Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution helps in your classes, family, organization and career

Cooperation means win-win; confrontation means lose-lose.  — Shu Feng

Adopt a new philosophy of cooperation (win-win) in which everybody wins.
— Edward Deming

The law of Win/Win says, “Let’s not do it your way or my way; let’s do it
the best way.  — Greg Anderson

Conflict is a common experience in our lives. Two children squabble over who gets to eat the last cookie. A young man want to order in pizza, but his date wants to go out for Chinese. Your parents want you to use your money to buy your books but you’d prefer to buy the latest video game.Your roommate want to play loud music until 2 AM. You’d like silence so you can study after 8 PM and so you can go to sleep at 11. For a family vacation, Dad wants to go amping, Mom prefers the beach, and the children want to go to Disney World. Some conflict is fairly minor and can be resolved with a simple compromise. Some is much more serious and may need someone to mediate.

Conflict Resolution is NOT

1. having one person give in. This is an example of win – lose. In some relationships, the same person always seems to win.

2. about compromise.  These situations seem to be lose – lose. The family above might spend half their vacation camping and half at the beach promising to do Disney some other time. Nobody is happy about it.

Conflict Resolutions is about finding an option that everyone can agree on.

If you can remember the quotes at the top of the page, you should know the secret. Conflict resolutions is about reaching win – win. Both parties should agree that the solution is acceptable.

The dating couple can come to a compromise and both will be happy. They can order out for pizza tonight and agree to go for Chinese food the next time they are together. Part of developing a good relationship is finding ways to compromise or make joint decisions.

You and your roommate can decide that the music get’s turned off at 11 so you can sleep but that you’ll find another place to study from 8-11. A simple compromise like this can be a win -win solution.

But when a couple or people that work together get more and more frustrated and angry, they often need help to resolve their differences.

When you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.
— William James

What is Conflict Resolution ?

There are many different versions of this process as you will see if you check the Internet. My description is my own, as far as I know. I have not intentionally copied anyone else’s steps. This can involves two people and a mediator or two groups. It is easier to describe two people.

1. The mediator sits at a table and the two people experiencing a conflict face each other across the table.  Both are asked to remain calm and be as objective as possible.

2. The first goal is for all to agree on what the problem is. The mediator begins by getting each person, in turn, to describe the main problem. The person who is not speaking is told to listen carefully because he will be asked to restate the problem. When the first person has stated the problem, the mediator may ask several questions to clarify what they meant. Then he asks the second person to explain the problem from the first person’s perspective. He repeats this step over and over until the first person agrees that he got it right.

Then, the process is repeated with the second person explaining the problem, the mediator asking questions for clarification, the first person trying to restate it accurately.

3. The second goal is to separate the situation from the problem. Another way to describe this is to agree on the facts, the things that cannot be changed, from the actual problem. They might work together on two lists: a list of facts describing the situation, and a list describing the problem. There will not be complete agreement, and the mediator can say that people commonly have different opinions but can still work tegether. This honors the fact that each is entitled to his or her own opinion.

4. The third goal is to agree on what the problem is if this isn’t already clear. They may continue to suggest different ways of phrasing the problem. At some point the mediator, who has written these down, asks each to choose the statement of the other person that comes closest to being acceptable. By combining parts of these, they should be able to agree on one clear statement of the problem. The mediator will probably praise them for being able to work together so wll on this step.

5. The fourth goal (sometime done earlier) is to share emotions. The mediator should explain first that if anyone decides to apologize that it should be a simple apology with no excuses given. The first peron to speak will begin with the words, when this happens, I feel …… They should NOT ever blame the other person. They cannot say “You make me angry.” This may be a simple matter or may involve the mediator as before, helping the speaking clarify their feelings, and having the other person restate it. Generally, sharing their emotions and having the other person listen and understand, reduces the emotions and makes it much easier to work together.

6. The fifth goal is for the two participants to cooperate to find a solution that is agreeable to both of them. This begins with individual brainstorming, sharing their best suggestions and then finding suggestions from each other’s lists that come the closest. This will eliminate the one-sided solutions. Working with the best ideas, they can combine and revise until they find one that satisfies both persons. The mediator will need to remind them that they aren’t looking for what is best for themselves, alone. They are looking for the best solution that works for both of them.  If they come to an impasse, the mediator might suggest a break, possibly for a meal, and then repeat this process of brainstorming and narrowing down the possibilities. When the participants realize this will continue until they agree, they eventually find a solution that will work.

7. The mediator will praise them for their hard work and remind them not to let problems build up again, that they understand now how to work together even when they have different opinions. This is a win – win solution.

How long does this take?

I worked in a high school where a group of students were trained in mediation skills. When two students began to fight, physically or verbally, they were sent to mediation. In most cases, the problems were minor and after sharing their feelings they wer able to find a solution quickly. It might have taken fifteen to thirty minutes in most cases.

At the other end, we can consider the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Mediation has been continuing for years with little progress. There are too many areas of disagreement where neither will back down.

Couples who have serious problems and are considering divorce may go through many weeks of conflict resolution before than can work together.

I was once part of a school system where the state decided teachers would be required to work longer hours, while take a pay cut and reduced benefits. In some situations when the economic problems are serious, teachers can understand and accept this, at least partially. This wan’t true at the time and we all went on strike. Specially trained mediators worked with the leadership of the union and the state officials for several weeks, using a system much like what I described above, before coming to a reasonable solution.

What about conflict in an organization?

As in any other part of life, members will have different opinions and find things to fight about. Let us take the idea of planning a dance. Somehow the group working on decor has split down the middle. Half want to use a them of a Southern Plantation. The other half wants a 50’s Rock n Roll Party. They report this to the president who either conducts conflict resolution or asks someone else to do this.

The mediator points out the obvious that they cannot compromise because a Rock and Roll party in a Southern Plantation won’t work. He will explain about the goal being win – win and that this means neither proposed theme will be used because that would mean that one group won and the other lost. He would then begin the brainstorming process, allowing members of each group to choose several suggestions from the other group’s list.

He might then pause and have everyone list what criteria they should use.These should include criteria like: will attract the most people, will allow us to use music we all know and like to dance to, will suggest a way to create exciting decor,  etc.  These criteria can be used to select or at least narrow the choices.

If necessary, everyone involved might choose two or three that are most acceptable and see whick themes are chosen most often. The mediator might then suggest: From your choices, it appear that Beach Party is the one that is most acceptable to the entire group. Would all of you agree?

If they don’t all agree, the mediator might try with a second theme for go back and repeat the brainstorming phase. he groups will eventually be clear that they need to find something that is acceptable to both groups. There will be no issue on one group winning and the other group losing. Again, the mediator will praise them for their hard work and for their cooperation.

How can I become a mediator?

Simply reading this page and understanding it should allow you to mediate in simple situations. For more serious conflict, someone with training or more experience can be very helpful. Your might find a class or wojrkshop on your campus. If you, you might try mediation in increasingly difficult situations. You might get permission to observe a more experienced mediator. Chances are good that in your organization, you might know more than anyone else. You might suggest to the president or a team leader something like “I know something about conflict resolution. I don’t have a lot of experience but I’d be willing to try helping them find a solution they can all agree on.”

Learning this skill will help you develop better relationships, will help you be a better parent, and might even help you get the job you want and do it well.

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.   — Dorothy Thompson

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.  — Franklin D. Roosevelt

He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of a diplomat.  — Robert Estabrook

Links:  Communication Skills          Team Building             Leadership Skills

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