Expectancy and Role Conflicts Illustrated in Everybody Loves Raymond Learning to communicate efficiently and manage conflict successfully is challenging. Gaining cooperation between people is complex and mentally demanding. Communication ways and conflict styles are deeply woven into our personalities. Conflict is the expressed struggle of interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, interference from the other party in achieving those goals, and the perception of scarce resources. Perceptions are just as important as reality in regards to conflict.
As stated in the text, “we encounter conflict as we compete for acceptance, love, recognition, position, power, success, and many other goals. Judgments of the quality of conflict interaction depend on the perceptions and evaluations of the nature of the process and its outcomes by those affected” (McKinney, Kimsey, Della Noce, & Trobaugh, p. 2). Multiple conflicts are simultaneously occurring in the selected episode, Everybody Loves Raymond. It is important to note that the conflicts overlap as they are not managed efficiently. The key conflicts in this episode are expectancy (over expectations) and role (who is responsible for what).
Knapp’s model of relationship development and deterioration is best suited to romantic relationships and is illustrated throughout the selected episode. It is also important to note, Knapp’s model can be adapted to describe processes of any relationship type. In the opening scene Robert is in the process of self assertion. After many years of living with his overbearing parents, he has moved into an apartment that he can call his own. He refers to it as the “happiest place on earth”. Robert’s girlfriend Amy arrives with excitement due to inference that Robert is ready to implement ‘the plan’.
The plan is revealed as a verbal agreement. Once Robert moved into his own house they would get married and have four children. This exemplifies that information is lost in abstractions. Abstractions are necessary to briefly describe things to others, but in instances of life planning it is wise to use probing questions to get to the meaning of vague, abstract language. For example, during the construction of their verbal agreement, Amy could have asked Robert how long after living alone would he like to move into the second stage of the plan. This central conflict is expectancy, but others occur such as role conflicts.
Role conflicts are common between married couples. In this episode Raymond must wait by the front door to sign for a package in care of his wife while she is out with friends. Through abstracting, Raymond fails to mention to Robert that often his wife bears the role of watching the children, cooking dinner, and cleaning the house while he sits on the couch or plays golf. Raymond describes his situation using emotive language claiming he is a hostage unto his wife. It is crucial to remember that language is powerful, symbolic, and subjective. Illustrated in the text are common problems associated with the use of language.
Language is a process of constructing and sharing meanings of symbols. Misunderstandings are inevitable considering symbols are abstract, ambiguous, arbitrary, and change over time. For instance, after Raymond’s banter, Robert and Amy discuss their future. From Amy’s perspective, Robert was not fulfilling expectations set by their informal verbal agreement. At the time the agreement was made, Robert obviously was unaware of the impact of language. Amy took it for literal. Amy anticipated the bonding stage outlined by Knapp, where symbolic public gestures are made such as, moving in together.
According to Knapp, parties move sequentially through the stages, initiation, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, bonding, differentiating, circumscribing, stagnating, avoiding, and terminating. However, the parties in a relationship can jump around the stages of relationship development and deterioration. At times the two people may each be at a stage different from the other. In this case, Robert had entered the differentiating stage, seeking to assert himself as an individual in his own home. The conflict here is that Robert’s goals were to experience the freedom from his parents and not Amy.
If either had used perception checking, it is possible that their conflict would have ended. The Attribution Theory is based upon assigning meanings for another’s behavior. What we think to be true is not always accurate. It is necessary to implement proactive strategies such as perception checking. Perception checking involves three components. They are as stated: 1. A complete description of behavior observed 2. Provide two possible interpretations of the observed behavior 3. Request for clarity In either case, both Robert and Amy entered the termination stage together.
As stated earlier and expressed here, conflict usually occurs because of incompatible goals. Incompatible goals are often perceived in dialectical tensions of relationships. Leslie Baxter formulated the Relationship Dialectical Theory. Usually it is opposing tensions that bring people into conflicts in relationships. The number one cause for break ups is the relational dialectic, integration/separation. The two opposing forces at war are the desire to bond (Amy) and the desire for autonomy (Robert). Dr. McKinney illustrates these tensions as a contradiction; the idea of conflict between desires in a relationship.
Mediation is a wonderful process in negotiating a solution between two parties thwarted by dialectical tensions. Mediation provides the participants the opportunity to understand their partners’ side of the conflict. Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party facilitates conflict resolution by guiding the participants in the mediation process. In facilitative mediation, the mediator does not create or even suggest solutions. The disputants own the solution. Robert and Amy did not seek mediation. Instead Robert’s response to the tension or conflict is termed selection.
He selected to satisfy his personal goals and ignore those of Amy. Robert implemented the conflict management style known as controlling. He chose to dissolve the expectancy conflict by dissolving the entire relationship otherwise known as entropy. There are several reasons relationships succeed, one of which involves the Exchange Theory. The essence of this ‘economic’ theory is based on a cost/benefit model. We will remain in a relationship only as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Robert perceived the cost of forfeiting his freedom to be too great to maintain his relationship with Amy.
Recognizing this to be only perceived or inferred cost, a problem solving approach such as mediation could have led to relationship maintenance. Mediation would have offered Robert and Amy the opportunity to see each other’s position. Mediation is the best conflict management style to use is this situation. On the other hand, taking this conflict into the legal system through litigation would not be a more productive way of managing this dispute. Litigation is the process in which disputants take a conflict to be solved in the court system.
In the case of Robert and Amy’s conflict, if taken into the US court system it would be a waste of money and would not provide restoration. The US legal system is based on a retributive system. Robert and Amy’s conflict did not require retribution. The restorative nature of the mediation process makes it the best conflict management style. Competent communicators are more equipped to manage conflict; possessing a wide range of behaviors and the ability to choose the most appropriate behavior given the context, goals, and the other persons behavior.
Competent communicators efficiently manage conflict through a variety of characteristics. They have an extensional orientation; they check with reality to see if their inferences are facts. They possess cognitive complexity, the ability to see others perspectives. Empathy and the ability to self-monitor ones own communication and language leads to successful conflict management. Gibson and Cornwell state, “The largest communication problem we encounter is not how to be understood, but how to avoid being misunderstood”.