Conflict, Culture and Communication

Conflict, Communication
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Conflict can be defined as the perceived or actual incompatibilities of needs, interests and goals of two or more parties. Therefore, to have a conflict, it must involve two or more people or organizations and normally arises out of a relationship or perceived relationship. The incompatibility of needs, interests and/or goals must be identified if a resolution is to be reached. As a way of discovering conflict among individuals, groups or organizations, culture must be taken into account. Culture is about how we will be together, or the way we do things. It is the behavior and the belief system of the individual, organization or the group. A party and their representative, along with the facilitator must know and understand how culture does and will impact the resolution process.

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Thus, in the late 1980s, the court adopted a voluntary system of dispute resolution to deplete the back log of cases. These were not new to society, but they were certainly new to the court system. Lawyers are trained advocates, trained to litigate cases. Now, these advocates have to explore, but with court mandates, how to resolve conflicts and avoid litigation.


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The skills of conflict diagnosis are now being taught as a crucial component of competence for legal professionals. Many times, this occurs after law school; it is not viewed as a legal study but a study in interpersonal communication or psychology.

Understanding Culture: How It Applies to Conflict

To understand culture and conflict is to show ways of understanding and resolving conflict that recognizes culture as the power to shape and identify the source of conflict. Culture is central to identity and the ways individuals or groups make meaning out of chaos. Culture is the set of invisible rules; it is the whisper that motivates us to act. Culture is customs that are shared by a group. Culture is often innate and automatic.

Culture is a part of conflict because it is interwoven with who we see ourselves to be and how we perceive, communicate and engage with others. Conflict happens. Conflict, like culture, can define us; this is especially true when it challenges norms, customs and identities. Like change, conflict is not welcomed. Therefore, to identify conflict means to face our culture in an effort to change or resolve conflict. Conflict forces us to face the weaknesses, perceived or otherwise, with our norms and customs and with the norms and customs of others. Accepting and addressing conflict therefore means cultivating comfort with change and conflict with culture. This is why conflict is so personal and emotional.


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Conflict Arises Out of Relationships

When people interact, they experience the behavior of others. These experiences, therefore their observations, are fraught with errors of perception and interpretation. Nowhere is this more evident than in communication. Two behavioral acts are found in any communication – the sending and the receiving of messages. These two acts are almost never performed perfectly. This imperfect communication gives rise to errors in perception and errors in interpretation. However, this imperfect communication is also the key to conflict avoidance and conflict resolution. Since culture is expressed through communication, culture and communication are an indivisible part of conflict.

Interests, Values, Needs

An interest is the motivation for why a party to a conflict makes a demand. Basic human needs are the driving force underlying all other motivations. Can culture be a clue to interests, need and values? Discovering and then identifying interests, values, and needs, and then understanding how they create a particular goal in a conflict, is an essential step. The discovering and the identifying of an interest, value or need of a disputant is therefore the impetus to creating the conditions for an amicable resolution.

Strategic Negotiation

Strategic negotiation essentially means planning to enter into discussions with the intent to come to a mutual agreement on a topic or subject over which there is discord or disagreement. The keys to a good negotiation are preparation, preparation, preparation!

In strategic negotiation, a party to the negotiation must prepare; to do otherwise almost always ensures failure. Planning and preparation require you to do the following:


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  • Know your goals (interest, value or need).
  • Anticipate the other party’s goals.
  • Do your homework in preparing for the negotiation (the value of information and how to get it).
  • Understand the negotiation process.
  • Design a strategy for the negotiation process and the negotiation itself.

Goal Setting

Parties must set goals and plan for the actual negotiation; develop, plan and then implement.

Define your interests. Pursue and protect your needs and not your position. The other party holds the key to success. Do not compete unless you are prepared to lose. Trust is easier to destroy than it is to build. Anthony Patete

Anthony Patete

Anthony Patete is a faculty member at Florida Coastal School of Law. He has been teaching law and business for more than 13 years online and on campus at various professional, graduate and post-secondary schools; he has been an administrator in post-secondary education. Dr. P, as his students affectionately call him, provides his students with seasoned instruction and career guidance.

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