Social psychology explores the psychology behind social interactions. Specifically, “it studies how people think, influence, and relate to one another” (Brouwer 2019). There are many concepts that make up social psychology, but the one that I decided to explore is arbitration. This idea is an effective way of reducing conflict by bringing in a “mediator.” Through research and my own personal experience, I’ve learned about arbitration through the lens of social psychology.
Arbitration is a concept that psychologists have often explored while studying conflict and peacemaking. According to Alleydog’s online glossary, “Arbitration describes a scenario in which a conflict is resolved by a third party who is neutral and emotionally uninvolved in the situation” (Alleydog, n.d.). Typically, an arbitrator decides the outcome of a problem between two parties which ultimately reduces conflict. While this is proven to be an effective means, people often prefer to settle their differences without arbitration, so they feel like they have more control over the situation and its outcome. “Neil McGillicuddy and others observed this preference in an experiment involving disputants coming to a dispute settlement center. When people knew they would face an arbitrated settlement if mediation failed, they tried harder to resolve the problem, exhibited less hostility, and thus were more likely to reach settlement” (Myers, 2016, pg. 420). Even though arbitration does indeed help moderate conflict, people try to avoid it if they can. In certain cases where differences are at large and contradictive of each other, the concept of arbitration may cause the disputants to stand their ground on their positions with the hope to gain an advantage when the arbitrator chooses a settlement. In this situation, each side must give a reasonable proposal in which the arbitrator decides the final outcome. This outcome typically isn’t as reasonable as it would be if each party saw its own proposal through others’ eyes. In summary, arbitration is essentially a means of reducing conflict which psychologists find to be very beneficial to peacemaking. Even more so, through my own personal experience, I understand the importance of arbitration in certain situations.
Last year, I had a job as a resident assistant in Maria Hall at Winona State University. Essentially, my job was to promote a welcoming, inclusive, safe, and engaging living environment for students to be successful in their academics. A part of my RA duties included resolving all types of conflict on my floor. There was a certain incident in which I had to be an arbitrator and help two arguing parties reach a settlement. This conflict involved two girls on my floor who were roommates that got into an extremely bad fight. Basically, these two girls, which we’ll call “Girl A” and “Girl B” for confidential reasons, had a lot of small roommate issues, such as leaving the room a mess or having a boyfriend over too much, that eventually led to a huge falling out. Girl B didn’t want to live with Girl A anymore, so she had been staying with her friend while the other one got their room all to herself. Eventually, Girl B was tired of sleeping on her friend’s floor, so she broke into the room she shared with Girl A in the middle of the night, destroyed their room, and stole Girl A’s futon to sleep on. Girl A woke up while Girl B was trashing their room which led to a screaming fight in the hallway in which I was an RA on. I woke up to this fight happening in the hallway and dragged the girls in to the floor lounge to prevent them from waking up the floor. These girls were extremely upset with each other and got into a screaming fight over the room situation in which I had to be the neutral party that would resolve this disagreement.
It was obvious that these girls were not going to come to a conclusion on their own because they were both so angry and set in their own ways of thinking. Since I was their RA, I had to step in and become the arbitrator of this situation. These girls were open to having me be the neutral, uninvolved prospect that they knew was needed to set aside their differences. I listened to both sides of the story to fully understand what was happening. After, I tried to include them in the process of deciding on a resolution, but both girls were too narrow-minded to agree. So, this forced me to have to decide the outcome of their situation on my own. Since this incident happened on a Thursday night and both girls were going home for the weekend on Friday, I came up with a temporary solution and placed Girl B in an empty room for the night. Then, when both girls were gone for the weekend, I worked on finding Girl B her own room since living with Girl A clearly wasn’t working out. Essentially, I solved their issues by stepping in and coming up with a resolution which made me the arbitrator of this situation.
For the most part, this situation followed closely to what I learned about arbitration, however there were some differences that I noticed as well. The definition that I found best described arbitration emphasized that an arbitrator is one who is neutral and emotionally uninvolved. In this scenario, I found myself to be that exact way. I tried to stay very neutral and not choose one side over the other because I knew that the situation required that I be impartial. From researching, I also learned that arbitration is almost always effective when reducing and/or resolving conflict. In this situation, arbitration seemed like our only option to move forward. I honestly don’t think these two girls would have been able to settle their differences without a third-party stepping in. On the other hand, I discovered that some factors that I experienced in this scenario differed from what I learned from the text. The textbook highlights, which I stated previously, that “while having an arbitrator actually reduces conflict, most people prefer to resolve things on their own, so they have a sense of control” (Myers, 2016, pg. 420). From my experience, these girls understood that they would never see eye to eye and be able to compromise, so they allowed me to have complete control over the situation. I think that things had gotten so out of hand at that point that they knew it was impossible for the two of them to attempt to resolve anything. Needless to say, my overall experience was very similar to what my research suggested in terms of what arbitration means.
If we evaluate this concept even further in terms of social psychology, we can consider if this is the only explanation for this event. In my research, I found that people typically try to avoid arbitration. Our textbook states that “When people knew they would face an arbitrated settlement if mediation failed, they tried harder to resolve the problem, exhibited less hostility, and thus were more likely to reach settlement” (Myers, 2016, pg. 420). However, in my experience, this wasn’t the case. The girls actually let me take full control of the situation without putting up any kind of fight. At first, I assumed that they did this because I had authority over them, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my higher status had nothing to do with it. It seemed like they had just had enough and needed someone to tell them what to do rather than arguing about it anymore. Due to this, I believe that people with small disagreements typically want control over their own situation, but when the disagreement is at large, people often want that neutral third-party to help. In a way, it actually surprised me when the girls wanted me to step in, because I feel like it would have been so easy to get caught up in anger and aggression that one doesn’t even try to come to an agreement. This will change my future perspective for when I experience a disagreement like this. A third-party is clearly beneficial and can actually keep the situation under control. When two differing opinions are at war with each other, they need an uninvolved individual to help them come to an agreement. I most definitely agree with the power of arbitration and believe it provides great benefits to solving large disagreements.
To conclude, arbitration is a concept formed by social psychology that aids in reducing conflict. Although there are some bias about whether arbitration actually benefits a disagreement or not, I fully believe in the power of an arbitrator. Through research and my own personal experience, I have been able to explore this concept through many different perspectives. Social psychology supports arbitration as a means of peacemaking which I strongly support and acknowledge as a crucial part of resolving conflict.