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Dr. Matthew Girton, Lock Haven University - Types of Familial Conflict


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Matthew Girton of Lock Haven University reveals the variety of psychological motivations that fuel persistent conflicts between family members.

Matthew Girton is a professor of communication and Chair of the Department of Communication and Philosophy at Lock Haven University. His research focuses on interpersonal conflict management and leadership skills. He holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University.

About Dr. Girton

Dr. Matthew Girton - Types of Familial Conflict

Mixed in with the joy that accompanies savory foods and exchanging of gifts during the holiday season is the dread of recurring conflicts with family and friends. We know these fights are looming, but there seems to be little we can do or say to stop them from coming back - unless we can better understand the process of conflict, such as conflict goals.

According to conflict scholars William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, there are four types of conflict goals. You can remember them more easily with the acronym TRIP. The T in TRIP stands for topic goals. These goals deal with what we want. For example, a topic goal might be going different places for the holidays. He wants to see his family; she wants to see the ocean. R stands for relationship goals. They tie into how we want to be treated by the other person and how much interdependence we want. In the vacation example, the relationship goal might be that each party in the conflict wants the other to occasionally sacrifice their desires for the other. The I is representative of the identity goal or, who am I in this conflict? If the husband sees himself as a giving individual, he might become stubborn and defensive if his wife calls him selfish for not agreeing with her. Finally, the P, or process goal, relates to how the parties want to conduct a conflict. Problems can arise if the wife wants the family to reach consensus, but the husband wants to decide by majority vote.

Hocker and Wilmot state that relationship and identity goals typically drive conflict. Conflict partners need to clarify and share these goals. Also, partners should develop collaborative goals that recognize interdependence and describe, not label, behavior.

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