Conflict, Power, and Influence in Interpersonal Communication Essay

Conflict management deals with many levels of communications. Power and influence play a key role in how conflict is resolved in situations involving conflict. The film Lean On Me was first and foremost about transformation on several different levels. At first glance the tactics of “Crazy Joe” Clark seem harsh and arbitrary. It helps to understand that Joe Clark in real life was a sergeant in the Army reserves. (Gallene 1989) Much of the tactics displayed in the movie would be familiar to anyone who had ever been to boot camp.

It is a tenant of modern police training that under stress people will revert to their latest or strongest training. For many years as a principal of a tough elementary school before arriving at Eastside High, Joe Clark used neither a bull horn nor baseball bat. In being faced with a situation beyond his control, and under tremendous pressure, his default training kicked in. The military values two traits above all, self-discipline and responsible leadership. Joe Clark set out to instill both of these in the students and staff of Eastside High. In doing so, he came into conflict with the dominant collective paradigm of modern education.

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In this portion of the paper the writer will be contrasting the rules to avoid interpersonal conflict such as those that would be taught in the elementary school Joe Clark ran before the movie, and the actions of Joe Clark at Eastside High as shown in the movie. “Treat each other with respect” might well be a poster on any wall, in any school in America. Firmly in crisis mode, Joe Clark did not have time to treat others with respect at first. His first priority was to gain control of the school as shown in the film. The real Joe Clark once said that “Discipline is the ultimate tenet of education. Discipline establishes the format, the environment for academic achievement to occur” (Frederich & Bowen 1988). While he did not expel 300 students on his first day as principal as in the film, he did expel that number of students based on unsatisfactory attendance in his first year. Frequently these students created other problems in the school, but expelling them for attendance was much easier to prove and accomplished the same objective. “We challenge the behavior not the person” The film truthfully depicted Clark’s aggressive style with his own staff.

Complacency and “business as usual” were not acceptable attitudes in the movie or with the real Joe Clark. He required an active engagement of all his teachers and staff. If students failed to learn it was the teachers fault. About 100 out of 300 teachers left during Clark’s tenure as principal. These included a basketball coach who was escorted from the building by security for failing to stand at attention while the school song was played. The real life Clark referred to disloyal teachers as “surreptitious snakes” often transferring those who disagreed with him, to avoid confrontation.

Others were strongly encouraged to leave. (Gellene 1989) These are tactics familiar to any senior NCO taking over a new unit. “It’s OK to make mistakes” If the conflict depicted in the movie has a central theme it is the transformation of the character ably portrayed by Morgan Freeman from one style of conflict to another. At the beginning of the film, Freeman’s Clark clearly demonstrates a conflict style based on an “I win, you lose” philosophy as outlined by DeVito in the text. Here is a quote from the real Joe Clark that sums up this style. It appeared in a Time magazine article from 1988. In this building, everything emanates from me. “Nothing happens here without me” (Frederich & Bowen 1988). The central change in the movie is the transformation of the character to a more cooperative “I win you win” style of conflict. Freemans’ Clark comes to realize that the teachers and staff are the key to him achieving his vision for the school. Freeman’s Clark admits the mistake. In real life, Joe Clark removed the chains from the school doors and was not arrested as in the movie. Perhaps one of his history teachers reminded him of the Triangle Shirt Factory fire. The movie does not say.

However, the real Joe Clark was the master of using a dramatic gesture to make at point. Communication played a key role in how Principal Joe Clark chose to communicate with the students at Eastside High. Because of his impressive reputation and power, he was brought back at the school in hopes to make changes to the severe demise of the school. He was given the mission and assignment to change the environment of the school that had become violent with very low test scores and rapid drug use. The students lacked respect not only for the faculty, staff and other students but also for the school n which they attended. As the movie takes places and Joe Clark accepts the assignment as Eastside High school principal, he is very disturbed at what has become of the school. One of his many strategies that he used was his power to influence the attitudes and behaviors of Eastside High students which left him with a no nonsense reputation and the credit of named one of the nations “10 Principals of Leadership” by the governor of New Jersey in 1986. As a former drill sergeant of the Army, Joe Clark used his skills of tough discipline in an effort make some very drastic changes to the school.

Although many of his methods were thought of as irrational and intimidating, he was willing to take steps he felt necessary make these changes occur. He realized that the task was far greater than what he initially accepted, but used his power of social influence with a deep compassion and commitment to make these changes occur. He took some unconventional but necessary steps to first ensure the safety of the faculty and the students but to also rid the school of the violence and drugs. His mission was to also get the students to the required academic level so that they were able to pass the state minimum’s basic skill test.

Joe Clark realized that he alone as principal would not be able to control such a large group due to the drastic nature of the environment. He also realized that his measures would have to be extreme to get this school underway within one year to achieve the goal were not always favored but he used his strong power of influence to make a drastic change to the students. He used various communication styles to help achieve this. He also had softness for many of the students whom he felt had the potential and were throwing their life away due to choices they made to either use or sell drugs and to not attend school.

Joe Clark initially did not embrace the method of persuading others because he made choices based on what he felt was best with or without approvals from others. This is seen when some of the teachers and many of the parents did not agree with measures and methods he used amongst the students and even the staff. Although he felt like he was doing what was best, he moved in a direction that seemed to suit him and eventually won over others as the school began to change and produce the results needed to accomplish the goals and missions for the school.

Joe Clark was faced with the need to assess his ability when he was criticized when the students failed the first round of basic skill tests. Many of the parents and teachers questioned his methods even more after this happened. He made some changes on how and when the students were taught which gave them even scores and results on the second round of tests. Additionally, he was questioned regarding his methods and unconventional practices to clean up the school and to keep the school safe when he chained the doors and was eventually arrested.

Although it seemed he didn’t have many supporters, he realized when he was in jail that he was making the necessary changes that the school and the students needed. He had many supports that rallied to have him released from jail. Eventually the school was successfully transformed and proved that his hard work and dedication was worth it. In order to resolve issues that occur with management, one must understand what conflict is. Conflict occurs when there is a disagreement between individuals. In the movie “Lean on Me” there were many scenes with conflict.

Some of the conflict management strategies that were used within the movie were collaborating, compromising, accommodating, competing, and avoiding. All of these conflict management strategies made the movie extremely entertaining and educational at the same time. Each particular strategy helped provide ways of managing conflict successfully. In doing so, issues were resolved and managed properly preventing further problems. Collaborating and compromising are in agreement with one another. In order to compromise, one must be willing to collaborate in return. Collaborating consists of the will of working with one another; to cooperate.

In the film Lean on me, there was plenty of collaborating. Principal Joe Clark collaborated with students who acted out. He allowed one particular student to return to school if he would change his ways from the streets. In doing so, this allowed the student to realize his faults and be granted a second chance. Additionally, to get respect from the teachers and students, Clark had to give respect in return. To provide safety for teachers and students, Clark had to assure that there were no weapons, drugs, and more entering school premises. Compromising was definitely used within many scenes of the film.

To compromise means to settle and to reach a mutual agreement. Principal Joe Clark and the New Jersey state government had to come into agreement of consequences if students did not raise their test scores. Principal Joe Clark pleaded with the NJ state government to keep the school open. He promised the NJ state government that he will help and do what is necessary for the students to achieve promising and satisfactory scores, in return from non-closure of the school. Clark’s main goal was to assure that students have the best education as possible, employment for his staff, and to maintain respect for the community.

Accommodating means to become adjusted to, reconcile; to agree. To gain respect of the parents and everyone else involved, Clark had to make some adjustments. He had to be responsible for all students and staff by providing safety. Clark had to be demanding and devoted to his students. In doing so, students will turn over a new leaf and make good examples in the community. Competing consists of outdoing the other for acknowledgement; accomplishing goal. Clark’s vision for peace and accomplishment for his students was to win and not fail.

In doing so, he has to assure safety, respect, and dedication for all parties involved. Respect is a powerful thing and it does not take much; it goes a long way. In the movie avoiding help maintain conflict management. How can one avoid? Avoiding occurs when someone tries to keep something from happening; to prevent. In the movie, Principal Joe Clark broke the fire code for school safety; he did try to avoid any further danger. He has locked the door up with chains in order to keep the drug dealers and anyone else causing threat to the students and faculties safety.

However, Joe Clark did not actually get arrested and chain the doors as the movie has stated. He avoided as much drama as possible to assure the safety of his staff as well as his students. In conclusion, being equipped to handle conflict using the different strategies for different situations can help eliminate the risk of a negative outcome. As in the movie lean on Me, Joe Clark used these strategies to help resolve a major conflict within the school to help unite the students and teachers to succeed in their primary goal – educate the students. References Communication and Conflict, http://www. ommunicationandconflict. com/interpersonal-communication. html Conflict Management and Resolution. (2008). In Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict. Retrieved from http://140. 234. 17. 9:8080/EPSessionID=7c15bb2a35e79259d5c251b7c2d3ba31/EPHost=credoreference. com/EPPath/entry. do? id=8445623#s000257a Conflict Management Strategies and Styles, http://home. snu. edu/~hculbert/conflict. htm Ezine Articles, http://ezinearticles. com/? Conflict-Management-Strategy-Revealed&id=237719 Free Management Library, http://managementhelp. org/guiding/influenc/influenc. htm Frederich, O. & Bowen (1988 February 1) Getting tough; New Jersey Principal Joe Clark kicks up a storm about discipline in schools. Time Gallene (1989, March 3). “Lean on me: a modern myth? Taking artistic liberty with the real Joe Clark. Los Angeles Times. McGuire, J. (1984). STRATEGIES OF SCHOOL DISTRICT CONFLICT. Sociology of Education, 57(1), 31. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database. http://ehis. ebscohost. com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? vid=7&hid=3&sid=c3a8c596-4b92-404d-88ab-7a719f44c6b9%40sessionmgr13 Michael Schiffer (2010). Lean on Me, Wikipedia. Retrieved on July 21, 2010 at http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Lean_on_Me_%28film%29


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