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Transforming Conflict Into Opportunity

-Through a conflict of presentations, truth emerges.

-Opposites attract.

Most people hate conflict. They do their best to avoid it, usually at their peril. Research and experience demonstrates that avoidance as a conflict reaction works 5% of the time. This means that 95% of the time, other conflict approaches are necessary.

Most people accept that great art often emanates from pain and conflict ranging from Author Ernest Hemingway to the following:

  • Fleetwood Mac created their greatest album, “Rumors” during romantic turmoil;

  • Singer Adele during her breakup composed super successful album “19;”

  • For Aretha Franklin, “Ain’t No Way” arose from her six-year failed relationship (including alleged abuse) to actor Glenn Turman;

  • “Don’t Speak,” written by group No Doubt, may be about the breakup of vocalist Gwen Stefani’s seven-year relationship with the bassist.

What are the other conflict approaches?

Most experts delineate five conflict management approaches:

-Competitive, which may work in 10% of the cases

-Collaborative, which may work in 40% of the cases

-Compromising, which may work in 25% of the cases

-Avoiding, which may work in 5% of the cases

-Accommodating, which may work in 20% of the cases

These percentages are a reflection of reality. Many folks wish that collaboration would work most of the time. These approaches will vary from issue to issue. Sometimes a combination of these approaches may be used in one conflict.

Transforming conflict into opportunity

The entire American legal system is built on the precept that through a conflict of presentations, truth emerges. This is the justification for this adversarial system.How many times in relationships have people claimed that “opposites attract?”

Transforming conflict into opportunity takes a different mindset. It takes a re-framing or a differing verbal packaging of conflict. This different mindset can begin during the planning stage of Conflict Management or Negotiation. So, parties begin to be creative wondering how this situation can be redesigned into something positive.

The big opportunity for this transformation is when parties begin to focus on interests rather than positions. Positions are statements of what the parties will or will not do. Interests are the underlying needs of these positions. Once the parties unearth the interests, the door to creative options opens.

Wars result in side benefits

“World War II saw the expanded use of antibiotics as a very significant advance. Sulfa drugs, discovered in 1935, and penicillin, developed in 1939, have led the way to the obvious world-wide benefit we have today from any number of effective antibiotics.”

Battlefield medicine improved throughout the course of the war. At the beginning, only plasma was available as a substitute for the loss of blood. By 1945, serum albumin had been developed, which is whole blood that is rich in the red blood cells that carry oxygen and is considerably more effective than plasma alone. Also, this was the first major war in which air evacuation of the wounded became available.

Iraq War created used persistence surveillance concept

During the Iraq War, the US created the PS concept to identify IEDs in Falluja. Now, cities such as Baltimore and Dayton, Ohio are using this system of a small plane with an underbelly of many mini-cameras which continually takes picture to fight crime.

Afghanistan, poppies, US and heroin

During the late 1970s, the US discovered that much of the heroin being used in the US was from Afghan poppies. A doctor created the idea that poppies could be used for legal medical purposes: morphine and codeine, legal pain killers. This seemingly worked. Heroin overdose deaths dropped from 2000 in 1976 to 800 in 1980. (cite: Peter Bensinger, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, 1976-1981.)

Silver lining of the controversial lockdown: COVID

It is noted that the so-called lockdowns are controversial. Many believe that eventually these will be considered unconstitutional. Many court cases have been filed. Some, involving church attendance have been won.

Paradoxically, Democrats who often are in the forefront of civil liberties, take a different stand on the civil liberties being restricted by lockdowns.

It is estimated that ½ of small businesses will never recover from the lockdowns.


CDC recorded a 5.6% drop in U.S. suicides during 2020. This is the most dramatic drop ever recorded. This equates to 44,834 in contrast to 47,511. Suicide remains the 11th-largest cause of US death. Although there was a 900% increase in calls to mental health centers.

Car Accident Deaths Down

“In hard numbers, 2020 looks pretty good so far compared to 2019. The number of people who have died in motor vehicle traffic crashes was down from 16,988 in 2019 to 16,650 in 2020, a decrease of 2 percent.”

Albeit, the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) were down 16.6% during 2020.

Children Doing OK to Better?

Some researchers claim that children are doing better during COVID because they are getting the sleep that they need, spending more time with family, and eating more nutritious meals. (Many parents want to disagree with these findings. They prefer to call it “a lost year.”)

Flu Cases Drop Dramatically.

CDC reports only 1,316 flu cases during the 2020-2021 season in contrast to 124,000 during 2019-2020.

“Last flu season, the CDC estimated the virus was responsible for '38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths.' The flu trends of this year mean 'we have found a way to potentially decrease tens of thousands of deaths each year,' Seema Lakdawala, a flu researcher at the University of Pittsburgh says.”

Teaching law school classes virtually

One law professor campaigned for give years to allow the teaching of law school classes virtually, even in a blended fashion. The law school raised many obstacles including advisory standards from legal associations. All of these obstacles came falling down with the COVID crisis and suddenly it became “OK” to teach per Zoom.

Conflicts with Nature

There are even creative conflict examples with nature.

Elephants Afraid of Bees

In Zimbabwe, farmers were killing elephants who were stomping their crops; of course, on the land that elephants use to roam. So, a conflict between farmers and elephants. Along comes a creative idea:

“This fear has been harnessed into a project of beautiful simplicity. The Elephants and Bees Project involves the use of beehive fences, erected around farms to keep the elephants out and protect the crops. Hives of bees are strung up between posts every 10 metres, linked by rope or wires. When the fence is disturbed by an elephant, the hives sway and the bees become aggravated, causing them to flee the hive. In turn, the elephants flee from the swarm and the farm.”

Gardeners use marigolds to protect plantings

Gardeners in Ohio were in conflict with deer who were invading their gardens. The farmers discovered that deer hate the marigold smell. Thus, the gardeners lined the gardens with rows of marigolds.

Conflict between homeowners and termites

According to Terminix: “There are a number of plants rumored to act as termite repellents, but more research is needed for most of them. However, it seems that two plants, catnip and vetiver grass, have shown promise in studies as termite repellents. According to the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter), research shows that vetiver grass contains compounds that repel Formosan subterranean termites.

"Vetiver grass contains a natural repellent to the Formosan subterranean termite. Vetiver grass is a type of bunch grass related to sugarcane and lemon grass.”

This grass is a native of India and grown in Louisiana. The first experiment with using grass to defeat termites was in Peru.


Neighborhood Conflict Story

In DC, a neighborhood group decided to beautify a half-block sidewalk square. (This is the space between the street and the sidewalk. This land is owned by the city but the city requires the adjoining homeowner to maintain it.) They planted a row of beautiful sunflowers that grew to six feet tall. One morning, the neighbors woke up and the sunflowers had been chopped down. The choppers? The nearby church personnel. Conflict occurred. The local Council Member orchestrated a mediation.

The mediation resulted in a creative settlement. To do so, the mediator needed to explore the interests of both parties. The interest of the neighbors? Beautification. The interest of the church personnel? The ability to monitor their cars in the parking lot across the street. The sunflowers inhibited this view. In the agreement the church agreed to plant bushes and flowers that grew to only three feet tall. Both the needs were met: beautification and clear view to monitor parked cars.

Neighborhood Conflict: Cemetery v dogs

An old historic cemetery was in conflict with dog guardians (aka owners) who walked their dogs in the cemetery and let them relieve themselves. Through mediation they reached an agreement. The cemetery had the interest of maintaining the grounds but their budget was limited. The dogs had the interest of running about. An arrangement was created that the dogs could run about and the guardians would cut the grass, maintain the park gratis. Thus, all interests were met creatively.

Negotiation Example: The PowerScreen case, aka HackerStar

This is a case created by the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation and often used by law schools teaching negotiation. The case revolves around a two-person business partnership and their conflicts, especially over the ownership of a new computer program: PowerScreen. In the negotiation roleplay video and in most of the skilled practices, the parties realize the opportunity for creativity. Most realize that a two-person business partnership is a flawed structure. They use this conflict to improve the management structure and to create a good working relationship. They are both better off because the conflict has occurred.

Mediation Example: The Red Devil Dog Lease

This is a commercial lease dispute between a landlord and tenant developed by the University of Missouri Law School and used by many law schools to teach mediation. The national franchise, Red Devil, has filed bankruptcy so the tenant is in “a fix.” In the video, they use this conflict as an opportunity for the tenant to open her dream restaurant with the landlord reaping a small interest on the profits. Again, instead of getting bogged down by conflict, they transform this into a creative opportunity.

Benefits of Executive Conflict

Leadership Development Professional Caryn Cridland notes that most leaders avoid and fear conflict. Instead, they could view this as a way to take their leadership skills from good to great. They need to take this time to analyze how and why they have co-contributed to the situation. Cridland outlines five potential benefits to executive conflict:

1. lncreased self-awareness and an ability to quickly and easily make changes to the way executives lead and work with others

2. Creation of high performance teams/organizations

3. Helps define values, goals, visions and make effective decisions accordingly

4. Great role-modelling for staff that is it OK to sometimes get it wrong

5. Exponential professional and personal growth for leaders

Opportunities from community conflict

The Divided Community Project (DCP) of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is viewing community racial conflict as an opportunity for broad and deep change effectuated by a collaboration of community and public officials.

A confluence of events, including a pandemic, protests, and business and school closings disrupted our country in 2020 and, despite deep political differences, there is broadened support for structural changes to advance racial equity.


So, an effective conflict manager does not avoid conflict, except maybe 5% of the time. An effective conflict manager realizes that 95% of the time conflict will not go away. It must be confronted as soon in the beginning as possible, aka “nip it in the bud.” An effective conflict manager transforms conflict into a positive situation allowing for creative resolution.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

DISC Instrument, Ways to Manage Conflict

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

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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