Conflict Resolution Strategy: Moving the bonfire creatively

I started life as a conflict mediator when I was about 9 years old. The suburban street gang I was part of was building our annual bonfire for British Guy Fawkes Night. We had always built a twenty foot high bonfire of branches, old mattresses and anything burnable. We always built it on the site of the charred earth of the previous year’s fire, about 60 feet away from the nearest house. This time, however, spurred by an anxious wife, Ron Hooper came out to tell us to move it. I was far from being the leader of the gang: there wasn’t one. We were one of those high performance leaderless groups. But Ron decided to talk to me, rather than the rest of the gang, who had more of what is now called ‘attitude’.  He told me: ‘move the bonfire much further away’. I said I would see what I could do. I took his demand to the gang and they all groaned as we had built the damn thing and it was hours of work to take it down and rebuild it further away. We thought about it and someone suggested we light a small fire, to make a burn mark on the ground (pretending it was from last year’s fire) and strew around some debris about 30 foot from the house and then call him out and show him we had doubled the distance from his house to the bonfire. We did it, called him out and he departed satisfied with what he had achieved.

When I tell this story, people think I am advocating deceit in bargaining. I think the essence of the story is really that we figured out that Ron didn’t give a damn about the site of the bonfire, but for a quiet life had agreed to his wife’s demand that he get it moved. We gave him what he needed: apparent doubling of the distance without in fact our having to move the bonfire. We recognized his interests: apparent movement and ours, no real movement, were not in conflict and so we had a Win-Win! And my intuition is that Ron who was a savvy person was not fooled! He recognized the situation and that it met his needs!

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

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