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Example Film Essay:

RUNNING HEAD: Conflict Resolution in the Great Debaters Film

Conflict Resolution



Institutional Affiliation:


In the movie called the Great Debaters which stars Denzel Washington, Nate Parker, and Denzel Whitaker, trouble ensues between Nate Parker and Denzel Whitaker over a lady called Jurnee Smollet Bell. Denzel Whitaker has a great affection for Jurnee Smollet who does not seem to have any interest in him. Instead, Jurnee Smollet is more interested in Nate Parker. When Denzel Whitaker, visits Nate Parker and realises that he spent the night with Jurnee Smollet he gets annoyed so much and walks away. He starts to think that perhaps Jurnee Smollet has a great affection for Nate Parker due to the fact that he is a great debater. He insists that he wants the chance to debate live and when given the chance the team fails. The paper keenly looks at the conflict between Denzel Whitaker and Nate Parker and analyses the techniques used in conflict resolution.

This is a case of interpersonal conflict between Denzel Whitaker and Nate Parker. The conflict as Ramsbotham, Miall, and Woodhouse (2011) asserts, mainly stems from their different personalities. Nate Parker is more mature and charming which makes him the most preferred. On the other hand, Denzel Whitaker looks childish and inexperienced which makes the lady not to take him seriously.

In this case, the cause of the conflict is a fight over a lady. Both men are interested in the same lady who seems to be only interested in one of them. When the situation goes out of hand, it ends up affecting their professional debate since it makes them lose. Denzel Whitaker insists that he has to debate alongside Nate Parker despite the fact that he is not greatly skilled at debating. Their coach does not seem to want to understand the reason behind the sudden insistence on the need to debate. He simply gives in and allows Denzel Whitaker to debate. Besides that, the two parties that are involved in the conflict do not make any attempts at resolving the conflict. They all continue on without discussing the issue. Moreover, Denzel Whitaker does not approach the lady to make his feelings known despite the fact he keeps on fantasizing about the lady and even imagines dancing with her on the dance floor.

The conflict as Deutsch, Coleman, and Marcus, (2011) assert happens naturally, and in a way, it could help in the growth of Denzel Whitaker who is only 16 years old. One would expect that since the conflict has gotten so destructive to the extent that it’s affecting the entire team, their coach would be involved as a mediator to try and resolve the conflict but none of that happens. Instead, the enmity continues until the two boys learn to work together.

The method that was applied to the conflict resolution tested both sides of the cooperative model of conflict resolution. The theory by Morton Deustch holds that several factors among them being the nature of the dispute and the goals that each party aims at are important in determining the method of conflict resolution that the parties would choose to adopt (Wallensteen, 2015). The theory puts forward two options. The two entail competitive and cooperative stratergy. Cooperative strategy as Wallensteen (2015) holds, would create an atmosphere of trust between the parties to a conflict which eventually result in mutually beneficial options for the two parties. The parties, in this case, decided to cooperate when Denzel Whitaker decided to acknowledge that Nate Parker was his senior and could as well pass for being his teacher. He finally decided to stop struggling for the girl and took good lessons from Nate Parker and finally managed to win a great debate for the team. The end result was a win-win situation for both of them.

Before choosing to cooperate the two had chosen the competitive approach which only resulted in a win-lose scenario. As Mayer (2010) states, It led to increased distrust and animosity between the two parties. Denzel Whitaker chose to debate and lost terribly while Nate Parker still retained the girl. It, therefore, resulted in a win-lose situation.  However, as critics rightfully discredit the cooperative model, a mix of cooperation and competitiveness was essential in finding a balance which eventually resulted in a successful outcome. The two approaches were very important in this case since they enabled Denzel Whitaker to discover himself and be a great debater.

However, the conflict could have been resolved through principled negotiation advanced by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  The four principles of effective negotiation advanced by Roger Fisher and William Ury would have been very instrumental in solving the conflict. The first would have entailed separating the two from their problem. This could have been done very easily by their coach. Immediately he noticed that there was a change in behaviour in Denzel Whitaker, he should have found a way of separating the two from their problem. This as Behfar, Peterson, Mannix, and Trochim (2008) observe would have enabled the two parties to get a clearer picture of the underlying problem. Denzel Whitaker should have been made to understand that he was still young and was not cut out for such kind of relationship. Instead of allowing him to have his way the coach should have explained to him what was at stake and what his actions could have caused to the team. Perhaps this could have opened his eyes by instilling some professionalism in him to ensure that he did not mix business with personal matters.

A lot of focus should have been placed on interest rather than the position as Branje, van Doorn, van der Valk, and Meeus, (2009) posit. In this case, it was the duty of the coach to focus on the interest of Denzel Whitaker rather than his position. Despite the fact that he was in a position to debate, the coach should have put a lot of focus on the reasons as to why he suddenly expressed interest in debating. Had he done that, he would have uncovered the conflict early enough.

Before settling on an agreement which in this case was to make Denzel Whitaker have his way Denzel Washington should have considered several options. When Denzel Whitaker asked to debate, he said that with a very harsh voice. He was angry and furious. At that point, the coach should have detected that something was wrong. He should have considered the option of talking to him to establish what the problem was. If he already knew the problem he should have talked to the three of them to make sure that there was a common understanding in order to resolve the conflict. He should also have considered the option of talking to Denzel Whittaker and Nate Parker to try and understand the main problem between them and attempt to resolve the conflict instead of allowing it to get out of hand.

Once the problem was established, he should have insisted that an agreement between the two be based on objective criteria as advanced by Katz, Lawyer, and Sweedler (2010).  In this case, there was no any objective criteria of the agreement. Denzel Whitaker remained sad and angry despite being given a chance to debate. There was no objectivity in giving him the chance to debate.

The human needs model by John Burton could also come in handy in this situation. John Burton maintains that when the fundamental need for security, identity, recognition or equal participation within the society is denied to an individual conflict is bound to arise (Sandole, Byrne, Sandole-Staroste,  & Senehi, 2008).The case of Denzel Whitaker was a classic example of denied recognition. He saw himself as this charming guy who deserved the lady, but the lady would not see him like that. Nate Parker also saw him as an underage boy who did not matter, his feelings were not even recognised, and that led to a conflict.  There was the need to restructure the relationship in a manner that would ensure that his needs were recognised. The two needed to recognise him and make it clear that it was not the right time for him. Alternatively, the coach needed to come in as a mediator and an adult and explain to him that he was still a young boy who was not ready for such kind of relationships.

The issue could also have been approached through conflict transformation. Conflict transformation aims at a fundamental change in attitude or behaviour of the parties to a conflict. It also advocates for a change in the relationship between two disputing parties. It holds that the disputing parties should be empowered to understand their situation and needs. It could also entail encouraging the parties to recognise their situations and the needs of their opponents (Sandole, Byrne, Sandole-Staroste, & Senehi, 2008). In this case, the coach should have transformed the situation by encouraging Denzel and Nate Parker to understand the situation at hand and the impact that their conflict would have had on their main aim.



Conflict is inevitable in any setting. The most important thing is to ensure that the conflict is managed at an earlier stage to avoid it escalating into war. This could be done through mediation or through consultations between the parties in conflict. In the case of Denzel Whitaker and Nate Parker, mediation was the best option. It was the role of their coach to make them understand their position and the impact that the conflict would have on them.



Behfar, K. J., Peterson, R. S., Mannix, E. A., & Trochim, W. M. (2008). The critical role of conflict resolution in teams: a close look at the links between conflict type, conflict management strategies, and team outcomes. Journal of applied psychology93(1), 170.

Branje, S. J., van Doorn, M., van der Valk, I., & Meeus, W. (2009). Parent–adolescent conflicts, conflict resolution types, and adolescent adjustment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology30(2), 195-204.

Deutsch, M., Coleman, P. T., & Marcus, E. C. (Eds.). (2011). The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Katz, N. H., Lawyer, J. W., & Sweedler, M. K. (2010). Communication and conflict resolution skills. Kendall Hunt Publishing.

Mayer, B. (2010). The dynamics of conflict resolution: A practitioner’s guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Ramsbotham, O., Miall, H., & Woodhouse, T. (2011). Contemporary conflict resolution. Polity.

Wallensteen, P. (2015). Understanding conflict resolution. Sage.

Sandole, D. J., Byrne, S., Sandole-Staroste, I., & Senehi, J. (2008). Handbook of conflict analysis and resolution. Routledge.



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