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Conflict Management Case Study

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In this case study we will be analyzing a conflict between coworkers from "Not on My Sabbath" by Joy Koesten. The situation involves a woman, Joan, who has been highly successful in the agency in which she works. A problem arises between her and her coworker/superior, Sue, who is seemingly jealous of Joan's quick success. Sue ends up making a change to Joan's job description that conflicts with her religious practices. We will be analyzing their goals, styles, tactics, and approaches to this conflict.

In the conflict of "Not on my Sabbath", there are three key players. One of them is Sue Arnold and the other is Joan Kissinger. Gloria Davis is also involved in the conflict, however to a lesser extent than the other two. Joan contributed to the situation in a very peaceful manner which was by going on with her normal day activities, while still making her position known and felt. This is until Sue, who seems to have a bitterness towards Joan for the success that she has had in her job, insists that she works weekends. Everything was under control until it came to Joan's job description which was collaborated upon by Sue and Joan. It was essentially finalized and agreed upon by both of them. Without Joan's knowledge, Sue decided to add "Must be available to work evenings and weekends when needed" (Koesten, p. 352). The problem with this is that during Sue and Joan's dialogues on Joan's job description, they had discussed that she was not available to work on Saturdays due to religious reasons. Saturday is her Sabbath day. Joan then wrote a memo to Sue informing her that she could not work Saturdays and would instead be eager to work Sundays if needed. Joan then left for vacation thinking that this would resolve the conflict. Unfortunately it did not, and it only lead to a memo being written back to Joan from Sue and Gloria, Joan's superior. The memo was very strongly worded and was written in all capitals, which was seemingly intended to illustrate condescension. It was meant to inform Joan that she is expected to work on Saturdays, and that Joan needs to be a team player.

Before we discuss what elements of conflict are present in this situation, we must define what it is to have conflict. Conflict is defined as "an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals" (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 9). "Conflict is present and there are joint communicative representations of it. The verbal or nonverbal communication may be subtle..." (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 9). In this situation the expressed struggle is rooted in an underlying tension between Sue and Joan. Sue has seemingly become more and more bitter with Joan's continued success and upward climb through the company. Eventually Sue's bitterness towards Joan bring the conflict to a head. The expressed struggle is mainly verbal between the two, as Sue continually provides what she calls "constructive criticism" (Koesten, p. 351) directed at Joan. In actuality, her comments are obviously meant to be condescending. Interdependence means that the two parties rely on each other. What one person does will automatically affect the other (K. Valde, COMS 480 Lecture, Aug. 31 2006). In this conflict, interdependence is present because these two women work together and clearly rely on each other to perform everyday tasks and activities. According the Wilmot and Hocker (2007), "Goals are perceived as incompatible because parties want (1) the same thing or (2) different things" (p. 13) Joan and Sue clearly want to different things when it comes to Joan's job description. Joan would prefer to have Saturdays off so that she can take them as her Sabbath day and go to the synagogue and worship. Sue, on the other hand, writes in an item on Joan's job description entailing that Joan is available to work Saturdays (as well as nights). The women's goals are clearly incompatible because they want different things. While Sue's bitter attitude towards Joan is surely at the heart of this, the fact remains that this illustrates perceived incompatible goals. Perceived scarce resources are also at hand here. Scarce resources come in many forms, but they must have one common thing, the perception of value (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 14). As seen in the conflict between Joan and Sue, the perceived scarce resources include both power and time. Sue feels that her tenure with the company she should hold a power advantage over Joan. Joan is very aware of Sue's feelings as she is often made to feel uncomfortable and belittled at times by Sue's actions. There is an obvious abuse of power here. The scarcity of time is evident by the availability of Joan's work on Saturdays. She wants to use the time for worship, Sue would like for her to use the time to work. That is clearly a problem with the resource. The final component of conflict that demonstrates the extent of the conflict is that of interference. It can be defined as "blocking and the person doing the blocking is perceived as the problem" (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 15). Sue is blocking Joan's religious beliefs, values, and practices in this situation. Therefore, she is causing interference. Since all five of the components of conflict are present, then a conflict exists.

Before each individual's goals are discussed we must first assess the types of goals present in conflicts. The acronym TRIP is used to define the four types of goals people pursue during a conflict. The T stands for topic, which can be defined as "goals [that] emerge as different ideas about what to do, what decisions to make, where to go, how to allocate resources, or other externally objectifiable issues" (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 64). The R stands for relational which Wilmot and Hocker (2007) define as "how each party wants to be treated by the other and the amount of interdependence they desire (how they define themselves as a unit)" (p. 65). The I stands for identity. Identity can be summed up by asking two questions; "Who am I in this particular interaction?...How may my self-identity be protected or repaired in this particular conflict?" (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 69). Finally, the last type of goal is that of process goals. Wilmot and Hocker (2007) summarize process goals with one question, "What communication process would work best for this conflict?" (P.74). Within this question there lies numerous process goals and "all these relate to the process of conflict interaction and will impact content, identity, and relational goals" (Wilmot and Hocker, 2007, p. 74). Lets first begin with Sue's goals.

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