What’s This Conflict REALLY About?

If you’ve ever wondered why your brilliant solutions to address a problem weren’t  met with happiness and acceptance, it’s probably because you didn’t understand the real issue and were trying to fix the wrong thing.

Conflict situations are complex.  They aren’t always about what they seem to be about. People are trying to satisfy different needs and unless you understand what their needs are, your solutions will be mis-matched and ineffective.  William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker describe this dynamic well in their CRIP model.

1. Content – What do we want?
The most apparent need or goal in a conflict is the thing that is most apparent.  It is the subject of the conflict, the ‘what’ we’re fighting about.  People either want different things (what to watch on TV) or are competing for the same thing (two managers needing the 1 ‘headcount’ or position that has been budgeted for).

2. Relational – Who are we to each other?
Relational needs in a conflict situation define what the parties need from each other, either how you want to be treated (e.g. respect, appreciation, cooperation etc.) or how interdependent we should/will be (‘Are you staying or leaving?” or ‘This is none of your business’.)

3.  Identity – Who Am I in this interaction?
Identity goals arise when a person is striving to maintain or protect his or her self-identity.  Sometimes as conflicts escalate, peoples’ need to save face or be right and win ‘just because’ become more important. When self-esteem is at stake, it’s hard to be flexible.

4. Process – What communication process will be used to solve this problem?
Will the majority rule or consensus?  Will the boss/father/wife decide?  Will we take a secret vote?  People have varying levels of comfort with different levels of sharing of the decision-making process.  Men and women may be more or less inclined to use participatory decision-making.  Some cultures are more comfortable with authority-driven decisions than others.

In any conflict, some or all of these needs exist and it’s important to recognize their existence and relative priority in the situation.  You could be ostensibly arguing over the content of an issue, but the history of the relationship is clouding your ability to reach a real resolution.

What does this model illuminate for you?

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