Sunday, December 20, 2009

Some Thoughts About Conflict Resolution

Conflict exists in all relationships and organizations, so the purpose of conflict resolution training or programs isn’t to eliminate conflict, but to provide more thoughtful and positive ways of addressing it than might otherwise be available. At best, conflict resolution can improve a relationship or an organization; at least, it can avoid increased antagonism.

Conflict resolution training or programs don’t replace the responsibility for people in relationships to work things out, and they don’t replace authority in organizations. People remain in charge. In relationships, they are responsible for themselves and their decisions. In organizations, people are responsible for the duties of their positions. Conflict resolution training or programs may help people to understand themselves and others better, and therefore to communicate more effectively and make better decisions.

Mediation can be an important function in conflict resolution, by supporting communication and negotiation among the parties. The people involved in the conflict need to express their points of view meaningfully and listen to one another; that’s the communication part. Once that’s done, the solution to the conflict may present itself, so to speak. If it doesn’t, there may be a need for negotiation. The mediator may have to teach communication and listening skills before the parties will be able to use them. While people vary in their communication and listening skills; few people without training and practice are able to think or speak clearly in conflict situations.

As a conflict resolution consultant, I’ve found that it’s often useful to speak with people separately before meeting together to try to resolve the conflict. People often haven’t thought through what the conflict is about, even from their own point of view, much less that of the other party. It can require one or even several 1:1 conversations before people can articulate what matters about this situation, from their own point of view, and then to begin to look at it from the other person’s.

Some conflict resolution consultants think that finding the truth of situations is not necessary to conflict resolution. They think that everyone has their own story, and people agree to whatever they can agree to if they're speaking clearly and listening to each another, and that's that. Other conflict resolution consultants think that the truth must be discovered in a way that everyone can agree to in order for the way forward to become apparent. My experience indicates that situations are different from one another, but in each one there’s a sort of minimum necessary truth that has to be acknowledged by everyone in order for resolution to happen.

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