More than just conflict psychology.
The Conflict Model is designed to give legal and other professionals a way to understand why people do what they do in conflict situations. It describes the patterns of how humans tend to function in the context of conflict, and why they do so. Understanding the reasons and mechanisms gives us the hope of learning how to more effectively respond and communicate, or cross-examine.
The Conflict Model describes the patterns of how people tend to feel, think and act in the context of conflict and danger. More specifically, it describes the self-protective patterns, and patterns of information processing people utilize when faced with threat, fear, and danger. It is based primarily on the DMM and principles from IPNB, and is graphically captured in the Conflict Model Circumplex.
Danger, Safety, Relationship, Decision Making
The Conflict Model centers on four important elements that professionals need to understand to manage conflict: danger, safety, relationship, and decision making. These four elements combine to impact each other and addressing them in the right way can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of conflict.
The Conflict Model incorporates concepts and skills from individual fields of study such as neuroscience, biology, physiology, psychology, memory, emotion, human development, attachment, relational science, sociology, and family systems. The Conflict Model draws from meta theories including Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) and the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM). In many ways, the Conflict Model is the DMM-light, or a practical version of the DMM for professionals working with people who are involved in conflict, including lawyers and therapists.
Self-protective strategies that people rely on to survive conflict and danger are an important concept of the DMM and the Conflict Model. In traditional psychology, these are commonly called defense mechanisms. Perpetuating conflict (drama king/queen) and avoiding conflict are examples of opposite, or differential self-protective strategies. Relying on DMM science, the Conflict Model provides details about the behavior and thought patterns commonly found in the context of conflict and litigation. Using a practitioner-oriented version of the DMM’s circumplex model, the Conflict Model Circumplex provides a graphical description.
The Conflict Model starts with a simple 2-part divide of cognitive vs. affective-oriented self-protective strategies. This first insight is highlighted by attachment science and theory, and details the fundamentally different approaches to the world that humans tend to take. These differences involve issues such as the type of information people tend to preference and eliminate from their thought processes, communication and narrative styles, memory function, and information processing patterns.
People using cognitive-oriented strategies tend to communicate with denotative (subdued) language, rely heavily on if/then type thinking, and utilize sometimes overly rigid sequences which eliminate context and additional rule-sets. A desire to do the right thing, and follow rules often dominates decision making.
People using affective-oriented strategies tend to communicate with connotative (rich) language, rely heavily on implications from half-finished statements and nonverbal communication, and have blurry narratives that can lack adequate sequencing and be hard to follow. Anger and aggression is often quite prevalent or dominate, although sometimes it is covered by extremely disarming behavior.
These are just a few of the dozens of distinctions in the cognitive-affective divide. Other aspects include how humans handle affect (the actual expression of their emotion), what emotions they tend to be uniquely sensitive to, how they see the past, present and future, what they are vulnerable to, how they handle responsibility and blame, and how they structure their narratives of past and present experiences. All these elements impact their decision making.
The second divide is sometimes described as secure vs. insecure, functional vs dysfunctional, or even above vs. below the line. Simple vs. complex is a nice way to describe the second divide. CSI prefers to describe this as more at risk or less at risk of transforming information in ways that make communication and information processing difficult. People who are less at risk have an easier time of communicating their feelings and thoughts, their needs are fairly transparent, and they can more easily reach cooperative and optimal decisions.
People who are more at risk tend to need more help staying in relationship, communicating clearly, identifying their true needs, and making optimal decisions. People who are quite at risk tend to have a very difficult time staying in relationship, communicating their true feelings and thoughts, have needs which are complexly impacted by trauma history, and often make decisions that meet their deeper needs but which appear to be counter-productive to their apparent needs.
CSI offers several tools for practitioners to start learning the cognitive and affective markers, including the Conflict Model Circumplex Cognitive-Affective Aspects and Facets worksheet, Danger List, and narrative analysis tools.
Danger: A core human need
Surviving danger is a fundamental human need. Danger can be subjective and also uniquely different from a cognitive and affective perspective. Exposure to danger can drive conflict. An experience of safety can help manage conflict.
Traditional negotiation and mediation theory describes the importance of meeting people’s interests and needs, but these are often described at a surface level. The Conflict Model relies on relationship science and neuroscience to identify core needs, such as dangers threatening physical and relationship survival, and the need for protection from danger.
Similar to the needs toward the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, IPNB and the DMM identify a broad range of dangers and the powerful human instinct to find protection from them. For example, social isolation is a serious danger for people with affective-orientations, and avoiding it drives feelings, thoughts and behaviors below the level of awareness. Not following the rules can be a powerful source of danger for people with a cognitive-orientation. CSI’s DMM Danger List identifies common subjective dangers for people with affective and cognitive orientations.
Simple and robust
The basic cognitive-affective divide provides a simple initial distinction. The conflict model is also robust in that it scales up in steps to provide finer distinctions, and additional elements of information processing, for practitioners who are interested in moving their skills to higher levels. The DMM is both simple and complex, and is likewise a robust model.
Conflict Model patterns for specific situations
Some specific patterns uniquely and richly describe specific conflict situations such as domestic violence. DV can be described as intimate partner violence or as coercive control. Obsessive Coercion is one DMM pattern incorporated into the Conflict Model which describes the use of self-protective strategies centered around controlling others through coercion and the frequent and obvious use of aggression. CSI’s 13 Shiny Objects article describes 13 of the common behaviors seen in the use of obsessively coercive strategies. The 13 Shiny Objects booklet also describes intense forms of affective patterns from the DMM perspective and offers many specific techniques to help manage coercive behaviors. Compulsive Caretaking is an opposite DMM pattern which involves a different type of controlling behaviors. Other common DMM attachment strategy patterns include compulsive compliance, self-reliance, feigned helplessness, punitively angry and obsessed with revenge, and seductive and obsessed with rescue.
Different from psychology and powerful with practice
The Conflict Model differs from standard psychological theory in several important ways. First, there is no established model of conflict psychology. While some psychological models study fear, and incorporate the neurobiology of fear, they don’t, or don’t clearly, distinguish the two fundamentally different ways humans process information and respond to fear. Second, psychological theory tends to be based on self-report studies which are not a strong method of science. Both the DMM and IPNB rely on stronger scientific method.
While psychology can nicely describe personality types and defense mechanisms, it has difficulty developing consistent definitions across theories. Empathy seems like a simple concept, but there is wide variation in it’s definition. Even defining emotion is hotly debated. Also, psychology has difficulty tying behavior pattern descriptions with responsive techniques. For example, there is substantial debate about how to define narcissistic and borderline personality disorders and how to treat them, or how to relate to their thought and behavior patterns in a way that helps people described with these concepts engage in more optimal decision making choices..
Social rejection theory is a good example of how psychologists can identify two distinct responses to rejection, but cannot understand why they happen. Two common, but opposite, responses to rejection are increased prosocial behaviors and increased aggression. For some people, they respond by working harder to stay in relationship, sometimes to their own detriment. Other people respond aggressively, sometimes dangerously so. The former group likely includes people who use intense forms of cognitive strategies which include conflict avoidance. The latter group likely includes people using intense forms of affective strategies which includes obsessive coercion. For people working with domestic violence victims understanding the latter group, and warning clients about the predictable danger of rejection, is essential.
Few psychological models recognize the cognitive-affective distinction present in information processing. Without understanding the distinction, it is not possible to identify how to specifically respond in a targeted way to self-protective strategies which are causing problems.
The DMM is centered on describing human behavior in the context of danger and conflict, and relies on thorough attachment science methods to tease out very specific behaviors and broader patterns. IPNB includes fear and danger processing and includes hard science of behavioral systems which describe what causes extreme behaviors such as the fight-flight-freeze system. These science-based meta-models describe the patterns of observable behaviors, specific memory and thought processes, and the reasons or mechanisms for why and how they are happening differently in each pattern.
With a little practice, it can be easy to recognize the patterns even in an initial client contact. Sometimes, affectively-oriented people are less concerned to hear about how you would handle the case or about your expertise or price, and they are more interested to know if you can understand their feelings and meet their immediate needs. Sometimes cognitively-oriented people are more interested in the opposite issues.
CSI teaches judges, lawyers, paralegals, office staff members, and others involved in the legal arena how to understand and recognize what drives conflict and how to target professional responses to best help clients. We also teach lawyers Lawfightingtm, how to use this information in case development, questioning and cross-examination.
- Wellness and secondary trauma for legal professionals: safety and danger
- DMM Case Consultation Group
- DMM Coffee House #128: A DMM perspective on psychopathy with Melanie Gill, part 2
- DMM Coffee House #123: DMM Theory: shortcomings, criticisms, and rectifying measures
- DMM Coffee House #122: Coding Kimmel’s Halloween prank as an attachment assessment