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Communication and Media Studies 459

COMS 459: Communication in Conflict Management

Prerequisites: COMS 130 and COMS 230 or permission of instructor

Credit Hours: (3) Three hours lecture/discussion/field experience

This course addresses the nature of conflict between people as it is manifested in communicative interaction in varied contexts, within individuals, between individuals, between groups, and between organizational and social entities. It deals with both competitive and, especially, cooperative communication genre as well as strategies of conflict intervention and mediation.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

The course deals with the study of inherent sources of conflict between people in terms of generic differences and problems of identity. Conflict is understood to be both situationally positive (in the tradition of the value of discussion and debate) and situationally negative (in the way of dysfunctional or destructive communication) along the entire spectrum of human struggle. Conflict and harmony are treated as on-going oppositional forces of human conduct, and yet, they are necessarily inherent to the processes of communicative interaction.

Conflict is explored in terms of all of the various levels of any individual's communication with his/herself and others. Further, emphases are given to the nature of communication and conflict in the interpersonal configuration. Conflict in group interactions is given special attention in terms of the development of group consensus building and the development of communication strategies for developing and maintaining group cohesion. Inter-group conflict as well as the nature of various forms of team competitions is also studied. Conflict management, mediation, and resolution strategies are central course concepts and practices.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

Students study written materials on the course topics. They become involved in exercises which illustrate the course concepts and processes. Case studies of conflict are considered. Experience with conflict and communication are provided with simulations, role-plays, and creative enactments concerned with problem solving through communication interaction. Students are not merely tested on the course content, but are experientially involved.

Lectures, discussions, debates, and the creative resolution of problematic conflicts are central to the course conduct. Further, students will independently study particular concepts, theories, or conflict resolution strategies in the way of term projects. Opportunities will be provided for observing or participating in the field study of groups and organizations involved in attempting to use communication strategies to discover sources of conflict as well as attempting to resolve dysfunctional conflicts. Students will be offered some opportunities to practice skills of dispute mediation and resolution. Graduate students will participate in such field study as well as give expert reports on key readings to the rest of the class.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

Students completing the course should be able to:

1. Understand the bases of conflict and cooperation as communication variables.
2. Understand and appreciate the positive values of conflictual communication in their own lives as it relates to their own identities and personal goals.
 3. Understand and become more aware of personal communication patterns in their interpersonal and group interactions which are dysfunctional ordestructive in their relationships with others.
4. Develop skills of communicating with others so as to not only understand the sources and kinds of conflict, but also to become more proficient in using communication skills and strategies to help mediate and resolve personal and interpersonal conflicts which are negative to interactions with others.
5. Understand the nature of conflict in group interactions in terms of patterns of harmony and disharmony.
6. Recognize and comprehend when conflict is necessary and productive to the discovery and subsequent resolution of problems of communication personally, interpersonally, in group interactions, and within organizational contexts.
7. Recognize and comprehend when assessment, intervention, and mediation are necessary to conflict resolution.
8. Identify and be able to use various strategies and schematics of conflict resolution techniques.
9. Understand sources of group, social, and organizational-political conflict as they pertain to communication.
10. Be able to apply communication intervention, mediation, and problem solving strategies in group, social, and organizational contexts.


Assessment Measures

1. Tests of course content.
2. Demonstration of concepts and processes in course exercises.
3. Class participation which demonstrates the acquisition of concepts and processes of sources of conflict, conflict intervention, and conflict resolution.
4. Class participation which demonstrates the ability to use conflictual communication for solving problems of communication.
5. Participation in case studies and field experiences which demonstrate the understanding and use of course concepts and processes of communication.


Other Course Information



Review and Approval

Bill Kennan, Chair September 2001