Conflict is often painted in a bad light. It can make people feel uneasy and often contributes to the breakdown of relationships. However, not all conflict is destructive, and there are times when conflict may be beneficial for a situation or relationship. The idea that conflict will have either constructive or destructive results is the main thesis behind The Resolution of Conflict by Morton Deutch. Deutch’s 1973 work paved the way for a lot of further sociological and psychological research on the effects of conflict and the way that it can influence our lives. Understanding this model can be key in working with and examining conflict well. In this article, we will break down Morton Deutch’s resolution model that he framed in his book The Resolution of Conflict. We hope that this framework can provide a springboard for further engagement and study in the psychology and sociology behind conflict.
Morton’s Resolution Model | The Resolution of Conflict
Morton Deutch was an American social psychologist, and his research earns him the title of a founding member of the study of conflict resolution. A World War II veteran, Deutch taught and researched psychology at various hospitals and colleges in the New York City Area for most of his career. Through this work, he gathered valuable information on the sources and effects of conflict on human beings, especially as the country was becoming increasingly aware of the potential for a third world war accompanied by the threat of nuclear weapons. While running the social psychology doctorate program at Colombia University, Deutch was able to produce one of his seminal works—The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes. It is this work that lays out his ideas on conflict resolution, and it is from this work that this article will develop a summary of his model.
Deutch’s analysis and hypothesis in The Resolution of Conflict are unique because it is not a primer on how to avoid conflict; rather it is a theory that seeks to make conflict productive for the parties involved, creating good out of what is normally a difficult and destructive time. He outlines various actions and situations within a conflict that determine the conflict’s ability to be constructive or destructive and divides conflict into several types. He also discusses issues that are often at the heart of a conflict. Finally, he ends his work by discussing the ways that parties can orient themselves toward constructive conflict resolution. This article will focus on why conflict resolution is important and outline Deutch’s idea on the influencing factors as well as the types of conflict.
Why Conflict Resolution is Important:
Studying and understanding conflict resolution is important because everyone experiences conflict regularly and learning how to address it helps resolve conflict constructively rather than destructively. Some common benefits of constructive conflict resolution include:
- Productivity: When parties conflict, it will often affect their productivity. By resolving the conflict in a way that helps the parties move forward together, they can set aside the conflict and have a renewed sense of vigor toward their overall work.
- Reaching a Goal: When parties can resolve a conflict between them, they are more likely to achieve the shared goal that they had. This is particularly true when a conflict arose between the parties working on a project.
- Encouraging Relationships: Regardless of the relationship that the parties had before the conflict arose, resolving a conflict constructively can encourage the relationship to continue or be created. Destructive conflict will ruin the relationship.
- Creating Ideas: Through cooperative work, the parties will create value between them, often in creative ways. This can encourage new ideas and help the parties be innovative both in conflict resolution and in their production moving forward.
- Committing to the Goal: When the parties can reach a resolution, they will often create a new commitment to the task at hand and the other party. This can encourage further commitment in a role within each party as well.
Conflict resolution brings many benefits to those involved in the dispute. The benefits that it brings demonstrate why understanding conflict resolution can be important for everyone to learn.
The Factors that Determine a Constructive or Destructive Outcome to Conflicts:
Because conflict resolution is so important, it is also important to understand the factors that influence the outcome of the conflict and whether it is constructive or destructive. In The Resolution of Conflict, Deutch outlines several types of actions and situations that can affect the outcome of a conflict. These factors include:
- Relationship: One of the most influential aspects of a conflict is the relationship between the parties both before the conflict and what is desired after the conflict is resolved. This includes the way that parties perceive each other and their actions toward each other, as well as the level of trust they have established.
- Issue: Another factor that can influence the outcome of the conflict is the nature of the issue. This includes the motivating factors that contributed to the conflict arising and how much room there is for the parties to negotiate within the parameters of the issue. It also includes the significance of the issue to each of the parties and how frequently this conflict arises.
- Parties: Certain characteristics of the parties themselves can influence the outcome of the conflict. This includes their educational and social resources, temperaments, the way they feel about conflict, and their interests.
- Other Interested Parties: Another factor that can influence the situation is the presence of any additional parties that may be invested in the outcome of the dispute in some way and the amount of influence they may have over the parties.
- Society: Another influence on the way that the parties act and the conflict resolves is the societal environment around them and the pressures that it can add. This can be norms that are imposed on the parties due to characteristics, proximity or shared networks, and institutionalized conflict resolution models.
- Strategy: The strategies that each party uses also influence the outcome of the dispute. The outcome of a conflict can rely heavily on whether the parties use strategies that encourage collaboration or if they are using coercive tactics.
- Effects: The final influence outlined by Deutch is the effects that the conflict can have on each of the parties. These are the consequences that each party will suffer with a given outcome and the gains or losses a party can make. Additionally, the reputation of the parties will play a role.
Deutch identifies and examines these variables that play into the outcomes that the parties can expect. When you combine several favorable influences, it can encourage constructive conflict. However, the same issues can flip and make the conflict destructive if not monitored.
Morton Deutch’s Outline of Conflict Types:
In addition to identifying the factors that can influence the outcome of a conflict, Deutch also developed a theory of the types of conflict that arise. By creating types, Deutch helps to organize and study conflict. This can help researchers find commonalities among the conflict and their outcomes to help predict behavior and study the conflict further. The types of conflicts that Deutch identified are:
- Vertical: Vertical conflict, according to Deutch, is the “truest conflict.” This means that it cannot be easily remedied or affected by a situation or action outside of the conflict. These conflicts are often difficult to resolve because there is no solution that does not involve one party winning and the other losing.
- Contingent: Unlike vertical conflict, contingent conflict can be affected by an outside factor, meaning that the parties would be able to resolve their dispute if they knew the availability of the outside factor. These conflicts are often easily remedied because they can be solved through the introduction of the factor unless the parties are unwilling to consider other options or opinions.
- Displaced: Displaced conflicts are those where the parties are arguing about something other than that which is the source of the conflict. Here, Deutch determines that there is a manifest conflict, which is the one the parties are speaking about, and the underlying conflict, which the parties are ignoring but is causing conflict. This is often the case when the parties are not safe to have a conflict over the underlying conflict for a variety of reasons. These are not easily solved until the parties are willing to address the underlying conflict.
- Misattributed: According to Deutch, there are situations where the wrong parties are in conflict, and are then fighting about the wrong issues. These are misplaced conflicts. Resolving these conflicts requires identifying the underlying parties and disputes that need to be addressed, and it often requires cooperation on the part of the parties.
- Latent: Latent conflicts are those that exist subconsciously but are not being processed because the parties have not recognized them. This can be for several reasons, but it is commonly because the parties have repressed the conflict or avoided it. Turning the conflict into a conscious conflict helps the parties move through it constructively.
- False: Finally, Deutch describes a false conflict or one where there is truly no disagreement. Deutch states that these conflicts are not common because they are often based on a misunderstanding that is quickly remedied. However, they may turn into real conflicts if they are not corrected.
Deutch states that these conflicts are not mutually exclusive, meaning that multiple types of conflicts may exist at the same time. However, understanding these types can help a person identify ways that the conflict may be resolved.
Deutch’s theory helps people to sort through and understand the ways that conflict is resolved. Understanding the types of conflict can help a party identify how to work on a constructive resolution. Knowing the variables that can influence how a conflict resolves can be beneficial for those amid conflict to understand what may be throwing their resolution strategy off course and how they can work to correct it. Knowing how to approach conflict resolution is vital to working through situations and resolving conflicts constructively, which helps the parties receive all the benefits that they had worked for. Deutch’s influential work gives any reader the upper hand when approaching conflict and helps create constructive solutions.