Remember when we started the conversation on conflict, we defined it as “perceived incompatible goals” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2018). So, what are some of these goals that we perceive to be incompatible? Wilmot and Hocker (2018) identified four categories of conflict goals.
Topic: What is the conflict about? Often, conflict parties will be going round and round without realizing that they are actually not in conflict about the same thing. For example, my husband and I once had an argument over a purchase he made. He believed that the argument was about what he bought and I believed the argument was about him not asking me about the purchase before he made it. A recipe for a perceived incompatible topic goal!
Relationship: What are we to each other? This type of goal conflict happens often in the work setting. For example, many people share friendship outside of work. When a conflict happens at work, relationship goals may become incompatible. If I am friends with my boss and want them to treat me as a friend during conflict at work, I may be disappointed when they do not.
Identity: Who am I in this conflict? Why am I engaging in this conflict? We engage in conflict because we believe we have something to lose. Often what we fear losing is our identity or a piece of it. In the example with my husband, I came to the conflict wanting to be a partner in large purchase decisions while he came to the conflict wanting to retain some independence in his decision making. The key here is recognizing that these identity goals need to be addressed as both are legitimate and part of the relationship.
Process: How do we engage in this conflict? Much of this goal is dependent upon personality and conflict style. If you are a thinker, you will want to be logical and base decisions on reason. If you are a feeler, you will want to discuss and take into consideration how each person in the conflict feels about possible outcomes. In addition, some people need more time process or prefer not to get into heated arguments. Others embrace the energy and back-and-forth discussion of an argument and meet it head-on. A large part of meeting this goal is communicating about preferences for processing the conflict.
I hope that it is clear from these descriptions that TRIP goals overlap and influence each other. In addition, TRIP goals will change over the course of a relationship or with specific conflicts. The conflict between my husband and me happened when we were newly married. We have dealt with many of the issues expressed in those first conflicts and have moved on to new ones.
Remember, relationships without any conflict are not healthy, be they personal or work relationships. Understanding the nature of conflict, your preferred conflict style, and the underlying goals of conflict help us to better navigate constructive and healthy conflict.
Stay tuned for the next installment when we cover the role of power in conflict! Share your thoughts on conflict in the comments.
Be sure to check out the next post on power in conflict.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Hocker, J.L., & Wilmot, W.W. (2018). Interpersonal Conflict. 10th Ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.