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Group Conflict in the Film "12 Angry Men"

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men

3 Types of Conflict

There are three types of conflict shown within the film 12 Angry Men (1957). Pseudo, simple, and ego are the three types of interpersonal conflict displayed by the 12 jurors.

Pseudo conflict occurs when people misunderstand one another. They may even hold the same views but because of miscommunication, conflict develops.

Simple conflict occurs when people can not agree on a certain issue.

Ego conflict occurs when people bump heads due to personality disagreements.

In the small group of 12 jurors, each member of the jury is involved in at least one of the three types of conflict. Beginning with Juror No. 8, the first man to vote not guilty in the case, he was the first to start a conflict.

Davis, as he was identified at the end of the film, was the first to disagree with the other jurors’ vote of guilty and he started a simple conflict. The elderly old man and the ninth juror was the second to vote not guilty. The fifth juror was a younger man and he was also engaged in simple conflict with the rest of the jury.

Juror 11

Juror 11, whose profession was watch making, experienced simple conflict as well. He was the fourth to vote not guilty and his reasoning appeared sincere. Juror No. 2 was the fifth to vote not guilty. He, like many of the other jurors, was involved in simple conflict. Juror No. 6 was a part of simple conflict as well. The seventh man to vote not guilty was juror No. 7. He and Juror 11 got into a pseudo conflict over Juror 7’s choice to vote not guilty.

Juror 11 thought that Juror 7 was simply voting not guilty so that he could hurry the jury along because he wanted to get to his baseball game. However, Juror 7 actually believed that the defendant may not have been guilty and was not changing his vote just so he could leave early. Therefore, jurors 11 and 7 both agreed on their ideas but Juror 11 had a misunderstanding of Juror 7’s perception of the problem.

Juror 12

Juror No. 12 and the eighth to vote not guilty tended to flip flop on his position but his decision was influenced by the simple conflict that developed in the group. Juror 1, the foreman, helped to keep the group orderly and the arguments from escalating further. The 10th juror was an obnoxious man with prejudice towards people from the slums.

His prejudice caused conflict with all of the other jury members and after some time he too changed his vote to not guilty. The stockbroker with the glasses was the 11th juror to vote not guilty. He was the fourth juror and was self-assured that his decision was correct and that the defendant had murdered his father. He was involved in simple conflict with the rest of the jurors as well.

Juror 3

Juror 3, labeled as the sadist, was the last man to vote not guilty and held on to his guilty decision because of his ego. Juror 3 was involved in ego conflict with most of the other men. However, Juror 3 was especially excitable and in defense of his ego against Juror 8. It was not until the end of the film that Juror 3 finally realized that his ego was the only reason why he was voting not guilty.

His troubled past with his own son was the cause of his disdain towards the young man on trial. Juror 3 took the situation of the trial personally and therefore his own critical thinking was impaired by his basis. Once he realized he was not being attacked personally by the other jury members his ego broke down and he then changed his vote to not guilty.

Managing Conflict

Each type of conflict in the film is managed according to each man’s problem. In the case of Juror 8, the simple conflict of his idea versus the ideas of the rest of the jury was managed by the jury’s decision to grant him time to voice his opinion. In doing so, the rest of the jury was swayed one by one to vote not guilty upon their further examination of the facts of the case. The same concept of conflict management applied to the rest of the jurors who were involved in simple conflict.

Jurors 11 and 7 managed their pseudo conflict by discussing each other’s perceptions of their problem. Juror 11 asked Juror 7 for a clarification of why he was suddenly changing his vote from guilty to not guilty. The two had a tense exchange of words for a moment and then Juror 11 established a supportive climate. The discussion changed to Juror 11 implementing active listening. After the two came to an understanding with one another, the pseudo conflict was resolved.

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Ego Conflict

The ego conflict between Juror 3 and Juror 8, along with some of the other jurors for short periods during the case, was managed by allowing Juror 3 to express his concerns. The other jurors employed active listening until Juror 8 or one of the other jurors who had voted not guilty would speak and Juror 8 would explode in anger or he would calm down for some time.

So, the group would create a cooling-off period. The foreman would usually keep the discussion focused on the issues of the court case when Juror 3 would have an outburst. The foreman would especially be the one to “encourage the jury to be descriptive rather than evaluative and judgmental” (Beebe and Masterson 156).

Problem-Solving Approach

The problem-solving approach was used to calm Juror 3 from attacking and verbally lashing out at the other members. Juror 3 got into some heated arguments with many of the other jurors but the conflict was usually managed by lowering the tension in the argument by speaking slowly and calmly.

Once Juror 3 was the last man with a guilty vote, the other jurors calmly looked in his direction and proceeded to convince him that the young man on trial was not guilty. It was at this point that Juror 3 realized he was not being personally attacked by the other men there. Thus, his ego dwindled and the ego conflict was resolved.

Simple Conflict

An interesting simple conflict in the film occurred between Juror 10 and all other members of the jury. When Juror 10 began to go off on a prejudiced tangent, the remainder of the jury had enough of his slanderous remarks and got up from the table. Juror 10 continued to speak his cruelty but the rest of the group did not want to hear it so they ignored him.

It was not until just two of the jury were still sitting at the table that Juror 10 was told by Juror 4 to “sit down and don't open your mouth again” (“12 Angry Men” 1957). By the jury separating from bigotry, the 10th juror realized his error, changed his vote to not guilty and remained quiet for the rest of the session. Therefore, the conflict was resolved by separating from the lone offender, Juror 4 calmly telling Juror 10 that he said enough and to not say anymore.

Conflicts Resolved

Much of the conflict between the juror members was resolved but some of the minor insults and disagreements were not. The unresolved matters however did not stop the jury from moving forward in the deliberation. “All conflict cannot be resolved,” which was the reason why the jury left some of the disagreements alone (Beebe and Masterson 153). The larger disagreements were resolved but the minor disagreements were swept under the rug.

Each of the conflicts displayed in the film affected the jury in one way or another to vote not guilty. From the first simple conflict with Juror 8’s vote of not guilty the group would never be the same. From that moment on, the jury dove into other conflicts like pseudo and ego conflicts which also influenced the jury’s final outcome. As Juror 9 chose to vote not guilty because he had a reasonable doubt about the murder case, the simple conflict gained more influence on the other men. Conflict between the jury members would cause strain on the case of the defendant being guilty.

Conflict Benefits Group Communication

As the film progressed other jury members would see the guilty stance weaken under the pressure of the different types of conflict. Eventually, one by one, each juror began to have a reasonable doubt in the young man being guilty. Therefore, the jury was brought to realize points that they would have undoubtedly overlooked if there had not been conflict within the jury.

Conflict can be good for a group as “several researchers have discovered that conflict is an important, indeed useful, part of group communication” (Beebe and Masterson 152). The film 12 Angry Men was a testament to conflict benefiting group communication. The conflict the jury experienced helped the 12 men to arrive at a consensus to set a young man free from an unjust charge.

The Cast

Juror 1: Martin Balsam

Juror 2: John Fiedler

Juror 3: Lee J. Cobb

Juror 4: E.G. Marshall

Juror 5: Jack Klugman

Juror 6: Edward Binns

Juror 7: Jack Warden

Juror 8: Henry Fonda

Juror 9: Joseph Sweeney

Juror 10: Ed Begley

Juror 11: George Voskovec

Juror 12: Robert Webber

References and Further Reading

  • Beebe, A. S., & Masterson, T. J. (2009). Communicating In Small Groups: Principles and Practices. Massachusetts: Pearson.
  • 12 Angry Men. (2010, Apr. 25). Memorible Quotes From 12 Angry Men. [Review of the 1957 movie]. The Internet Movie Database.

© 2011 Lanise Brown


Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on February 14, 2014:

Interesting approach to the film. Voted Up and Interesting.

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