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Do men and women engage in interpersonal conflict differently? One of the few stereotypes that are supported by research is that of the withdrawing and sometimes aggressive male. Men are more apt to withdraw from a conflict situation than are women. It has been argued that this may happen because men become more psychologically and physiologically aroused during conflict (and retain this heightened level of arousal much longer than do women) and so may try to distance themselves and withdraw from the conflict to prevent further arousal. Another explanation for the male Tendency to withdraw is that the culture has taught men to avoid conflict. Still another explanation is that withdrawal is an expression of power (Gottman & Carrere, 1994; Canary, Cupach, & Messman, 1995; Goleman, 1995; Noller, 1993).
Women, on the other hand, want to get closer to the conflict; they want to talk about it and resolve it. Even adolescents reveal these differences; in a study of boys and girls aged 11 to 17, boys withdrew more than girls but were more aggressive when they didn’t withdraw 160161(Lindeman,Harakka, & KeltikangasJarvinen,1997). Similarly, a study of offensive language found that girls were more easily offended by language than boys, but boys were more apt to fight when they were offended by the words used (Heasley, Babbitt, & Burbach, 1995a, 1995b). Another study showed that young girls used more prosocial strategies (i.e., behaviors designed to help others rather than oneself) than boys (Rose & Asher,1999).
It should be mentioned that some research fails to support these gender differences in conflict style—the differences that cartoons, situation comedies, and films portray so readily and so clearly. For example, several studies dealing with both college students and men and women in
business found no significant differences in the ways men and women engage in conflict (Wilkins & Andersen, 1991; Canary & Hause, 1993; Gottman & Levenson, 1999).
CONFLICT STYLES HAVE CONSEQUENCES
The way in which you engage in conflict has consequences for who wins and who loses, if and when the conflict is resolved, and ultimately for the relationship as a whole. As you read through these styles (Blake & Mouton, 1984), try to identify your own conflict style as well as the styles of those with whom you have close relationships. A summary of these five styles appears in Table 8.1.
Competing: I Win, You Lose
The competitive style involves great concern for your own needs and desires and little for those of others. As long as your needs are met, you think the conflict has been dealt with successfully. In conflict motivated by competitiveness, you’d be likely to be verbally aggressive and to blame the other person.
This style represents an “I win, you lose” philosophy. This is the conflict style of a person who simply imposes his or her will on the other: “I make the money, and we’ll vacation at the beach or not at all.” But this philosophy often leads to resentment on the part of the person who loses,which can cause additional conflicts. Further, the fact that you win and the other person loses probably means that the conflict hasn’t really been resolved but has only concluded (for now).
Avoiding: I Lose, You Lose
Conflict avoiders are relatively unconcerned with their own or with their opponents’ needs or desires. They avoid any real communication about the problem, change topics when the problem is brought up, and generally withdraw both psychologically and physically.
TABLE 8.1 Five Conflict Styles and Their Consequences Here are the five conflict styles and their likely consequences or outcomes (Blake & Mouton (1984). Do you have a general conflict style or does your conflict style vary with your relationship to the other person? For example, are you likely to engage in conflict differently depending on the other person, whether friend, romantic partner, work colleague, and so on?
You Other Competing: great concern for your needs; little concern for other’s Win Lose
Avoiding: little concern for your own or other’s needs Lose Lose Compromising: some concern for your own and other’s needs Win and lose Win and lose Accommodating: great concern for other’s needs; little concern for your own Lose Win Collaborating: great concern for your own and other’s needs Win Win 161 162.
As you can appreciate, the avoiding style does little to resolve any conflicts and may be viewed as an “I lose, you lose” philosophy. If a couple can’t agree about where to spend their vacation, but each person refuses to negotiate a resolution to the disagreement, the pair may not take any
vacation at all; both sides lose. Interpersonal problems rarely go away of their own accord; rather, if they exist, they need to be faced and dealt with effectively. Avoidance merely allows the conflict to fester and probably grow, only to resurface in another guise.
Compromising: I Win and Lose, You Win and Lose
Compromise is the kind of strategy you might refer to as “meeting each other halfway,” “horse trading,” or “give and take.” There’s some concern for your own needs and some concern for the other’s needs. This strategy is likely to result in maintaining peace, but there will be a residue of dissatisfaction over the inevitable losses that each side has to endure.
Compromise represents an “I win and lose, you win and lose” philosophy. So, if you and your partner can’t vacation at both the beach and the mountains, then you might settle for weekend trips or use the money to have a hot tub installed instead. These may not be your first choices, but they’re not bad and may satisfy (to some degree at least) each of your vacation wants.
Accommodating: I Lose, You Win
When accommodation takes place, you sacrifice your own needs for the needs of the other person(s). Your primary goal is to maintain harmony and peace in the relationship or group. This style may help maintain peace and may satisfy the opposition, but it does little to meet your own needs, which are unlikely to go away.
Accommodation represents an “I lose, you win” philosophy. If your partner wants to vacation in the mountains and you want to vacation at the beach, and you, instead of negotiating an agreement acceptable to both, give in and accommodate, then you lose and your partner wins. Although
this style may make your partner happy (at least on this occasion), it’s not likely to provide a lasting resolution to an interpersonal conflict. You’ll eventually sense unfairness and inequality and may easily come to resent your partner, and perhaps even yourself.
Collaborating: I Win, You Win
In collaboration you address both your own and the other person’s needs. This style, often considered the ideal, takes time and a willingness to communicate—especially to listen to the perspectives and needs of the other person.
Collaboration enables each person’s needs to be met, an “I win, you win” situation. For example, you might both agree to split the vacation—one week in the mountains and one week at the beach. Or you might agree to spend this year’s vacation at the beach and next year’s in the mountains.
This is obviously the style that, in an ideal world, most people would choose for interpersonal conflict.
SKILL DEVELOPMENT EXPERIENCE: Generating Win–Win Solutions
For any one of the situations listed,
(a) generate as many winlose solutions as you can—solutions in which one person wins and the other loses;
(b) generate as many possible winwin solutions as you feel the individuals involved in the conflict could reasonably accept; and
(c) explain in one sentence the difference between winlose and winwin solutions
1. Jessie and Johnnie have decided to get a pet. Jessie wants a cat; Johnnie wants a dog.
2. Casey, who has been in a 12year relationship with Devon, recently received a $10,000 bonus and has already used the whole amount for a down payment on a new car. Devon was expecting to share the bonus.
3. Pat smokes and stinks up the apartment. Chris hates this, and they argue about it almost daily.Winwin solutions exist for most interpersonal conflict situations if the people involved are willing to put in a little effort to find them.
This is a written assignment in lieu of the threaded discussions. Have a cover page, a reference page, and one page for this topic for a total of 3 pages. This assignment is due onMonday, Sept. 21, in class. Bring a hard copy of the assignment to give directly to your professor.
Interpersonal conflict is when the needs or ideas of one person are at odds (disagree) with the needs or ideas of another person. Interpersonal conflict is something we all experience in our life and it is neither good nor bad. How we resolve conflict may have good or bad effects on our relationships however.
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