This blog is heavily focused on the idea of using systematic processes to handle conflict. In particular, it suggests a Creative Conflict Model that envisages participants in a conflict, becoming realistic about the conflict, recognizing each others interests, showing creativity in solutions to the conflict, seeing the conflict from both sides, crafting a deal that best meets both sides’ interests, and learning from the process.
But, I have come to realize from comments I receive, that people think this is unrealistic because ‘the other side will never agree to use the process’. Well actually, I have usually used the process in conflict without the other side agreeing to use it, or indeed sometimes without the other side even knowing I was using it. So to take the Seven Step Creative Conflict Model’s stages:
- Getting Real. There is in any conflict the need to get realistic about what you are facing. If the other side is delusional about reality, that may harm its interests, and make conflict resolution harder. You may act to make the other side more realistic. You don’t need to have them agree to this process; you simply try to show them which way is up and hope they can be helped to become more realistic.
- Getting Interest Based. In any conflict it is essential you probe beyond your own positions in the conflict to your underlying interests. You don’t need the other side’s permission to do this. You can do it unilaterally, and it will make achievement of your interests easier to achieve. There is no reason you should not tell the other side your interests if that helps get a better solution but sometimes you may need to keep your interests to yourself. It is a tactical judgement.
- Getting Empathetic about the Other Side’s Interests. While it would be best if the other side came to realize for itself where its interests lie, beyond its knee jerk positions, again if it does not want to do this, there is no reason you should not do it unilaterally as a way to handle the conflict with your eyes open to where their interests lie. You don’t need their agreement but you can certainly re-frame for them by asking them why they want something, how it fits their interests, what these interests are?
- Getting Creative about Solutions to the Conflict. If you begin to see ways to resolve the conflict, you would hope to work jointly with the other side to create solutions that meet both side’s interests. But again, absent such collaboration, you can still think independently and creatively about possible solutions and at some stage try to use them in the negotiation with the other side. You don’t need the other side’s permission to be creative in conflict. And you may even help make them creative without formalizing the process, simply by asking good questions.
- Getting Stereoscopic: Seeing Both Sides’ Perspective at the Same Time. Sun Tzu the Chinese military strategist said: ‘know your enemy’ so again you don’t need the other side’s collaboration to Get Stereoscopic. You can benefit from looking from outside the conflict unilaterally, though of course, getting them to do the same would help. It is not essential.
- Getting Clear about the Deal to End the Conflict. All the steps needed to ensure any deal you agree is in your interests, can be exercised independently of the other side. Of course, if you have a continuing relationship with them like union/management, it is probably not in your interests if they agree to something that is not in their interests, as there will be a tendency to break the agreement and pay back for trickery. So you might want to check the deal against what you have uncovered of their interests as well as your own and reflect if an unstable deal is in your interests, if the pending deal is not in their interests but they don’t realize it.
- Getting Wise: Learning from the Conflict. After Action Reviews of what went well, not so well and what you would do differently, are perfectly fine if done unilaterally just by your side. But of course, doing it jointly may be better for any long term relationship building.
As humans we are brilliant at projecting our sins onto others. It is a basic human psychological mechanism. So I caution anyone saying: ‘oh the other side will never agree to using systematic conflict processes’ and ask them: ‘do you mean you don’t want to use such processes yourself?‘ As I hope I have showed briefly above, and based on my own extensive conflict experience, we don’t need the other side to agree to using good process. It is perfectly fine if only we use it. And using it may cause the other side to become interested in using it themselves, if they see it begin to open up new options for resolving the conflict, expanding the size of the cake being divided, or achieving win-win solutions. It may be better to role model the use of the conflict disciplined approach than preach it; at least to begin with.
Thanks to our correspondent Kyrie Eleison for raising this issue recently.