Dialog is the most effective way of resolving conflict, Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama.
Conflict is the beginning of consciousness, M. Ether Harding.
In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point—a higher more expansive place from which you can see both sides, Thomas Crum.
Conflict is good in a negotiation process. It is with a clash of ideas which then, all being well, produces a third idea, Luke Roberts.
What is Conflict?
Conflict may simply be defined as differences. To understand the prevalence of conflict, it is valuable to remember that each human is unique. This uniqueness maybe 80% nature and 20%, nurture. (Of course, different opinions on these percentages.) This uniqueness translates into different reactions and responses to each situation. Many are intolerant of these differences. They try to fight them, resist them resulting in clashes and conflicts.
Wikipedia defines conflict as “a struggle between people which may be physical, or between conflicting ideas. The word comes from Latin conflingere Conflingere means to come together for a battle. Conflicts can either be within one person, or they can involve several people or groups.”
These conflicts occur in every facet of life: personal, partnerships, friendships, neighborhood, business, workplace, church, HOA’s (home ownership associations). Most folks have not been nurtured or trained to tolerate or manage conflicts so they escalate. Escalations results in fights, battles, criminal charges and lawsuits.
Conflict is Inevitable.
Instead of hoping conflicts do not exist, it is more realistic to understand that conflicts are inevitable. They are ever-present.
-View conflict as negative
-Desire to avoid even to their detriment.
A better approach would be to view conflict as
-Catalyst for resolution
-Setting the stage for creativity.
Conflict Can Be a Catalyst for Positivity
Once one realizes that conflict is inevitable, it can be helpful to frame (verbal package) it as a catalyst for change and positive developments.
Good Arising from COVID.
One might frame COVID as a war against humans. Often one hears the mantra: “When can we get back to normal.” Others, never felt that “normal” was that good. Still others realized that there is not going back. So, what are the positives arising out of the conflict COVID that possibly, people want to continue?
Video Doctor Visits: Many for the first time enjoyed the convenience of video doctor visits.
Sharia recalls a visit to the podiatrist. She had to schedule it 8 months in advance. She used an Uber costing $12, waiting in the waiting room for 40 minutes. She was in the doctor’s office for 20 minutes. She displayed her feet to the doctor, told the doctor what remedies she was using and the doctor agreed that she was doing the most she could do before an operation that had the chance of 50% success. So, overall the doctor never touched her feet.
So, this is one of many doctor visits that might be more efficient as a teledoctor experience.
Governmental Agencies, specifically the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
During the past half-decade, citizens of the District of Columbia have dreaded any contact that they had the DMV. During the COVID crisis, the DMV scheduled appointments. Instead of waiting for several hours, the citizen waited 2 minutes and was in and out within 20 minutes with minimal human contact.
Zoom Teaching: This has been controversial especially in the public teaching arena. Possibly the problems revolved around school directors not having clear directions whether classes or in or out or blended. It is challenging to know whether these school directors (In this section, the term “school leader” is not being used since these folks really did not lead.) were guided by their choice of science or politics.
Focusing on the positive, Zoom teaching at The George Washington University Law Schools was a resounded success. One example is Professor Larry Ray’s Negotiation class that took place over 2 weekends with lots of diligent work in between and in preparation. The same material and cases were covered and processed. There was 100% attendance and participation. Based on evaluations, students thoroughly enjoyed as did the professor.
Families: For the short term, there is some evidence that the COVID crisis might have some family positives. This is not good for the media which depends on crises which could be reflective of human psychology. There is one research that indicates the mental health of teens may be better. Number one reason may be that teens are getting the amount of sleep that they need. They no longer need to arise at 4AM to catch the bus. Second, there are more family meals. Third, teens are using the equipment that they enjoy using, computers and cellphones.
Discerning Form over Substance: Choosing form over substance seems to be ubiquitous in the United States. TSA may be a prime example. Recently one flyer easily got a folding knife through security at National Airport. TSA’s goal seems to be making travelers “Feel Safe.” Not “Be Safe.” At a military base this same traveler carries a sophisticated backpack with 26 zippered pockets. The security ordered the traveler to unzip one pocket. Security looked inside and waved on. 25 zippered pockets remained zipped and uninspected. Once again, the “feeling” of being checked.
During the COVID crisis, a local gym checks the temperatures of all Members. Most people know that fevers occur in only 25% of those infected and when it does, the fever may last 24-48 hours of their potential month long infection. Yet, Members endure the temperature check knowing that if makes Members FEEL safer.
This same gym spends countless cleaning hours constantly mopping the floors. DC Health Departments reports no single case has been reported from a surface infection. Again, most Members know this but again, the FEELING of something being done.
More clearly identifying hypocrisy: Hypocrisy has been rife in the US political world. Many politicians poked fun at the so called COVID crisis calling the death numbers, fantasy, and yet these same Congress Members were one of the first to get the COVID vaccine. They retorted that a national law compels them to get vaccinated but of course, voters know that Congress passes these national laws so Congress is well protected evidently even against imaginary health crises.
Increased Realization that Tele-work Works:
Many businesses and governmental entities were mandated to telework. Telework has been resisted over the decades, usually by managers who either do not trust their employees or have control issues. During the Clinton Administration, they have strived for 60% have access to teleworking. At the most it reached, 20%.
Transforming the Conflict Approach from Avoidance to Intervention
Because most people hate conflict and wish it did not exist, the automatic response is avoidance.
A better approach is intervention. Research and experiences supports early intervention aka the metaphor: “nip it in the bud.”
“A flower that is “nipped in the bud” wouldn't grow and blossom. This phrase is often used to suggest that by handling a something when it's a minor problem, you'll be able to avert a crisis…. to stop (something) immediately so that it does not become a worse problem Inflation will only get worse if the government doesn't do something right now to nip it in the bud.
Synonyms include, abort, cut off, cut short and the most relevant to this article: Anticipate.
Columbus, Ohio, Night Prosecutor’s Mediation Program-The Sooner, the Better
The evolution of the program validates the “nipping in the bud approach.” This program was initially funded and created as an innovative experiment by the U.S. Department of Justice LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance Administration). This was the first program in the nation to mediate criminal disputes. Note that criminal disputes refers to a broad range of violations including neighborhood, landlord/tenant, family, etc.
-Arraignment Judges: At first, law students would arrive at the courthouse. They would examine the complaints and if they thought they were mediatable, they would insert a note to the Arraignment Judge to refer. By mediatable, they were usually looking for relationship disputes such as landlord/tenant or neighbors. Most judges did, but this was a bit late in the game since the person had already been charged and most likely arrested. This made mediation resolution challenging equaling about 30% resolution.
-Prosecutor referral. The procedure then evolved to referring cases to mediation when they arrived at the prosecutor’s office, often before the case had been filed and people arrested. Mediation resolution became easier.
-Police referral: Police were then educated about mediation and were given “Mediation tickets.” In this way, when the police were called, they would give mediation tickets which were unenforceable but usually complied with.
-Community/Citizen Referral: Eventually, the citizens and communities were educated about mediation. So based on this education, citizens when encountering a situation would directly call mediation instead of calling the police or prosecutor. Mediation resolution became much easier equaling about 90%.
Business Partnership Dispute-Allowed Conflict to Progress Too Far.
Many law schools in their negotiation classes use a roleplay, HackerStar Power Screen, developed by Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation Project. This is a story of two guys who form the HackerStar company. At first, their business partnership progresses well. Then it proceeds downhill for over a year resulting in an explosive argument including name calling, below the belt accusations, personal jabs and threats to go to go and end the partnership.
The relevance here is that both Partners Hacker and Star should have nipped this in the bud. The moment irritations began to occur, they needed to deal with those. Moreover, they should have planned ahead with a contractual dispute resolution clause + possibly weekly check-in meetings.
Office Disputes Allowed to Fester and Blow-Up
The Capital University School of Law produced a video of a fictional office dispute between Tom and Elizabeth (E). E has been working successfully at the firm for 10 years; whereas, T has had a tumultuous first six months. One day the boss gives Tom an ultimatum to improve or be gone. Instead of managing this with the boss, Tom goes looking for a fight and he finds one with E. Like the above, they have a fiery argument, name calling, personal jabs and threats.
Like the above, this could have been “nipped in the bud” avoiding a fiery argument leading to multiple disputes. An effective manager would have created a team of Tom and E
Lesson: So the lesson for managers, for HR professionals, teachers, principals, neighborhood leaders et al is to anticipate and monitor. If one sees or hears irritations, poking fun, jokes at someone’s expense, derision, Nip It In the Bud. Intervene. As demonstrated by the Columbus, Ohio, mediation example by intervening early the chances of taking care of it might rise from 40 to 90%.
The most common defense to bullying or harassment is I was just having fun or We were just having fun. Most people do not object to fun except when it is at the expense of others.
Most people simply declare that the solution is “more communication.” Possibly, but before advocating for more communication, one needs to examine the quality of the existing communication. It might be ineffective communication so is one advocating more ineffective communication?
Although conflict is inevitable and can be productive, a conflict prevention approach may be reasonable in many cases. How does one prevent conflict?
-Clear, effective communication.
-Ensure the folks who hold positions are qualified to hold these positions.
In prevention, it is valuable to once again remember that each person is unique and reactions to situations differently. It is probably wise to operate under this assumption:
People do and think things for reasons that makes sense to them at the time.
These thoughts and behaviors may seem bizarre to others. So to understand, one needs to put themselves in that person’s shoes aka put one’s head on their shoulders.
If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, Maslow
This is a great, applicable quote. Imagine that one has a Conflict Prevention Toolbox. The toolbox contains many tools, skills, tactics and strategies. One avoids getting stuck, falling into a stalemate by using many of the various tools. If one is not working, try another. So, maybe one tries using the skill of listening but it is not working. So, another tool might the use of the questioning skills, then summarizing skills.
Dispute Resolution Clauses Can Prevent Conflict Escalation
A dispute resolution clause (DRC) whether it be contractual or included in rules can play a major role in de-escalating and preventing conflict. With a clause such as this, affected parties cannot threaten to sue or go to court. If it were to go that far, courts have largely upheld these provisions.
A dispute resolution clause describes a step by step process of intervention when a conflict occurs. Often, the first step is good faith negotiation. If that fails, then mediation. If that fails, the binding arbitration; that is, a decision will be made by an outside neutral that is binding on all affected parties.
Example-Business Partnership with a DRC: Two business people got together and created a business partnership. In their agreement they included a DRC. As part of this DRC, they agree to get together with a mediator aka neutral each January to “check-in” in regards to any ongoing conflicts, disputes or irritations. It turns out that there were no problems presented at any of the check-in meetings.
So, what happened? Both parties anticipated this January check-in meeting which motivated them to discuss on-the-spot any irritations or ongoing difficulties. So, they got these worked out pronto. But for the DRC, they may have allowed problems to fester resulting in an explosion. This was prevented.
Example-HOA (home ownership association) DRC: At the Marigold Condominium, no one wanted to run for the Board of Directions. The reason? Too many residential disputes. Many of these dispute resolved around noise and parking. Five residents banded together to run for the board. They were elected and their first step was to incorporate a DRC into their Condo Rules and Regulations. As a result of this clause, residential disputes went down by 90%. In the ideal, this decrease resulted from residents talking to other residents about their irritations and getting them resolved early rather than allowing them to percolate.
As an addendum to the DRC, advice was included to residents in re Step One-Talking with the Neighbor. First, was the realization that many residents would think this is the management’s responsibility and eventually it will be but in the beginning residents talking with each other might have the greatest impact.
For example, most noise disputes occur in the hours between 11PM and 3AM. It is a good assumption, especially on weekends that drugs and alcohol are involved. So, at that moment is not a good time to negotiate with the neighbor. Instead, wait until noon the next day and proceed.
First, an effective negotiator and conflict manager realize that conflict is inevitable. Second, they realize the sooner they can catch the conflict, the more likely they are to be able to resolve such. Third, they stretch and realize they can transform conflict into positives. Finally, they recognize a number of tools that can prevent conflict.
See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.
Roy J. Lewicki, David M. Saunders, Bruce Barry
Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray