Whilst conflict does not necessarily mean being angry, the way we think about anger will have an effect on the way we experience conflict situations. If anger is viewed as something to be avoided, is negative, means you don’t care, needs to be met with anger, etc., then this will influence how we view conflict and whether or not we avoid it, become aggressive, or are assertive.
There are many schools of thought about the causes of anger, aggression and violence. Some say it is instinctive and others say it is learned. Whichever theory is favoured these feelings and actions need to be dealt with by us all at different times. How we respond today will depend on how we were encouraged to respond in childhood in our family of origin, our neighbourhood and in our culture. For example, shyness and tenderness are often approved of in women, anger is not. Yet in many situations, anger or indignation is the most authentic response.
Whether male or female, if you have been taught to repress anger, then internalisation will occur. Internalised anger brings on depression and self-deprecation.
Anger involves the mind, body and the behavioural habits that people have acquired due their life experiences. In order to resolve anger, people need to change not only their thinking, but also their pulse rates. Emotional release is insufficient as it is only half the problem. To shout at someone may be helpful, but it rarely is if it does nothing about the person who you feel has wronged you. Undertaking relaxation deep breathing is unlikely to be of assistance on its own if the person who is bothering you still has to be faced.
Successful anger management deals with thoughts - the attitudes, perceptions and interpretations that generate anger; the body - teaching relaxation and cooling-off techniques to help the person calm down; and behaviour - teaching new habits and skills.
Often anger is the cover for other feelings which people find it difficult to express:
- I’m hurt.
- I’m worried.
- I don’t know how to talk to her about my feelings.
- No one will ever love me again if s/he leaves me.
- I don’t know how to get my way.
- No one listens to me.
- I can’t forgive.
In the here and now, conflict and anger can be creative and situations where conflict occurs need to be dealt with. However, anger is not a concrete phenomenon and therefore to express it as such creates the myth that everyone and anyone would become angry at the same thing, or the same situation. This is not the case. We need to work out what triggers our own angry feelings and whether we want to change this, or whether we are happy with the way we express or repress these feelings.
In effective anger management both the individual and the relationship with others benefit. The spontaneous outpouring of angry feelings may help an individual in the short-term but may not resolve the problem. To think twice about anger is to enhance the long-term benefit of the relationship and is more likely to problem solve.
If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.
Culture plays a part in how conflict is managed. For example, the white British culture is often portrayed as having a “stiff upper lip” mentality, holding on to their angry feelings. Other cultures, such as the Greek culture tend to be more expressive of their feelings.
Group conflict may occur when individuals experience a threat to safe predictable situations. Conflict also occurs when groups need to problem solve but the technical solutions are given precedence over process. Where the solution is technically good, but the group are not committed this could lead to a poor outcome. All group members need an eye to the process and need to stay in touch with how they feel about agreements and decisions.
Conflict is often between groups, and departments may have come about because their goals are incompatible. For example, stock control may not want so much capital lying around in stock, whilst maintenance may need surplus stock to ensure sufficient spares for machinery. Another goal which both can share may be necessary.
Competition between groups and departments may be healthy or unhealthy. This will depend upon the situation and the levels of competition. It will also depend upon the levels of dependency they have with each other.
Problem-solving will depend upon what each party has to gain from the process. There are many different types of problem-solving and these will depend upon the levels of trust each party has of the other:
- Domination and coercion
- Avoidance and withdrawal
- Adaptation and over-adaptation
- Competition - allowing the other to win, or the one with the most power wins
- Co-operation and assertion - true negotiation
- Mediation - a third party is called upon to aid the resolution
- Arbitration - parties agree to accept the decision of the arbitrator
- Adjudication - the adjudicator has the authority to impose the decision
Conflict is: (material from George Kohlreiser)
The difference between two or more people, characterised by:
- bonding being broken or lacking
Manifestations of Broken Bonding:
- psychosomatic problems
- lack of loyalty
- low motivation
- human error
- burn out
- low productivity
- lack of commitment
- aggression and violence
Changes in attitude about anger involves learning that anger:
- can be positive
- needs to be heard
- is about contact
- can show you care
- needs to be dealt with as the situation happens (after checking our internal process
- What are our assumptions? What questions do we need to ask of the person?)
- should lead to positive negotiation and options to complete and end the difficulty
- does not need to be met with anger
Dealing with Anger
1. Do not mistake exuberance and high spirits for anger or violence
2. Share feelings if appropriate and take control of the situation calmly
3. Humour can sometimes diffuse situations
4. Do not necessarily act according to the patterns of behaviour others may have come to expect.
5. After an incident debriefing can be beneficial
6. Make recordings of the event
7. Be prepared to listen to the other person. (Seek first to understand before being understood)
8. Be aware that the angry feelings may cover some other feeling.
9. Be willing to take control and set boundaries when necessary.
10. Stay in Integrating Adult ego state.
11. Build relationship. Go for bonding.
12. When appropriate ask the person what they really want.
1. What are you feeling about the situation?
2. Is there another feeling under this feeling?
3. Is it worth fighting about?
4. Have you identified the real issue, or is this one covering something else?
5. What do you want?
6. What compromises are you prepared to make?
- Develop a goal or goals which all parties find acceptable. Share perceptions of each group and then each group withdraws to explore the discrepancies between their perceptions and look at how these may have come about. This is high risk and needs careful facilitation.
- Explore roles and relationships and the reciprocal demands and expectations on each and the possible conflict areas. Then move to a resolution of these conflict areas once they have been fully explored.
- Leaders meet and develop liaison and challenge their own perceptions. Group members can also be exchanged so that stereotyping is broken down and greater understanding develops.
Stages of Negotiation
1. Create Bonding
2. Separate Person from Problem
3. Identify Needs and Wants of Self
4. Identify Needs and Wants of Other
6. Create a goal
7. Options and Proposals
8. Mutual Gain
10. Relationship Continues or Ends on a Positive Note
If we anticipate that someone will threaten us, or they have actually threatened us, then our behaviour will become defensive. In the workplace, any defensive behaviour takes up energy and detracts from the task in hand. Inevitably production will be hampered if we are giving mental time to how we might win, dominate, impress, avoid someone finding out something, or if we give substantial time to how we might avoid being attacked.
Energy taken up with winning, impressing etc. will affect the giving and receiving of messages, and instructions may go haywire. If our paranoid fantasies, or the actual difficult relationship is not dealt with, we are likely to become more and more defensive, this in turn, is likely to lead to increased difficulties in communication.
We need to create supportive climates to work in rather than defensive ones. When it looks like people are evaluating or judging us we are likely to go on our guard. Gibb J.R. (2001), outlines the characteristics of defensive and supportive climates:
We know that the same thing can be said in different ways. The content of what we say will be altered by the tone and inflection of our voice, the speed we say it and the audibility of it. In TA terms the ego mode and the life position will affect how we say something. The country and the region we come from will also affect these aspects.
Language negotiates behaviour and therefore relationships. This is one way in which we give ourselves and/or others status. Research suggests (Research on Language and Social Interaction, Vol. 24 1990/91) that women are more likely to be cautious about how they give criticism when they are managing someone than if they say something to their manager. Tannen D (2001, The Organizational Behaviour Reader) suggests that this is to do with the way females are socialised.
In TA we are taught that it is important to give and receive strokes (recognition). There are cultural expectations in giving and receiving strokes. When there is a mismatch in expectations we can be offended. For example, if it is natural and usual for us to give recognition to a colleague for doing a presentation then we are likely to be surprised and perhaps offended, if they don’t respond with a similar recognition when we do a presentation. Worse still, if we don’t receive a response and then ask our colleague what they thought of our presentation we might be even more offended if they tell us chapter and verse what they actually thought of it when we only expected or wanted “You were great”.
Tannen’s view is that when we are boys and girls we are socialised into learning what is important in relationships. For Tannen, it is that boys are encouraged to think of status - who has the bigger toy; bike; best trainers etc. Whilst girls are more focussed on using language to negotiate how close they are. Your best friend is likely to be the one you tell all your secrets to. Girls tend to ostracise someone who acts superior. Boys tend to be in larger groups where members are not treated as equal. Leaders are expected to tell others what to do. Boys use language to negotiate status by displaying their abilities and challenging and resisting challenges.
Childhood playgroups are where we learn and rehearse our conversational style. This will affect how we are later as adults. For example, those who are second in command are more likely to be indirect in their comments and observations than those who are in command. This is particularly important when training such people as co-pilots as observations not made assertively can be minimised and therefore be the cause of disasters.
The skill required for managers, consultants, etc. is to become aware of the linguistic differences for men and women as well as for different cultures. In this way, those who have something to say will be heard, even if they say it in a way that does not fit with the cultural norm of the workplace.
Responses to Difference
Managing a diverse work force is a difficult task because of the differences we believe exist. These beliefs develop into stereotyping behaviours that are more pervasive than prejudice because they set standards by which people are judged. These different frames of reference were termed “assumptive worlds” by Frank (1974). In an attempt to create order and to make sense of the world we make assumptions. White Westerners create assumptions about other races and cultures, men create assumptions about women and so on.
Beliefs and values affect our judgements and these become embedded in our institutions. For example, research by the Howard League for Penal Reform found that there was a rise in the number of young women aged 15-16 being given custodial sentences. Between 1992 and 1998 the number rose by 382% despite the rate of offending by the same group of young women falling by 25%. When interviewed a Clinical Psychologist expressed the view that this was because judges and magistrates thought that the behaviour was “unladylike”.
When observations are made about other groups the similarities between that group are exaggerated and the differences ignored. (“They are all the same anyway ”). Furthermore, we exaggerate the differences between different groups and minimise the similarities.
In structural ego state terms assumptions and prejudices involve Parent and Child contaminations of the Adult, and are experienced as Adult ego syntonic. These different observations, beliefs and values are handed down through the culture and as previously mentioned embedded in our institutions, which create the cultural script.
We need to find the space where we can meet each other.
Scott Peck (1987) talks about getting to the stage of community through dropping our prejudices and assumptions and seeing who is really in front of us. Only then can we be conflict resolving rather than conflict avoiding as we are at the pseudo-community stage. His stages are: Pseudo-community, Chaos, Emptiness, Community.
Whilst Berne E. (1972), noted that “in order to say Hello you first get rid of all the trash which has accumulated in your head ever since you came home from the maternity ward, and then you recognise that this particular Hello will never happen again”.
Dealing with Difficult People
There are different ways to view the concept of “difficult” people. One is to say it must be them, they need to change. Another is to consider our response to them and what we need to do. (Of course it is possible that to other people we are “difficult”! However, in this instance I would consider a difficult person to be someone that others also consider difficult). As we change our responses other people usually change their reactions to us.
Consider whether this person is always like this or whether they have become this way recently. It may therefore be chronic or situational. This will make a difference to your response.
It is useful to remember the maxim: Seek first to understand, before being understood
When all communications fail stay in the Mindful Process!
In general, we need to be aware of our language. Saying things like:
Ø We need to take up this fight.
Ø I don’t expect you will agree with this.
Ø Don’t you agree?
Ø Those people are trouble
Avoid labelling people as this is making them objects, it prevents empathy, and tends to make them not OK.
Loyalty is usually experienced as positive. However, loyalty can also be used for negative ends. At times when a sense of injustice is present, it can be used to promote division and polarization. In TA terms we might consider this exploitation of the positions on the Redefining Hexagon (Mellor & Schiff, 1975).
Loyalty is not always clear cut. We can feel pulled by opposing forces, which in itself can create conflict. The ease of this swing is highlighted by the term “playing devil’s advocate”, when a person can take up a position to “promote discussion” or take up an underrepresented position.
We need to know ourselves well enough to know how to remain OK/OK when our, and others, loyalties are pulled. At these times there is often a pull between what appears to be logic and what we say in our hearts.
Alternatively, our passion can prevent us exploring the rationale. Listening to ourselves, as well as to others, is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite to conflict resolution. In TA, terms we need to be autonomous and, whilst autonomy is often defined as the capacity for spontaneity, intimacy and awareness, we also need to operate with integrity and take responsibility.
“Integrity, in relation to wholeness and morals and ethics, is seen as central to autonomy and a freeing force in people’s lives.” (Mellor, 2008)
Mellor’s article outlines that to become autonomous we need to get in touch with the power and freedom that we have by embracing integrity and developing our capacities for awareness, spontaneity, intimacy, and responsibility (Alastair Moodie’s addition – no reference).
We need to consider our own integrity and good practice. Good practice is based on beliefs, values and opinions, from which ethical behaviour stems. The belief system is an important part of TA. There are many of us who know the theoretical concepts but do not put the underpinning philosophy into practice.
During times of conflict, most of us move into a position of righteousness or innocence, when we act as a Bystander (Clarkson P. 1993). Clarkson outlines 12 games that Bystanders can play, including:
§ “It’s None of My Business” (or “Pontius Pilate”),
§ “I Don’t Have All The Information” (or “Ignorance is Bliss”),
§ “I’m Just Keeping My Own Counsel” (or “I’m All Right Jack”).
§ “The Truth Lies Somewhere In The Middle” (or “It’s Six of One and Half-dozen of the Other”)
The privileges acquired by some can be a de-motivator to change and encourage collusion by doing nothing.
As a social psychology TA is well placed to explore large group interactions. When we read Audergon (2005), there is much that Transactional Analysts can relate to. Audergon’s experience leads to many valuable insights about justice, injustice and their related actions. She explores how our passions and loyalties can pull us apart in the name of justice, and how we can be silenced into violent conflict. She explains how we do this by dehumanizing the “enemy” and how leaders can exploit human psychology in order to get what they want.
In order to make changes, we have a responsibility to become aware and be autonomous, without which we can all be Bystanders in processes. All of Audergon’s work is from an OK/OK stance and is about contact, relationship, responsibility, vulnerability and potency.
Mountain’s Winner’s Pyramid (2004) reflects this:
The Winner’s Pyramid
The Winner’s Pyramid can be considered from the perspective of two people or groups of people. When individuals, groups or nations do not take responsibility for their actions any traumas and difficulties remain. Ignoring a situation develops isolation and when that situation is acknowledged connection is possible. When there is a refusal to be accountable the injustice is passed down through the generations. Armenia is an example of this as Turkey has refused to acknowledge the genocide that occurred in 1915, and many Armenians feel the injustice of this. This is in stark contrast to South Africa, where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to address the wrongs undertaken by the Government during the past apartheid system. By telling the story from different perspectives healing can start to happen.
The 6th Driver
Tudor (2008) outlines the case for a 6th driver i.e. “Take it” and looks at how this works at the individual as well as the national and international levels.
The “Take It” driver can be positive as it is a healthy part the child’s developmental processes and interactions with the world. However, it can also have a negative, bullying side that is about acquisition and succeeding without enjoying, or alternatively about over-adaptation to another, i.e. taking to please someone else. Tudor outlines the US government’s “Take It” processes under Bush, in terms of taking other countries resources, their refusal to cooperate with international treaties e.g. the Kyoto agreement etc.
If we are interested in TA and in operating in OK/OK ways we need to consider if we have this driver and, if so, what the healthy and unhealthy aspects might be.
Three Dimensional OKness
Berne (1972/1975) made brief reference to three handed OKness in which he referred to ‘They’ as the third hand complement to ‘I’ and ‘You’. With the exception of the present author (Davidson, 1999, 2006), Summers and Tudor (2000) and, in a specific context, Jacobs (1987), the third position of this three-handed vision has been largely overlooked in the TA literature.
The term three dimensional is used in preference to Berne’s (op cit) term, on two grounds. Firstly, it carries something of the flavour of the difference, for instance, between seeing a scene in a two-dimensional way, and seeing the same scene in a three dimensions – either by having a moving picture, or by being physically there. A photograph conveys a good deal of information, but this is incomplete when compared to being able to move around the space and see it from different perspectives. Secondly, the term “dimension” has the flexibility of allowing the positions to consist of either one person, or many.
In the familiar formulation I’m OK, You’re OK , “I” and “You” represent two persons or positions. The third dimension of ‘They’ may represent an actual third person or, in different situations, the rest of a family, a group or gang, everyone else/the world, and so on. It could be argued that I may not know the relationship between ‘You’ and ‘Them’ or that it may be irrelevant (see White, 1994, 1995).
However, as with two-sided OKness, we are dealing with subjective judgements: it represents an internal process. When a person views ‘You’ or ‘Them’ as not OK, this does not mean that this is an objective fact! What is important is that it reflects the person’s perception of that relationship. Such judgements are, of course, influenced by the nature and quality of the social relationships in which we grow and develop.
The Three-Dimensional Model
If we are to take account of the third hand of three-dimensional positions, the OK Corral needs to be extended in order to include a third person or persons (see Figure 2). It can be seen that each of the four original positions is related to two three-dimensional positions – where the third person/s are either OK or Not OK – as indicated by the arrows in the diagram.
Figure 2 The three dimensional three-dimensional position
Here these eight different three dimensional positions are elaborated and illustrated from the standpoint of people working in organisations. Triangulating these relationships highlights the fact that although ‘I’ and ‘You’ can sometimes become ‘We’, there are other times when ‘I’ may feel isolated from both ‘You’ and ‘They’.
1) “Everyone’s OK”
There is balance here, the person does not need to place themself in the one up or one down position either within their relationships, or in relation to anyone else outside those relationships. This is not to say that they will be in agreement with everyone in their sphere, simply that they treat people they relate to with respect, and expect others to treat them in the same way. Just as with the OK Corral, where “I’m OK You’re OK” is regarded as the “healthy” position, this is the only “healthy” position of the eight.
2)“We’re OK while we keep Him/Her/Them Not OK”
Here the person’s relationships with others can only stay OK by making someone else not OK. These ‘others’ can be a whole range of people. The person is also likely to change their perception of who is not OK, depending on who they are with in the moment. A passage from Doyle’s (1998) novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, illustrates this well:
It was great. Liam was finished now; Kevin and me wouldn't even talk to him any more. I was delighted. I didn't know why. I liked Liam. It seemed important though. If you were going to be best friends with anyone - Kevin - you had to hate a lot of other people, the two of you, together. It made you better friends. And now Liam was sitting beside Charles Leavy. There was just me and Kevin now, no one else.
This encapsulates the dynamics of this position which could be characterised as a symbiotic relationship relying on the demonising of a third person. This position is common at all levels of social relationships. It describes the dynamics between teams, gangs, many political parties and most religions. It can be seen as the root of all discriminatory attitudes toward people of different race, gender, sexuality, class, intellectual or physical ability. This position also describes political relationships, for example, George Bush’s dismissal of certain states as forming an Axis of Evil, and the corresponding demonisation of the west by some groups.
3) “No-one except me around here is OK”
This is the antisocial position. The person is consistent in treating everyone else as not OK. They are likely to be identified as a bully. Alternatively, they may be someone who plays the psychological game ‘Gotcha’ on a regular basis: in other words, always catching people out with some aspect of themselves that is supposedly wrong. This position may also follow on from position 2 – a person may start a relationship with someone on a positive basis – styling them as “different from all the others” only to move to the negative position of Not-OKing them. “You’re no different after all – I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you”
Harry Potter at home is on the receiving end of this position – Dudley and Harry’s aunt and uncle, singly and collectively make Harry (‘You’) Not OK, and everyone who has any connection with him (‘They’ – Hogwarts, his parents etc etc) Not OK too.
4) “ You’re the only one around here who’s not OK”
This is a persecutor/blaming/scapegoating position. Here the person may pick on one member of the team, pointing out that everyone else is doing just fine. ‘They’ are not necessarily involved in this – they merely serve as the means to further the blaming process! This could be going on within the team when they are in their “private” space, despite the fact that to outsiders, all the team are “OK” with each other and it is the rest of the world that is Not OK. There is frequently a “pecking order” with some members being bullied or picked upon. Similarly, families frequently present a united front to the world – “he’s one of us Bloggs and no-one touches any of us and gets away with it”
5) “ They’re the only ones around here who are OK”
Here someone might scapegoat a particular person, blaming them for some slight or problem. An alternative pattern is to scapegoat everyone within a group and making another team or grouping (e.g. managers) OK, by elevating them in some way.
From the viewpoint of a team or other social grouping (‘We’), there is not necessarily the unity that may be seen from the outside. There is likely to be a pecking order, with scapegoating being common. Moreover, the psychological leader of the team may be seen in a variety of OK and not OK ways by the individual members of the group (see 3 above).
6) “No-one’s OK”
This is a ‘hopeless’ position from all sides. If this were to be more than a temporary position, it would reflect a severely dysfunctional person (or people) who has lived, or is now living, in a dysfunctional situation.
They would represent a high risk – since without the hope of self, others or the world being any different, they might well engage in violence – verbal or physical - to others (either ‘you’ or ‘them’) or self harm. There is unlikely to be positive attachment here, since the combination of Not OKness on all sides is unlikely to promote trust, or the motivation to get close to others.
7) “ You’re the only one around here who is OK”
Here the person could be idealising or idolising the person they are addressing (‘You’). They might be saying something like “You’re so clever. No-one else here knows how to do it. I’d like you to show me how to do it.” They are likely to see themselves as inferior to the other person, though other people are also seen as being Not OK.
8) “Everyone except me around here is OK”
Here the person may be seeing themselves as a Victim in terms of the Drama Triangle (Karpman, 1968). They will be generally be isolated within the relationships and teams of which they are a part, for instance, someone who feels less competent than other members of their team.
They are likely to have very low self-esteem, and to negatively compare themselves with others – whether known or unknown to them. They may well have a “Don’t Belong” injunction (Gouldings, 1976) They may switch from this position to position 3 ( I’m the only one around here who’s OK ) which will feel less uncomfortable.
The extension of the two-dimensional ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ to include the third dimension of ‘They’ offers a way to understand the social context in a way that accounts for differences in our perception of our own and others’ Okness – including those with whom we are not currently in dialogue and those who we choose to exclude from our awareness. Whilst everyone will have their particular existential life position, this may not necessarily fit with the observable, social level of their interactions with others when we extend the concept to three dimensions. Most, if not all wars could be usefully diagrammed with this extension.
Extending Group Imagoes
Berne’s (1966) concept of the Private Structure of a group is extremely useful. Imagoes are a pictorial way of representing what is in a person’s head and therefore not visible. (We can of course develop assumptions about what leads a person to behave in a particular way and then make hypotheses about their imago). Imago theory only includes other members of the current group which the person is in (and further, is only applied to structured groups that have a leader – hence the leadership “slot”). Each of us will take in to every group we join, our “family” imago, our “community” imago and our “global” imago. The fact that we may transferentially “map” our family onto members of the group has been extensively written about. In some groups the content of our own extended imago may come to be shared with others in the group – and hence become part of the public structure, in that it now forms part of the explicit content of the group’s “business”. It is our view that useful work could be done in developing imago theory to include this extended social context.
Alan Jacobs (1987) described a process in autocratic systems (Figure 3). Among the population at large (the 'followers') "Not OK" elements of the self are eliminated by a process Jacobs calls 'extrusion' and projected onto a marginalised group. The grandiose leadership projects "Not OK" elements of the internalised other onto the same group. At the same time, "OK" elements in the followers' image of the other, and in the leadership's self, are projected onto the new order, the state, a 'symbiotic' creation.
Figure 3 – Jacobs (1987)
Conflict and Awareness
Complexity theory can be used in the fields of organisational development and in conflict resolution. Audergon notes:
“The term ‘edge of chaos’ … is used among people studying complexity theory, and refers to the dynamics of a system far from equilibrium, to describe the region or moments that are ripe for evolution, just before the system has gone over the border into chaos. …When an organisation is closer to equilibrium, there’s a tendency for more rigidity and difficulty in dealing with disturbances or change.
Organisations at ‘the edge of chaos’ – which we can intuitively imagine are organisations in a time of great flux, or with changing rules and a more fluid structure – are more ready for innovation and transformation”. (Audergon, 2005)
Awareness requires us to link our think about our feelings, feel about our thoughts and take action with integrity. We often learn not to get involved with issues unless it affects us personally or we have experienced the place where a situation is occurring. When we listen to the news it is more likely to impact on us if we have been to a particular region or city. It is this contact, this relationship, that attachment, that develops awareness and understanding and it is here that consciousness can arise.
Perhaps the last word should be left with Gandhi:
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it”.
(in Audergon, 2005)