Psychology / Critically Discuss Conflict Resolution In Groups

Critically Discuss Conflict Resolution In Groups

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Critically discuss conflict resolution in groups

Conflict resolution has been researched, analysed and discussed for many years; however, it is only until recently that psychologists have gotten involved on a wider scale. Up until then the study of relations has more or less been the preserve of political scientists, historians and professionals such as lawyers and diplomats. Much of the social science research has therefore been based on the previous; therefore the theories developed give a much deeper insight to the psychological aspects of conflict resolution. In order to discuss conflict resolution, conflict needs to be defined.

Chambers (2003) defines conflict is as “ a violent collision: a struggle or contest: a battle: a mental struggle “(pg. 272) This is a general and very broad definition of the word which has been differently interpreted by psychologists as well as sociologists and economists. Shaw claims that in conflict situations driving forces are involved, combined with restraining forces, own forces and various combinations of induced or impersonal forces. All these contribute to a conflict situation. He goes on to explain that driving forces produce conflicts when the person is located between two positive valences, two negative valences or the person themselves. He uses a diagram to represent this (Appendix 1). In his next diagram he shows an avoidance-avoidance conflict situation is shown. (Appendix 2). Shaw refers to this as a stable conflict situation whereby the conflict usually remains unresolved. The third and last diagram represents two goals which both represent positive and negative valences in the same direction. This he calls the approach-avoidance conflict situation in which conflict is also stable however, people in this situation psychologically think they are in the avoidance-avoidance situation.

Conflicts which involve other forces such as driving forces or restraining forces, and these restrictions can’t be passed the person may respond with aggression, hostility, frustration, apathy or other negative feelings. Shaw believes that conflict can be caused by opposition of forces corresponding to the persons needs, or by induced forces. However, this theory makes little sense, as Shaw gives the example of an employer giving orders to an employee, may show signs of some kind of power of P ( a boss would have a certain hold/power over his/her employees) however, this does not mean that this automatically results in conflict. This example can be seen in virtually any type of business and while there have been and still are a few cases of this type of control from on person to another, the majority of time there is no result in conflict. Furthermore, this example can also be taken to on to a parent and a child. Usually in children in their teens will show some slight rebellion to the parent’s authority, which does cause conflict, suffice to say the resulted conflict is not one, which cannot be resolved or removed. The conflict may arise over curfews or other social aspects of the child’s life. In many cases a compromise is reached therefore removing the conflict point. However, this would mean that the parent surrenders a slight portion of his authority or power, but still retains the majority of it.

Conflict resolution has been widely discussed because there are so many different situations in which conflict arises. A very large part of conflict resolution can take place between ethnic groups, minority and majority (ethnic) groups and between state and minority ethnic groups. Eriksen (1993) related conflict resolution to ethno-cultural factors, which he defined as ‘a group of people who firmly believe that they are ethically and/ or culturally distinct from the rest of the population (pg.XX). The relationship between ethno-cultural majority and minority groups in different societies has shown that they are very prone to conflict. These conflicts seem ‘deep-rooted’ and ‘intractable’ due to the fact that their psychological dimension has prevailed over political and economic ones. Conflicts and the problems between various ethno-cultural groups have become complicated due to the way the different groups identify and perceive themselves and the way they perceive their history and the threats directed towards their existence. For example Jewish people who are a minority group keep within themselves, their laws include marriage only within their ethno-cultural group. Partly this is for the group to grow from a minority group into either an equal level or as a majority group. However, this feeling has been generated because of their persecuted history. This type of behavior can also be seen in African-American groups. Although it is not a rule for them to abide by, as it is for Jewish, to marry within their ethnicity or culture. In general minority groups feel they have to stick together and it is shunned upon to do anything, which could possible harm the group.

Sherif (1988) who was a pioneer in the study of inter-group relations, formulated a 'realistic group conflict’ theory,. His theory suggested that inter-group competition is derived from real or perceived conflicting goals due to the hostility between them. Groups in general are found to develop negative stereotypes towards the other group when engaged in competitive or frustrating activities. He found that when a group is split in two that are opposing one-another, hostility quickly evolves towards the opposing group. This happened when there are conflicting goals with only on possible outcome. That goal can only be achieved at the expense of the other group. Sherif's research also showed in general that the majority group perceived minority group as different. The need for a cohesive society was emphasized and the fact that an obstacle is needed to achieve a cohesive society. Often however, a member of the minority group seeks to be a part of the majority group, this is not taken likely with the majority group and is often rejected. This example can be found in everyday life; in high schools all around the world. Often, the majority group (the popular group), is envied by the minority group (the out-group) An individual member of the minority group will try and shift into the popular/majority group, which is often met with resistance as the individual lacks in qualities that are perceived to be favorable to gain membership in the group. The rejected individual then will have no choice but to stay with the minority group, though feelings of resentment towards the majority group is inevitable. The rejection from the majority group leaves the individuals feeling degraded and sometimes, resulting in self-hate. An example of self-hatred is seen in Clark and Clark’s (1940) experiments with black and white children. They showed black children a white and a black doll and asked them which doll they would like to play with. They also asked which doll looked nice and which one looked naughty or bad. They found that predominantly the black children favored the white doll and disliked the back one. These situations and many others lead to minority-majority conflicts. Sherif (1953) also emphasizes the difference and importance between one's 'reference group' and 'membership group’. He explains the reference group to be the group, which the individual would like to be members of as they aspire to relate themselves with psychologically. On the other hand a membership group, is the group that the individual is actually a member of, be it willingly or unwillingly. In some cases the individual is member of on group (membership group) but has a different reference group. This causes problems in the membership group because the individual will behave similar to the reference group (because they psychologically relate themselves to the reference group) therefore the individuals loyalty lies with their reference group which leads to their membership group distrusting and sometimes disliking the individual.

Tajfel (1981) influenced the ‘social identity’ theories greatly. His theory is considered by many social psychologists to be providing "the most detailed and incisive [...] explanation of minority group psychology to date" (Hutnik, 1991 pg.51). Tajfel (1981) researched and concluded that on the contrary to Sherif's theory, the most important fact was that there were two distinct groups. In each group it seemed sufficient to create group identities, which reduced the importance of individual identities of each members of the groups. Many times the stronger the groups identity the stronger the motto of ‘us’ versus 'them' division that lead to inter-group hostility. Competition only added on the hatred between these groups. Tajfel's theory assumes that people struggle for a positive social identity (Van Knippenberg, 1989). Social identity stems from the membership ‘in groups’. Therefore, a positive social identity is the outcome of favorable social comparisons made between the in-group and other social groups (Druckman, 1994). If the membership in a group help and/or enhances the individual’s self- esteem, he/she will remain a member of that group. Tajfel, argues that if the membership group does not enhance or help his/her self-esteem, he/she will (i) try to change the structure of the group (social change); (ii) seek a new way of comparison which would favor his/her group, and hence, reinforce his/her social identity (social creativity); or (iii) leave/abandon the group with the desire to join the 'better' one (social mobility). He then emphasizes (1978) a member of a minority group will very rarely achieve a positive social identity due to the fact that minorities group usually have an inferior status to the majority group and therefore do not contribute to the individuals self-esteem (Turner, 1982). Tajfel even goes so far to say (1981) that through his research he has observed that minority members may exhibit high levels of self-hatred. However, Tajfel claims that the minority group confront this problem in three ways If the social system is perceived as legitimate and stable, and there are no possible alternatives to the status quo, and therefore no prospect of change in the system for example a feudal society They then have to accept their inferiority, ii) If the system is perceived as illegitimate by the minority, alternatives soon become apparent. The system loses its stability, and oppression and terror by the majority-controlled state becomes the only way to maintain it for example, South Africa during the late apartheid era (Hutnik, 1991). If the majority-minority relations are perceived as illegitimate and the system is no longer stable, the minority group members will tend towards a rejection of their inferior status. This can lead to a redefinition of the group's characteristics and therefore trying to shift their social identity to a positive one. However, Tajfel states that the minority usually redefines the majority’s social identity than their own. This in turn can lead to minorities trying to break through the social barriers erected by the majority. (Hutnik, 1991). This situation, combined with differences of economic and political interests between the two groups, leads to minority-majority conflict, which, can lead out of hand and evolve into war. Taylor and McKirnan (1984) developed Tajfel’s theory further and assert the stages in which a society with a minority that has accepted its inferior status becomes an unstable society in which majority and minority compete and are often in conflict with each other. They emphasize two social-psychological processes, causal attribution and social comparison, which play a crucial role all through this transition. Taylor and McKirnan (1984) identify five stages: (i) strictly stratified inter-group relations. In this stage, minorities no longer see the social structure as legitimate. Minority members start making social comparisons on the basis of individual ability and merit, and any stratification that is not attributed to differences of individual skills or worth is considered unacceptable. Such a change, of course, marks the beginning of inter-group conflict. (iii) Social mobility. In this stage to highly skilled, better-educated minority members attempt to join the majority group. They try to assimilate either completely, or partially. They make social comparisons on an individual basis and they develop strategies for themselves and for their families, not for the whole group. Taylor and McKirnan (1984) suggest that individual strategies always precede collective action. The majority usually tends to accept these highly qualified members, both because their desire to assimilate is seen as proof of its superiority, and because the encouragement of this assimilation process brings some stability to the society. The other members of minority are pacified with the expectation that if they tried hard enough they, too, would be able to move up. (iv) Consciousness raising. Some highly qualified members of the minority, for various reasons, fail to (emotionally) assimilate with, or are not accepted by, the majority. In addition, the less qualified members of the minority realize that assimilation and improvement of their status will not be possible. Then, the highly qualified non-assimilated minority members begin to raise the consciousness of their group and to claim that the stratification should change, not just at the level of individuals, but at the group level, as well. Self-hate is replaced with pride and ethnocentrism. The minority group now attributes the responsibility for its low status to discrimination on the part of the dominant group. (v) Competitive inter-group relations. Consciousness-raising is followed by collective action: The minority begins to struggle against what it now perceives as social injustice. As a first response the majority group attempts to present group divisions as illegitimate or obsolete. But if such ideological arguments do not reduce the majority-minority conflict, the conflict may either continue at a low intensity or it may escalate. If it does escalate, the majority group may either resort to violence and suppression, or it may decide to negotiate with the minority group to create mutually acceptable social norms.

The third type of theory are the ‘Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic’ theories. Volkan (1994) based their research on Freud and Erikson’s theories, as well as the 'object relations’ theory.' The object relation theory, which has been interpreted by Volkan (1988), states that, ego, when becoming separate from id, obtains certain function constructing images and representations. Volkan (1988) and Ross (1993) claim that this ability to construct images develops in infancy and early childhood in three stages; (i) Infants begin to differentiate themselves from the outside world and other people. At the same time, they start forming simple images about themselves and others. But because in this initial phase they cannot grasp that pleasure and pain might be evoked by the same person/object (e.g. their mothers, sometimes feeding them and sometimes depriving them), the images formed by infants are either all-good or all-bad, in other words, unintegrated. (ii) Infants begin to integrate these opposing images about other objects and about themselves. (iii) During super-ego formation, some of those unintegrated images of one's self and one's parents are idealized. Children then externalize those idealized positive or negative images into certain people or objects of the outside world (Ross, 1995). This, according to the theory, is necessary in order to maintain cohesion of the integrated self- and object images.

The individual identities of each group member is identified to a garment which belongs only to the individual who wears it, and among other things, protects him/her from the harmful effects of the environment. But every individual also has a group identity (provided he/she is a member of that group). Group identity, according to Volkan, is like a "large tent" that protects the individuals "like a mother" (Volkan & Itzkowitz, 1994: 11). As long as their group identity remains strong and stable, the members of the group will go about their daily lives without feeling the need to constantly prove or express their ethnic identity. If the group identity is disturbed, it will become collectively preoccupied with trying restoring it. This means that the group identity then replaces individual identities (Volkan & Itzkowitz, 1994). However, there seems to be a need for enemies (who help the group members define who they are not), chosen glories (important, usually mythologized and idealized achievements that took place in the past), chosen traumas (losses, defeats, humiliations -also mythologized), and borders (physical and/or mental) that help eliminate the confusion about the in-group and the out-group. These borders are extremely necessary when "they" (the out-group) are also the enemies (Volkan, 1992). Minorities can become e targets for projection of the majority’s negative feelings and images (Volkan, 1988). Minorities can serve as reservoirs of the majority's negative self-images. The relationship worsens if the minority is linked country, which in the past has subjected the majority group to deep trauma. When the time comes for the power to be in favour of the majority group, they then still bear that grudge and try to eliminate the minority group.

Each theory has weaknesses and strength. Sherif's theory and experiments demonstrate the crucial role of incompatible goals in the creation of conflict in groups or between groups, however the arguments of Tajfel (1981) and Billig (1976) have successfully portrayed that purely the existence of a majority versus a minority (or two different groups) is enough for the formation of prejudices and in-group biases. In addition, studies have shown that even when two groups enjoy civil relations, they still try to find ways to derogate each other by making judgments favoring the in-group (Druckman, 1994).

The social identity theories (Tajfel, 1981; Taylor and McKirnan, 1984) show how minority and majority groups define themselves, and how majority- minority conflict develops through stages. The ‘psychoanalytical’ theories explains why minority-majority conflicts have the tendency to become so intense (Ross, 1995). However this theory portrays the identities as too simplistic. It doesn’t include the facts that individuals have their own personal identity and share a group identity with their members (Volkan & Itzkowitz, 1994). Another weakness of the psychodynamic theories is that the theories tend to take too lightly the role of differences in economic interests and in the difference of power between majorities and minorities. Such differences are treated as superficial while theorists try to unearth the psychological causes that lie beneath them (Ross, 1995). The theories are also difficult to test. Another two very important aspects, which are not included in the theories, which contribute greatly to conflict, is the size of the minority group in comparison with the majority group. Density of the minority population in a certain area, and opportunities for contact between majority and minority also significantly affect the course of the conflict. It has been argued (McIntosh et al., 1995) that when minority groups have a large number of members they are situated in a certain area, and when there are more opportunities for minority groups to come into contact with majority groups, a conflict is not only more likely to emerge, but also more likely to be intense. The second aspect is the fear of imagined perceived or real threat. Minority groups in particular feel that their security as a group is in danger (McIntosh et al. 1995), and sometimes they are even afraid of extinction through violence or assimilation (Horowitz, 1985). This deep-seeded and intense fear inevitably destroys any trust the minority might have toward the majority, and any peace-making gesture from the dominant group is misinterpreted as part of a plan to eliminate the minority. However on the other hand, there is a possibility of majority feeling threatened by the minority. The majority group might feel that its cultural and political status is declining, and that this will result in their status being lowered to the one of the minorities, thus leading to a backlash and the restriction of minority rights (McIntosh, 1995). The majority often over exaggerates the power of the minority, which makes the majority feel threatened. This in turn leads to violent oppression of the minority.

In conclusion, the realistic, social identity, and psychodynamic theories have different ideas of conflict resolution. The realistic group conflict theory argues that as long as the two groups have incompatible goals there can be no resolution. Conflict in groups can only be resolved when external conditions change, or when the two groups redefine their relationship, in such a way that "super ordinate" goals (Sherif, 1966). This means that goals can be achieved only through the cooperation of the two groups. If this happens the groups can turn their hostility into ‘friendship’. However this is difficult to do when the groups are of a substantial size (large groups). It is easier to do with small groups (such as groups in high school). If this were to be done on a large scale it would only be possible if it were a countrywide campaign. The social Identity theories, suggest that conflicts can be resolved by incorporation, which is voluntary by removing all ‘walls’ between the groups. Another alternative is for minorities to achieve ‘accommodation’ whereby the minority would retain its own identity and distinctiveness while at the same time becoming more similar to the majority (Tajfel, 1978). This can only be achieving by a large-scale change carried out by the government. The psychoanalytic theories, are very different from the ‘realistic’ and the social identity theories. The psychoanalytical theories are more therapy-orientated, and provide more possibilities for small-scale conflict resolution. Therefore, it can be said that psychological factors, although very important, constitute only one aspect of any type of conflict. Psychological factors are interlinked with factors such as political, economic, and historical. However not only are psychological factors interlinked so are the explanation. Psychological explanations are connected to other explanations of conflict from different fields. It is not enough to say that psychological theories and psychological explanations are enough o explain conflict and conflict resolution. While other explanations and theories have to be considered along with psychological ones analysts tend to overemphasize the theories from the disciplines they are most familiar with. Therefore it can said that psychological theories and explanations help and further the research of other fields researching conflict resolution and it helps explain a certain aspect of conflict and conflict resolution.


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