Summary of "Interpersonal Conflict"

Summary of

Interpersonal Conflict

By Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot. Interpersonal Conflict. 2nd ed. rev., Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1985, 236 pp.

Interpersonal Conflict explores the factors which contribute to interpersonal conflict, with particular attention to the communication behavior of the conflicting parties.

Interpersonal Conflict will be of interest to those who seek a better understanding of the process of interpersonal conflict, and general techniques for interpersonal conflict management. This work is divided into eight chapters, with indices. An appendix lists sources for conflict measurement scales, and for educational exercises and simulations.

Chapter One describes the nature of conflict. The authors first identify and dispel misconceptions about conflict. They then explore various common images of conflict, such as conflict as war, as trial, as upward struggle. The first chapter concludes with a description of the elements of conflict, and the distinction between productive and destructive conflicts. Chapter Two explores various styles of conflict for individuals and systems, and suggests methods of adapting or "unfreezing" such styles.

In Chapter Three the authors discuss the role of power in interpersonal conflict. Power is pervasive in conflict situations. Bases of individual power in conflict include expertise, resource control, interpersonal linkages, personal qualities, and intimacy. The authors discuss ways to assess power, and techniques to balance power imbalances. Chapter Four turns to the issue of goals in conflict. Incompatible goals are part of every conflict. Clarifying those goals is a first step toward conflict resolution. Four tactics for building collaborative goals are described. Parties must separate people from the problem. They should focus on interests rather than on positions. Parties should generate a variety of options before deciding what to do. Finally, results should be based upon an objective standard. Chapter Five discusses some of the strategic choices available to conflicting parties. The basic choice is whether to avoid or engage in conflict. The authors describe both avoidance tactics and engagement tactics. Engagement tactics may be either competitive or collaborative.

Chapters Six through Eight focus on techniques for intervention into and resolution of conflicts. Chapter Six describes how to assess conflict and identify conflict patterns. The authors approach conflict assessment via systems theory. Chapter Seven introduces self-regulation as a technique for influencing conflicts from the "inside". Techniques for self-regulation include use of fractionation, GRIT, negotiating the rules of process or interpersonal agreements, and crisis management. Chapter Eight turns to external interventions in conflict by third parties. The authors describe an intervention continuum, ranging from informal to formal. They describe the intervention process, both formal and informal, in general terms. The chapter concludes with discussion of formal modes of intervention: adjudication, mediation, and arbitration.

Interpersonal Conflict provides an excellent introduction to the communications approach to conflict analysis and management.