CONFLICT SOLUTIONS - Conflict Solutions Roadmap (.pdf)
CHOICES AND STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING THE COSTS OF CONFLICT IN RELATIONSHIPS AND ORGANIZATIONS

by BILL AND ROBIN SHEARER

FOUR PRINCIPLES

Principle No. 1: Conflict Is an Opportunity.

When we give talks about conflict, we sometimes ask our audience to give us a list of the first words to come into their minds when conflict is mentioned. The following are some of the words most frequently associated with conflict:

Fight, Avoid, Control, Battle, Threat, Lose, Wrong, Bad, Fear, Pain, Impasse, Destruction, Mistake, Hate

What are some of the words that come to your mind? If you're like most people, many of your word associations are negative.

Much of our relationship and conflict resolution work is based upon the idea that conflict is a given in any relationship and is not inherently bad. Conflict allows organizations to grow and change in positive directions, keeping pace with their customers and new developments. In couple relationships conflict may be considered as a doorway to intimacy. As issues are resolved and couples come to accept individual differences, with empathy and understanding, relationships reach new levels of openness, trust, warmth, and commitment. There is usually conflict between parents and teens. This normal push-pull, give-and-take, storm and stress conflict is essential if young adults are to be become fully independent, confident, and responsible. Parents complete their work of raising healthy kids by alternating between setting limits (often opposed) and increasingly encouraging freedom and autonomy. In short, conflict is an opportunity, sometimes difficult to see, but an opportunity nevertheless.

Principle No. 2: Conflict Resolution Principles Are Universal.

A second fundamental assumption underlying our work is that conflict resolution principles apply to all levels of relating. We work with individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations large and small using the same concepts throughout. Moreover, the same principles governing conflict between individuals, including personal inner conflicts, apply to international conflicts that threaten world peace.

Principle No. 3: Conflict Itself Is Not the Problem; Ineffective Conflict Choices Cause Damage.

Whether conflict is good or bad comes down to a split second decision. When faced with conflict, do you instinctively protect and defend? Do you automatically see conflict as something negative or dangerous? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you're in the majority. If on the other hand, you have learned to see conflict as an opportunity, you have learned to calm down, slow down, give up control, give up having to be right, and you're quite willing to be influenced by the other party. You're not there yet? Relax, it's just a matter of learning and practice--- and more practice.

Principle No. 4: Ineffective Responses to Conflict Are at the Core of Emotional Distress and Relationship Distress.

Our work as mental health professionals has convinced us that learned beliefs and behaviors in regard to conflict are central to virtually every individual disturbance and relationship problem. As more effective conflict resolution patterns are learned and developed, individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations move toward emotionally healthy and optimally effective living.

A QUICK TOUR OF THE "CONFLICT SOLUTIONS" CHART .

An understanding of our chart (see attachment) requires starting with "HUMAN DIVERSITY" at the top and center. We're all different. That fact makes conflict inevitable. The choice is to go left, along the "PATH OF FEAR, PROTECTION, AND COMPETITION," or right along the "PATH OF NEW LEARNING." The chosen path makes all the difference. The choice itself, or the "shift" as we call it, can take a split second , weeks, months, or years. In many instances, it never happens. Our goal is to make the shift instantaneous, automatic, and routine. Of course, substantial coaching and practice is involved.

If the left path is chosen, certain things happen. Inner dialogue, or "SELF-TALK" tends to be alarming, a "call to battle." Your INTENTION becomes being on the winning side of a win/lose contest, or simply avoiding the pain of conflict.

INDIVIDUAL CHOICES AND BEHAVIORS naturally follow. Your choices are to fight back, give in, run away, or do nothing in the hope that the conflict will go away on its own, or that others will forget about it if it's not mentioned.

ORGANIZATIONAL CHOICES AND BEHAVIORS are similar with the addition of RELIANCE ON HIGHER AUTHORITY. You might choose to put it all on your boss, or possibly even see a lawyer and go to court.

As there are at least two of you involved in the conflict, a number of different interactions are possible. A FLEE-FLEE interaction for example, may seem improbable but it's exactly what happens when parties to conflict avoid each other at all costs.

LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES are predictable if the left path is chosen. For individuals, depression, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem are long-term consequences. For couples and families, relationships may be destroyed. Organizations cease to be places of high morale, productivity, cohesiveness, or profitability.

Let's move to the right pathway. As was the case for the left path, choosing the right pathway makes all the difference. First comes the core belief that CONFLICT IS AN OPPORTUNITY, continuing with SELF-TALK that helps you calm down, open up, be non-defensive, and willing to learn. It's a natural step to an INTENTION that a mutually beneficial solution is your goal.

INDIVIDUAL CHOICES AND BEHAVIORS of the right path are essential to a collaborative team effort. The first choice is to get in touch with your inner state. We teach our clients to monitor their minds and bodies, responding to conflict with self-calming thoughts and relaxing abdominal breathing. we teach specific talking, listening, and problem solving skills. A most important ingredient is a conscious and intentional "WE ATTITUDE." We tell our clients that they may not agree, and that's okay, but understanding, acceptance, and respect are imperative.

Organizational choices are similar with the addition of a BUILT-IN PROGRAM for conflict resolution. We stress SKILLS TRAINING for all employees. An OPTIMAL PATH for conflict resolution with an organization emphasizes primary reliance upon individual initiative followed by negotiation, mediation, with turning to higher authority as a last resort.

Right path INTERACTIONS build self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, effective working relationships, and maximize individual growth within the relationship. LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES include emotional well-being for all concerned. Couple relationships are enduring and deeply satisfying. Parents raise healthy children who become healthy parents. Organizations with a healthy approach to conflict have happier workers with greater profitability and productivity.

 

© 2005 William Carey Shearer Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.H
Robin L. Shearer M.F.T., R.N., M.A., M.P.H.

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