Communicating in Conflict Resolution
The discussion on Communication and Conflict by Robert M. Krauss and Ezequiel Morsella (2000) is as thought provoking as it is interesting. It is not just another discussion on communicating our way through conflict because that approach to resolving conflict has been ingrained in those of us living in Western civilization. Rather, Krauss and Morsella point out that conflict resolution through communication, negotiation, requires more than the parties coming together and agreeing upon a solution to the conflict. Indeed, as Krauss and Morsella succinctly demonstrate, the parties coming together might never about the problems which begin as tensions, and then escalate to the level of conflict. However, when the conflict becomes greater than the goals of a society or even in a relationship, then communication is a logical avenue of resolution. That does not guarantee that conflict bring about the solution, because as Krauss and Morsella also point out, communication as a means of conflict resolution requires more than just talking about the problems.
The parties that come together for confliction resolution through communication must be of an open mind. They must be willing to listen, as well as talk. They must be willing to consider the other side’s perspective, and to put that perspective into a prospective that brings to light what they, as the opposing party, can contribute to resolving the problems that exist between them. This, of course, is the ideal, and what Krauss and Morsella say is the expectation when people come together for communicating about problems and how to resolve them. It demonstrates the point that Krauss and Morsella want to make when they emphasize that we, as a civilized society, have broadened the meaning of communication and put such importance in it, that we probably are left confused when attempts to resolve conflict through communication fail to bring about resolution.
It is Krauss and Morsella much more complex than looking at from the perspective of two parties or sides coming together to talk through their problems or issues, and expecting that because they do, it will result in resolution. The authors cite the experiences of political leaders during the Cold War to demonstrate the many other factors beyond a willingness to come together that, first of all, impact communications. Coding and decoding is really the first problem that must be overcome when attempting conflict resolution. Coding and decoding is the reality check for people who look at communication as information transfer, ideas from one person to another which, as such, should make it relatively smooth process. Words have meanings, they say, much like “dot dot,” is representative of the letter H. In the Morse code and has no other meaning than H. We can see coding and decoding in the animal world, too. Krauss and Morsella point out the sounds made by monkeys that alert one another to a sky predator or a ground predator. One sound is representative only of the sky predator, and the other of a ground predator. The sounds, like the dot dot, do not stand for anything except the threat of a sky or ground predator. It is, however, much more difficult when we look at communications in the complex exchange between humans, because our words can have a meaning other than which they plainly state depending on our motivation, our own intent of what exactly we want to say to one another.
When Krauss and Morsella talk about communications in terms of coding and decoding, they create for the reader a new dimension in our pre-trained concepts about communication being the all encompassing way by which to resolve conflict. This is, again, the way that we are conditioned to think of conflict. We not only believe that communication can resolve conflict, but believe that communication will resolve conflict. When Krauss and Morsella describe and discuss what is also natural to humans, coding and decoding, then we have to begin to think of communication as a means by which conflict might be resolved, instead of thinking of communication as “the” way to resolve conflict. Krauss and Morsella say:
“The view of communication implicit in the encoder-decoder position is that meanings of messages are fully specified by their elements — that meaning is encoded, and that decoding the message is equivalent to specifying its meaning. However, it is easy to demonstrate that this is often not the case . . . In human communication the same message can be understood to mean different things in different circumstances, and that this fact necessitates a distinction between a message’s liberal and its intended meaning (p. 147).”
This is what Krauss and Morsella says is the “intentionalist paradigm (p. 147).” While the authors take us back to the Cold War, we can look at this in terms of the present too. Consider the case of war in Afghanistan as a result of the events of September 11, 2001. It was widely reported how a Wall Street journalist, Daniel Pearl, made contacts in Pakistan, who agreed to arrange a meeting between Pearl and Osama Bin Laden. The meeting was supposed to be, for Pearl, an informative one. He wanted to report Bin Laden’s side of the story, and to gain some insight as to what caused the attack against the United States. Pearl met with his contacts who had agreed to set up the meeting, and he was not seen or heard from again until Al Qaeda released and made public a videotape of Pearl being beheaded by Al Qaeda terrorists.
The violence Pearl suffered assaulted our senses, because, first, Pearl was a journalist, the ultimate communicator. He had approached the story and understanding he hoped to gain from a very Western perspective — the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Implicit in American understanding of the First Amendment is that journalists have the right to pursue a story and to write it, ostensibly enlightening the public on views which though they might be controversial, nonetheless serve to further the understanding of the public.
Unfortunately, Pearl perhaps failed to look at the bigger picture, or the picture as a whole. Pearl must have approached the meeting from the perspective (the perspective-taking paradigm) that “. . . individuals perceive the world from differing vantage points, and that, because the experiences of each individual depend to some degree on his or her vantage point, messages must be formulated with this perspective in mind (p. 150).”
Al Qaeda has no such First Amendment ideology, and freedom of speech runs against the fundamental ideology that the terrorists espouse. It went beyond the language barrier that Pearl was no doubt prepared to deal with. When Al Qaeda agreed to meet with Pearl, he must have taken for granted that a meeting was about a two-way communication, that it was be an exchange, even a transfer of ideas from one party to the other. This would be a typical journalistic, even Western, assumption when a group or person agrees to take a meeting with a journalist. It could not have occurred to Pearl that taking a meeting with him did not mean that he would never be released, or that he would be murdered, and that his murder would be videotaped for the world to watch while terrorists used him to communicate their position. What they communicated to the world was that they are inflexible in their position, and that they will kill anyone who holds a different religious belief than they do, or even interprets differently from them the tenets of Islam.
The world was shocked by what happened to Pearl. It has long been ingrained into our thinking that conflict is resolved by and through communication. As Krauss and Morsella point out, we would be taken aback if the U.N. Secretary General encouraged nations to do other than come together and talk about their problems. As was is shown by the tragic death of Daniel Pearl, and as Krauss and Morsella point out, people who come together to communicate do not necessarily come together of a like mind or with the same goal of resolution. This lack of willingness to communicate away conflict is foreign to us, and we are taken aback by the idea of. We are about communicating, working through the coding and decoding to a mutual understanding. We cannot, however, force our ideas, even our information onto others who do not want it just because we are in the same room with them.
It would be difficult to imagine that Daniel Pearl did not attempt to persuade the men who took his life on the merits of why they should not kill him. He must have assured them that he could take their words and, through journalistic reporting, convey to the rest of the world their ideas and position on why they attacked America. Apparently the violence of September 11, 2001, and Pearl and others too, are the statement that the terrorists wish to make. This is their response to those… [END OF PREVIEW]