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CHAPTER 6 - CHAPTER SIX Communication and Conflict Robert M...

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CHAPTER SIX Communication and Conflict Robert M. Krauss Ezequiel Morsella Battle, n. A method of untying with the teeth a political knot that would not yield to the tongue. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911) hen neighbors feud, lovers quarrel, or nations war, the predictable rem- edy prescribed by the voices of reason is communication. The prevail- ing view is that, faced with conflict, communicating is always the right thing to do: the U.N. Security Council encourages hostile countries to "hold talks," and marriage counselors advise quarreling couples to "express their feelings." So commonplace is the prescription that advice to the contrary seems anomalous; it's difficult to imagine the Secretary General imploring hostile nations to refrain from dialogue. The positive role of communication in ame- liorating conflict seems so obvious that the premise is seldom given serious examination. Why should communicating be so helpful? Under what conditions does communication reduce conflict? W An attempt to answer such questions is the main burden of this chapter. In large part, the answers derive from considering what communication entails and what its instantiation precludes, that is, what it brings to, and demands of, particular situations. To understand the complex interplay between communi- cation and conflict, we describe four paradigms of communication—four mod- els of the communication process—and consider how each relates to conflict. 1 We briefly examine communicative mishaps that are potential sources of con- flict and consider how and why communication can ameliorate conflict. Finally, we discuss some inherent limitations of communication as a peacemaker, limi- tations that result from the realization that understanding, the cardinal goal of communication, does not imply agreement, as Bierce's definition illustrates. 144
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COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT 145 FOUR COMMUNICATION PARADIGMS Before we begin discussing the intricate interplay of conflict and communica- tion, it is important to specify what we mean by the latter term. The concept of communication is an important focus for fields as diverse as cell biology, com- puter science, ethology, linguistics, electrical engineering, sociology, anthro- pology, genetics, philosophy, semiotics, and literary theory, each of which employs the term in its unique way. Indeed, communication has been used in so many ways and in so many contexts that, as sociologist Thomas Luckman observes, it "has come to mean all things to all men." Common to all conceptualizations of communication is the idea of informa- tion transfer. Information that originates in one part of a system is formulated into a message that is transmitted to another part of that system. As a result, information residing in one locus comes to be replicated at another. In human communication, the information corresponds to what are loosely referred to as ideas, or more scientifically, mental representations. In its most elemental form, human communication may be construed as the process by which ideas con- tained within one mind are conveyed to other minds. Though attractive because
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