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Communication and Conflict Resolution Ways

There is a close link between communication and the spiraling up or diffusion of a given conflict. Communication is what pushes a conflict to reach a critical climax or on the contrary diffuse it, making the issues that are the source of disagreement as part of a constructive conflict. Hence, it is importance to be aware of communication tools to play down a conflict and the attitudinal mistakes that make situations worsen.

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First of all, one has to define destructive and constructive conflict. A destructive conflict is that which is fanned by various destructive attitudinal elements, creating an escalation in disagreement and offering no platforms to solving the issue. John Gottman has examined four of them, derived from case studies on married couples, which he calls the “four horsemen of apocalypse” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2007, p.16), which are: criticizing, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt (16).

The four horsemen refer to negative attitudes that a spouse engages to, making the conflict worsen. Criticizing, a first stage of conflict spiraling, refers to negative complaint that bears much evaluation and less of description (17); it refers to judgment-laden criticism. Defensiveness refers to that attitude of seeking to protect one’s self from pain, personal responsibility, and new information (18). The destructive element of it lies in preventing the exchange of arguments from a neutral stance. Stonewalling refers to the fact that one refuses to interact (19), stripping the parties from the openness that is necessary in any conflict resolution. Finally, the fourth horseman, which is the ultimate point at the spiral, is that of contempt or holding one’s self at a plane higher than others (19).

This breaking down of a destructive conflict, though derived from marital context, can be generalized over conflict at large. Indeed, all conflicts reflect ““an interactive state in which the behaviors or goals of one actor are to some degree incompatible with the behaviors or goals f some actor or actors””( Rahim, 200, p.17). There is a number of configurations of disagreement situations that can happen in more than one context. For instance, spouses may disagree on how to spend their household budget; the same may happen within a firm. Two classmates may argue because one of them responded to a request by the other in a condescending manner (lending a book) , as may two neighbors (asking to lower the volume of TV), or even two strangers (asking some help on how to get to some destination).

If one looks into them, the common denominator between all these negative attitudes is the judgmental stance. Accordingly, a major step in circumventing the negativity in a conflictual situation is taking a distance from the person we are in conflict with, judging the behavior not the person, and being open to receive feedback and interact. One has o be open to discuss the issue or the behavior that bothers. In order to get to that stage of openness, both parties but foremost the one who is to initiate a complaint has to do it in a constructive manner.

A constructive complaint is expressed using an “I” statement (Wilmot & Hocker), instead of the pronoun “you” which is often used to forward a complaint (17): you have done this and that or you have said tit and tat. Then, one proceeds to the following: describe the undesirable behavior, use neutral not judgmental, language, and ask for specific behavioral change (17).

These elements on how to healthily express a complaint are helpful at diffusing tension and building a constructive conflict. A solution may be forestalled just because the other person is attacking him/her verbally. Otherwise, instead of having a conversation, parties to litigation find themselves trapped in a mode of attack and counter attack.

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Communication is therefore an intervening variable in conflict that may either help solve or complicate a conflict. Interestingly, poor communication can be a cause or consequence. Disagreement handled poorly can result in lead to the deterioration of communication. Rahim (2001) puts forth that in the context work, interlevel conflict is often times caused from difficulties to communicate (172). This refers to when the hierarchy becomes so poach and barriers are put between senior and junior officers, the chief executive and the staff, to a degree where open channels of discussions are hindered. Looking at it from the other way round, one of the dysfunctional outcomes of conflicts is that communication between individuals and groups may be reduced (7). This is understandable, if workers cannot discuss openly with their bosses, these latter would find difficulties to monitor them. Too much formality prevents from the positive advantages of semi-formal to informal relationships, mainly openness and free communication.

All in all, communication does determine how a conflict may evolve. Using the appropriate language and behavior can only be conflict resolution-conducive and vice versa. The contexts in which conflict emerge may be diverse: couple relationship, friendship, work, etc. The mechanisms of communication / conflict remain the same. Judgmental language should be avoided, and above all, communication channel should be always open.

One of the tools used in conflict management is negotiation and it is by no means the least important. Probably the most important characteristic of this tool is that it may be cost effective, especially in the context of work. It is based on bargaining interests and needs and finding common grounds.

The importance of negotiation has drawn the attention of various academics across disciplines, including psychology. Psychology is in fact a helpful framework because negotiation is staged out against a highly charged psychological context. Parties to negotiation have goals that they try to advance not only pragmatically but through communication means. This entails language and attitude schemes.

Amidst the various sub-fields and schools of thought within psychology, there is a place for communication as a medium of negotiation. Studies has shown that negotiation in such context as buying and selling at a corporate level is usually characterized by the deployment of a good degree of honesty, which in turn, yields good results (Bazerman & al, 2000, p.294). The reason being that negotiation game tests, notably the ones done by such scholar as Valley, have shown that face-to-face negotiation (as opposed to telephone negotiation, for instance) has makes the seller get perceived as trustworthy because there is interaction between the parties (294).

However, in such direct channel, it is important that the parties adopt a cooperative problem solving orientation (295). Dominant behavioral attitude, especially when the negotiation is done at the backdrop of a conflict, can either generate attack or retreat (295). There should been no perception on any party’s side that the other is trying to dominate.

Another important element in negotiation is language and the way it is used since it is the vehicle of negotiation. One side in looking at language during a negotiation process is the way it conveys assertiveness. Assertiveness, which should not turn into domineering attitude, is important because in the end negotiation is a game for advancing one’s interests, to a maximum. Assertiveness entails not to concede “unnecessarily” (Harvard Business Review, 200, p.94). In terms of style, effective negotiation should not be provocative otherwise it could trigger either defensive or combative response (94). Instead of being inflammatory, it should encourage the other party to discuss the issues.

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Another element, which is subtle yet central to negotiation, is paying attention to notions of competition and collaboration. A negotiator should always try to stay away from competitiveness as opposed to collaboration. A smart one would be able to convert, eventually, the former one into the latter.

Competitiveness is the easy attitude to adopt when negotiating because each party has a set of objectives that s/he tries to advance. However, competitiveness, understood as a form of individualism is difficult to reconcile with the very basis of negotiation- finding a compromise.

There are many ways to ensure that the premise that one operates from is that of collaboration. Each party should filter its language so that it does not reflect competitiveness. While the purpose is to advance one’s interests, one way to embrace collaboration is to sort out one’s interests and needs so that they overlap with the other’s (Deutsch, 2000, 506). Also, the language should be positive in a manner that may gain the satisfaction of the other. It should convey “need satisfiers”, no insults, and no threats (506). In sum, collaboration both in terms of attitude and language should be based on communication, perspective-taking, and building trust.

From all the above, it becomes clear that negotiation requires skills in order to be effective in conflict resolution. Negotiation is a communication tool conveyed mainly through language. Therefore, language should reflect a stance of openness and compromise. The parties should start from the premise that they are negotiating common interests and accordingly not behave individualistically.

Third party intervention has been explored in various contexts, among which is the managerial framework. This concept of intervention refers to introducing a foreign party to a conflict to intervene, in order to bring negotiation to fruition. These are mediators or arbitrators. This is particularly helpful when the parties to a conflict reach a stalemate.

Mediation should target foremost the resolution of the conflict. Hence, at should try to address the issues at stake thoroughly while being conscious that a fully effective mediation is the one that yields timely results (Elangovan, 1995, p 804); it should be time-effective. The time factor is important because, generally, as time passes by, the costs of the dispute goes high. It is obvious because when a dispute is occurring, work becomes suspended to some degree. It is particularly so when dispute-parties resort to court where complex situations take long time before a judgment is pronounced.

Another premise for effective mediation is adopting a collaborative approach to conflict. This entails the mediator to be fair. Such quality is particularly looked upon by parties of litigation when the issue is the interpretation of a given legal document (Deutsch & al, 2006, p.812). In such case, it is an imperative for the mediator.

Whereas s/he should control the negotiation procedure, to their better conduct, s/he should leave the outcomes to the quarrelling parties. In this, the mediator should make sure that information flows between the parties. It must be noted that in order to guarantee fairness, there is often reliance on third parties that do not have a stake in the conflict (Deutsch & al, 2006, p.186).

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The conflict itself or the situation requires analysis. The mediator but also the parties should examine the conflict. It is part of a process of de-escalation of conflict which is based on analyzing the situation, understanding it, and eventually solving it by proposing and alternative (Deutsch & al, 2006, p.187). It is further implied that analysis, a core stage I n the process, requires a skilled, impartial, and trusted third party; he in turn should hold good knowledge of the conflict (Deutsch & al, 2006, p.188)

All in all, third party intervention is normally a token on engagement in a collaborative conflict. It shows that parties are willing to explore their differences and find a compromise. However, the third party or mediator should be aware of important issues, namely, fairness and full grasp of the conflictual situation.


  1. Harvard Business Review (2000). On Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, Harvard Business Review Paperback Series. Boston: Boston Harvard Business School Press.
  2. Bazerman, Max ; Curhan, Jared; Moore, Don; & Valley, Kathleen. “Negotiation”, Annual Review of Psychology, 2000, Vol. 51, Pages 279-314.
  3. Deutsch, Morton (2000). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey Bass.
  4. Deutsch, Morton & al (2006). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice.
  5. A. R. Elangovan. “Managerial Third-Party Dispute Intervention: A Prescriptive Model of Strategy Selection”, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1995), pp. 800-830.
  6. Rahim, M. Afzalur (2001). Managing Conflict in Organizations. Westport, Conn: Quorum Books.
  7. Wilmot, William and Hocker, Joyce (2007). Interpersonal Conflict, 7th Edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

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