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Communication in Crisis / Social psychology of the constructive social relations

The role of time in social relationships

The relations between human beings in the society are of of precarious character do to the passage of time that brings them into the nothingness. The first and grandest Western philosopher Anaximander was right in stressing that „the source of coming-to-be for existing things is that into which destruction happens, according to necessity; for they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assesment of Time” . (Kirk, Raven, 1957. p.177)).

Only human beings can conceive the ordinance of time because they are the only ones who know about their mortality. Conseqently, we can safely assume, that in order to survive humans are motivated to defend themselves against the necessitiy of destruction by establishing modes and patterns of social relationships resulting in living in conditions facilitating construction.

What is construction in social relations? By means of construction human beings are capable to create an environment which helps them to survive and rule over the forces of nature which are to perish them. Construction, however, is cannot taken granted. There is no certainty concerning the future. Construction is always contingent on the wllingness of the participants of the social relationships to unite and to put together their resources in order to build the bridge between the present and the future.

Construction, consequently, leads into the future through vicissitiudes of the present.

Levels of social relationships

Modern societies are organized on two levels. The first level of social organization forms platform for social encounter between persons who are pimarily subjects of the passage of time being mortal beings. The second level of social organization is much more resistant to the passage of time being constructed by the works of previous generations as set of symbolic interests.

Whenever we study contemporary social relationships the first question to be answered is related to the level of operation. Interpersonal and intergroups relations of course tend to merge in everyday life but in the course of analysis we nevers should forget to make the distinctions between the individual and collective levels of the relationship. The central theme of this course is that the collective products of social organization are shaping the patterns of constuction and destruction among human beings. Individuals matter but they are rooted in realities constructed by cultural means.

What are the stakes?

The distribution of resources among parties in the relationship strongly influences the course of interaction in the social relationship. Economic resources, sexual relations, information, authority, effective social organization determine the nature of social relationship.

Constructive processes in social relationship stem from cooperation that prevents loss and deprivation caused by the experience of losing. In constructive relationship each party gains. Moreover, based on the previous experience an expectation of future develops setting the path for realiziation of further mutal benefit.

Material and symbolic resources equally matter. Material satisfaction and symbolic well being are both constituents of the constructive social relationship


People have inborn tendency to act positively toward everything in the world which is perceived as beneficial to their well being and to act negatively which is perceived as harmful to their safety. The primary role of the constructive social processes is to provide an environment faclilitating satisfaction and avoid dissatisfaction and suffering.

People individually, however, are unable to provide themselves with patterns of values defining them what is beneficial and what is harmful for them. There is no inborn tendency in human beings that would orient them in dealing with the problem of definition of what is wrong, what is good for them.

Culture is a collective cognitive space created by meanings stemming from the „values, norms, institutions, and models of thinking to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance” (Bozeman, 1975.p. 1). Physical means of existence become of subjects of primary importance by the working of values as a means of metaphysical existence.

Cultures are many in the world. Each of them prescribe patterns and institutions that guide human beings in directions which are right in the particular cultural group. It is a question to be answered in the future wether the argument for a universal world culture can be sustained. Dominant cultures, however, do exist. Huntington is right stressing that some standardization of cultural practices has occured. Genocide, slavery, torture, abuse of women and children have become increasingly non-acceptable in the contemporary world wich has been opened for constructive social relationships fred by the yoke of cultural ehtnocentism.

Social justice

Provided that there is an agreement in values among the parties the nature of relationship between them will be determined by the overall evaluation based on their perception of justice. Constructive social relationships are characterized by their potential to produce overwhelmingly the experience of just distribution of benefits and costs which they perceive as rewards and punishments.

Morton Deutsch distinguishes three types of the experience of social justice. Each of them contributes to the maintanance of constructive social processes. The dsitributive justice is concerned with the criteria of the feeling well as a result of the distribution. Values, however, seem to have a profound impact in determining the evaluation of the outcome. According to the equity principle all parties should receive benefits in proportion of their contribution. The equality princple makes possible equal distribution only. Allocation according to the need principle indicates that those in need should get more as opposed with those who are less in need.

The principles of just distributions are frequently in conflict causing difficulty for maitaining constructive relationship. The experience of fair outcome can be determined by comparing one’s share with the share of others in similar situation. Relative deprivation occurs when there is an indication of comparative imbalance.

Fair outcomes are important but empirical research shows that fair rules are even more important in assessing fairness in social relations. Constructive social relations cannot be conceived without rules generating unbiased decisions as well as dignified behavior in carrying out the procedures. Research indicates that people are more committed to authorities, organizations, social policies and systems of government if the procedures associated with them are considered fair.

Constructive social relationships diminish the likelihood of sense of injustice. In constructive social relations victims of physical abuse. discrimination, unfair distribution of symbolic or material goods can have access to restoring social justice by applying the formal of informal institutions specialized to restoring social justice.


Cooperative strategies of inter-individual and intergroup relations enormously facilitate the processes involved in constructive social relationship. The assumptions underlying the constructive social relations stress the principle of reciprocity which implies the avoidance of coercion and deception. Such tactics, as we shall see in the next chapter, include physical or psychological aggression unleashing malignant social processes.

Cooperative relations result in a series of effects ensuring stable constructive relationship between the parties concerned. Morton Deutsch enlists six characteristics of cooperation that facilitates the formation of constructive social relationship. (Deutsch, 2000. p.25)

1. Effective communication that faciliates social action by avoiding loop-holes.

2. Friendliness, helpfulness and less obstructiveness resuling a social cilimate of mutual satisfaction.

3. Coordination of effort, division of labor, orientation to task achievement, orderliness in discussion, and high productivity.

4. Feeling of agreement with the ideas of others and a sense of basic simplicity in beliefs and values, confidence in one’s own ideas and in the value that members of the other party attach to those ideas.

5. Willingness to enhance the other’s power. Similarly, the other is expecting the enhancement of his/her power.

6. Defining coinflicting values and interest as a mutual problem to be solved by collaboration.


Trust plays a key role in constructive social relations providing stability of interaction between parties who otherwise would be inhibited to develop or maitain relationship with each other. Trust can be interpreted as a self-fulfilling prohecy. It is a belief that becomes true because it makes people to believe. Managing constructive social relations requires parties to both create and preserve trust effectively. These processes turn critical when trust is broken.

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