As people first learn about win-win conflict resolution, they are understandably uncertain about how successful it can be. The world news every day is full of stories of win-lose conflict. But small groups of people trained in conflict resolution are changing that.
You don’t have to look far internationally to realize that resolving conflict is the single most important social challenge of our age. The skills that help people resolve conflicts are easy to understand, and learning them always produces a kind of AHA experience. So that’s how it all fits together, is a common comment, as people realize that the skills we’ve studied so far especially the reflective listeningand the I-Messages.
Simply stated, a conflict is a situation where two or more people each own a problem about the same situation. Usually, as one of them tires to solve their problem, it creates a problem for the other, so each resists accepting the other’s solution.
Dr Dudley Weeks has worked with conflicting parties in over 60 countries including Rwanda and Bosnia. He emphasises the importance of viewing conflict as one part of a relationship; a part that sheds light on the rest of the relationship, and that can best be resolved by bearing in mind the resources of the rest of the relationship.
Al though Weeks acknowledges the importance of identifying the individual needs and goals of conflict participants, he also considers it important to identify the shared needs and goals (even when these are as simple as needing to resolve the conflict and get on with life). Weeks emphasises the (solution focused) idea of reorienting the participants to the future, using the past only to learn how to effectively create solutions that will work. He also emphasises the value of finding “doables” – solutions which don’t necessarily solve the whole problem but create a shared plan for the participants to cooperate in.
Weeks calls it the Partnership approach. His 8 steps to conflict resolution focus heavily on the relationship building which happens before and behind the problem solving stages. The steps are:
1. Create an effective atmosphere
2. Clarify perceptions
3. Focus on individual and shared needs
4. Build shared positive power
5. Look to the future, then learn from the past
6. Generate options
7. Develop doables – stepping stones to action
8. Make mutual-benefit agreements
Interestingly, all conflicts fit into one of the three following categories:
1. Closed communication loops
2. Conflict of values
3. Conflict of needs
The following examples show how various situations fit into one or the other category:
Conflict of Needs: You want to go shopping but your three-year old wants to watch TV.
You’re trying to study and the people next door are having a party.
Both you and your best friend want to use the same library text book to study for an exam.
Conflict of Values:
You think your spouse should spend more time with you, but he or she wants more space.
You think one of your work colleagues needs to be more polite with clients. They disagree.
You don’t want your children to swear, but they enjoy it.
The simplest to resolve are closed communication loops, which are “misunderstandings” resulting from when people forget to use I-Messages and reflective listening.
Closed Communication Loops:
What happens when nobody bothers to send clear I-messages and nobody checks their understanding using reflective listening? Messages go back and forth, and each person thinks they know what is happening.
Lets have a look at the following diagram. The person who was only hungry ends up believing that the other person hates her.
The person who felt hungry asked the cook ‘When is tea?’ The words are their code. The receiver has to decode the message to understand what was meant.
Normally, you might decode this message to mean “they are hungry”
But what if the receiver decodes wrongly? Perhaps this receiver can remember another time when someone asked: “When is tea?’, and that person was angry about tea being late. The receiver might well now decode this message as meaning that the sender is angry. After all, ‘When is tea?’ is not a very clear code for this message – ‘I’m hungry’
This is a closed communication loop. Sometimes the unclear message is not even sent in words. It may be just the way the person raises their eyebrows, looks away, frowns or sighs that is decoded as ‘he or she is attacking me’. The solution here is very simple. Whenever a person feels hurt or ‘under attack’ they need to check carefully what the message was. They can use reflective listening and I-messages to ‘open up’ the communication loop.
Conflict of Needs
Conflicts of needs happen more often, and are usually easier to solve. Conflicts of needs are inevitable in any relationship. They happen between people who work together, between workers and their clients, between friends, between relatives and between lovers. But it isn’t inevitable that someone will lost in such conflicts. Here you’ll learn the key to creating caring relationships where everyone wins.
In a conflict of needs, two people have each developed a plan to meet their own need or solve some problem, and the plans don’t fit together. Let’s say I plan to use our family car this Saturday night to go out to a sports club meeting. When I tell my partner, she says she also planned to use the car this Saturday night to go and visit a friend. Obviously we can’t both use the car for the whole evening. In such a situation, most people don’t despair. They realize that what really matters is that I get to my sports club meeting and my partner gets to visit her friend. Using the car for the night is just the particular plan: the solution each of us thought up to achieve these more basic goals (or, to use other words, meet these more basic needs: the word ‘need’ here simply means a basic ‘want’, or goal)
Once we realize this, we can invent several solutions which will fully meet both our basic goals. For examples:
1. I drive my partner to her friend’s house and pick her up after the meeting.
2. My partner drives me to the meeting and picks me up after their visit.
3. I use the car and my partner’s friend visits our place. 4. my partner uses the car and we arrange the meeting at out place.
5. someone else picks me up on the way to the meeting and my partner uses the car.
6. My partner’s friend picks her up and I use the car.
7. One of us gets a taxi and we share the taxi fare, while the other uses the car.
None of these solutions is a compromise, in the sense that none of them results in one of us giving up any part of our basic goal. And none of these solutions is a win-lose solutions where one of us uses our power to win at the other’s expense. (A compromise might be: I go to the first half of the meeting, and m partner goes for the last half of the evening – we both give up a little. Compromises are the result of talking at the level of solutions. Win-win conflict resolution results from talking at the level of needs.)
I have devised a checklist for you to effectively resolve your conflicts of needs with each other.
Click Here to download the Checklist.
Conflict of Values
Given the ideas we have had about ourselves, the perspective from which we have viewed human being, not only have we been relatively unaware of what values we have held, but we have thought it was possible for us to have wrong or bad ones. Conflict between individuals, groups, even nations, has often been ascribed to the differences in their values. At the level of behaviour, this has seemed to be so.
On closer examination, however, what shows up is that there is no conflict between people’s values. Where the problem lies is in the different ideas we have about what we need to do to fulfill them. Given the opportunity, all people would choose to be happy, to live in peace, to be loving and loved, to be free to be the most they could be, expressing their own uniqueness, growing and adventuring with life in their own way. The problem has not been a conflict of values, but of the means we thought we needed to use to achieve them.
At this point I want to share with you a story that
What allows us to begin to resolve the conflicts that have arisen out of this is to become aware of what our own and other people’s values actually are.
You can use a consultant model to influence others values. Effective consultants:
1. Get prepared – they are well informed about their subject. Don’t bother trying to convince your kids about the dangers of drugs if they know more than you.
2. Don’t start trying to influence until the other person has agreed to listen. In other words, get yourself hired first. The first statement of every good sales person is a request to talk to you.
3. Explain opinions using I messages in as brief a way as possible.
4. Listen to the other person’s opinions using reflective listening.
5. Leave the other person to make their own decision.
For example, imagine a nurse trying to be a health consultant to a patient who smokes, and failing to use the above principles.
Nurse: ‘Mr. Jones, shame on you, you should not be smoking.’
Mr. Jones: ‘Why Not! It’s none of your business!’
Nurse: ‘You know exactly why not, and stop being so silly’
Mr. Jones: ‘I don’t see why I should stop now. It’s one of the few pleasures I have.
Nurse: I’m only telling you this for your own good Mr. Jones. Do you want to be in here forever?’
Mr. Jones: ‘No, I don’t. Just leave me along!’
Nurse: ‘You’ll be sorry. Mark my words. I know a lot more about this than you.’
Mr. Jones: Stony Silence.
In this brief exchange, the Nurse has been fired as a consultant. By trying to use increasing force. She has lost any ability to influence. Mr. Jones begins to experience her as using her power over him., and his anger will prevent him from co-operating in other areas of the relationship.
It’s by consulting like this that many parents get fired by their teenagers, many teachers get fired by their students, and many managers get fired by their team members. Here’s how it could have been handled more effectively:
Nurse: ‘Mr. Jones, I’m really concerned about your smoking. Do you mind if we talk about it briefly’
Mr. Jones: ‘I suppose not. What does it matter?’
Nurse: ‘We find that men who quit smoking at your stage of coronary disease have a much lower rate of recurrence than those who carry on. I believe it’s one of the most important things you could do to give yourself a long and enjoyable life.’
Mr. Jones: ‘But smoking is one of the few pleasures I have, especially if I have to be on this damn diet.’
Nurse: ‘I guess it does seem like a lot of restrictions happening all at once. I think of this as a time when people need to discover a new range of things to enjoy. Everyone needs treats, that’s for sure.’
Mr. Jones: ‘Hmm, Well, I’m going to finish this one anyway. I’ll think about it, OK?’
Nurse: ‘OK, See you inside later.’
Mr. Jones: ‘Right.’ (Smiling)
This time the result is quite different. Most important of all, the relationship between the nurse and Mr. Jones is still intact. You can only influence someone who is willing to relate with you. Also, Mr. Jones may well be about to change his value and stop smoking. Very few people change their values as you talk to them. Mostly, they need time to go away and think about it, imagine what the new value would be like, check how it feels and talk it over with themselves. If you leave them while they still feel good about you, they have a head start to feeling good about what you said.
The main reason people try to influence other’s values is to help those people. That is, they are motivated by love. Consulting and modeling give you ways to share your values with love, instead of creating conflict with the very person you care for. If, after time, your attempts to influence someone are not working, you might ask yourself: ‘is that so terrible? Can I not live my values and allow them to live theirs?’
In some cases, you may decide that the best and most achievable solution is to change your relationship to allow for your different values. For a non=smoker and a smoker, this might mean agreeing on a separate area where the smoker can continue their habit. For two people with strongly opposed political beliefs, it may mean agreeing not to discuss certain topics. For a wife who cannot accept her husband’s alcoholism, it may mean living separately. In other cases, you may discover that it is possible to continue your relationship exactly as it is and , simply by adopting a different attitude to your difference, come to feel more accepting of it. Is any of us so absolutely certain of our map of the world that we can insist all others follow.
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