Conflict (struggle) is a natural part of our lives, as well as the lives of those around us including our families, tribes, organisations, and nations.
Resolving conflict between two or more parties to find workable and peaceful solutions to disagreements between them is what conflict resolution is about. These disagreements may be personal, religious, financial, political, sports even or emotional.
As disputes arise or seen to about to rise often the best course of action is to negotiate to resolve that disagreement or potential disagreement and these negotiation focus areas include:
- Finding a workable solution that the different sides can agree (or disagree on).
- Quickly finding this solution.
- Improving the relationship between the groups in conflict by building trust.
COULD I RESOLVE CONFLICT?
In our day to day lives we come across conflict between parents and children, co-workers, friends, enemies etc., and we therefore we already have a variety of techniques and strategies for resolving minor conflicts. But for serious conflicts, say between groups rather than individuals, we may need additional skills.
We need to ask ourselves if:
- We understand the conflict and what’s it about?
- Are we able to communicate with different parties fairly?
- Have we mind-mapped possible resolutions to this conflict?
- Can we choose the best course of action?
- Can we use third or fourth parties to resolve this conflict?
- Have we explored alternatives?
- What are the stressful situations and pressure tactics being used?
In any conflict with others or between others we need to be clear about our own position and interests in this conflict, and to understand clearly the positions of the other parties. There are questions we need to ask of ourselves?
What are my Interests in this:
- Am I a potential problem/belligerent?
- So what are my real interests in this?
- Why should I care about this conflict?
- What do I really want?
- What are my needs?
- What are my concerns?
- What are my hopes?
- What are my fears?
- What kind of agreement(s) am I looking for?
- Which is the best way to convince one or both parties that a potential proposed agreement could be the fair one?
- What ‘expert or experts’ do we have to help convince the different party or parties that an agreement is fair?
- Look at the points of view and interests of the other party/parties?
- From their perspective what would we really care about in this conflict?
- What do the parties concerned really want?
- What do the parties concerned really need?
- What are their concerns?
- What are their hopes?
- What are their fears?
Imagine that now we have listened to the various party/parties concerns and explained our own in a limited way. Now comes the next stage:
- Listen. Others opinions are important because their opinions are the source of conflict. If something is important to others we need to understand this – it doesn’t mean we are agreeing to them but rather giving them the opportunity to explain more in depth.
- Let all participate. Participation by those who have a stake in resolving this conflict will give them to find a more balanced compromise.
- Appreciate emotions. Let others let off steam.
- Be stoic to emotions. We should be prepared to apologise even if we are not in the wrong as its a rewarding technique
- Actively listen. Listen in depth, rephrase questions but remain firm.
- Speak redirect negative energies on yourself and not the other party. I could say: “I feel angry to know that my children are reading this old-fashioned textbook.” instead of “How could you choose such a racist book?”
- Concrete but flexible. Speak about interests, not positions.
- Avoid judgment. Ask questions and gather information.
- Don’t tell people that “It’s up to you to solve your problems.” We need to work at finding a solution or solutions for all.
- Help others to make their decision easy. Imagine getting others to take our position without looking weak, understand that others egos are important in negotiating.
Now we may be in a better place to talk solutions. We have looked at our interests, the other parties interests and now we mind-map or if we keep it basic – ‘brainstorm’ ideas on how we can move forward.
In this we need to keep the brainstorm group small say between 4 and 6 people – maybe two brainstorm maps by the two groups of 2 to 3 people each and then they bring the maps together and see what areas are common?
Sometimes its easier to get the different parties to brainstorm ideas in different rooms and juggle between them to establish some ground rules for the next map they brainstorm together.
- Mindmap as many ideas as possible. Do not judge or criticise any ideas they all need to be on the map – people need to be thinking creatively.
- Do not maximise (not minimise) any options.
- Can we identify win-win solutions, or compromises, in which all parties get something they want.
- In the final brainstorm meeting with the different parties, people need to be sat side by side, facing the “problem” the collective A1 or A2 paper where they build their mind-map together.
- The different sides need to reminded of the purpose of the meeting, ground rules given, and participants need to agree to those rules together. When we are facilitating we need to let the various participants unleash their creativity on paper.
- Keep in mind those who are mind mapping are the leaders in finding a solution for their ‘problem’ and not us. We can facilitate but not be emotionally involved with either side whatever our personal feelings.
After the session let the different sides talk freely and circle or star their best ideas – as this is what will work for them during their conflict resolution process. This is their journey. We can guide not force.
Now we have different groups’ skills and resources being pooled to get the best result for all concerned. Let them keep talking and communicating even if this process is taking more time than what was initially agreed.
Sometimes in choosing a good resolution by working in-depth with the different parties we become emotionally attached to the process and our ego comes in the way so the best option is to use another third-party mediator someone that the different sides can trust to be fair.
The mediator can also run another mind mapping/brainstorming session building on the previous one between the parties if needed.
What the effective mediator does?
- Sets ground rules for parties to agree upon
- Creates a setting for meetings
- Suggests ways to compromise
- Listens to both side’s angers and fears
- Looks for win-win solutions
- Keeps parties focused
- Keeps parties reasonable
- Keeps parties respectful
- Prevents anyone from “losing face”
- Writes an agreement with the different parties
There will time despite our hard work we cannot find acceptable resolutions to conflict and we need to think about this before involving ourselves.
We need to be prepared to walk away whether we are a mediator or one of the parties in negotiations as one or both sides are so entrenched in their positions.
All parties should mindmap alternatives to resolution early on in the negotiation process and know that one of the solutions is walking away and letting the pain and suffering continue.
Negotiations are easier with opponents who are seen as reasonable but to develop ourselves and our skills we need opponents or parties, both reasonable and unreasonable.
What if our opponent is more powerful or influential than we are?
What if they refuse to meet or talk?
These are stressful situations and intended to put extra pressure on us to make fast decisions in the opposition’s favor. We must be mindful of our emotions to make rushed decisions.
Remember we can walk away at any time from those who consider themselves above us and us beneath them but sometimes a situation becomes a learning process for all parties concerned, we have the power to walk away and also have the power to stay. If we are mediating between groups we do not have power as much as they have – the reason they have us mediating is that they don’t feel they have the power. So we may be less powerful in our own eyes but must not devalue ourselves and those who consider themselves powerful – whether others or the parties we are mediating between we need to understand none of the parties have all the available information.
We need to listen to others viewpoints and logic and understand what their interests are, and what they really want. Regardless of what we want. The more we know about other points of view the better able we communicate workable solutions. Egos and emotions are fragile and the art of life is to understand these two within ourselves as well as others.
I end the article by a quote from the great master – Master Sun known as Sun Tzu:
“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.”
And to paraphrase Master Sun: “There is no instance of any human benefitiing from prolonged warfare.”