The current study incorporates two perspectives concerning conflict resolutions of parents with their adolescent children. The researchers investigated whether the form of conflict resolution („no resolution, concession or compromise) interacts with emotional flexibility. The participants had consecutive discussions, with different topics in an A-B-A design (neutral, conflict, neutral) and their emotions were coded during these interactions. Using a space state grid the coded emotions were visually inspected to see whether the participants repaired. Repair was operationalized as the transmission of expressing negative emotions (in the conflicting discussion) towards expressing positive emotions (in the last neutral discussion), which could be analyzed by the pattern in the grid. We anticipated finding a group differences, concerning the repair, between the dyads which used a compromise, compared to the other forms of conflict resolution style. Visual analyses revealed that all dyads, which compromised repaired. Nevertheless, almost all dyads which used the other conflict strategies repaired, as well. The implications of this result and additional findings are discussed, concerning emotional flexibility and conflict resolution.
Keywords: emotional flexibility, conflict resolution, adolescence, parents
Conflict Resolution predicts Emotional Flexibility
The adolescence is an essential developmental period for every individual, which causes changes in various components of life. One part which is specifically affected is the relationship with the parents. This emotional connection is challenged by the experienced conflicts. Inevitably, the opinions of the two individuals may differ extensively, concerning conflicting topics, such as duties at home. Nevertheless, there are certainly moments adolescences enjoy with their parents. Every child experiences these nice times with their parents, when talking about vacation or when philosophizing about the future. However, in order to be able to switch from a positive conversation about leisure time to a negative discussion about homework, you are flexible in your emotion, which constitutes emotional flexibility.
The current research focuses on different aspects of conflict resolution in parent-child interactions. One perspective defines conflict resolution as the expression of emotional flexibility (Hollenstein & Lewis, 2006). On the contrary, Smetana et al. (1991) describe the resolution to conflicts as the ability to solve the conflict topic, focusing on the content-related aspects of the parent-child interaction concerning the resolution.
Emotional flexibility implies the ability to vary emotions, as the contextual demands change. This entails adapting behavior and cognition according to the situation. Hence, being able to first express positive affection, just as joy and afterwards show negative emotions, e.g. anger, is what constitutes to be variable in emotions. Essentially, being able to flexible alter the experienced emotions, which hence permits to productively accommodation to specific situations, makes you emotional flexible (Thompson, 1990). There are two kinds of emotional flexibility, the within- and between-discussion flexibility. The first refers to altering emotions within-discussion, hence being variable in your emotions within a conversation. The second, which is the one we are concerned with, is the between-discussion flexibility and refers to recovering from a negative discussion and expressing positive emotions afterwards, thus repairing. This entails moving on from the negative emotions, towards showing positive emotions.
Hollenstein and Lewis (2006) suggested that expressing negative emotions may enhance between-discussion emotional flexibility. Accordingly, the expression of emotions could be a feasible factor, which leads to an increase in emotional flexibility. Nevertheless, Moed et al. (2014) found that adolescents are less likely to express negative emotion when a negative reaction is expected. This inhibits the expression of emotions, which may impede emotional flexibility. The consequence would be detrimental for the development, since flexibility of emotions is of high importance to the growth of children. Granic, O'Hara, Pepler, and Lewis (2007) discovered that emotional flexibility in interactions is more essential for a healthy development than the avoiding of negative emotions. Following, the interactions between children and their parents do not have to be predominantly positive, but rather reparative (showing emotional flexibility), in order to foster healthy development. Granic et al. revealed that compared to typically developing children, those with problem behaviors demonstrated less emotions in general and were not as flexible in switching emotions between discussions. After treatment for childhood aggression families still demonstrated negative emotion; however the ability to shift out of these interactions and repair the emotions, significantly increased (Granic et al., 2007). This emphasizes why emotional flexibility is of high importance for individuals. Furthermore, it was found that rigidity in interactions has a relation to expressing aggressive behavior in the development of adolescents (Hollenstein, Granic, Stoolmiller, & Snyder, 2004). Considering rigidity in conversations is amenable to alter, it is possible to improve adolescents’ problematic behavior. Therefore, being emotional flexible, switching from one emotional state to another, in parent-child interactions is linked to the prevention of childhood aggression behavior.
In addition, emotional flexibility in conflicting situations is considered to contribute to healthy functioning on a socio-emotional level of parents and adolescents (Van der Giessen, Hollenstein, Hale, Koot, Meeus, & Branje, 2015). Van der Giessen et al. (2015) examined whether internalizing problems of mothers’ and adolescents’ could be predicted by the emotional flexibility of the dyad (mother and adolescent). The study revealed that emotional rigidity was associated with difficulties in adapting and expressing emotions in conflicts, which might lead to a decrease in relational development and autonomy. These factors might be related to emotional problems. The valence of emotions was not a moderating factor, which eliminated the assumption that solely negative emotions have predictive value for emotional flexibility (Van der Giessen et al., 2015). These results emphasize the importance of acknowledging limited emotional flexibility in conflict rigidity concerning behavioral problems in the future (Granic et al., 2007; Hollenstein et al., 2004).
The outcome of a conflict is an essential factor in predicting emotional flexibility, as well (Smetana et al., 1991). There are three types of resolutions for a conflicting conversation: no resolution, concession and compromise. If the conflict ends with „no resolution’, both parties are not able to persuade or coerce the other negotiator and the dyad will fail to resolve their issues. In addition, one of the individuals can concede either the child or the parent. If one of the sides concedes, thus one party sacrifices, further conflicts can be provoked and leave the differences fundamentally unresolved (Smetana et al., 1991). However, it was also suggested that when the conflict is ended by the parent, it serves as an opportunity for the adolescent to acquire techniques to handle conflicts and negotiate feelings and needs (Moed et al., 2014). In such manner the parents would model constructive patterns of conflict strategies. Research reveals that conceding is the most used strategy, approximately 50% of the time (Recchia et al., 2010), mostly because the parents demonstrate their power (Neslon, Boyer, Sang, & Wilson, 2014). The parents are able to assert and prevail, because the relationship between the parent and the child is asymmetrical (Recchia et al., 2010). The discussion ends with a compromise, if the dyad finds a solution together. Achieving a compromise is the solution which predicts most satisfaction, because the goals of the parents and their children are realized. Both parties of the dyad influence whether a compromise is reached, though only the children’s constructive comments distinguish between a compromise and a concession (Neslon et al., 2014). Therefore, the contribution of the children is particularly important for the process of a mutually agreed solution. Emotionally responsive and supportive mothers, not behaving oppositional towards the child, also aids in finding a compromise. Based on Nelson et al. (2014) we predicted that compromising corresponds with emotional flexibility, because reaching a compromise implies expressing emotions, in order to reach a common solution. Therefore, it is anticipated that a compromise is the best solution in terms of increasing emotional flexibility (Smetana et al., 1991; Moed et al., 2014; Recchia et al., 2010). Hence, we hypothesize that a compromise, as a conflict resolution strategy, leads to the most emotional flexibility and emotional repair for the dyad as a whole. This is based on the assumption that a compromise is the preferred conflict resolution, because the other opportunities leave space for lingering contentions (Vuchinich, 1987).