Relational conflict is inevitable and a part of our lives. Understanding the way we view the world strongly influences the way we approach conflict. More specifically, your world view influences the role that empathy plays in your conflict resolution with others. What that means is that we hold to certain values and beliefs about human nature and beliefs about how people should get along. These values, beliefs, and how you perceive the rules of engagement determine your empathic approach in dealing with others in times of conflict.
Dorothy J. Della Noce in an article published in Beyond Intractability, highlights the role of personal theory and the role of empathy in mediating conflict. Noce identifies two significant world views, one being an individualized framework the second being a relational framework. Depending upon the framework that individuals view life, emapthy is used in very different ways.
Individualized Worldview--Transactional Empathy
The individualized worldview perceives others as separate, independent, and autonomous. Individuals are understood as possessing personal needs and interests, primarily driven by self-interests. As a result, the individualized worldview fuels the motivated to interact with others, to become interdependent in order to satisfy personal needs and interests in negotiation. What that translates to is that empathy provides a relational skill in negotiation in order to arrive at the desires of personal interest.
In other words, conflict resolution in the individualized world view centers upon a problem-solving approach based upon an interest-based bargaining, exchanging incentives and concessions. Again, the key aspect of this engagement is incentivized by the primary goal to satisfy personal interest. Empathy therefor, is motivated by the desire to understand and care about other’s interest, in order to acquire the knowledge of how to provide others with what they want, in order to bargain through the conflict to obtain what you want--"if I know what you need and I can meet your need, I will be in a better position to get what I want." Empathy is a means to achieve an end.
Relational Worldview--Relational Empathy
This worldview holds to the belief that people are social, being interrelated and interdependent. As a result, people are viewed as naturally and constantly engaging in social interaction deriving their greatest satisfaction through meaningful interactions. In the relational worldview, people are viewed as motivated by the relational quality of life, primarily motivated by meaningful interactions.
In this worldview, conflict resolution is best achieved through the relational support of the process in conflict resolution. As parties seek reconciliation, conflict resolution is best achieved by seeking better understanding of themselves and the other person, then creating shared meanings. This process of interaction focuses upon recognition and empowerment--the end goal accomplished in personal clarity and sharing with interpersonal understanding. For example, “I respect you, I am listening with the intent to understand. I now understand where you are coming from, what can I do to help meet your needs while also considering mine.” The process of how people in the conflict speak to one another is as important as the issues themselves in conflict resolution.
The relational worldview supports a transformative process, wherein empathy is the value in itself. Empathy itself is the mediating effect of a positive outcome, the ledger being balanced by the understanding and the compassion of both parties involved in the conflict.
Knowing and understanding your worldview and those of others with whom you experience conflict, may significantly help you with the insight in the role of empathy in reaching resolution in relational conflict. The greatest challenges may occur when someone with an individualized worldview is in conflict with a person who posseses a relational worldview.