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Communication in Crisis / Confrontation, competition cooperation


Castells by no means is right stating, that „change, be it evolutionary or revolutonary, is the essense of life (Castells, 2009. p. 299.). Castells has not referred to Heraclitos but certainly was aware of the ’weeping philosopher’s thesis on the ever-present change in the universe. Heracleitos believed in the unity of opposites that he interpreted as strife. According to Heidegger, strife for Heraiclitus was not disagreement or dispute and not use of force against the opponent.

According to Heraclitus the essence of life is confrontation, that set those one apart. Interpreting Heraclitus Heidegger warns that the essential role of confrontation is setting apart what is highest in life. Confrontation „lets the ones show themselves as gods, the others however, as humans, because it lets ones step into the open as bondsmen, the others as free beings” (Heidegger, 1985).

Instead of confrontation modern social psychology speaks abut interdependence of social actors involved in a given social situation. Interdependence can take two different courses. In one of the courses the probality of an actor’s goal attainment is negatively correlated with the probalitiy of the other actor’s goal attainment. In the case of the other course one the probability of an actor’s goal attainment is positively correlated with the other actor’s goal attainment (Deutsch, 2000). Confrontation, however, can be considered as the basis of both courses, because few situations can be characterized as purely cooperative or competetive. No matter how characteristic are the two types in a given situation interdependency is reciprocical recognition that exposes itself as essential. Interdependency makes possible the presentation of self.

Interdependence is far from being harmony. It is well to recognize that the activities of the parties involved do not cease to affect one another, directly or indirectly. Assymetry is always a possibility with regard to the degree of interdepencence. As a conseqeunce of the assymetry the power relationship between the parties (indviduals as well as member of different groups) is imbalanced. The power can be overwhelming if the assymetry prevails in most of the encounters or it may be specific if exists only in a particular type of encounter. A feudal lord has more general power over a vassal than a department head over a faculty member. Assymentry can be contested. The parties in power in most cases never be sure of their position. The quest for power brings drama into the relationship.


In competition the goals of the actors are mutually exclusive. The linkage among them is negative. Using Deutsch’s colloquial example „if the other sinks, you swim, if the otherswims, you sink.” (Deutsch, 2000. p. 22).

Competition impairs communication as the parties in conflict try to get advantage by misleading each other using false promises, cheating tactics and disinformation. In competition there is no trust but much threat.

Because of the nature of linkage obstructiveness and lack of solidarity prevail in competition. Mutual negative images and suspicious representation of one another’s intentions make impossible the solution of the conflict.

The endurance of the conflict results in repeated experience of being frustrated resulting in aggression against the other. Each of the parties are keen to ehnance their own power and to reduce the power of the other.

The processes involved in competition prepare the ground for the battle. In battle the solution can only be unilaterally imposed by one side on the other. The use of coercive psychological and physical tactics such as threat and brutal violence expands the scope of conflict. Once social identity gets into the scope the escalation of the conflict increases the motivational significance to the participants. Reaching the point of no return the competition becomes a struggle over symbolic and metaphisycal principles of good and evil.

The competitive process turned into destructive direction leads to negative effects to one of the parties in the short run and to both of the parties in the long run.


Cooperation is a series of interaction between social actors who are willing to be helpful to another people whose actions are helpful to those who initiate helpfulness. In cooperation, communication is effective between the parties. Ideas are well formulated and discussed. Persuasion replaces coercion.

The relationship between cooperating parties is dominated by friendliness, openess, helfulness. Members of the groups in cooperation have the tendency to rate high themselves in desire to win the praise of the members of the other group.

Cooperation breeds the sense of similarity in basic beliefs between the members of the groups involved. Members of the groups in cooperation are mutually confident in their own’s identity.

Cooperative groups are willing to enhance their own power by ehancement the other groups’ resources such as knowledge, skills, material goods. The politics of helfpulness is based on the recognition that the power of other party is enhanced from the enhancement of the own party and the benefits are mutual from the growing capacities and power of both parties.

Interests can conflict in cooperation. The conflict of interest in cooperation poses a mutual problem to be solved together. Instead of challenging the legitimacy of each other’s interest the parties in collaboration search for a compromise that is responsive to the needs of everybody.

Cooperation represents a win-win orientation. Competition reversely, represents a win-lose orientation. The results of experimental gaming has demonstrated that the presence of cooperative elements enhance the possibility of social well being while the dominance of competitive elements enhance the possibility of social distress.

Origins of competition and cooperation

According to Deutsch’s Crude Law of Social Relations „the characteristic processes and effects elicited by a given type of social relationship also tend to elicit that type of social relationship”. The Crude Law assumes that effects of a given relationship tend to reinforce that relationship making impossible the transformation of one type of relationship into other type of relationship. Positive attititudes, perception of similarities, openess in communication and orientation toward the enhancement of the other induce cooperation and negative attitudes, perception of differences, closeness in communication and orientation to deprivation of the other induce competition. Reversely, cooperation results in positive attitudes, perception of similarities, openess in communication and enhancement of the other’s resources. Competition results in the emergence of the opposite effects.

To develop a win-win attitude in a social environment it requires profound change in the incentive structure so that the benefits, rewards, advantages do not foster win-lose perception among the people living in the system. It is easier to develop and maintain a win-win system if there is cultural support for it. The support can come from fhe media, the elite, the community.

The decisions leading to cooperation or competition with other groups are guided by the will of the decision makers. Not all group members take part in the process of decision making, but throughout history there are persons who are selected to become social actors. There are the ones who define the interests that compel to the groups involved to take the course of cooperation of competition. The others are „free riders” or to put it in Castell’s terminology „selfish parasites of history making”. (Castells, 2009. 300).

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