communicationconflict theory in application

Communication/conflict theory in application

Joseph (22) and Lillian (20) are in are in a relationship conflict with accusations coming from each side. Being my friends, the couple approaches me and they start a debate each asking questions that are targeting the resolution of the conflict. Every party is supporting his or her case and tries to give reasons to justify a certain action. For instance, Lillian complains that she is not happy walking with Joseph in the streets since Joseph always walks too fast. Joseph on the other hand supports his actions by arguing that he does not like walking with Lillian since Lillian keeps on stopping in the streets to greet her male friends. In fact Joseph adds that his girlfriend rarely introduces the people they meet thus making him suspicious of Lillian. On the other hand, Lillian complains that Joseph, his boyfriend, is not determined to carry on with the relationship since he keeps on referring to issues that had been resolved and one year down the relationship, the same issues keep on reemerging.

At one point, Joseph is quick to point out that he is not comfortable with the kind of friends Lillian is maintaining. The main issue with Lillian’s group of friends is that most of them are into binge drinking and are living reckless lifestyles. Joseph highlights that Lillian has been influenced to a point whereby she is also going out with the friends although she claims she is not involved in binge drinking. Lillian supports her case by arguing that she cannot let go of her friends since she knew them before they even met with Joseph. In addition, she argues that her boyfriend is too boring and reserved yet she wants to enjoy life.

This is a classic and real-life conflict that I encountered and I was supposed to provide direction and help this couple make the most informed and appropriate decision towards this relationship. Engaging in a conflict with a mind to end up more productive is a valuable thing that must not be underscored. According to Foundation Coalition (2010), majority of individuals have the willingness to engage in resolving their own conflicts only that they lack the necessary skills to do so. In fact people who are lacking in conflict management skills often assume that there is no problem and hence they assume that the conflict will naturally wane. However, the fact is that unresolved conflicts lead to greater problems and negatives thus ruining personal relationships. Joseph and Lillian’s case was a problem that had hope for being resolved seeing that they had already realized that a conflict existed and they sought intervention despite indirectly. This was an opportunity for me to exercise my conflict management skills using appropriate communication and conflict theory.

            Stevens (2010) points out that the most likely way to having relationships end or remain unhappy is unresolved conflicts. With this in mind, Joseph and Lillian’s case needed prompt attention in order to have the best outcome in the relationship. Having identified that there was a relationship conflict, it also necessary to identify that this conflict was a passive one as opposed to an aggressive conflict. There was no open hostility between Lillian and Joseph and in fact there seemed to be no conflict at appear from the appearance of things. This was a classical passive conflict seeing that neither party was free to discuss the conflict or raise the issues directly thus much of the disagreement was internal each preferring to have their problems kept to themselves. Instances of misunderstanding and feeling uncared for are expressed by each party’s accusation of the other with Lillian not feeling comfortable to walk with Joseph in the streets. Stevens (2010) has identified this as a classical characteristic in a passive conflict. In fact the dwindling interest in engaging in activities together is a clear sign of an underlying problem. A drift in emotional attachment was developing between Joseph and Lillian as expressed by resentment from both sides of the relationship.

            Understanding that the above case is an example of a couple-relationship conflict is an important step towards taking therapeutic steps. Vuchinich (2010) identifies couple relationships as being characterized by intense emotional feelings and managing such conflicts can prove quite challenging. The complexity of the relationship is furthered by the sense of ambivalence between Joseph and Lillian. Both Lillian and Joseph identify that there is a bond of love between them but they also recognize that each party provokes the other to hate. Issues such as suspicion and diminished interest with each other appear to be minor but they are the potential destroyers of this relationship. The aspect of the duration of this relationship and conflict is pertinent since the frequency of a conflict in couple relationships can determine the likelihood of resolving the conflict (Vuchinich, 2010).  Vuchinich (2010) indicates that as long as conflicts are resolvable, the duration of the conflict is not a big deal and the relationship should not be left to collapse.

            Analyzing Lillian and Joseph’s case in order to provide a way out is very crucial and provides a chance to apply conflict resolution theory. To resolve the above conflict, understanding between the two parties needs to be enhanced, their cohesion cemented and self-knowledge should be raised. Failure to realize these goals could lead to a damaged relationship on both sides. To achieve the above objectives, it is advisable to have an understanding of different conflict styles. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a good illustration of the various conflict styles. The TKI styles include competitive, compromising, collaborating, accommodating, and avoiding (Shell, 2001). Each style is best suited for specific types of conflicts and understanding of the best style during a conflict is important in coming up with the best solution.

In Joseph and Lillian’s conflict, a competing style was not appropriate since such a style is best suited for making quick decisions and there was no need to protect the interests of any single party. As such, there was no need to introduce arguing and assertiveness as the situation did not demand taking quick actions. On the hand, taking an avoiding approach would not have been better either considering that the passive nature of this conflict was ruining the relationship slowly by slowly. There was need to break out of the fear of handling the conflict and this conflict could not be assumed as being of less importance. The tension in the relation was not very heightened to call for avoidance as a means of reducing tension. In deed, the matter required a direct approach before tension rose to uncontrollable levels. Moreover, there was hope that a solution was to be found since the couple had realized their problem.

An accommodating style would also serve insufficiently in the resolution of the above conflict. Suggesting that Joseph and Lillian accommodate each other would overlook the underlying problems in the relationship in the name of keeping peace. Moreover, an accommodating approach would have been inappropriate since Joseph and Lillian are not in a mere cooperation where good will needs to be created but rather the outcome of their relationship was paramount. Suggesting an accommodating approach would hold the risk of either party keeping a record of the accommodated times thus forming another source of greater conflict. Furthermore an accommodating approach would have failed in this conflict since it requires good communication between the parties (Foundation Coalition, 2010) yet this is a major component that was lacking in Joseph and Lillian’s relationship.

A compromising style is a more promising approach in settling this conflict. However, it is not the most appropriate approach. Since compromising is advisable for resolving issues that are of moderate importance (Shell, 2001), it would have failed in Joseph and Lillian’s case since this is a strong emotional relationship whose unresolved conflicts can lead to serious heart breaks. The fact that this mode of conflict resolution is best suited when time is not enough and temporary solutions are needed does not fit for the above conflict. Lillian and Joseph never expressed time constraint and instead they expressed their desire to come up with a permanent solution to the issue. As such, compromising mode is ruled out as an appropriate resolution approach in this conflict.

The most appropriate resolution strategy for Joseph and Lillian’s relationship conflict would have been TKI’s collaborating mode. The collaborating style aims at realizing the best solution by piling ideas on top of other ideas thus emerging with a creative solution. This style requires high level of cooperation from both parties involved in a conflict. There is no single individual who has a higher power over the other and therefore the creative solution emerges as a contribution from both parties. It is therefore no wonder that this conflict resolution come is viewed by many as the ideal resolution mode (Foundation Coalition, 2010). Noting that Lillian and Joseph expressed that they wished to have resolve their conflict and they were not under pressure of meeting a certain deadline, the collaboration mode would have been suitable since it requires devoting sufficient time as well as energy.

Lillian and Joseph had the willingness to initiate measures that would ensure smoothness in their relationship and no wonder they were not shy sharing their frustrations. They wanted to work together towards achieving common goodness and a final lasting solution. The Foundation Coalition (2010) goes ahead to advise that collaborating style works best in resolving conflicts where compromise would not resolve the issues and when the conflicting parties need to develop more commitment and overall improvement in relationships. As such, Joseph and Lillian’s case is the best candidate for a collaborative approach. Furthermore, both parties in this conflict showed the skills of collaboration including active listening and ability to identify concerns in the relationships let alone the fact that none of them threatened the other. Each one of them is concerned that the relationship was not taking the direction and both took the initiative to seek advice towards settling the conflicting matters in the relationship.

Going with the fact that Lillian and Joseph came to seek for help in resolving their conflict, it is evident that their resolution skills were below the ability to resolve the conflict. This however does not imply that a solution to the problem should be pushed but instead the two parties are supposed to be equipped to resolve the issues. Indeed, the parties in this conflict ought to be guided through the problem solving process while applying the collaboration conflict management style. Following the problem solving process is essential in making both Joseph and Lillian lay emphasis on the problem in the relationship rather than the person as expressed by the blame-game in the relationship. It would therefore be advisable for Joseph and Lillian to make a clear definition of the problem and any issues related to the problem before each party makes their views about the problem. Each party should be attentive to the other’s views and this leads to unearthing important concerns in the conflict. Lillian and Joseph should then come up with as many possible solutions as possible from which the most suitable solution is to be taken. After choosing the most appropriate decision and the couple should be able to implement the option and be ready to evaluate the outcomes of the decision for appropriate action (National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Drug Prevention and School Safety Coordinators of the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug Free Schools Office, 2006).

Intertwining the collaboration mode of conflict management with the problem resolution process in Lillian and Joseph’s conflict is likely to yield positive results. Indeed, Lillian and Joseph have a good opportunity to reap the benefits of conflicts if they would resolve the above conflict successfully. Such benefits would include increased cohesion, ability to handle more serious conflicts in the future and most importantly, both would get a sense of self-awareness. Failure to resolve the conflict effectively would see Lillian and Joseph in constant conflicts thus that would eventually lead to a break up or endurance instead of enjoyment of the relationship.


Foundation Coalition. (2010). Understanding conflict and conflict management. Retrieved on 27th, July 2010 from

National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Drug Prevention and School Safety Coordinators of the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug Free Schools Office. (2006). Managing and resolving conflicts effectively in schools and classrooms. CREduaction.   Retrieved on 27th, July 2010 from

Shell, G. R. (2001). “Teaching ideas: Bargaining styles and negotiation: the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument in negotiation training.” Negotiation Journal, 17(2): 155-174.

Stevens, T. G. (2010). Resolving interpersonal conflicts with improved assertive conflict resolution skills. Retrieved on 27th, July 2010 from

Vuchinich, S. (2010). Conflict – couple relationships, family relationships, parent-child relationships: Theory and development. Retrieved on 27th, July 2010 from


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