Term Paper: Conflict Resolution Analysis

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Sociology - Conflict Resolution


As parent of two growing boys, my partner and I have certainly experienced our share of conflicts that required resolutions over the years. Sometimes, these conflicts relate to disagreements with our parental decisions; other times, they have more to do with negotiating fair resolutions in disputes between the boys themselves. Luckily, with one of our sons ready to graduate from high school and the other already settled into college as a sophomore, most of the conflicts, trials, and tribulations of childhood and adolescence are in our past. Nevertheless, in retrospect, my partner and I have both learned a tremendous amount about human nature, negotiating solutions to conflicts, anticipating potential triggers for conflict, as well as almost as much about ourselves by virtue of our parental experiences.

Situational Conflicts:

In a home with two boys, the opportunity for potential conflicts seems almost unlimited, both in the variety of contexts in which it can arise as well as in its unpredictability and capacity to erupt seemingly spontaneously. Given the fact that our family relationships are generally loving and supportive, I can only begin to imagine how often more substantial or serious conflicts arise in comparatively less healthy family situations. If anything, the fact that our children were always close friends and that our family was essentially very healthy demonstrates how easily specific situations can spark heated conflicts even between individuals who genuinely care for each other and have absolutely no serious chronic issues or underlying animosity between them.

When our boys were young, conflicts often arose over the perception or belief on the part of one child that the other was the only one allowed a certain privilege. Since one boy is two years older than his brother, we became quite accustomed to the mantra "It's not fair!" over everything from curfews and division of household chores to rules about acceptable television programming and using the Internet without adult supervision. That particular dynamic sometimes reversed itself altogether, such as where our older boy realized that the relative privileges of his seniority over his brother sometimes amounted to more of a liability than a benefit. For example, when they were 13 and 15 years of age respectively, the older objected to the fact that it was sometimes his sole responsibility to run errands within a short bike ride of our home. Neither he nor his brother was allowed to bike more than a few blocks from the house until the age of 14.

Not that there was necessarily anything particularly significant about that specific age, but it seemed appropriate to us and commensurate with the rate that our oldest seemed to be developing a sense of responsibility, judgment, and sense of personal safety issues.

Consequently, for the last two years before our youngest reached the age of 14, his older brother found himself saddled with various chores that, by house rule, he could not barter, negotiate, trade or trick his way into substituting his brother into his obligation. Predictably, on those occasions, the crux of his argument was identical to his brother's and we were treated to a chorus of "It's not fair!" In the slightly deeper voice of a young man.

Power Issues:

Some of the most insightful lessons of raising a family were those that my partner and I learned about ourselves. Eventually, we came to the mutual realization that our children, despite their obvious lack of relative power with respect to us, still had the capacity to provoke us into reacting more to the need to maintain the power position than the actual need for our response to objective issues. In several instances, a minor dispute between one of our boys and one of us led to conflict between the two of us after the other happened to agree with the boy's position. Sometimes, we resisted conceding a point of contention less because the alternative made a significant difference, but more by virtue of the perception that we were losing the power position in the discussion.

Looking back on it, it is embarrassing to think of, especially because in reality, we always enjoyed both genuine authority as parents as well as the perception on the part of our boys that we did. Likewise, I can recall instances where, if I am forced to be completely honest, an 8-year-old inspired an argument and conflict between his parents over the need to save face in front of the child. As between the two of us, we had no power struggles or issues under normal circumstances, which makes it all that more surprising at some of the arguments that were capable of being triggered by our children.

As between the boys, the older child enjoyed a natural position of power, both real as well as mutually perceived, with respect to his brother by virtue of their differences in age. In childhood and early adolescence, the older genuinely seemed to relish this disparity, and if I were to play amateur psychiatrist, I would postulate that this was at least partly a way of compensating for his experiences being the low man on the totem poll in relation to his parents. Consequently, I noticed that he wielded his power over his brother more after having to capitulate to his parents' wishes and comparatively less when he got his way with us.

By the time our youngest was 15 or 16, his relationship with his older brother changed significantly. It is difficult to know how much parental intervention was responsible and how much of that change was simply a natural progression, but on several occasions we did explain to our oldest that his brother admired him and that sometimes, his rubbing his brother's face in his relative lack of power in their relationship was more hurtful to his brother than he either realized or intended his displays to be. Personal Style Issues:

My partner and I differ in our personal styles when it comes to responding to conflict in that he tends to react immediately whereas I am more prone to withdrawing from the situation. My withdrawal is a function of my need to consider the issues in a non-confrontational setting than it is a reflection of my need to avoid resolution or (especially) of any need to control the situation passively by requiring others to pursue my continued involvement.

That was something that necessitated explanation early in our relationship, even before the arrival of our children. My partner used to think that I withdrew from arguments as an attempt to change the power dynamic until I explained that I simply prefer, as a matter of lifelong personal style, to compose my responses to any conflict privately and out of the other party's presence. Once I have that opportunity, I am once again available to resolve the issues. Until I explained that to my partner, we suffered through several arguments where, in addition to the underlying topic of disagreement, we also found ourselves bickering over why one of us insisted on continuing the discussion when the other desired time alone, and vice-versa.

Generally, neither my partner nor I is competitive by nature, but our boys are intensely competitive with each other as well as with us. Again, my amateur psychiatry skills suggest that wiping the floor with their parents, whether on the backyard basketball court or in simulated video warfare, fulfilled a need to create some sense of balance in relationships where parental authority is, ultimately, the law of the land. Notwithstanding our parental authority, we learned, in too many ways to detail in a single essay, the crucial importance of negotiating acceptable solutions to conflicts by emphasizing compromise, objective fairness, collaboration, and accommodation.

Assessment: Because of the nature of family arguments, our conflicts tended to be repetitive in that the same issues recurred many times throughout their cycle until they were resolved or, just as often, rendered moot by the passage of time and circumstances. The rule about not bicycling more than a few blocks from the home until the age of 14 is one such example; the transition of our sons' relationship from rivals to friends is another.

Other times, solutions suggested themselves suggested by subjective differences and individual preferences. For example, we believe that taking a shared responsibility for routine household chores builds a respect for the rights of others and minimizes the unhealthy development of a sense of entitlement sometimes associated with overly indulged children. Therefore, rather than employ household help, we have always assigned chores to the boys in the nature of cleaning up after meals, washing dishes, vacuuming, laundry, tidying up the family room, cutting the lawn, and so forth.

Initially, we devised a chore chart rotating responsibility for various chores so that each boy had the same chance to perform his preferred chores and that neither had greater responsibility for chores he detested. After wasting significant amount of time and energy mediating arguments over who owed whom for past debts… [END OF PREVIEW]

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