Managing Interpersonal Conflict
By William A. Donohue and Robert Kolt
Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: William A. Donohue and Robert Kolt. Managing Interpersonal Conflict. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992, 171 pp.
Managing Interpersonal Conflict is one book in a series entitled Interpersonal Commtexts, that was originally designed to help enhance the interpersonal skills of college and university undergraduates. This book aims to help readers better understand and ultimately manage their routine interpersonal conflicts. Donohue deals extensively with the negotiation process as well as with third-party dispute resolution. The book emphasizes keeping conflicts under control and keeping focused on the issues.
This work consists of eight chapters, which walk readers through the conflict process -- from the initial decision of whether or not to confront differences, to how to plan the actual confrontation, to various strategies of conflict management. Chapter One, "Understanding the Conflict Episode" covers some basic aspects of dealing with conflict. It starts with knowing your own perspective on a conflict, and discusses various ways to define conflict, what constructive conflict looks like, levels of conflict and tension, and a few general principles that guide conflict development.
Chapter Two covers the decision-making process of confronting conflict and is divided into four decision steps. These are... The chapter outlines a list of considerations to think about when deciding whether or not to confront a conflict. For example, disputants should consider the importance of the relationship at stake, the significance of the issue, the opposition's conflict style, time, and personal safety. Also addressed in Chapter Two are: when to confront the conflict, how to do it, and a summary of a few different conflict cycles.
In Chapter Three, Donohue focuses on attribution and face, two aspects of conflict that, if handled poorly, may exacerbate the situation. Attribution examines how disputants perceive the causes of the conflict, while face inspects how people's self-images affect their ability to work through crises. This chapter concludes with some strategies for dealing with the attribution/face dialectic.
With Chapter Four, the author lays out some practical suggestions for how to structure the issues surrounding routine conflict situations, so that discussions will remain productive. A four-phase outline of the conflict resolution process is presented here, with the main point being that issues must be dealt with in small packages and followed completely through before they are settled. Chapter Four also incorporates a brief section regarding how to make effective, successful decisions in international crisis situations.
Chapter Five and Six describe negotiating techniques for readers to apply in conflict situations. Chapter Five focuses on the concept of power, as it is the underlying element of any negotiation strategy or tactic. Elaborating on the previous chapter, Chapter Six explains practical negotiating skills that will help readers negotiate effectively. The two most general strategies discussed are competitive and collaborative.
Chapter Seven addresses the fact that oftentimes everyday individuals are not able to negotiate settlements on their own, despite having read a book about how to do it. Thus, this chapter explains the third party interveners that are available to help resolve interpersonal disputes.
The final chapter of Managing Interpersonal Conflict clearly outlines a series of questions for people to ask themselves as they work through a conflict. This chapter serves as a summarized wrap-up of the entire book, reviewing the key concepts and strategies presented earlier.