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Relational Dialectics and Conflict Management

Relational dialectics can be described as a concept of communication theories that analyses contradictions and tensions that exist in relationships. It was developed by Leslie Baxter who prescribes three primary relational dialectics including Autonomy connection, novelty-predictability, and openness-closeness. Autonomy connection is the desire to be bonded physically and mentally in a relationship but at the same time have individuality, space, and identity. Novelty-predictability is the desire to have certainty in a relationship but at the same time have an element of surprise and ambiguity. Openness and closeness refer to the desire to have openness in communication for the sake of dependability and at the same time a certain level of privacy. Understanding relational dialectics is important for the maintenance of healthy relationships.

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The definition of conflict varies with context but at the bottom line, it is a clash of interest. There are two schools of thought referring to whether the conflict is good or bad, one perceives conflict as productive and the other perceives it as destructive. Conflict as being destructive comes from the fact that it is a threat to the established order of relationships and hence conflict should be avoided. Conflict as being productive is viewed as a natural outgrowth of relationships and is a useful, indispensable part of human relationships. As long as the conflict is handled productively, it makes relationships stronger, especially after conflict resolution and gives a platform for negotiation regarding contradicting personal needs and interests.

Mostly, conflict is only bad if it is mismanaged. Conflict can be managed effectively with guidance from the five outlined strategies, which include dominating strategy, obliging style, compromising style, avoiding and integrating styles. Dominating strategy means fighting for one’s interest instead of the other and the goal is to win. Obliging strategy is when an individual is less important than the relationship so the main concern is the relationship. Compromising style is when the conflicting parties are willing to give up their “portion of the pie” to gain something else. Avoiding means walking away from a conflicting situation for example leaving a toxic relationship. Integrating style is when conflicting parties work together to fully meet their needs. Applying a conflict management strategy depends on the situation, for instance in the case of violent relationships, it may be better to avoid by walking away.

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