Three Types of Conflict

January 20, 2023 / 27 Tevet 5783

The program on negotiation at the Harvard Law School highlights three types of conflict, task, relationship, and value. Task conflict frequently results from disagreements on concrete issues, differences of opinion on how to accomplish something, how to address a challenge, or how to interpret directions. Relationship conflict, however, arises from differences in people’s personalities, mannerisms, and personal preferences. And then there’s value conflict, which typically arises from differences in people’s “deeply held beliefs.”

If we simplify these conflicts to the differences in what we “think,” what we “feel,” and what we “believe,” respectively, we can begin to create a framework to better understand how we might be able to work together toward mutually beneficial outcomes.

This week’s Torah portion, Vaera, describes how Moses and Aaron went to Pharoah to engage in the negotiation process for the release of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. As the scene of their first confrontation unfolds, we quickly see the conflict escalate from what Pharoah thinks is happening, “Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharoah and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent” (Exodus 7:10), to which Pharoah has his Egyptian priests cast down their rods, “and they [too] turned into serpents” (7:12); to what Pharoah feels when his “heart stiffened” (7:13) after seeing Aaron’s rod swallowing the Egyptian priests’ rods; to what Pharoah believes, which is that he is the greater power in this relationship and stubbornly “refuses to let the people go” (7:14).

Once this conflict becomes about belief, which Gd prepared Moses for, it no longer becomes an intellectual or emotional negotiation, it becomes a conflict rooted in the abstract and theoretical, which conflict resolution experts explain can only be solved through developing relationships of trust, mutual understanding, and respect through dialogue. Of course, biblically, ten plagues can also achieve the desired outcome.

We are living through a period of history where our conflicts are escalating all too quickly, from tasks, through relationships, to beliefs. Even those who don’t “believe” believe deeply in their non-belief!

What the experts have taught us, and what Gd highlights in this week’s parashah, is that we must commit to the discussion process. Gd could have simply made Pharoah release the Hebrews without engaging in a single plague. However, it was the dialogue that was important for us to see. It was the process that ultimately brought about the desired outcome.

Next week, the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio (HMMSA) will be offering its Texas Holocaust Remembrance Week programming, coinciding with January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The HMMSA will connect with thousands of local students and adults through its onsite and virtual programs, traveling exhibits, educational trunks, and teacher workshops.

Similarly, in a few weeks, on Monday, February 13, our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) will be leading a legislative mission to Austin, joining Jewish communities from across Texas to meet with legislators and their staff to discuss important topics impacting the Jewish communities of Texas. For more information on this Day at the State or about the other JCRC efforts and programs, contact Lisa Epstein, JCRC Director, at 210.302.6962.

It is through these types of educational experiences and community-wide outreach efforts that the Jewish community builds the necessary foundation upon which we can continue to nurture positive relationships and mutual understandings with others. We do not have the luxury to wait until we are in crisis. The days of Gd’s plagues are behind us. However, we cannot overlook the fact that if we are to build the needed relationships outside of the Jewish community, it assumes that we are also strengthening our relationships within the Jewish community. Because we are…


Shabbat Shalom,