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Dissertation Abstract

Moving Beyond Self and Others: The Role of Spirituality in Conflict Management

Dennis C. Rittle
December 2008

The foundation for determining the approach to manage interpersonal conflict extends across two poles of consideration: the concern for self and the concern for others. This assumption has influenced how scholars and practitioners perceive appropriate courses of action to manage conflict in conflict-related fields such as mediation and negotiation. Recently, the study of spirituality has received considerable attention. The focus of spirituality is the emphasis an individual places upon transcendent concerns rather than temporal concerns such as self and others. Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) argued that beliefs influence attitudes, and attitudes influence behavioral intent. Therefore, spirituality, which entails the beliefs of the individual, may influence the behavioral intent of how individuals manage interpersonal conflicts. This argument raises the research question: Does spirituality play a role in the conflict management process? The literature has suggested a relationship may exist between the spirituality of an individual and the conflict management approach of an individual. A viable research methodology to explore this possible relationship is a phenomenological investigation. Phenomenological research seeks to uncover the essential meaning of an experience by creating structures to capture the essence of the phenomenon. The research interviewed 10 participants with a set of standardized open-ended questions. Each of the participants serves as a faculty member in the philosophy and religion department at a college in the Midwest. The data were analyzed through a five-step procedure outlined by Giorgi (1997). The results of the data analysis produced seven themes. These themes suggest that spirituality serves a crucial role in the conflict management process by serving as the core component in the cognitive process of individuals. When a stimulus violates the spirituality of an individual, an interpersonal conflict may erupt. This study offers a structural model of the conflict management process and implications of the role spirituality serves within the management of interpersonal conflicts for managers and leaders.