Book Notes: Resolving Conflicts At Work

Resolving Conflicts at Work: Ten Strategies for Everyone on the Job by Kenneth Cloke, Joan Goldsmith
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Chronic conflict are conflicts that nations, societies, organisations, families or individuals have not been fully resolved; need to resolve in order to grow and evolve; are capable of resolution; can only be resolved by abandoning old approaches and taking on new ones; are resistant to resolution because they are frightened, dissatisfied, insecure, uncertain, angry or unwilling to change.

Each conflict has two fundamental truths : the truth of impasse – that people are stuck with a problem they want to resolve but can’t; the truth of resolution – it is possible to become unstuck and move to a higher order of resolution or relationship.

There is a huge difference between communicating superficially to settle a conflict through compromise and communicating deeply to resolve it and transforming the conflict by learning from it.

The strategies for resolving conflict:

  • Understand the culture and Dynamics of conflict. Every conflict is significantly influenced by the culture and dynamics in which it takes place. Understanding these elements will help you discover the hidden meaning of your conflicts, not only for yourself but your opponent and the organisation in which you work. Identifying the culture and dynamics of conflict for individual and organisations can lead to increased awareness, acceptance and resolution of the underlying reasons for the dispute. Typical responses are Counterattack, Defend, Roll over, Gossip, Run away, Refuse to budge, Undermine. In each of these responses it actually boosts the power of the accuser. These solutions tend to “fight or flight” and done boost listening and problem solving but more build a battle between people. The alternative approach of “tend and befriend” – which uses these as opportunities to learn.
    • Discover common interests
    • Bring in a mediator
    • Focus on the problem
    • Focus on the future
    • Invite it in as an opportunity
    • Create introspection
    • Reframe the issue
    • Let it pass through you
  • Listen empathetically and responsibly. Listening with an open mind and an open heart your opponent will encourage them to do the same for you. This will lead you to recognise the real issues in school and that’s to the centre of your complex strategies for resolution and transformation converge.
    • Let go of your own ideas, role and agenda and try to understand what the other person is saying
    • Be curious of what makes them tick
    • Before you speak draw out the other person’s ideas
    • Search behind the words for the other person’s meaning, especially ifhe or she disagrees with you
    • Discover and manage your listener’s unspoken expectations
    • Respond respectfully and non-defensively, acknowledging and addressing the other person
    • Choose an appropriate form of communicating
    • Speak respectfully, empathetically and responsively
    • Demonstrate that you heard the other person’s deeper needs and feelings
    • Anticipate objections and address them before they are raised
    • Clarify and emphasis your agreements
    • Acknowledge differences and restate issues positively
    • State your interests instead of your position
    • Ask for feedback
    • Compliment the other person for listening
  • Search beneath the surface for the hidden meaning. The language we use to describe our disputes, our opportunities and ourselves reveals a set of attributes and underlying assumptions that can block resolution. Beneath the superficial issue in every conflict lie subterranean fears, desires, interests, emotions, histories, expectations and intentions that reveal what is actually wrong, and can become a powerful source of resolution and transformation.
    • Issues
    • Personalities
    • Emotions
    • Interets, Needs and Desires
    • Self-Perceptions and Self-Esteem
    • Hidden Expectations
    • Unresolved Issues from the Past
  • Acknowledge and Reframe emotions. When intense emotions are brought to the surface, communicated openly and directly in a way that your opponent can hear, and are acknowledged, reframed, and integrated, then invisible barriers are suddenly lifted to problem solving, collaboration, resolution and transformation.
  • Separate matters from what gets in the way. The road to resolution and transformation lies less in blaming people skillfully addressing joint problems; less in asserting differences than finding commonalities; less in asserting position than satisfying interests; less in debating who is right than engaging in dialogue over what both sides care about; less in resurrecting the past the redesigning the future
    • Positions from interests
    • People from problems
    • Problems from solutions
    • Commonalities from differences
    • Future from the past
    • Emotions from negotiations
    • Process from content
    • Options from choices
    • Criteria from selection
    • Yourself from others
  • Solve problems paradoxically and creatively. Transformation requires the energy, uncertainty, complexity and duality of enigma, paradox, riddle and contradiction, which form essential part of every conflict. These complex paradoxical elements can lead to expanded creative problem solving techniques that can assist you not simply in reaching agreements, but in building diverse, overlapping, simultaneous options into a solution you are able to agree on.
    • Admit you have a problem, recognise it as a problem and accept it as needing to be solved
    • Collaboratively define and clarify the elements and nature of the problem
    • Jointly investigate, analyze, categorise and prioritise problems.
    • Invent solutions that satisfy everyone’s interests without becoming attached to any particular solution
    • Jointly act, evaluate results, acknowledge efforts and celebrate successes
  • Learn from difficult behaviours. In many workplace conflicts, people are rewarded for engaging in difficult behaviours. These behaviours offer excellent opportunities for you to learn how to improve your skills in responding to them while increasing your capacity for empathy, patient, and perseverance; to discover what makes it difficult for you; to become more grounded and effective in the way you respond.
  • Lead and coach for transformation. Because conflicts are places where we get stuck, leadership and coaching are useful in helping us find a way out. Leadership competencies in conflict resolution can be learnt and developed and “conflict coaching” can aid us in shifting attitudes, developing skills and locating our own unique path to resolution and transformation.
  • Explore resistance and negotiate collaboratively. We begin with the idea that “all resistance reflects an unmet need” and can therefore be interpreted as a request for improved communication, processes and relationships; for greater authenticity; for increased involvement in decision-making; or for a deeper and more collaborative relationship. Exploring resistance can unlock conflicts, allowing us to collaboratively negotiate solutions and, if other approaches fail to mediates the issues that seem too difficult to resolve.
  • Mediate and design systems for prevention. Chronic conflict emanate from systems rather than personalities, and can be addressed organisationally through a “conflict resolution systems design” process. Designing conflict resolution system enables individuals and organisations to prevent or reduce the severity of chronic conflict, to eliminate them at their source, to orient the organisation towards the institutionalisation of resolution practices and dramatically reduce the cost of conflict.

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