Thursday, 22 August 2013

Values, Conflict & Resolution

I have been thinking lately about what causes conflict. We bring our personalities, gender, cultural identity, agendas, attitudes & beliefs to everything we do; and sometimes we forget that our way is not the only way.

When we have value-based conflicts, they are difficult to resolve because they are based on each or our own individual “truths”. What we need to remember is that all over the world, lives are different; not 'wrong' or 'right'. One thing I often tell my students is there are 7 billion of us on the planet; which means there are probably 7 billion different ways of doing EVERYTHING.

There are some processes for how to deal with conflict when it arises, however, that allows us to seek a respectful win:win truth. The "five As" is a very useful method to analyse conflicts with:

Assessment. Get a good picture of the conflict by considering the individual traits of those involved, the nature & cause of conflict, consider how you can clarify goals, and identify the communication environment. In thinking about how communication happens, determine if open communication is encouraged, are there established & fair procedures for problem resolution and how expert the organisation is at problem-solving. Then you need to chose an appropriate conflict handling style from the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (1974):
  • Competing (assertive & unco-operative, power-oriented, winning at all costs)
  • Accommodating (unassertive & co-operative, neglect own concerns to meet needs of others)
  • Avoiding (unassertive & unco-operative, side-steps issues, withdraws from threatening situations)
  • Collaborating (assertive & co-operative, win:win)
  • Compromising (between assertive & co-operative, splits the difference, exchanges concessions, seeks middle ground).
Acknowledgement. Remembering that the people involved may not be objective, try to understand the perceptions of everyone involved. Also acknowledge their truths - this will increase likelihood of good conflict resolution. The key skills we need is LISTENING, HEARING and UNDERSTANDING everyone's viewpoints.

Attitude. Everyone involved needs to communicate openly with each other, and demonstrate conciliation, compassion, concern & flexibility. All those involved must take responsibility for their own actions. You need to build trust between the groups by learning about each other's position and culture. Everyone has to stay objective, and work actively in minimising barriers such as stereotyping, listening, open-mindedness, judgementalism and understanding.

Action. Here's where we get to the good bit - doing it, after all the learning. We all need to observe each other & use "conflict handling skills". They are:
  • using clear language, no slang, jargon or sarcasm; having open non-verbal communication;
  • making promises that can be kept and ensuring we deliver on them;
  • sticking to the issues & being outcome focused;
  • being focused on finding only win:win solutions;
  • dealing with the issues head-on; being open minded & flexible, sincere & trustworthy; and
  • listening, repeating and clarifying all shared information.
Analysis. Now comes the learning bit. Once we have made our decisions, and taken our actions, we need to review them, and think about whether everyone's needs were met, and how well. We need to ask ourselves a series of questions. Were our decisions good in the short term? Do we think they will be good in the long-term? What was good about what we did? What was bad? What else did we learn? Then we need to apply all our answers to our Assessment phase for the next time we have a serious conflict.

Doesn't that sound easy?! Ah, of course, it is one of those things that gets easier with practice... and one of those things that once you get good at it, you no longer need it.

Reference:  Kilmann, Ralph H. & Thomas, Kenneth W. (1974). Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). USA: CPP, Inc.


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