without getting full knowledge of what’s going on.
A high context culture has many strengths that make it easier for you to interact within the
community. For example, if you are from a high context culture, you will be able to understand
what people mean without having to ask them directly. The biggest weakness of a high context
culture is that it can be difficult for some people to read, interpret and follow instructions
because there is so much emphasis on symbols, tone and inflection in conversation. If someone
in your group doesn’t understand something or has trouble following an instruction, they may
not feel comfortable asking questions or offering suggestions until they understand what they’re
supposed to do next.
14. Briefly describe gender differences in conflict.
Gender differences in conflict are important to understand because they can affect the way that
women and men perceive and manage conflict. Gender roles are socially constructed and
change over time. However, gender roles do not always change equally across all societies,
which can impact the ways that men and women experience conflict. Gender differences in
conflict can be divided into two categories: biological and cultural. Biological differences
include biological sex, reproductive ability, sexual orientation and hormonal balance.
Hocker, J., Berry, K. and Wilmot, W., (2021). Interpersonal conflict. (11th ed., p 3) McGraw
Page i
Page ii
Page iii
Eleventh Edition
Joyce L. Hocker
Keith Berry
William W. Wilmot
Page iv
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Names: Hocker, Joyce L., author. | Berry, Keith (Associate professor),
Title: Interpersonal conflict / Joyce L. Hocker, Keith Berry.
Description: Eleventh edition. | New York, NY : McGraw Hill LLC,
[2022] |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
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Page v
To our students, who continue to inform, challenge, and enrich our
thinking about conflict resolution. We write for you. You inspire us. May
the book inspire you to live with more hope than cynicism as you face the
conflict that complicates our lives.
Page vi
Page vii
Brief Contents
Part ONE Conflict Components
Chapter 1 The Nature of Conflict
Chapter 2 Perspectives on Conflict
Chapter 3 Interests and Goals
Chapter 4 Power: The Structure of Conflict
Chapter 5 Conflict Styles
Chapter 6 Emotions in Conflict
Part TWO Special Applications
Chapter 7
Analyzing Conflicts
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Interpersonal Negotiation
Chapter 10 Reconciliation and Forgiveness
Name Index
Subject Index
Page viii
Page ix
Part ONE Conflict Components
Chapter 1
The Nature of Conflict
Interpersonal Conflict Depends on Interpersonal
Conflict Defined
An Expressed Struggle
Perceived Incompatible Goals
Perceived Scarce Resources
Why Study Conflict?
Family Relationships
Love Relationships
The Workplace
The Importance of Skill Development
Preventing Destructive Conflict
Understanding Destructive Conflict
The Four Horsemen
More Examples of Destructive Habits
Escalatory Spirals
Avoidance Spirals
Your Opportunities
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 2
Perspectives on Conflict
Your Personal History
More Reflections on Your Specific History
Your Worldview Affects How You Think and Feel About
Negative Views of Conflict
Positive Views of Conflict
Insights from Metaphors
Metaphors Reflecting Danger
Page x
Listen and Learn from Metaphors
Narratives Frame Conflict
How Do You Perceive Specific Conflict?
Don’t Believe What You See—At First
Identify Your Filters
Gender Biases
Cultural Perspectives
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 3
Interests and Goals
Types of Goals: TRIP
Topic Goals: What Do We Want?
Relational Goals: Who Are We to Each Other?
Identity, or Face-Saving, Goals: Who Am I in This
Process Goals: What Communication Process Will
Be Used?
The Overlapping Nature of TRIP Goals
Sales Team Meeting Gone Awry
Goals Change in Interaction
Prospective Goals
Transactive Goals
Retrospective Goals
Goal Clarity
Clarify Your Goals
Estimate the Other’s Goals
Collaborative Goals
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 4
Power: The Structure of Conflict
Power Defined
Personal Orientations to Power
Power Denial
A Relational Theory of Power
Bases of Power
Resource Control
Interpersonal Linkages
Communication Skills
Power in Distressed Systems
Page xi
Assessing Your Relational Power
Balancing Power Constructively
High Power
Low Power
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 5
Conflict Styles
The Nature of Styles
Assessing Your Styles
Will You Avoid or Engage?
Avoidance and Culture
The Avoid/Criticize Loop
Avoidant Communication Strategies
Destructive Domination
Verbal Aggressiveness and Verbal Abuse
Cautions About Styles
Beyond Styles: Violence
Patterns of Violence
Explanations for Violence
Interaction Dynamics
Flexibility Creates Constructive Conflict
Being Stuck
Are You Stuck?
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 6
Emotions in Conflict
Introducing Emotion
You Can’t Ignore Emotions
Misconceptions of Emotion in Conflict
How Does Emotion Function in Conflict?
Page xii
A Model of Emotions
Core Concerns: Organizing Positive Emotions
Finding Feelings
Functions of Negative Emotions
Shame, Guilt, and Regret
Functions of Positive Emotions
The Mid-Range: Zone of Effectiveness
Mindfulness: Thinking About Feelings
Personal Responsibility for Emotional Transformation
Key Terms
Review Questions
Part TWO Special Applications
Chapter 7
Analyzing Conflicts
Macro-Level Analysis
Systems Theory
Complex Conflict Patterns
Micro-level Analysis of Conflict Systems
Interaction Rules
Comprehensive Guides
Conflict Assessment Guide
Difficult Conversations Guide
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 8
What is Bullying?
Bullying in the Workplace
Sexual Assault and Harassment
Why Study Bullying?
The Characters of Bullying
Aftermath of Bullying
Page xiii
Personal Stories and Bullying Research
What is Autoethnography?
Self-affirming and Resonating Stories
Autoethnography and Bullying
Bullying is Communicative
Bullying is Emotional
Bullying is Relational
Bullying is Transformative
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 9
Interpersonal Negotiation
Negotiation in Everyday Life
Negotiation and Culture
Constructive Argumentation: Test Ideas, Not People
Approaches to Negotiation
Competitive Negotiation
Communication Patterns in Competitive Negotiation
Disadvantages of Competitive Negotiation
Integrative Negotiation
Seven Elements of Principled Negotiation
What Makes Implementing the Core Concerns So
Balancing Power
Concern for the Relationship: Self and Other
Coaching for Integrative Negotiators: Putting It into
Disadvantages of Integrative Bargaining
The Language of Integration
Competitive and Integrative Phases
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter 10
Reconciliation and Forgiveness
Overview of Reconciliation and Forgiveness
Why Reconciliation and Forgiveness?
Layers of Communication
Reconciliation and Forgiveness as a Moral Orientation to
Page xiv
Reconciliation: A Word for Many Feelings
Steps on the Path to Reconciliation
Forgiveness: A Most Powerful Act
Anthropological Foundations for Forgiveness
Interpersonal Forgiveness
Barriers to Forgiveness
Forgiveness as Dialogic Communication
Seeking Additional Venues for Reconciliation and
Third-Party Formats for Achieving Reconciliation and
Advantages of Using Skilled Third Parties
Formal Intervention
The Intervention Continuum
Advantages of Mediation
Limitations to Mediation
Mediation Settings
Mediation: Agreement or Transformation?
Key Terms
Review Questions
Name Index
Subject Index
Page xv
The eleventh edition of Interpersonal Conflict keeps with the book’s
tradition of examining the central issues that inform conflict and, in turn,
make our personal and professional lives challenging and fascinating. We
continue to provide recent research and a wide array of cases and
applications, which invite readers to reflect on, and better understand,
conflict as it pertains to the unique vantage point of students’ lived
experience. This new edition also includes new cases and applications and
reflects recent cultural changes that shape the ways people move through
We have revised all of the chapters with a sharp eye to clarity, new
research, and writing. In some chapters, we have reorganized or rewritten
sections to improve on their relevance to today’s readers. In addition, we
have chosen to eliminate the chapter Third-Party Intervention in favor of
including a new chapter on the ubiquitous societal problem of bullying.
Also, we have included a new chapter on reconciliation and forgiveness.
The chapter on reconciliation and forgiveness includes some material from
the last edition of the text on the ways in which third parties may be helpful
in reconciling partners and groups. We made this choice partly because
students who wish to pursue third-party skills need to do so with
professional credentialing.
Keith Berry, University of South Florida, is the new co-author of the
book. Keith’s research and teaching take a cultural approach to the study of
relational communication. Methodologically speaking, he relies heavily on
ethnography, autoethnography, and phenomenology. His work primarily
focuses on the ways in which people’s identities inform, and are informed
by, communication. Common to his teaching and research are questions
about the role and impact of conflict in relating. Keith is especially
interested in exploring underrepresented and vulnerable populations, and,
more generally, issues of social justice. Much of Keith’s research over the
last 11 years has examined the intersections of bullying, communication,
and conflict. This includes his solo-authored and award-winning book
Bullied: Tales of Torment, Identity, and Youth (Routledge). He has served as
the Co-chair of the National Communication Association’s (NCA) AntiBullying Task Force and Chair of NCA’s Ethnography Division.
Joyce Hocker continues her role as reviewer, consultant, and adviser to
the current edition. She is semi-retired as a communication consultant and
clinical psychologist, still immersed in the practices and problems of
conflict resolution. She consults with therapists and teaches life writing in
the University of Montana lifelong learning program. The Trail to Tincup:
Love Stories at Life’s End (SheWritesPress) is her memoir of loss and
Chapter One, “The Nature of Conflict,” retains the resilient definition of
conflict that has gained acceptance and use for more than four decades. The
definition serves as the chapter’s main framework. The chapter still
includes activities on intrapersonal conflict, which introduce students to
self-reflection as a basic first step in this area of study. We also continue to
emphasize the relevance of relationships to conflict. In addition, we have
added discussions on the concept and practice of “mindfulness,” which we
return to throughout the rest of the book. Our engagement with mindfulness
serves multiple purposes, including reminding students of the importance of
gentleness and nonjudgement within conflict and learning about conflict.
Also, the concept of “chosen families” is now included in the first chapter.
We have also added the case “The Roommate Compromise,” which
highlights the ways communication climates (e.g., supportive and
defensive) shape conflict. Overall, the chapter makes an important and
ongoing case for the study of conflict from an interpersonal communication
Page xvi
Chapter Two, “Perspectives on Conflict,” keeps the popular section on
worldviews that influence one’s approach. The metaphors of conflict
section retains its simplified approach, organizing metaphors around danger
and opportunity, used in past editions. This chapter retains the recently
added section that explores how narratives frame conflict, with an extensive
case study that helps to illustrate the approach. New to this chapter is a
definition of culture. We invite students to reflect on conflict in terms of
culture, and cultural variations in practices and meanings, throughout the
book. The newly added case “Is It a Game or Balance?” invites students to
reflect on the ways in which one’s perspective shapes conflict.
Chapter Three, “Interests and Goals,” retains the popular teaching tool of
the TRIP acronym (Topic, Relationship, Identity, and Process goals), which
assists students in analyzing layers of any conflict. We have added an
extended example (“Sales Meeting Gone Awry”) to the chapter to help
students understand about conflict interests and goals.
Chapter Four, “Power,” emphasizes the influence of power within
interpersonal conflict. We have eliminated the sections on bullying and
cyberbullying that previously appeared in this chapter. However, several of
these sections are now included in the new chapter on bullying. New to this
chapter is a timely discussion of the “Black Lives Matter” social movement
and its relevance to power and conflict. Overall, the chapter retains its
insistence that power constitutes the structure of conflict and must be
analyzed in productive management approaches.
Chapter Five, “Conflict Styles,” retains the popular Rahim styles
assessment, thus, focusing on obliging, avoiding, integrating, and
dominating practices and their impact on self and other. The chapter
engages students with questions about the effectiveness of their own
conflict styles. Also, we continue to underscore the harmful impact of
verbal aggressiveness, verbal abuse, and violence within conflict. New to
this chapter is a discussion of the concept of “micro-aggressions,” subtle
but harmful behaviors that influence communication and communicators.
Also, we have moved the “Will You Engage or Avoid” application to a new
location in the chapter that will best help students as they engage with
conflict styles.
Chapter Six, “Emotions in Conflict,” continues to present the primacy of
emotion in conflict resolution. The chapter still includes the “feelings
words” inventory, which invites students to consider the emotions that drive
their conflict and conflict resolution. We have added more insights on the
role of mindfulness in the study and practice of conflict. Similarly, the
chapter now also includes a discussion of compassion and compassionate
communication. We have moved the “The Matter of Lights” application to a
better location in the chapter which, as with the change with Chapter Five,
will help students in engaging with key concepts.
Chapter Seven, “Analyzing Conflicts,” continues to provide students
with a framework to examine conflict in their lives. We include several
guides to assist in the process. Many instructors who have used past
editions of the book found great success when using these guides to help
structure the final/major project they assign to students.
Chapter Eight, “Bullying,” is a new chapter in which we convey a
thorough account of this all-too-common problem. Although we include a
detailed section dedicated to workplace bullying, the chapter primarily
focuses on youth/school bullying. We provide a definition of bullying and
cyberbullying, and three main reasons that make studying bullying
important. In addition, as mentioned above, the chapter uses Keith’s book
Bullied to illustrate the central dimensions to bullying (bullying is
communicative, emotional, relational, and transformative). Additionally, we
introduce students to autoethnography, an innovative and systematic
approach to research and writing that relies on researchers’ stories as
evidence. This approach widens and reinforces our emphasis on the lived
experience students bring to, and engage in, class. Overall, the chapter
provides students with an extended case through which to apply and better
understand the major concepts, theories, and practices discussed in the
Page xvii
Chapter Nine, “Interpersonal Negotiation,” continues to include research
on gender, culture, and negotiation. The chapter retains its aim to guide
students toward integrative negotiation in most situations. Integrative
negotiation uses all of the communication theory upon which most of the
book relies. We continue to urge students to develop the skills and thinking
practices of integrative approaches to conflict resolution. In the past, we
tried to be fair to all the stylistic approaches conflict resolution. No more:
We have cast our vote with integrative approaches.
Chapter Ten, “Reconciliation and Forgiveness,” written by Jay Brower,
Western Connecticut State University at the invitation of the authors, is a
compelling account of the ways in which reconciliation and forgiveness
operate within conflict. We situate the chapter by using Pearce’s popular
“Coordinated Management of Meaning” perspective. Also, the chapter
explores distinctions between reconciliation and forgiveness; the
importance of studying these processes; the role of macro, mezzo, and
micro communication “strata;” steps toward reconciliation; and the role of
dialogue (using Martin Buber’s germinal work) to illuminate forgiveness.
As mentioned above, sections on third-party intervention from the past
editions of the book (e.g., mediation) appear in the chapter, as we explain
that often third parties need to be employed when reconciliation is desired.
We hope you enjoy and benefit from this book. If you have any feedback,
which we always respond to, or any comments of a personal nature in
response to our book, you can reach us at:
Joyce L. Hocker
Keith Berry
Page xviii
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Page xix
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Page xx
To the reader from Joyce Hocker
When I finished revising the last edition of this text, I realized I wanted to
invite someone currently in the classroom who teaches the book to join me
as co-author. I had been watching, getting to know, and reading the work of
Keith Berry for many years. You might think of the process as a polite
professional stalking. I wanted this bright, compassionate, excellent writer
and human being to join me. At the International Congress of Qualitative
Inquiry a few years ago, I asked Keith if he would consider joining me in
this task. His answer was perfect, something like, “I think yes, but I am
teaching the class this summer, and I’d like to imagine myself into the
writing role as I teach.” I waited through the summer hoping he’d take it on,
and I was so very pleased when he enthusiastically said yes. My greatest
thanks go to Keith Berry for this edition.
I benefit greatly from talking through complex cases, often involving
relational conflict issues, with the therapists with whom I consult weekly.
They are on the front line of this important work, along with the parents and
teachers who navigate our challenging time.
Recently, I finished an archiving project involving all the Hocker family
letters (we kept them all, and they all came down to me). Again I bow in
gratitude to my late parents, Jean and Lamar Hocker, who taught us three
siblings to discuss our family issues, treat each other with respect and love,
and disagree with care. My late sister, Janice Hocker Rushing, and I tried
out youthful conflict resolution strategies; later Janice was our best reader
as she taught from the text. My brother, Ed Hocker, carries on what he
learned from our family and his own life as he takes a central role in our
summer home community in Colorado—where conflicts sometimes rise,
and then resolve, with his patient attention. I am so fortunate to enjoy a
loving relationship with my brother.
Gary Hawk supports me in every way. He confesses to feeling thrilled,
too (see below), that Keith has joined the team. I am fortunate to be married
to Gary, a man of integrity, depth, and compassion. Thank you for all your
ideas, reflections, and love.
To the reader from Keith Berry
I am thrilled to join Interpersonal Conflict as a new co-author. The journey
that led me to this opportunity goes back some 25 years.
I first encountered the book when it was required reading for a graduate
course I took as a Masters student at Purdue University Calumet. Conflict
scared me then and so I was no stranger to avoidance. I then used the book
when I taught an interpersonal conflict course during my doctoral program
at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I first met Joyce Hocker around
that same time. I believe we met at a business meeting for the Ethnography
Division of the National Communication Association. By this point in my
personal history, I began to engage with conflict more openly and directly.
Yet, it was still difficult and at times still unsettling. (Sometimes the habits
that comprise our histories take a while to evolve.) I went on to use the
book every time I taught conflict in my first faculty position at the
University of Wisconsin-Superior, and have done the same whenever I have
taught the course in my current position in the Department of
Communication at the University of South Florida (USF). Time, patience,
and effort allowed me to better understand conflict and practice conflict
management. I would have never thought that the little nervous kid whom
life rendered conflict avoidant would many years later emerge from his
lived experience as an author in this area of study. My journey has been
long, and at times hard, as it is for many people, but it has also been
rewarding and fascinating.
Page xxi
I cannot thank Joyce enough for inviting me to join her in this project,
and for the openness and trust she has shown me in terms of the vision I had
for revising the book. My friend and colleague, you have created and
continued a masterpiece. It means the world to me to be able to join such a
smart and beloved book. I look forward to carrying the book into the future.
I also thank the late Bill W. Wilmot. I never met Bill in the flesh, but feel
as though I knew him well through his work “on the page.” The labor
enacted by Bill and Joyce with this book over the years, and Bill’s work on
relational communication, provided me with a helpful foundation from
what to think, feel, and write about conflict as a student, teacher, and
communicator in my everyday life.
My research and teaching, and the labor involved with writing this new
edition, are possible due to the love and support I receive from others. I
thank my close family, friends, colleagues, and students for the
encouragement and kindness you have demonstrated in the past and now.
I also want to thank the young women who served as research
participants for the study that led to the publication of my book Bullied:
Tales of Torment, Identity, and Youth (Berry 2016).
We illustrate many of the main ideas in Chapter 8 with passages from the
stories that comprise Bullied. Thanks Iman, Jessi, Jezebel, and Lauren.
To the reader from Joyce and Keith
Gary Hawk has authored that chapter on reconciliation and forgiveness
(Chapter 10) for the last five editions of the book. We learned a great deal
about these processes from Gary’s chapter over the years. His wisdom and
ways of articulating ideas on these tough topic areas allowed us, and we are
certain countless others, to learn in ways that bettered our, and others’ lives.
We decided to go in a different direction with this chapter in this edition of
the book. We personally thank Gary for the work he has contributed to the
book over the years, and to teaching and learning on conflict.
We also thank Jay Brower, Western Connecticut State University, for
contributing the new chapter on reconciliation and forgiveness. Your
writing invites students to engage with these complicated dimensions of
interpersonal conflict in intriguing and important ways. The concept of “unchopping” will have readers thinking about the impact of conflict on their
lives in new and important ways.
Jessica Lolli, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Communication at
USF, served in the role of research assistant for this book. Jessica helped
with the vital task of copyediting and wrote several of the new cases and
applications that comprise the book. Thanks, Jess! This new edition would
not be possible without you.
In 2019, Keith supervised an undergraduate research team at USF, which
assisted in the early research stages of updating the book. We thank the
team’s three members: Gianni Martinez, Derryck Winston Rouque, and
Sarah Talcott.
It was our pleasure to work with our colleagues Amy Oline at Lumina
Datamatics and Elisa Odoardi at McGraw Hill, and everyone else who
made the production and marketing process possible for this edition. Thank
Page xxii
The eleventh edition of Interpersonal Conflict is now available online with
Connect, McGraw-Hill Education’s integrated assignment and assessment
platform. Connect also offers SmartBook for the new edition, which is the
first adaptive reading experience proven to improve grades and help
students study more effectively. All of the title’s website and ancillary
content is also available through Connect, including:
An Instructor’s Manual for each chapter.
A full Test Bank of multiple-choice questions that test
students on central concepts and ideas in each chapter.
Lecture Slides for instructor use in class.
Page 1
Part One
Conflict Components
Page 2
Chapter 1
The Nature of Conflict
Interpersonal Conflict Depends on Interpersonal
Welcome to the study of communication during conflict. Communication is
the medium for conflict management, whether face-to-face, written, or with
technology. When we transform communication itself, we begin to engage
the process of conflict resolution. Constructive communication shifts
potentially destructive conflict into an arena of resolution (Fisher-Yoshida
Conflict participants communicate in an effort to generate shared
meaning, solve problems, and preserve the relationship to accomplish
shared goals. Effective communication in conflict management propels the
twists or shifts in the direction of a conflict best described as
transformations, or “aha” moments (Putnam 2010). In this book, we focus
on communication that is primarily:
Face-to-face most of the time
With people you know or who are important to you
Complicated and difficult. If it were not so, you would not be in
Shaped by the context in which the conflict takes place—romantic,
family, work, or friends
Oriented toward constructing and sharing meaning
Goal directed
As you proceed through the book and class exercises, you will be
challenged to alter your cherished habits of doing conflict. Some of these
habits might surprise you, as people often communicate in ways that dwell
outside of our everyday awareness. The goal is to teach you to become a
more effective communicator in future conflict situations. Conflict is a fact
of human life. It occurs naturally in all kinds of settings. Nations still
struggle, families fracture in destructive conflicts, marriages face challenges
and often fail, and the workplace is plagued with stress, bullying, avoiding
real communication, and blaming.
Conflict Defined
Perception is at the core of all conflict analysis. In interpersonal conflicts,
people react as though there are genuinely different goals, there is not
enough of some resources, and the other person actually is getting in the
way of something prized by the perceiver. Sometimes these conditions are
believed to be true, but sorting out what is perceived and what is
interpersonally accurate forms the basis of conflict analysis.
Page 3
Careful attention to the elements that make up conflict will help you
understand an apparently unresolvable conflict. When conflicts remain
muddled and unclear, they cannot be resolved. When you first perceive that
you are in conflict with others, you may want to immediately get them to
change. Usually, that initial attempt fails. You may feel hopeless. Instead,
you will need to learn to change your own behavior (Miller, Roloff, and
Reznik 2014). That’s where conflict resolution begins.
Conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent
parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and
interference from others in achieving their goals.
An Expressed Struggle
An interpersonal approach to conflict management focuses on the
communicative exchanges that make up the conflict episode. Intrapersonal
conflict—internal strain that creates a state of ambivalence, conflicting
internal dialogue, or lack of resolution in one’s thinking and feeling—
accompanies interpersonal conflict. One may endure intrapersonal conflict
for a while before such a struggle is expressed communicatively. If you are
upset with your father yet you do not write him, or you phone him less
often and avoid expressing your concern, do you have a conflict?
Application 1.1
My Intrapersonal Conflicts
Think of an intrapersonal strain you may be feeling right now, or felt for
a while in the past. What is the struggle you feel? Think of a picture or
metaphor to describe what you are feeling. What words describe the
internal strain? Have you ever lived through an intrapersonal conflict that
did not ever become expressed? If you answered yes to this question, ask
yourself if you might have expressed the conflict ever so slightly in some
way. How might you have expressed the internal conflict nonverbally, or
by actions you did not take?
Conflict is present when every person’s perception of the struggle is
communicated. The verbal or nonverbal communication may be subtle—a
slight shift in body placement by Jill and a hurried greeting by Susan—but
it must be present for the activity to be interpersonal conflict. Therefore,
although other conditions must also exist before an interaction is labeled
“conflict,” Jandt (1973) asserts, “Conflict exists when the parties involved
agree in some way that the behaviors associated with their relationship are
labeled as ‘conflict’ behavior” (2). Often, the communicative behavior is
easily identified with conflict, such as when one party openly disagrees
with the other. Other times, however, an interpersonal conflict may be
operating at a more tacit level. Two friends, for instance, may both be
consciously avoiding the other because both think, “I don’t want to see him
for a few days because of what he did.” The interpersonal struggle is
expressed by the avoidance. Intrapersonal perceptions are the bedrock
upon which conflicts are built but only when there are communicative
manifestations of these perceptions, an “interpersonal conflict” will emerge.
Page 4
Communication is the central element in all interpersonal conflict.
Communication and conflict are related in the following ways:
Communication behavior often creates conflict.
Communication behavior reflects conflict.
Communication is the vehicle for the productive or destructive
management of conflict.
Thus, communication and conflict are inextricably tied. How one
communicates in a conflict situation has profound implications for the
impact of that conflict. If two work associates are vying for the same
position, they can handle the competition in a variety of ways. They may
engage in repetitive, damaging rounds with one another, or they may
successfully manage the conflict. Communication can be used to exacerbate
the conflict or to lead to its productive management.
The following example explains how to move a conflict from an
internally experienced strain to an interpersonal communication:
Greg: (To new wife, Leslie, referring to Greg’s 15-year-old son.) I’ve
noticed Brennan is using my towels and other stuff from our
bathroom instead of the things from his bathroom. Do you think
he’s annoyed because he can’t share our bathroom any more? Or
he is just being thoughtless? I don’t want to share our bathroom
and I can’t stand it when he leaves damp towels all over the
Leslie: I don’t know. He hasn’t said anything. Do you want me to check
it out, or do you want to?
Greg: (Sigh.) Well, I’m uncomfortable, but it’s our job to check it out. I
won’t make assumptions. I’ll just ask him.
This situation could have escalated into a “war of the towels,” or been
handled unproductively by the stepmom leaving curt notes, the stepson
avoiding contact, and both building up negative assumptions about the
other. As it happened, the boy did admit to his father that he was irritated.
He and his father had lived together for years without bothering much about
which towel was whose, and he resented being told which bathroom and
towels to use. Greg had a chance to say what privacy and neatness meant to
him. The three of them talked it through, defusing what could have been a
big conflict that would have been over the wrong things (towels instead of
the new relationships).
Another example demonstrates how you might make an intrapersonal
conflict into an interpersonal conflict:
Erick, your co-worker, looks up briefly when you settle at your desk, but
looks down quickly.
You: What’s up, Erick?
Erick: Nothing.
Notice your choices here. You could say nothing while wondering what
might be going on with Erick. Your avoidance might start an avoidance
spiral. Or, you might say,
You: We haven’t checked in since I was added into your work/life
balance project. Any concerns I should know about?
Erick: Not at all. (He is not engaging yet.)
You: I have some ideas. I’ll write them up and bring them to our team
meeting Tuesday.
Erick: We don’t have management buy-in yet. Seems like we might be
wasting our time.
Page 5
Notice that Erick appears to be worrying about the entire project, not
your involvement. If you had taken his nonresponse personally, you would
have misperceived his thoughts. This is a good place to stop until the next
Most expressed struggles become activated by a triggering event. A
staff member of a counseling agency is fired, setting off a series of meetings
culminating in the staff’s demand to the board that the director be fired. Or,
in a roommate situation, Jon comes home one night and the locks are
changed on the door. The triggering event brings the conflict to everyone’s
[V]irtually all intelligible action is born, sustained, and/or extinguished
within the ongoing process of relationship. … We are always already
emerging from relationship; we cannot step out of relationship; even in
our most private moments we are never alone. (Gergen 2009, xv)
Conflict parties engage in an expressed struggle and interfere with one
another because they are interdependent. “A person who is not dependent
upon another—that is, who has no special interest in what the other does—
has no conflict with that other person” (Braiker and Kelley 1979, 137).
Each person’s choices affect the other because conflict is a mutual activity.
People are seldom totally opposed to each other. Even two people who are
having an “intellectual conflict” over politics are to some extent
cooperating with each other. They have, in effect, tacitly agreed, “Look, we
are going to have this verbal argument, and we aren’t going to hit each
other, and both of us will get certain rewards for participating in this flexing
of our intellectual muscles. We’ll play by the rules, which we both
understand.” Schelling (1960) calls strategic conflict (conflict in which
parties have choices as opposed to conflict in which the power is so
disparate that there are virtually no choices) a “theory of precarious
partnership” or “incomplete antagonism.” In other words, even these
informal debaters concerned with politics cannot formulate their verbal
tactics until they know the “moves” made by the other party. As Calvin O.
Schrag (2003) writes, “No ‘I’ is an island entire of itself; every subject is a
piece of the continent of other subjects, a part of the main of
intersubjectivity” (125).
Parties in strategic conflict, therefore, are never totally antagonistic and
must have mutual interests, even if the interest is only in keeping the
conflict going. Without openly saying so, they often are thinking, “How can
we have this conflict in a way that increases the benefit to me?” These
decisions are complex, with parties reacting not in a linear, cause–effect
manner but with a series of interdependent decisions. Bateson (1972)
presents an “ecological” view of patterns in relationships. As in the natural
environment, in which a decision to eliminate coyotes because they are a
menace to sheep affects the overall balance of animals and plants, no party
in a conflict can make a decision that is totally separate—each decision
affects the other conflict participants. In all conflicts, therefore,
interdependence carries elements of cooperation and elements of
competition. In true conflicts, the parties are “stuck with each other.”
Page 6
Even though conflict parties are always interdependent to some extent,
how they perceive their mutuality affects their later choices. Parties decide,
although they may not be aware of this decision, whether they will act as
relatively interdependent agents or relatively independent agents. Both or
all may agree that “we are in this together,” or they may believe that “just
doing my own thing” is possible and desirable. A couple had been divorced
for 3 years and came to a mediator to decide what to do about changing
visitation agreements as their three children grew older. In the first session,
the former husband seemed to want a higher degree of interdependence than
did the former wife. He wanted to communicate frequently by phone,
adopting flexible arrangements based on the children’s wishes and his travel
schedule. She wanted a monthly schedule set up in advance, communicated
in writing. After talking through their common interest in their children,
their own complicated work and travel lives, the children’s school and
sports commitments, and their new spouses’ discomfort with frequent,
flexible contact between the former partners, they worked out a solution
that suited them both. Realizing that they were unavoidably interdependent,
they agreed to lessen their verbal and in-person communication about
arrangements while agreeing to maintain e-mail communication about
upcoming scheduling. They worked out an acceptable level of
An example of negotiating interdependence occurred with Katie, a junior
in college, and her mother, Sharon. Katie wanted to set up a 30th
anniversary party for her parents, who live just 2 hours from her college.
Her mother, Sharon, kept saying on the phone, “Don’t bother. Don’t go to
any trouble. It’s not worth it.” Katie persisted that she and her younger
sister really wanted to do this (she insisted that they were interdependent).
Mom stopped answering the phone and returning e-mails. Katie drove home
the next weekend and asked Mom to talk the whole thing through with her.
Katie learned that Mom was so angry with Dad for ignoring the upcoming
event that she wanted to withdraw. She couldn’t imagine enjoying a party
that came only from her kids while she was simmering with resentment at
her husband. So Katie talked to Dad about helping plan the party. Mom told
her husband that she had been feeling hurt and slighted. They all got
involved and had a good time. Now, notice that it was not Katie’s role to
play therapist with her parents—but she helped by asking them to talk to
her and to each other. In a healthy family, everyone can talk to every other
member. This builds healthy interdependence.
Sometimes parties are locked into a position of mutual interdependence
whether they want to be or not. In some cases, interdependent units do not
choose to be interdependent but are so for other compelling reasons. Some
colleagues in an office, for instance, got into a conflict over when they were
to be in their offices to receive calls and speak with customers. One group
took the position that “what we do doesn’t affect you—it’s none of your
business.” The other group convinced the first group that they could not
define themselves as unconnected, because the rest of the group had to be
available to fill in for them when they were not available. They were
inescapably locked into interdependence. If a working decision had not
been made, the parties would have almost guaranteed an unproductive
conflict, with each party making choices as if they were only tenuously
When you are stuck in unproductive interdependence, these conflicts turn
into gridlocked conflicts.
You Know You’re in Gridlock When …
The conflict makes you feel rejected by your partner.
You keep talking but make no headway.
You become entrenched and are unwilling to budge.
You feel more frustrated and hurt after you talk than before.
Your talk is devoid of humor, amusement, or affection.
You become more entrenched over time so you become insulting
during your talks.
More vilification makes you more polarized, extreme, and less willing
to compromise.
Eventually you disengage emotionally or physically or both (Gottman
1999, 132–33).
Page 7
Think about how you feel when you are gridlocked in traffic. You may
feel full of road rage, derisive of the stupid other drivers, furious at the
system, defeated and hopeless, or numb and tuned out. The same emotions
happen in a gridlocked interpersonal conflict. Trying harder often doesn’t
work. That’s when you need to try smarter instead of harder. When nothing
is working, try something different. Destructive conflicts rely on the same
old (unproductive) strategies.
Most relationships move back and forth between degrees of
independence and inter dependence. At times there will be an emphasis on
“me”—what I want—and on separateness, whereas at other times “we”—
our nature as a unit—becomes the focus. These are natural rhythmic swings
in relationships. In productive conflict relationships, dissonance (clashes,
disharmony) and resonance (harmony, deep positive response) become
balanced in a natural rhythm (Putnam 2010). Just as we all need both
stability and change, conflict parties have to balance their independence and
dependence needs.
Relationship and interdependence issues precede other issues in the
conflict. Actually, these negotiations over interdependence permeate most
conflicts throughout the course of the relationship, never becoming
completely settled. Address the interdependence issue openly in ongoing,
highly important relationships. In more transient and less salient
relationships, the interdependence may be primarily tacit or understood.
Perceived Incompatible Goals
What do people fight about? (We use the word fight to mean verbal conflict,
not physical violence.) People engage in conflict over goals that are
important to them. One company had an extreme morale problem. The head
cashier said, “All our problems would be solved if we could just get some
carpet, because everyone’s feet get tired—we’re the ones who have to stand
up all day. But management won’t spend a penny for us.” Her statement of
incompatible goals was clear—carpet versus no carpet. But as the
interviews in which we discovered intrapersonal strains progressed, another
need emerged. She began to talk about how no one noticed when her staff
had done good work and how the “higher-ups” only noticed when lines
were long and mistakes were made. There was a silence, then she blurted
out, “How about some compliments once in a while? No one ever says
anything nice. They don’t even know we’re here.” Her stated goals then
changed to include not only carpet but also self-esteem and increased
attention from management—a significant deepening of the goal statement.
Both goals, carpets and self-esteem, were real, but the first goal may have
been incompatible with management’s desires, whereas the second might
not; the need for recognition may have been important to both the cashiers
and management.
Page 8
We do not support the overly simple notion that if people just
communicated, they would see that their goals are the same. Opposing
goals remain a fact of life. Many times, people are absolutely convinced
they have opposing goals and cannot agree on anything to pursue together.
However, if goals are reframed or put in a different context, the parties can
agree. Recently, a student teacher’s supervisor outlined her goals for the
student. Included in the list was the demand that the student turn in a list of
the three most and least positive experiences in the classroom each week.
The student asked to be transferred to another teaching supervisor. The
chair asked why, saying, “Ms. Barker is one of our best supervisors.” The
student said, “That’s what I’ve heard, but I can’t be open about my failures
with someone who’s going to give me my ending evaluation. That will go
in my permanent files.” In a joint discussion with the supervisor and the
student, the chair found that both were able to affirm that they valued
feedback about positive and negative experiences. Their goals were more
similar than they had thought; the means for achieving them were different.
The supervisor agreed to use the list as a starting point for discussion but
not to keep copies; the student agreed to list experiences so the supervisor
would not feel that the student was hiding her negative experiences. Trust
was built through a discussion of goals. Perceptions of the incompatibility
of the goals changed through clear communication. Are you noticing that
it’s difficult to resolve conflict without talking with each other?
Goals are perceived as incompatible because parties want (1) the same
thing or (2) different things. First, the conflict parties may want the same
thing—for example, the promotion in the company, the one available
scholarship, or the attention of the parents. They struggle and jockey for
position in order to attain the desired goal. They perceive the situation as
one where there “isn’t enough to go around.” Thus, they see their goal as
incompatible with that of the other person because they both want the same
Second, sometimes the goals are different. Mark and Tom, for example,
decide to eat out. Mark wants to go to Bananas and Tom wants to go to
Pearl’s. They struggle over the incompatible choices. Sometimes the goals
are not as opposed as they seem. Two roommates would like to move out of
the dorm and into an apartment. After looking around, Janet tells Allison
that she thinks she’d “better just stay put.” Allison was, naturally, hurt. As
they talked about the situation, Janet told Allison she was afraid Allison
wanted to spend more than Janet was able to. They found an acceptable
budget and agreed to stick with it, thus resetting their goals more clearly. Of
course, many times the content goals seem to be different (like which
restaurant to go to), but beneath them is a relational struggle over who gets
to decide. Regardless of whether the participants see the goals as similar or
different, perceived incompatible goals are central to all conflicts.
Perceived Scarce Resources
A resource can be defined as “any positively perceived physical, economic,
or social consequence” (Miller and Steinberg 1975, 65). The resources may
be objectively real or perceived as real by the person. Likewise, the scarcity,
or limitation, may be apparent or actual. For example, close friends often
think that if their best friend begins to like someone else too, then the
supply of affection available to the original friend will diminish—a
perceived scarce resource. This may or may not be so, but a perception
that affection is scarce may well create genuine conflict between the
friends. Sometimes, then, the most appropriate behavior is attempting to
change the other person’s perception of the resource instead of trying to
reallocate the resource. Ultimately, one person can never force another to
change his or her valuing of a resource or perception of how much of the
resource is available, but persuasion coupled with supportive responses for
the person fearful of losing the reward can help.
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Money, natural resources, such as oil or land, and jobs may indeed be
scarce or limited resources. Getting a class you need for graduation might
be a scarce resource if the class is closed. Intangible commodities, such as
love, esteem, attention, and caring, also may be perceived as scarce.
Information can be perceived as a scarce resource. If you are lost because
you wandered away from the marked ski trails, and you don’t have a map,
you need to know where to go and how to reach the ski patrol. If your cell
phone won’t work, you desperately need people to come along and help
you. All these are, for this desperate moment, scarce resources because of
the situation you are in, not because cell phones, maps, and friendly
strangers are inherently scarce. When rewards are perceived as scarce, an
expressed struggle may be initiated.
And sometimes resources really are scarce. No amount of effort to
change the perception will make the resource abundant. Some other conflict
strategy will have to be employed.
In interpersonal struggles, two resources often perceived as scarce are
power and self-esteem. Whether the parties are in conflict over a desired
romantic partner or a change in work hours, perceived scarcities of power
and self-esteem are involved. People engaged in conflict often say things
reflecting power and self-esteem struggles, such as in the following
“She always gets her own way.” (She has more power than I
do, and I feel at a constant disadvantage. I’m always one
“He is so sarcastic! Who does he think he is? I don’t have to
put up with his attitude!” (I don’t have ways to protect myself
from biting sarcasm. It feels like an attack. I feel humiliated.
The only power I have is to leave or try to compete with equal
sarcasm, which makes me feel awful.)
“I refuse to pay one more penny in child support.” (I feel
unimportant. I don’t get to see the children very often. I’ve lost
my involvement with them. Money is the only way I have to
let that be known. I don’t want to feel like a loser and a fool.)
“I won’t cover for her if she asks me again. She can find
someone else to work the night shift when her kids get sick.” (I
feel taken advantage of. She only pays attention to me when
she needs a favor.)
Regardless of the particular subjects involved, people in conflict usually
perceive that they have too little power and self-esteem and that the other
party has too much. Since each person thinks and feels convinced that this
imbalance is “true,” something needs to be adjusted. Often, giving the other
person some respect, courtesy, and ways to save face removes their need to
use power excessively. Remember, people usually think the other person
has more power and self-esteem. We don’t perceive other people the way
they perceive themselves.
People may be interdependent, perceive incompatible goals, want the same
scarce resource, and still may not experience what we call conflict.
Interference, or the perception of interference, is necessary to complete the
conditions for conflict. If the presence of another person interferes with
desired actions, conflict intensifies. Conflict is associated with blocking,
and the person doing the blocking is perceived as the problem. For instance,
a college sophomore worked in a sandwich shop the summer before her
junior year abroad. She worked two jobs, scarcely having time to eat and
sleep. She was invited to a party at a cabin in the wilderness and she really
wanted to go. She worked overtime on one day and then asked for a day off
from the sandwich shop, but the employer was reluctant to say yes because
the student was the only one the employer trusted to open the shop and be
responsible for the store’s money. For an angry moment, the employer, who
was interfering with what the student wanted to do, seemed like the main
problem. Goals appeared incompatible, no one else was available to open
(scarce resource), and the two parties were interdependent because the
student needed the job and the owner needed her shop opened and the cash
monitored. She was about to say, “No. I’m sorry, but I can’t cover you.”
The student volunteered to train someone else, on her own time, to cover
for her. The problem was solved, at least for this round, and the conflict was
avoided. But if the student had quit in disgust or the employer had said no,
both would have sacrificed important goals.
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Another example of perceived interference involves Kelly, who prizes
time alone in a lookout tower each summer. She plans for the weeks and
looks forward to that solitude each year. When her two college-age
daughters asked to join her, Kelly hesitated, saying she didn’t think there
was enough room. The daughters were disappointed and hurt because they
had been away at college and thought this would be a wonderful way to all
be together. Mom could have told them she loved solitude and asked
whether they could figure out some way so they could be together, but her
quiet time could be maintained. For instance, the daughters like to hike and
might have been glad to plan several days of hiking. Instead, the situation
stayed unresolved and hurt feelings simmered.
Being blocked and interfered with is such a disturbing experience that
our first “take” is usually anger and blame. We will discuss later the
difference between intent and impact. For now, we suggest you adopt this
radical idea:
You do not know what other people are thinking unless you enter into
honest dialogue. You don’t know their intention without dialogue. You
can’t read minds. Conversation is the best approach.
The study of conflict should be viewed as a basic human requirement and
the practice of constructive conflict as an essential set of interpersonal skills
(Sillars 2009). We have confidence that your lives will be enriched by what
you will learn in this course, and what you will continue to learn for the rest
of your lives. Welcome to the process!
Why Study Conflict?
Mental health and overall happiness improve with a constructive conflict
process. When people experience conflicts, much of their energy goes into
emotions and strategizing related to those conflicts. They may be fearful,
angry, resentful, hopeless, preoccupied, or stressed. Adding to one’s
repertoire for resolving conflicts reduces a common stressor. Ineffective
resolution of interpersonal disputes adds to pessimism and hopelessness.
Eating disorders, physical and psychological abuse of partners, and problem
drinking (Murphy and O’Farrell 1994) also are associated with destructive
conflict environments.
Family Relationships
Our family of origin socializes us into constructive or destructive ways of
handling conflict. How did your family approach difficult conversations?
Did everyone avoid tough topics, or was your family oriented toward
conversation (Keating et al. 2013)? You will be given a chance to reflect on
your family’s approach in Chapter 2. However, your family dealt with
difficult conversations, the responses to such topics set the course for any
future conversations. For instance, if young persons disclose that they are
sexually active, parental responses will likely shape how free those persons
feel to disclose in the future. If disagreements remain respectful, even if
forceful, the young person will engage much more easily in the future. Your
experiences in your family predict how romantic relationships are later
handled (Koerner and Fitzpatrick 2002). Sadly, stepfamilies’ conflicts are
destructive 95% of the time (Baxter, Braithwaite, and Nicholson 1999).
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The benefits of studying conflict in terms of family extend beyond
families of origin. For instance, chosen families are nonbiological bonds
formed and sustained by people who lack love and support from their
biological families. These bonds are often formed by people who live with
differences (Allen 2010), especially LGBTQ (Schulman 2010; see also
Berry, Gillotti, and Adams 2020). Chosen families are no strangers to
conflict. Responding effectively within conflict situations helps to
strengthen members’ interpersonal relationships and the families more
It is curious to think about differences that might be prevalent in conflict
that occurs within chosen families. For instance, chosen family members
might feel freer, and even safer, to share feelings with one another. Feeling
supported and loved might create the conditions for more openness. In turn,
they might feel like other members are hearing what they express within
struggles, perhaps for the first time in their lives. At the same time,
ineffective habits for engaging with people’s biological families might also
be used in (or “brought into”) chosen family conflict situations (even if
those ways of communicating are not needed).
Family research is quite clear about the systemwide effects of
destructive marital conflict. Negative conflict between the parents reduces
the family’s network of friends and creates more loneliness (Jones 1992).
Conflict between the parents tends to both change the mood of household
interactions and shift the parents’ attention to the negative behaviors of their
children. Parental conflict has a direct negative impact on the children. You
probably remember the most negative conflicts in your family of origin,
while you may not remember specific instances of conflicts that were
handled constructively. Communication patterns between fathers and their
young adult children seem to follow a circular relationship—the young
adults treat their fathers the way they were treated (Dumlao and Botta
2000). Conflict between parents predicts well-being of the children, with
more conflict associated with maladaptive behavior on the part of the
children (Dunn and Tucker 1993; Garber 1991; Grych and Fincham 1990;
Jouriles, Bourg, and Farris 1991). Finally, the effects of destructive conflict
patterns suggest that “ongoing conflict at home has a greater impact on
adolescent distress and symptoms than does parental divorce” (Jaycox and
Repetti 1993, 344). Parents who either avoid conflict or engage in negative
cycles of mutual damage directly influence the children’s subsequent lives.
A modest relationship exists between mothers who avoid conflict and their
daughters’ marital satisfaction (VanLear 1992). On the other end of the
continuum, children who are exposed to harsh discipline practices at home
(which coincides with a negative and hostile relationship between the
parents) are more at risk for aggression, hyperactivity, and internalizing by
withdrawing, having somatic complaints, and experiencing depressive
symptoms (Jaycox and Repetti 1993). When children experience or witness
child physical abuse or domestic violence between parents, they often
develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This diagnosis is especially
complicated when children witness these events many times. While trauma
may be the cause, other disorders may develop as well (Margolin and
Vickerman 2007).
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Children and adults who were physically and sexually abused as children
face significant difficulties in their later conflicts. It is not possible to
generalize completely because many people exhibit remarkable resilience
and effectiveness in their lives despite terrible abuse. Yet common
responses to abuse, including the verbal abuse of yelling and the silent
treatment, are hypervigilance; difficulty in relaxing; withdrawing at the first
sign of tension or conflict; floating away, or dissociating; and not knowing
or expressing what one really wants.
Children’s own attitudes toward marriage are directly affected by the
conflict between their parents. If their parents have frequent conflict,
children have a much less favorable attitude toward marriage (Jennings,
Salts, and Smith 1991). A child’s general feeling of self-worth is directly
affected by interparental conflict (Garber 1991). This means that it isn’t
primarily a question of whether parents divorce or not that affects the
children; rather, it is the level of conflict present in either the intact family
or the restructured family that impacts the children.
When parents and adolescents think the other person intended to hurt
them, the effects of the conflicts are destructive, and make it less likely that
adolescents will learn to repair relationships and engage in constructive
conflict (McLaren and Sillars 2014).
The number of conflicts experienced does not seem to predict poor health
and wellbeing as much as whether the individuals perceive the conflict to
be resolvable (Malis and Roloff 2006). Through studying the practices
presented in this book and learning about constructive conflict, you will
gain hope, which will reduce your overall stress and pessimism.
Simply stated, the level of conflict and how destructive it is affect all
areas of family well-being. If you, as a present or future parent, change your
own conflict resolution skills, you will affect everyone in your families,
present and future. As you look back on your own family history, you
probably know the truth of this statement.
The study of conflict can be rewarding in your personal relationships. If
you are an adolescent or a parent of an adolescent, it will come as no
surprise to you that it takes about 10 years after an adolescent leaves home
for parents and children to negotiate roles that bring them closer to equality
than they were in their earlier parent–child relationship (Comstock 1994).
At the heart of this negotiation is the conflict process. The study of conflict
can assist in this process of redrawing family boundaries, letting you see
which styles backfire and which ones work best.
Love Relationships
We all know that love relationships provide a rigorous test of our ability to
manage conflict. Siegert and Stamp (1994) studied the effects of the “First
Big Fight” in dating relationships, noting that some couples survive and
prosper, whereas others break up. These communication researchers tell us
quite clearly that “the big difference between the nonsurvivors and
survivors was the way they perceived and handled conflict” (357). “What
determines the course of a relationship … is in a large measure determined
by how successfully the participants move through conflict episodes”
(Wilmot 1995, 95). Couples must learn to process fights and other
disagreeable events rather than repeating them. Processing an argument
means that the partners discuss the argument without redoing the fight. In
order to achieve this difficult task, partners must take turns talking about
what they were feeling and thinking during the incident, listening carefully
and validating what the other says, admitting one’s own role in the conflict,
and exploring ways to make the difficult conversation run more smoothly
next time (Gottman and Gottman 2008). This ability to process takes
restraint and skill. Much of the book will discuss how to achieve this ability
to process.
While married individuals are generally healthier than unmarried
persons, if you are married and in conflict, your health is likely to be poorer
than that of single people (Burman and Margolin 1992). People in same-sex
relationships remain at greater risk for breakups, due to gender identity
distress, lack of other relationship options, and less social support than
different-sex couples enjoy (Khaddouma et al. 2015). Hostile behavior
during conflictual interactions seems to relate to changes in one’s immune
system, resulting in poorer overall physical health (Kiecolt-Glaser et al.
1996). Wives appear to suffer more from hostile conflictual situations than
do husbands (Kiecolt-Glaser et al. 1996).
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One key skill in all long-term committed relationships is conflict
management—certainly, the data on marriages suggest this is true (Gottman
1994). The presence or absence of conflict does not determine the quality of
a marriage; rather, how the couple handles conflictual situations determines
the quality of the relationship (Comstock and Strzyzewski 1990). Even
beliefs about conflict are more important to marital happiness than whether
or not the two partners actually agree with one another (Crohan 1992).
How you handle conflict spreads to other members of your family. For
example, it has been noted that adult children who are taking care of their
parents usually have high levels of conflict with siblings (Merrill 1996).
Learning effective skills for dealing with your younger brother or sister is
far better than engaging in a family dispute that will affect your children
and subsequent generations as well.
The Workplace
So far, we have presented the reasons for studying conflict in personal
relationships. In addition, conflicts at work present important challenges
that affect your career development. “Conflict is a stubborn fact of
organizational life” (Kolb and Putnam 1992, 311). We carry our
interpersonal relationships into our workplaces; work life and private life
intertwine. Effective communication in couple relationships helps moderate
these inevitable workplace conflicts (Carroll et al. 2013). One study
surveyed workers and found that almost 85% reported conflicts at work
(Bergmann and Volkema 1994). With an increasing awareness of cultural
diversity and gender equity issues, it is imperative that we become familiar
with issues surrounding promotions and harassment. In fact, one can see
communication training in organizations as a form of preventive conflict
management (Hathaway 1995). Managers need to learn conflict skills to
intervene in disputes in their organization.
Conflict pervades many different work settings. One study reviewed the
causes and pervasive impact of conflict in nursing, suggesting different
interventions to help prevent and manage conflict (Brinkert 2010). Nursing
involves so much communication between other nurses, doctors and
physician assistants, patients and families that conflicts naturally emerge.
Often these interactions take place in confusing, stressful, understaffed, and
even life-threatening situations. Conflict among nurses in team situations is
viewed more positively in situations where high-quality patient care and an
emphasis on communication processes are present (Kim, Nicoters, and
McNulty 2015). This means that training in good communication will affect
nurses’ willingness to engage in conflict, and that the conflict is more likely
to be judged as constructive. Nurses perform tasks requiring a high degree
of emotional intelligence; and those who manage their emotions well
experience less job stress and, thus, enjoy more well-being (Karimi et al.
2013). Learning a high degree of emotional intelligence means you will
handle conflict and stress well, no matter what professional realm you enter.
Ongoing, unresolved workplace conflict also presents negative effects
that reach far beyond the principal parties. If the executive director of a
nonprofit agency and her board cannot get along, employees tend to take
sides, fear for their jobs, and, like those above them, wage a campaign
discrediting the other group. Health care environments present the
probability of damaging conflicts. For instance, when doctors and nurses
engage in destructive conflict, the patient suffers. When nurses, who often
know the patient’s situation most intimately, withdraw, patient illness and
death rise (Forte 1997). Serious interprofessional conflict results in an
alarmingly higher number of medical errors than when teamwork is not in
conflict (Baldwin Jr. and Daugherty 2008).
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Ignoring workplace conflict sets destructive forces in motion that
decrease productivity, spread the conflict to others, and lead to lower
morale. In one organization, the CEO was on the verge of reorganizing the
structure, affecting 600 people, so that two vice presidents would not have
to talk to one another! Organizations depend on leaders to become expert
conflict managers. They should develop the skills to lead task-related
conflicts with conflict resolution skills. When the conflict centers around
relationship issues, they must be skilled enough not to be afraid to dive into
the relationship issues that are driving the conflict. When leaders ignore
relationship issues, the conflict will go underground and get more toxic
(Curseu 2011).
In college, you may experience conflicts with friends, roommates,
romantic partners, professors, teaching assistants, your employer, and even
your parents. One study showed something that won’t surprise you: When
parents and students agree on the relative importance of goals, less conflict
evolves. Students often value independence, control of their emotional
environment, health, social relationships, and financial concerns. Parents
often value moral, religious, or educational goals (Morton and Markey
2009). When conflict arises with your parents, a good strategy is to make
sure what you are disagreeing about. You may be talking past each other or
you may agree on many issues but be in disagreement on only one or two.
In one situation, Kristin and her parents argued over whether she should go
to summer school. Kristin did not want to; rather, she wanted to be with her
friends after work and relax from the rigorous academic schedule she kept
the previous year. Her parents wanted Kristin to attend summer school full
time and work part time. For a while they went back and forth, arguing,
until finally her parents said, “Our goal is for you to graduate in 4 years.”
Kristin replied, “I thought you wanted me to make as much of a financial
contribution as I could.” Her parents explained that graduating on time
would far outweigh the value of money Kristin could make. Kristin showed
her parents her advising packet, which indicated that she could graduate in
4 years if she took only two extra courses in the summer. By analyzing what
the argument really was about, Kristin and her parents came to a good,
negotiated plan—neither a compromise, capitulation, nor a forced and
disliked plan for Kristin.
Teaching and the educational system provide many opportunities for
difficult conflict. Principals who adopt transparent, enforced codes of
interaction among their teaching staff help build trusting, less conflicting
relationships. Trust enhances collaboration or the ability to work together
for commonly identified goals (Cosner 2011). We know of too many
instances in which principals, deans, heads of schools, union
representatives, department heads, and other educational leaders do not
work in an open, trusting way. These educational institutions are very likely
to experience damaging, expensive, and disruptive conflicts. In one
situation in which we intervened, two staff members would not speak to
each other, even about their shared tasks of supervising student interns,
because their principal shared little of her thinking and decision making
with the staff. She played favorites, only circulated certain information,
broke agreements, and made each supervisor believe the other one was out
of favor. As a result, the two internship supervisors saw no need to
cooperate with each other. Often, as in this case, the root of the problem is
with the principal, not the supervisors. When she changed to an open
communication style, the extreme mistrust and uncivil behavior lessened
almost completely between the supervisors. Teachers, whose jobs are
usually quite stressful, suffer less burnout and stress when they turn to
supportive teacher-colleagues and school counselors (Tatar 2009). Some
advantages to studying organizational conflicts include:
Page 15
As an employee, you can learn how to get along with
Fellow employees
Your manager
The public
You will be perceived as more skilled
You will be able to help prevent workplace conflicts
As a supervisor, you can begin to
Know when conflicts are likely to occur
Learn productive responses
Receive more cooperation from employees
Help employees resolve their disputes with one another
Keep interpersonal conflicts from spreading to other parts of the
Teach teams how to handle their own conflicts
Employees at all levels who are skilled in conflict resolution bring gifts
to their workplace; their skills help them and other employees with job
satisfaction, promotions, and effectiveness in the workplace.
As you will see in Chapter 9, you might study conflict so you can help
others in interpersonal conflict. At a minimum, you must understand
conflict dynamics, and coupled with specific intervention skills, you can be
maximally helpful to children, friends, family members, and work
The Importance of Skill Development
Conflict management skills require thoughtful practice. Few people seem to
be natural conflict managers. Children, from toddlers to adolescents, can
learn different levels of skills. Adults would be much better off if they were
given appropriate training throughout their life development (Sandy 2014).
If you were not offered any specific training, such as peer mediation
programs in public schools, when you were younger, it’s not too late to
begin now. We hope you will then teach children in your lives more about
conflict resolution skills. While you may admire couples who never seem to
engage in conflict, couples who never engage in conflict are at long-term
risk (McGonagle, Kessler, and Gotlib 1993, 398). Common myths of ideal
relationships and happy marriages sometimes assume that conflict is a “bad
sign.” But this is not true. As always, the way a conflict is handled predicts
whether the couple, the work group, or the manager–employer dyad will
thrive. In conflict, we must learn to “do what comes unnaturally.” If we do
what we have always done, we will keep getting the results we have always
gotten—results that may keep us mired in the same old patterns. Who
would imagine, for instance, that moving toward bad news, instead of away
from bad news, is often the better strategy? How many of us intuitively
know to tell more of the truth when a conflict is becoming destructive rather
than keeping quiet or yelling? In the middle of a conflict, if someone insists
that “this is really simple!” they probably mean “this would be simple if
you would adopt my perspective.” As you will learn, conflict is anything
but simple.
Page 16
Adolescents without specific conflict resolution training or excellent
modeling use naïve resolution strategies with friends. More than 50% of
adolescent conflicts are resolved by either standoffs, where parties divert
their attention to something else, leaving the conflict unresolved, or
withdrawal, in which one person refuses to continue to engage (Sandy
2014). Consider which strategies remain barely used at all: third-party
intervention, compromise, or listening-centered communication. Because
young adults are only a few years past adolescence, it’s not surprising that
avoidance and withdrawal continue to describe many young-adult conflicts.
Think of the last conflict in which you participated which ended in standoff
or withdrawal, or worse yet, submission. How satisfying was that conflict
for you?
Unresolved conflict has a tremendous negative impact. It directly affects
the parties themselves. In personal relationships, unresolved conflict leads
to drifting away from one another and sometimes jettisoning the
relationship entirely. In the workplace, it leads to low productivity and
being fired. In an organization known to us, one employee has been “on the
radar” of the senior managers for several years. She will be given a
performance review that details what she must change in 2 months. The
senior manager has not been willing to confront the problem employee
directly and effectively. Therefore, the employee will probably be fired or
the employee will find another job, and the organization will be without an
employee because of a hiring freeze. The conflict stayed unresolved for so
long that negative perceptions became carved in the stone of
disappointment. Everyone will lose.
The benefits of learning effective skills in conflict result in:
Improvement in mental health—your own and others’
Long-term satisfaction in your family, your love relationships, and at
People around you benefit from your improved skills
Conflict management draws upon the skills of emotional intelligence.
This popular concept is defined as “the capacity for recognizing our own
feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing
emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships” (Goleman 1998, 317).
Later, in the book, we will discuss management of emotions in detail. As
you can see at this point, recognizing feelings, self-motivation, and dealing
with feelings are skills that pervade all of conflict management. Workplaces
now ask employees to be excellent with “people skills”—the precise skills
useful in conflict management. One study showed that employees with
emotional intelligence were able to mediate well with those who used
negative “forcing” and “withdrawing” styles in their organization. Those
with emotional intelligence helped foster good organizational citizenship
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