A FOUR STEPWAY
OF DEALING WITH CONFLICT
A. "Conflict" Defined and Described
B. Methods for Handling Conflict
C. Interest-Based Problem Solving
D. Recap on How We Deal with Conflict
2. TWO SIMPLE (BUT NOT EASY) PRINCIPLE ON INTEREST-BASED PROBLEM SOLVING
A. Principle #1: Use Conflict as a
B.Principle #2:Respect People, Attack Problems
3. FOUR STEPS TO PROBLEM SOLVING
A. Step #1: Raise the Issue
B. Step #2 Discover the Underlying Interests
C. Step #3 Invent Options for Mutual Gain
D. Step #4 Develop Agreements Based on Objective
AND RECAP OF PRINCIPLES AND STEPS
TO SOLVING CONFLICTS
5. READINGS ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION
A. Conflict" Defined and Described.
Conflict happens when two people disagree about something. Despite the fact that people have a lot of similarities, since each of us is different from everybody else, we will have conflicts. Conflict is a natural part of life; it happens to us often.
For example, if a driver coming the opposite way from us wants to turn the same way we do, that can cause conflict. Most of the time we agree, almost instinctively, on what we each need to do. In another setting, suppose that my friend wants to play cards with me, but I want to go to a movie; or suppose that he or she wants to play golf and I want to go fishing - that can create conflict. Or how about choosing a place to spend the holidays? Shall we go to see my spouse's parents, my parents, both sets of parents, stay at home, or go someplace else? Perhaps we choose to go to each place for a different holiday throughout the year. Most of the time we work it out.
Conflict can be positive and healthy, as well as a learning and growing experience. When we deal with it in a healthy way, we can generally find a solution that satisfies both of us. This is what we call managing or dealing successfully with conflict.
Unfortunately, conflict also has its negative side, where we can not only disagree with each other, but sometimes we can also hurt feelings and fracture relationships. The purpose of this Paper is to show you that there are options for finding a better way to manage disagreements.
B. Methods for Handling Conflict.
Customarily we handle conflict through avoidance or position-based competition. In the avoidance approach, people in conflict simply do not deal with their differences in order, for example, to keep peace in the family or in the office. This approach is useful if the differences are thought to be insignificant or if the people involved need time to "cool off." But it may be non-productive if the parties just let the conflict fester, as in the case of conflict between employee and manager.
In the position-based competitive approach, we hold to our positions and try to prevail over the other person. This approach has two strains: power-based and rights-based.
In the power-based strain, people settle their differences according to who has more power. This is a legitimate and important way to handle conflict. For example, without a chain of command, the VA has no way to organize its efforts. Additionally, without good employees working efficiently and efficiently to provide excellent care and services, the VA cannot carry out its mission.
In the rights-based strain, the parties in a conflict refer to their legal rights as the basis for resolving their differences. If they cannot reach agreement, they submit their claims to recognized authorities. The rights-based strain is also a legitimate and necessary way to handle conflicts. Where would we be without our court systems and our other grievance, complaint and appeals procedures?
The problem with both strains of the competitive approach is that one person wins and one person looses. As a result, feelings may be hurt, relationships may be unnecessarily weakened or destroyed, and commitment to decisions may be weak. There must be a better way to deal with conflict than this.
And there is! We can work together on conflict management initiative to increase the understanding and practice of interest-based problem solving throughout the VA.
C. Interest-Based Problem Solving.
What interest-based problem solving (IBPS) means is that there are times when it makes sense for people who have a problem to sit down together to see if they can solve it by talking about their mutual concerns.
People who are in conflict with each other often have common interests. In the workplace, for example, common interests include: the overall success of the organization, communication and team-work, professional competence for everyone, both quality and productivity, ethical treatment, and recognition of our diversity.
IBPS has some significant advantages over the avoidance and competitive approaches:
1. The parties will be more likely to feel that the decision-making
process has been a fair one.
2. The parties will tend to be more committed to carrying out the
3.They are likely to have a greater understanding of, and respect
for, each other.
4. If future conflicts arise, they will have an example to follow,
making it easier for the parties to address the conflict and deal
with it constructively.
5. IBPS often costs less in the long run than power or rights-based
strains. IBPS produces resultsand consistently maintains
relationships between the parties - it may even improve
That is not to say that all conflicts should be handled the same way. Some differences just are not that big a deal. Others may be caused inadvertently, and there is just not much that can be done about them.
On the other hand, some disputes are big, important and tough enough that it makes sense to address them directly. It is important to realize in such situations that we have not two but three choices in how to do this: avoidance, competition, and analyzing our interests. There will always be a legitimate need for avoidance and competition as solutions to conflict situations. But let's reflect for a moment on the VA objectives:
*; Courtesy and Caring
* Improve quality-driven productivity and customer satisfaction
In general, do you think that these objectives would be met better by basing our relationships with each other on power, on rights or on interests? We think it is fair to say that quality work is rarely achieved in an adversarial relationship.
D. Re-cap on How We Deal with Conflict.
There are three primary strategies that we use to deal with conflict::
Flight- avoiding conflict and hoping that it will go away.
Fight- using authority, rights or force to attempt to prevail over others.
Unite- talking with other people to develop solutions that will satisfy mutual interests, some result that
they all can "live with."
Experience shows that we will be more successful in accomplishing our mission to the extent that we shift the balance in the way we manage differences.
Using various conflict management techniques supports the VA's objectives. By improving how we deal with conflict, we can change the culture of our organization, removing some of the barriers to reaching our objectives. The shift of balance in how we deal with people's differences will help, as we know from our own experience. If you treat people well and fairly, most of the time they will respond the same way.
If we treat each other honestly and fairly, we will create a friendlier working environment. And, ordinarily, that can increase quality-driven productivity.
2. TWO SIMPLE (BUT NOT EASY) PRINCIPLES ON INTEREST-BASED PROBLEM SOLVING.
A. Principle #1: Use Conflict as a Natural Resource.
Conflict is Natural -- Each of us perceives the world around us differently; we make decisions differently. We act in these ways due to our upbringing, our personalities, where we sit in the organization, our cultures, or even what part of the world we come from. We all have different points of view about different topics, and it would be strange indeed if we did not disagree from time to time.
Conflict Can Even Be a Good Resource -- You may remember that we mentioned this idea earlier. Conflict can be a first step on the way to improving communication, solving a problem, and even building trust and cooperation. If you belonged to a Quality Improvement Team you experienced these things. You practiced Interest-Based Problem Solving to develop agreements.
B.Principle #2: Respect People; Attack Problems.
When we have a difference with someone, it is not unusual for us to think something like: "We have a problem here, and the problem is YOU!"
Usual or not, this attitude will not get us moving down the road to mutual problem solving. Think about it the other way around: when someone feels that we are the problem, we tend to "get" the message (whether through their tone of voice, their body language, or simply the "vibes"). And our reaction tends to be defensive: "If am the problem, then we have a big problem - because I am not likely to become someone else in the near future!"
But there is more. Deciding that "the problem is you" not only is not effective, it is also usually not true. In fact, the other person is a human being, in many ways like you and me, with hopes, dreams, fears, and imperfections.
If we need a more practical basis for distinguishing between people and problems, then look at the fact that making people the problem does not work. If we put people down, they are likely to put us down in return.
So do whatever you need to do to "distinguish between the person and the problem." This is an internal activity, and only you know how to do it for yourself. Some people draw on their religious heritage for guidance on how to do this. Others recommend "going up onto the balcony" in your imagination to see the conflict situation from an outsider's perspective. Whatever works for you, go ahead and do it before you move on to the next step. You will know you have succeeded when you can imagine yourself and the other(s) involved in the conflict standing side by side, facing the problem together: respect people; attack problems.
3. THE FOUR STEPS IN INTEREST BASED PROBLEM SOLVING.
|A.Step #1: Raise the Issue.|
"Issues" are the problems that are bugging us.
"Positions" are our unilateral solutions to those problems. If a problem is bothering you, and you want to solve it with the other person, you need to raise the issue.
When you raise the issue, do it in a way that shows respect for the other
person, but that clearly expresses the problem and its effect on you. Do
this as briefly as possible, and be immediately ready to listen to the
other person's point of view. It may be that the other person raises an
issue first or tells you (sometimes in no uncertain terms!) what his or
her position is.
|B.Step #2: Discover the Underlying Interests.|
The good news about positions and issues is that they tell us exactly where
to begin in resolving the conflict. The bad news about positions and issues
is that they are only the beginning.
As you explore your positions and issues, you will find out about your interests, which are the foundation for agreements. But getting to that point requires work. For example, suppose you and your manager disagree on a due date for submitting a report. How could you approach this? To discover interests, first ask, then listen. "What needs to be done in order to complete the report?" "How much detail is desirable?" "How much time will it take to obtain that much detail?" "Does this assignment take precedence over other assignments?" "Why does the manager need the report on that particular date?"
Asking the questions is just the first part. It is the second part that most of us find difficult: listening. We tend to be so frustrated with the situation that we want to talk to get our point of view across. But of course that only gets the other party more frustrated; and, unless we are aware of what is happening, we tend to get ourselves into a situation where we can only fight or flee.
So the guideline is: If you are not in a mood to listen, do not raise issues. But when you do raise an issue, listen. Listen actively. In other words, really try to understand the other's point of view. And Listen, Listen, Listen.
If you do not understand what the other person is saying, ask more questions -- genuine questions, not "cross examination" or "leading" questions. Those are for the courtroom.
As you begin to think you understand the other's point of view, check it out with him or her. Repeat it back to see if you heard it correctly. If you did not understand what was said, ask the other person to tell you. That will give you another chance to understand. Someone once said, "To understand means to stand under, which means to look up to, which is a pretty good way to understand."
It is important to let the other person know your interests as well. Once someone feels genuinely listened to, he or she will tend to be more ready to hear your side. And then you will both have an understanding of the interests that must be satisfied if you are to reach agreement.
Once you both realize that you do understand where the other is coming from, ask about the reasons why, i.e., their underlying interests. Once you are clear on that, you will be starting to get some ideas on how to resolve the problem - you will have many more pieces of information to work with. But notice also what else happens through this "active listening": the other person gets to vent feelings. As a result, the "emotional temperature" begins to come down, and he or she begins to realize that you respect his or her point of view (and, by extension, him or her), whether or not you agree with the other position. (Ah, the luxury of simply being heard!)
In short, you are helping to shift the balance from "win-lose" position-based to "win-win" interest-based problem solving. This is worth solid gold as you move on to the next steps. Incidentally, "interests" almost always relate to some form of our "basic needs," such as shelter, safety, or satisfaction.
|C. Step #3: Invent Options for Mutual Gain.|
Here is where any training you may have received in "brainstorming" will
come in handy. The basic rules for brainstorming are:
Go for quantity- as many ideas as possible.
Build on each other's ideas.
No critiquing or "killer phrases."
Any idea is okay for brainstorming.
Your goal here is to work together to generate as many possible solutions as you can which could satisfy the underlying interests you have identified in the previous step.
|D . Step #4: Develop Agreements Based on Objective Standards.|
You have just brainstormed options for mutual gain. Now evaluate those
options as potential solutions - but against what? Two people who differ
on something need to compare their proposed solutions to something besides
their own desires and wants, to something outside themselves.
Normally for an option to provide a win-win solution, must meet objective standards such as being workable, equitable for both parties, fair, legal, ethical, within cost, and capable of being implemented. Rather than . to assume that the other person has the same standards in mind that you do, discuss them to make sure that both of you have the same understanding of what the standards are and what they mean. For instance, what do "workable," "fair," and "ethical" mean to both of you within the context of your particular situation?
It may be important to consider more specific standards too. Are there community, industry, or professional standards that must be met? Think of the times that you have referred to the "Blue Book" value of a car: that is an industry standard, a commonly accepted reference point for sales price or trade-in value. What about the neighbors who want to put an addition onto their house? They must comply with local building codes and zoning regulations. Even in the VA , we have a professional code of conduct that we must follow.
Once you have agreed on the standards, then together choose a solution that appears to meet both of your needs. Usually when all the facts are laid out, one solution seems to have advantages over the others. Arrive at a solution that both of you can buy into and live with. Then test the solution. If that solution is not as effective as you thought it would be, or if the circumstances change, regroup and choose another potential solution. Try it out and see if that one works better.
Sometimes people come to agreement without spending a lot of time creating
standards. As you become more experienced at IBPS, you may see the solution
becoming clear as you list options. Just remember not to assume that you
understand what the other person thinks or feels - check it out with him
or her. Then if the solution meets both of your interests and needs, try
4 - CONCLUSION AND RECAP OF PRINCIPLES AND STEPS TO SOLVING CONFLICTS.
In this Paper we have defined conflict and introduced you to a new way
to handle conflict situations: Interest-Based Problem Solving. We showed
how IBPS will contribute to accomplishing the VA's objectives for the future.
In closing, here is a quote that you might find useful. It is from an early chaplain to the United States Senate:
"I am only one, But still I am one. I cannot do everything, But still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."
PRINCIPLES AND STEPS TO SOLVING CONFLICTS
Principle #1 - This conflict I am in is natural, and can even be a source of improved relations and a good solution.
Principle #2 -
The other person is a human being with hopes and dreams too. I am going
to respect this person. And attack the problem.
||- Raise the issue clearly and with respect|
||- Explore issues to discover underlying interests|
||- Invent options for mutual gain|
||-Develop agreements based on objective standards|
ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION (BOOKS PUBLICATIONS).
William Bridges, Transitions - Making Sense of Life's Changes (Addison Wesley Pub. Co., Inc., 1980)
Bridges takes us step by step through the transition process, offering skills, suggestions, and advice for negotiating each of three perilous passages: endings the neutral zone, and beginnings. Whether you are at the beginning. the ending, or somewhere in the neutral zone of your own transition, this book offers many useful insights to help get you through it.
William Bridges, Managing Transitions - Making the Most of Change (Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., Inc., 1991)
Bridges shows how you can help your subordinates deal with the coming changes. "You cannot get the results you need without getting into 'that personal stuff'." This book offers many ideas and case studies for learning these techniques.
Thomas F. Crum, The Magic of Conflict: Turning a Life of Work into a Work of Art (Touchstone Books, 1988) - Martial arts
This book presents Aiki as a method to master conflicts and turn frustration into fulfillment. It suggests that conflict can be an opportunity for making choices a change.
Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, with Answers to Ten Questions People Ask (Penguin Books, 1991)
"Yes but...what if they are more powerful? What if they won't play? What if they use tricks?" Here are some good approaches to consider for you .
Thomas Gordon, Leader Effectiveness Training (Bantam, 1984)
What stands out in this book is the middle part dealing with conflict. Chapters VIII, IX, and X are especially relevant to our purposes. You will recognize our approach in these pages, with good, clear examples Chapter X, "Organizational Applications of the No-Lose Method", is very interesting.
Joyce L. Hocker and William W. Wilmot, Interpersonal Conflict (Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1991)
This book is about an activity that requires energy, wisdom, and creativity. Our approach to conflict assumes that we do not have to continually experience destructive conflict. lt. can be transformed into a productive experience. offers a systematic look at the components of conflict, focusing on how we communicate with each other
Rebecca R. Luhn, Managing Anger: How to Convert Negative Anger into Positive Energy (Crisp Publications, 1992)
Luhn helps us make an individual assessment of the cause and effects of our anger, with methods that help us manage our emotions and deal with anger in a positive manner.
That's Not What I Meant: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships
(Ballantine Books, 1992)
Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (Ballantine Books, 1991)
Using many examples to make her case, Dr. Tannen suggests that interaction between women and men is actually cross-cultural communication that can lead to troublesome misunderstandings. Through her insights into different ways of perceiving information, setting priorities, and making decisions based on gender, she shows ways of bridging the gap to communicate more effectively with each other.
William Ury, Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (Bantam, 1991)- book and audio cassette
This book shows you how to get by obstacles to negotiation and succeed in what you are doing. Ury offers his five-step system to dismantle stonewalls, disarm tough bargainers, deflect attacks, and dodge dirty tricks. It offers techniques and strategies to identify the problem, develop practical proposals, and invent creative options to satisfy both sides
William Ury and Scott Brown, Getting Together: Building Relationships As We Negotiate (Penguin Books, 1988)
Using many of the same techniques as in Getting to Yes, this book gives helpful applications to personal relationships.
Jerry Wisinski, Resolving Conflict on the Job (AMACOM, American Management Association, 1993)
This is a volume in the "Work Smart" workbook series. It is interactive, whether you are listing conflicts you experience in different parts of your life, or answering questions on constructive criticism you feel you must make.
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