Masking the Issue: Displaced Conflict

displaced conflict; argument

Have you ever become very angry at someone who is helping you and then realized that the source of the conflict was something else entirely? This is an example of displaced conflict. The anger had nothing to do with the transaction or the customer service agent, and everything to do with another situation, perhaps one that is causing you stress or anxiety, which resulted in your lashing out at the wrong party.

Stress and Conflict

Hyperstress happens when too many tasks and responsibilities pile up and we are unable to adapt or cope with these changes. In hyperstress, the source is identifiable, such as too many competing deadlines at work and home. Hyperstress causes physical and chemical reactions in the body. If the stress is not alleviated, exhaustion sets in.

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Destructive Conflict Patterns

Destructive conflict

According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011), a process view of conflict sees the conflict as a dynamic and changeable and moving through various stages. Dysfunctional conflict is generally not successfully resolved. In destructive conflict, people get stuck in one phase, while successfully resolved conflict moves through the five distinct steps or phases. Sometimes conflicts become scripted behavior and people get trapped into responding in their habitual way to a particular set of circumstances or individuals.

Two Primary Destructive Conflict Cycles

Confrontation Avoidance Cycle. This cycle occurs with people whose first impulse is to avoid initiating conflict. They think of conflict as bad, get nervous about the conflict experience, and avoid it as long as possible. When the conflict gets out of control, that individual handles it poorly. In this cycle, there is a prelude and a triggering event but the conflict doesn’t proceed to initiation. An example of a prelude is a past history of poorly managed conflict. A triggering event may occur when one person forgets an appointment or says something hurtful.

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Intractable Conflicts in Society: It’s not just you and me, here

Much of my work and writing focuses, naturally, on conflict transformation or resolution, emphasizing strategies that take parties at odds into a constructive process. However, when we hear about conflict in society, or read about it in the newspapers, it often sounds far beyond the reach of a mediator’s typical toolbox. What are the differences at play? This post is about acknowledging and understanding social conflicts that come to be understood as intractable. 

Social Conflicts and Intractability

The concept of intractability is, itself, controversial. Some people in the conflict resolution community feel it is simply too negative, designating some conflicts as impossible and thus discouraging people from investing in the hard work of transformation. However, there is wide consensus, as Guy and Heidi Burgess describe on the resource page Beyond Intractability, that certain conflicts present themselves as particularly entrenched and challenging. They offer a descriptive list that expands on the meaning of intractability, including adjectives such as protracted, destructive, deep-rooted, grid-locked, identity-based, complex, and malignant. Examples today abound around us, unfortunately, from political issues in the United States such as abortion or race relations, to long-running international conflicts such as the Israel/Palestine gridlock. The recent flares in Ukraine constitute a prominent escalation of potentially intractable conflict. [Read more…]

Destructive Conflict: Patterns and Cycles

In our last newsletter we wrote about patterns and cycles in constructive conflict processes. As promised, this month we will examine destructive conflict and how to recognize it. As always we conclude with practical theory application tips that you can use in the workplace or at home.

Best wishes for a safe, happy and peaceful July 4th.


 

According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011) a process view of conflict sees the conflict as a dynamic and changeable and moving through various stages. Dysfunctional conflict is generally not successfully resolved. While successfully resolved conflict moves through the five distinct steps or phases, in destructive conflict people get stuck in one phase. Sometimes conflicts become scripted behavior and people get trapped into responding in their habitual way to a particular set of circumstances or individuals. [Read more…]