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Beyond the Obvious: The Physical is not the only Resource

Beyond the Obvious: The Physical is not the only Resource

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that emotional, relational, and other "internal" factors can be as important or more important than the visible physical concerns within a conflict

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Beyond the Obvious: The Physical is Not the Only Resource

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When there's a conflict, it often presents as a dispute over something physical, something observable. It's an action. It's a resource. There's conflict over something physical. However, quite often, there are issues underneath that physical conflict, the dispute, that aren't quite as obvious.

I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial, I'd like to talk with you about those issues. So let's start by examining what often is at the root of a conflict, the tangible things that bring people into conflict in the first place. So what do I mean by tangible? Well, tangible factors are a need which is an external resource. So a tangible factor is a need which is an external resource.

For example, you could have two business partners in a conflict over money, something financial. So that's the tangible factor. It could be a physical resource. At work, you are having a conflict with a coworker over some research you need, a spreadsheet, something that you need to finish your project and you are not getting.

It could be between neighbors. Perhaps it's a property line dispute. One neighbor is doing some landscaping making changes to their property, and the other neighbor feels like there's a problem here with the property line, so there's a dispute. Or there could be an issue over the neighbor's barking dog. That's something physical here, an action.

So those are the kinds of physical, tangible factors that quite often bring people into conflict. Now, what can happen is that the tangible factor can be the presenting issue. But oftentimes when you're discussing this issue, new issues can arise that escalate the conflict. And those issues quite often are emotional factors.

So an emotional factor is a need which is not an external resource but rather an internal feeling. So it would be communication issues, something emotional, something relational. Let me give you some examples here of how this could happen, how a conflict over something tangible could escalate because of the emotional factors.

Let's go back to the resources. You're needing these resources at work and you're not getting them. So you may discover that what's at the root of this as you begin to talk about the issue is that the person who is not responding with these resources feels that she's lacked communication. She's a little miffed that a lot of her emails have not been answered.

She also feels as though there were some decisions made on the project and she wasn't included in the team meanings. All of a sudden, she's being asked for things and where was she in the whole process of discussing these things? So the relational communication issues going on in the everyday work life here of trying to do this project have gotten in the way of you getting what you need.

And so those issues escalate the conflict. It could happen in the same way with the financial issue. Two business partners, perhaps they've been friends, suddenly business is not going so well. There are financial issues. And one of the partners begins yelling a lot at the other, hanging up the phone.

And as you begin to talk about the financial issues, you realize that the communication patterns here are really escalating this conflict. Perhaps something that could be solved as a tangible issue is not being solved because of the way these partners are communicating with each other. So those are examples of how a tangible factor can escalate a conflict when there are emotional factors underneath.

Now, can an emotional factor ever generate a conflict and then lead to something tangible happening? Yes. Let's go back to our neighbors who were having the property line dispute. So we'll call them Joe and Steve. Joe is upset that Steve is doing this landscaping and making changes on his property. He feels disrespected.

He feels as though his neighbor here is not communicating with him, paying attention to his feelings. So this disrespect leads him to dump snow over in his neighbor's driveway or accidentally tip over the garbage can. Now you have a conflict over Joe's behavior, which really came out of the fact that Joe was feeling disrespected.

So these are examples of how emotional factors and tangible factors are often both quite present in a conflict. So now let's move into the role of the conflict intervenor when you're in a conflict resolution process. It is absolutely key for the intervenor to acknowledge that both the tangible issues and the emotional factors are important. You need to give them equal weight and to make sure that you acknowledge both factors.

So it's key to listen carefully, ask questions, and make sure that you are aware of whatever emotional factors might be underneath the tangible conflict. Or if it's been something emotional that has brought the parties together in the first place, what caused the emotional reactions here that led to the tangible action?

So the conflict resolver must acknowledge both tangible and emotional factors, give equal weight to both, and make sure that the parties both have a chance to listen to one another and be heard. I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Emotional Factor

A need which is not an external resource, but rather an internal feeling.

Tangible Factor

A need which is an external resource.