Looking at conflict differently


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Presentation by Mirna Hidalgo (lawyer, expert in training on conflict management, Breathingstone) on the occasion of the EESC and Fondation de Corse - Umani conference on Non-violence, a new way forward for the 21st century? in Bastia, Corsica on 14 June 2013

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  • If you ask people anywhere what they wish for the world, everyone wants peace. All churches pray for peace, every year we wish each other a year full of peace, we engrave a peace wish in our beloved one’s graves..
  • Even Miss Universe, Miss World wishes Peace – and this is for a reason: conflict is inherent in human nature; it is part of the survival instinct of all creatures – conflict and difficult interaction will continue to exist as long as the world exists
  • [Take the example of the phenomena of “piqueteros” in Argentina (where I come from): people started to protest pacifically against the governement, because they felt they were not heard, started to block roads to call for attention. Now the piqueteros are highly organised and can block a city or the country fi they want to. In turn, the rest of the population no longer knows why they pirqueteros are protesting this time, but find that they are not allowed to take children to school, cannot go to work, ambulances cannot circulate. So other people who were not part of the initial conflict are now angry and start to react violently towards others. And the circle escalates.... ]
  • Is conflict per se a bad thing?
  • Diplomats and politicians are generally excellent at their strategic thinking but have not been trained to specialise in the skills that are required to solve international and national conflicts - Each of us could also learn how to deal with conflict differently if we understood it better.
  • If we expect that behaviour be always “rational”, when it is not, then the traditional way is to punish the irrational behaviour in a “tit for tat” mindset
  • Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist, says that we are 98 percent emotional and 2% rational. In fact, behavoural scientists say that we are “predictably irrational” . Instead of “rational beings with feelings”, we should see ourselves as “feeling beings with the ability to think rationally”
  • By understanding emotions, it can be made sure that the underlying needs are being addressed and that the agreement is not superficial
  • Let’s look at how conflicts escalate
  • A good mediator will tell you that conflicts can be successfully negotiated with the parties are at stage 1. Stages 2 and 3 might be solved by agreement but they need to be de-escalated to level 1 to hold.
  • If I ask you which one is the best? What would be your answer? Which do you prefer? These are also called “conflict or negotiating personalities” because we all have a tendency to prefer a given way. Is it best to compete and win or to dissaude?Sun Tzu, said that “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill”.Now, not all situations allow for choice - if you are physically threatened, this is not the time to propose a negotiation. But in the majority of every day life situations, you will be confronted with situations where there is an opportunity for negotiation
  • Let’s look then at how the “old way” has traditionally looked at negotiation: Negotiating is generally understood as “making a deal, ie trade so that we get the best for ourselves” – for example if I want to buy a car I would think how can I get most options, and pay less? How will I look in this car? What will my friends think of me when they see me driving this? If you have children, will it be functional? Can I fit all the sports and daily groceries? Now let’s say two parents have to decide on the religion for their baby. How do they do this? Cannot – to quote Salomon – split the baby in half? Perhaps they need to talk about their deeper values and beliefs, and what religion means to each side of the family? If we take a purely distributive approach, every discussion becomes an exchange of tradeable commodities - then peace becomes a commodity – you get piece in exchange for land, or power for laying down the arms. But think about our identity and beliefs: I cannot trade away what creates my sense of self-belonging and identity in a negotiation. Complex situations tht involve emotions and cannot be easily quantified require an integrative approach .
  • Now, assume you have chosen the right negotiating style - is that all? What if there are factors of which you are not even aware? Cognitive biases play at unconcious level.
  • We are all programmed to survive - we had to fight predators and this required extreme self confidence . (for example, to scream and scare away big lions, the primitive man needed to be overconfident). So we tend to think we are smarter than others - ie we tend to reject ideas from opponents because they originate from the other side. The confirmation bias is very interesting: people look for confirmation that they are right, their brain rewards them with the same release of hormones as when they are happy when they reinforce their ideas. This is why trying to convince someone by attacking their beliefs is going to produce the opposite result. An attack provokes defense. Let me tell you a personal story: my boy is 15, he is starting to get out with friends - we agree on the time he has to be back. He asked to go to a school party. We live in a small town so he was going by bicycle with his best friend. We gave him permission until 22:30. My husband is less patient and stricter than me. He was expecting they would be late and saying that Anton never respects the time, kids are not like before... So when they arrived at 22:29, was my husband happy? Well, he should have, but there was something else playing in his head - he would have preferred to be justified and confirm his thinking that kids are irresponsible. So, the kids were there “we made it”, but instead of congratulations they heard “just about, we’ll see next time”. Group thinking or motivational biases also work like that: Groups tend to stereoptype out-groups and prototype their own members; self-censorship of counterarguments, and pressure on dissenters to maintain group loyaltySome examples of cognitive biases: self – deceptive overconfidenceConfirmation bias Motivational biases, group thinkingEndowment effect: we overvalue what we own Self-righteous bias: we believe we hold a higher moral value than others Framing effect: reject choices presented as losses
  • Independent from the substance, there is a “shadow negotiation” where we send signals that encourage others to be open and collaborate. If you show appreciation for their ideas, even if you don’t agree ith all of them, there is a chance that they will reciprocate. (example of body language disrespectful while I’m saying “ja, ja, I’m listening”
  • Preparation is the key to every conflict resolution - you may think that it is not possible to spend so much time on this - but ask yourself how much energy and time will be consumed if the conflict is not resolved. Assess your feelings and motivations honestly: is it worth spending time resolving it or is it time to let go? Remember the story of the old grandfather who explains to his grandson that there are two wolves inside you: one that enjoys peace and another that gets very angry and aggressive. They fight with each other all the time - the grandson asked: graandpa; which one wins? And grandpa says “the one I feed the most”.
  • Reserve for questions if an example is necessary: [Let me tell you a personal story. A few years ago I had saved a lot of money to change my house’s windows. The offer was clear and included new shutters. When I came down to serve coffee to the men who were installing the windows, I saw that they had re-installed my old shutters, which were heavy and worn out. The owner said: oh, they are still good, aren’t they? I was in shock and asked about the new shutters we had agreed. The man pretended they were not in the offer and then said he did not have the materials to install them. My “lawyer” reaction would have been to threaten him with the previous documents he had sent and this would have started an escalation.But this time I was tired, this was my house and I wasn’t thinking as a lawyer. I simply let my feelings show. I said “You sent an offer and even spent time looking at the places where the old shutters were broken and now you say they are not included. I am so sad. I have made such an effort saving my money and trying to find the best recommendations for someone who would do a good job. Now I would pay for something that I did not receive. I feel so sad because I trusted you”. And then I couldn’t help it and a few tears rolled down my cheak... The next day the shutters were “found” by surprise in their atelier and he came to install them! ]
  • My brain also plays with biases and creates illusions, so why coulnd’t I imagine I was giving a speech as Miss World? Then I would wish peace for the world and each of you a lot of good luck in managing conflict in every day life [Possible Questions: how can we deal with poeple who have bad intentions, lie, manipulate? First, be careful about rewarding bad behaviour - by allowing it to continue to avoid the problem, the bully feels hecan go ahead. Second, beware of reacting by playing their game: take care of your reputation. Third, being trustworthy does not mean trusting everyone. Try to understand their logic. But don’t try to convince them that they are not right - if the interaction does not work, explain what impact it has on you and what you are going to do if it does not stop. But if the person is really difficutl or perhaps mentally ill, remember you can try to understand but your goal is not to change the other person. Your goal is to try to do your best to fuel a productive exchange. What if the other person is abusive? Make sure you protect your own identity. Sometimes avoidance is the best strategy. (for example when dealing with a psycophat it may be best to consider what other options you have, for example leaving your job) ]
  • Looking at conflict differently

    1. 1. Mirna Hidalgo "Non-violence, a new way forward for the 21st century?" Conference organised jointly by the Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and Umani – Fundazione di Corsica 14 June 2013 Salle des Congrès, Théâtre de Bastia, Rue Favalelli, 20200 Bastia Looking at conflict differently
    2. 2. Everyone wants peace...  Churches of all religions  Birthday and New Years’ wishes  R.I.P.
    3. 3. Even Miss World’s speech is wishing Peace for all!
    4. 4. Conflict  Unfortunatelly peace talks fail, wars continue, violence is on the streets and we feel the gap between divergent views is growing...  The cost of conflict is very high  It treathens our personal security,  Communities, economies and the environment deteriorate  People suffer from stress and exasperation  There is a vicious circle where frustration and unjustice generates outrage, and therefore more violence
    5. 5. Is conflict the same as violence?
    6. 6. Conflict can be positive  Not all conflict is bad:  Conflict is a source of creativity  Generates dialogue and deeper understanding  Forges durable and stronger relationships  We don’t seem to find the right way of managing conflicts  The old way isn’t working
    7. 7. Old ways of dealing with conflicts  Old ways assume that:  human beings are motivated by sanction and reward only  Carrot and stick approach – threats of economic sanctions or use of force  most human behaviour is a rational activity
    8. 8. Are these old assumptions right? Are we rational or emotional? In what percentages ?
    9. 9. New ways  Make use of behavioural economics  Cognitive and social neuroscience  Social psychology  Understanding the role of emotions has changed the way conflict can be approached  Motivation does not work through coertion and fear
    10. 10. Conflicts escalation  Stage 1: good relationship can be maintained even in conflict  Stage 2: parties fluctuate between collaboration and competition – advocating without much listening  Stage 3: hostile – arguments, insults – angry, frustrated, anxious  Stage 4: each party feels his/her identity is attacked – dominated by emotions – stereotypes – dogmatic positions  Stage 5: parties feel their sacred values are at stake – they dehumanise each other – war and violence  At which stage can a conflict be resolved
    11. 11. Conflicts escalation good relationship can be maintained even in conflict parties fluctuate between collaboration and competition – advocating without much listening  Stage 3: hostile – arguments, insults – angry, frustrated, anxious  Stage 4: each party feels his/her identity is attacked – dominated by emotions – stereotypes – dogmatic positions  Stage 5: parties feel their sacred values are at stake – they dehumanise each other – war and
    12. 12. Conflict management styles Conflict management Compet e Negotiat e Delegat e Accomo date Avoid
    13. 13. Different ways of negotiating Distributive Negotiation Integrative Negotiation  Compromising  Dividing the pie  Win-lose – zero sum  Works well where value is easily determined and where everyone can agree on a common medium of exchange  Takes account of interest and not just positions  Looking for creating solutions  Win-more for all parties  Takes account of emotions and complexity
    14. 14. What if we behave in ways we are not aware of?  In addition to selecting the right negotiation strategy, we need to be aware of the “shadow negotiation” – what happens in our bodies and minds?  Psychologists tell us that cognitive biases are distortions affect the way we process information  They help us manage anxiety  They are hardwired to protect us from the environment  We filter information in categories to avoid being overloaded and to increase chances of survival
    15. 15. The psychology of conflict and negotiation  We tend to interpret information to fit our ideas or to justify our preferred cause of action  I AM RIGHT - YOU ARE WRONG  The more passionate you are about an issue, the more likely it is that you will disregard or dismiss the views of those who see things differently
    16. 16. How can we be more open to non – violent dialogue?  Become aware of the effect of biases  Are you trying to justify yourself ?  Are you listening actively?  Are you willing to engage in constructive problem solving?  Are you aware of the nonverbal messages you are sending?  Have you taken time to establish rapport with the other side?
    17. 17. So... Is there a secret to resolve conflicts peacefully and negotiate successfully?
    18. 18. The answer is ... there is no secret formula  There is no comfortable predictable way - - think of a process, not an event  Dare to look in new places  Conflict management and negotiaton require a different mindset
    19. 19. Dealing with conflicts differently  Spend time learning and preparing  Self reflection is key – know yourself  Think about how you may have contributed to the conflict  Be honest about your own feelings  Focus on the other  Instead of arguing who is right – ask questions to understand the other side’s story  Think about identities and beliefs
    20. 20. Effective communication  It is important to get out of the confrontational style - even when we are right  Three simple steps help communicating effectively:  1. Express your OWN FEELINGS  2. Talk about the FACTS – without addying accusations  3. EXPLAIN the impact the behaviour has on you “Nonviolence which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain”. Mahatma Gandhi
    21. 21. Thank you  Resolving conflicts requires hard work and practice. Recognising emotions and learning to listen are a good place to start Any questions? mirna.hidalgo@breathingstone.be May peace be with you all !
    22. 22. Suggested bibliography •“Elusive Peace: How Mondern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts”, Douglas E. Noll, 2011, Prometheus Books, New York •“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most”, Doublas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen; 2010 ed., Penguin Books •“Leadership Effectiveness Training”, by Dr. Thomas Gordon, 2001, Berkely Publishers