Managing Conflict

Morton Deutsch

E.L. Thorndike Professor and Director Emeritus of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, Columbia University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

The next item is what people will be. Whether they will be cooperative, or constructive in managing the conflict versus competitive or destructive in managing the conflict. And the students and I were all engaged in a lot of the experiments. And out of that series of experiments came out another important but simple idea, which I have summarized in what I call "Deutsch's Crude Law of Social Relations." It concludes that the typical effects of a given relation tend to induce that relationship. The typical effects of a cooperative relation can be found where you talk openly and honestly, where communication is open and honest in full, where there is friendly trusting relationships, where you try to enhance the other's powers and resources and where you manage conflicts in a cooperative way. Those typical effects induce a cooperative orientation to a conflict and lead to constructive management of a conflict.

On the other hand, the typical effects of a competitive orientation are found where there's a win-lose struggle, communication tends to break down, you tend to get suspicious of the other, you tend to want to enhance the power differences between yourself and the other, so that you have much greater power than the other, and you want to win in a conflict. Those typical effects lead to a destructive conflict process. That was published in 1973, a long time ago, thirty years ago, in my book, The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes. And that book became a very important, sort of classic in the field.