Intensity of conflict demonstrates the closeness and importance of relationships. Intimate relationships require us to express opposing feelings such as love and anger. The coexistence of these emotions in a relationship create a sharpness when conflicts arise. While the intensity of emotions can threaten the relationship, if they are dealt with constructively, they also help us measure the depth and importance of the relationship.
Conflict can build new relationships. At times, conflict brings together people who did not have a previous relationship. During the process of conflict and its resolution, these parties may find out that they have common interests and then work to maintain an ongoing relationship.
Conflict can create coalitions. Similar to building relationships, sometimes adversaries come together to build coalitions to achieve common goals or fend off a common threat. During the conflict, previous antagonism is suppressed to work towards these greater goals.
Conflict serves as a safety-valve mechanism which helps to sustain relationships. Relationships which repress disagreement or conflict grow rigid over time, making them brittle. Exchanges of conflict, at times through the assistance of a third-party, allows people to vent pent-up hostility and reduce tension in a relationship.
Conflict helps parties assess each other’s power and can work to redistribute power in a system of conflict. Because there are few ways to truly measure the power of the other party, conflicts sometimes arise to allow parties to assess one another's strength. In cases where there is an imbalance of power, a party may seek ways to increase its internal power. This process can often change the nature of power within the conflict system.
Conflict establishes and maintains group identities. Groups in conflict tend to create clearer boundaries which help members determine who is part of the “in-group” and who is part of the “out-group”. In this way, conflict can help individuals understand how they are part of a certain group and mobilise them to take action to defend the group’s interests.
Conflicts enhance group cohesion through issue and belief clarification. When a group is threatened, its members pull together in solidarity. As they clarify issues and beliefs, renegades and dissenters are weeded out of the group, creating a more sharply defined ideology on which all members agree.
Conflict creates or modifies rules, norms, laws and institutions. It is through the raising of issues that rules, norms, laws and institutions are changed or created. Problems or frustrations left unexpressed result in the maintaining of the status quo.
Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.
Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.
He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.
(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)