Conflict management and the movies

January 26, 2010

Some professional mediators were talking and the question came up about when to “use” conflict management techniques. Those in the conversation wanted to know when it was okay to behave ‘normally’ and when they were to behave with conflict competence. There was a lively discussion about this.

After the various arguments for and against the opinions were aired, we were left with a couple of choices. Either conflict management was a technique that one used strategically, or it was a way of being in the world much as your personality gives you a way of being in the world. Having heard the arguments in support of the positions, what might be left to propose?

A compromise seems somewhat unsatisfactory: e.g. sometimes be conflict competent and sometimes not! There isn’t an obvious reason to willingly be conflict incompetent. Is there an integrative alternative? Perhaps it is cinema that offers an insight. Every good story has a conflict at its core. A movie without a conflict is one where not much happens that an audience wants to watch. The conflict can be subtle internal angst or cars blowing up in a plotless serial display of special effects. Hollywood knows that conflict drives the story, and we are, after all, the sum of our stories. A totally peaceful life is not all that interesting.

Perhaps we can do the drama, and the venting, and exhibit our righteous indignation over the unfairness or injury. Then, we can process the information before taking a moral and ethical high road. In other words, maybe we can be both conflict competent and incompetent. We can have the full range of –˜normal’ human emotions and reactions. Then, before we react the way those human emotions and reactions are driving us to do, our conflict resolution side can slide like a veil back in front of our faces.

Is there another option, or a completely different set of questions that would reveal  "the answer?"

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