Tools and Techniques for Managing and Resolving Conflict


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This is the first of a series of webinars that Amanda Murphy of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center presented to Extension faculty and staff on Managing and Resolving Conflict.

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  • Good morning everyone and welcome to the first of this three part series on managing and resolving conflict, its really a pleasure to be here and talking to you today on this topic. Before we begin, I want to briefly introduce the Ruckelshaus Center and who we are and what we do
  • Mission The mission of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center is to act as is a neutral resource for collaborative problem solving in the region. The Center provides expertise to improve the quality and availability of voluntary collaborative approaches for policy development and multi-party dispute resolution. Named for our founder and Advisory Board chair, devoted to his approach to collaborative problem solving. First and fifth head of EPA, leader of collaborative environmental policy initiatives such as Shared Strategy, US Oceans Commission, Puget Sound Partnership. Center a joint effort of Washington’s two research universities and was developed in response to requests from community leaders. Hosted at the University of Washington by the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and at Washington State University by WSU Extension. Building on the unique strengths of the two institutions, the Center is dedicated to assisting public, private, tribal, non-profit and other community leaders in their efforts to build consensus and resolve conflicts around difficult public policy issues. The Center also advances the teaching and research missions of the two universities by bringing real-world policy issue to the academic setting.
  • Services The Center responds where involvement by the Universities adds value and makes the prospects for a successful outcome more likely. This can be because the universities are seen by the involved parties as an acceptable convener where others are not, due to subject matter expertise, or a variety of other reasons. The universities benefit from the Center because it helps them meet their teaching, research and service missions. The community benefits because the resources and expertise at the universities are deployed to address real-world challenges. The Center’s services are shown above, add up to the toolkit of conflict resolution/collaborative policy making :
  • I imagine many of you have some familiarity with many of the concepts we will be looking at today and over the next few weeks and in many ways all of you have experienced and resolved conflict. The term conflict resolution simply means how you solve conflicts and my goal today and over the next sessions is to really get you thinking about conflict and how you resolve it in new ways. There are many processes available, which can often depend on the situation and type of conflict. This series is really an introduction to conflict in general and to introduce you to some of the skills and tools you can use to manage and resolve conflicts ranging from the everyday conflicts to those that require more than basic level skills to resolve, but don’t require more formal third party or leagal processes.
  • Common Responses Fight Anger Pain Impasse Destruction Fear Mistake Avoid Lose Control Hate Loss Bad Wrongdoing Draw attention to the different associations to conflict participants make. Some will describe conflicts as fight, disagreement, war. Others may identify causes e.g. difference of opinion or perspective, difference in personality. Others may note the feeling it engenders e.g. tension, anxiety stress.
  • Conflict is a word with a wide range of meanings that often creates a strong emotional response when people hear it. The word conflict is used to describe minor miscommunications between two people to war between nations. Since we are talking about one word with a multitude of meanings, Id like to narrow our focus to the following definition, to make sure we are working from the same understanding. The first part of the definition reminds us that conflict always has two sides. We can easily fall into the trap of regarding the two sides as enemies – there cannot be a win/win.   Instead of having a clash of people, lets have a clash of ideas. The second part of the definition– “perceive their goals as incompatible” makes it possible to see conflict in another way – an opportunity to find a way for both goals to be achieved at once.  
  • Conflict is not inherently good or bad, but it can be constructive or destructive. Good things can and do come from conflicts and when constructive, create new opportunities for ideas and solutions to surface. Poorly managed conflict can become destructive, creating negative emotions, actions and outcomes. Conflict for most people is not enjoyable and our natural response is eliminate or avoid it. Because it is inevitable and often stressful, we sometimes resort to inappropriate psychological defense mechanisms as a way to cope with the situation. Conflict is a process and when left unresolved, grows and escalates. Small misunderstandings, when left unaddressed can take a ride up the conflict escalator and morph into highly charges issues. Misinterpreting someones words or actions often leaves us to misinterpret their intentions. When we do that, depending on the situation, we may move up the escalator towards conflict, rather than down towards understanding. Asking questions is one way to stop the escalation and we will get to that later in the series. Conflict can be a win/win and we will look at this a little more later on. Good things can and do come from conflicts and when constructive, create new opportunities for ideas and solutions to surface.
  • There are many approaches to solving conflict and there are no magic formulas or one size fits all processes. However, these steps and the tools you will be introduced to will help you to be more aware of conflict situations and skills to help prevent, manage and resolve them.
  • When attempting to resolve a conflict, it helps to identify the origin of the problem. To understand whether the conflict is simple or complex. Uncover underlying causes. Understand appropriate style to use to resolve. I came across the book “The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict” by Christopher Moore, and one of the key concepts within the book is the circle of conflict. Data, structural, relationships, values and interests make up the five wedges of the circle. Each wedge can be the source of the problem or multiple wedges can be the cause of the problem. You can use this concept to help you figure out what is the origin of all of your headaches. Consider learning about this concept as adding another tool to your problem-solver tool kit. Data or information . One of the causes of your problem could be that you are either missing information or the information you have is flawed. Or you could have different views of what information is relevant. Sometimes it’s different interpretations of the data or different ways the data is assessed. The key point here is that data or information is the root of the problem. Structural. To better understand this wedge, think of how larger systems can impact the problem. A difference in power or authority is a good example of a structural problem. Another example is who controls resources and how are those resources allocated or dispersed.  Time constraints could be another cause of the conflict. This wedge is all about the systemic or structural factors that contribute to the problem. Relationships. Misperceptions or stereotypes of others are common causes of relationship conflicts. Poor communication or miscommunication is often the instigator of many conflicts. The theme to this wedge is how folks relate to each other and does their behavior contribute to the problem? Values. Different ways of life, ideology or worldview are examples of how what you value can be part of the problem. Having different criteria for evaluating ideas is another example. This wedge is all about what folks value and if they are on the same page about those values. Interests. Interests are the ‘why’ in any problem. Most people will tell you ‘what’ they want, which we call their position. Interests are why they want it.  Interests are the motivation for the action. They are what is behind the position, that is, the real need or desire of the person. This final wedge asks us to look at the motivations of others to determine if this could be a root cause of the problem. By using the circle of conflict, you can begin to analyze the problem from a more objective viewpoint and untangle your problem with less effort and wasted energy. So when in doubt, consider the circle of conflict. Wherever the conflict lies, once the area that the problem originates from is identified, the solution can be geared toward the problem area. The real issue may be lost in all of the bad feelings which have surfaced. Identifying the area of the problem will help move towards a solution.
  • In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness. They argued that people typically have a preferred conflict resolution style. However they also noted that different styles were most useful in different situations. These conflict styles are generally not consciously chosen, but emerge as actions that have been learned since childhood from everyday encounters, arguments or disagreements. We tend to use a style depending on the situation but research has shown that we all have an order of preference among the styles. Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or mixture of approaches) for the situation you're in. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary. Ideally you can adopt an approach that meets the situation, resolves the problem, respects people's legitimate interests, and mends damaged working relationships.
  • Deny or avoid conflict; hold in feelings; accept decisions without question.
  • Agree and go along because it's easier; smooth over situations; adjust opinions or feelings rather than risk a conflict.
  • Approach as a win-lose proposition; more powerful and do not need the other party.
  • Both parties give up something to meet midway; seek a conflict solution in which both sides gain something.
  • View conflict as a problem to be solved and to seek win-win solutions.
  • Think of a recent conflict you were involved in.
  • Reiterate: Most of us have a “natural” conflict resolution style that corresponds with one of the five modes shown above. Our preferred styles are influenced by our personality and experience dealing with conflict. However, not all conflict situations are the same and all of these modes can be used effectively in the right situation. It’s important to develop our ability to choose the right mode and increase our level of comfort with alternative styles.
  • So far we have looked at ways to understand conflict. We have defined conflict, looked at the types and causes of conflict, and introduced common conflict styles. Now we are going to look at the second step in our conflict resolution process, which is creating a positive atmosphere. How we react to conflict situations often determines whether or not we will produce a constructive or destructive outcome. I have here a video for you all to watch that a collegue of mine from Oregon Consensus Center introduced me to and we used during a training session we did, that I found useful. While watching the video, Id like you to think about how reactions can either escalate or de-escalate conflict situations. After video… That was a clip from the TV sitcom Malcolm in the Middle . What wasent shown in this clip, but happens after in the episode is Lois the mother in the show played by Jane Kaczmarek explaining to her husband the incident, and all she can say is “I don’t know what happened”. I imagine many of us, or at least to myself can think of a situation where emotions took over and later thought to yourself, how did that happen, how did that get so out of control.
  • Id like you to think of a recent conflict you were involved in and write down some of the emotions you felt and in what part of your body you were experiencing them. Id also like you to think about what the effect emotions have on the outcome of a conflict – what was the outcome of the video?
  • Before we can control our reactions, we must know nature has designed us to react to 'danger signals' faster than conscious thought. While in conflict, an overwhelming majority of our behaviors, emotions and perceptions are arising from the non-rational and emotional parts of our brains. It's called the limbic system. A very generalised model of what happens during normal responses to anxiety is this; a person enounters some environmental cue that signals danger, for example, they see a tiger. This information is sent to the amygdala, which gets fired up and starts sending out "fight or flight" responses to other parts of the brain. However, the vmPFC, being involved in "higher thinking", has a quiet word with the amygdala, saying "look, the tiger is in a cage, you know what a cage is, tigers can't escape from cages, it's OK, calm down". Another part of the brain, the hippocampus, helps out, providing information about the context of the event (we're at a zoo, we know what zoo's look like, we've seen them before). In summary, the vmPFC inhibits the amygdala to keep fearful responses in check. The basic conflict, is between the amygdala, or the emotional and fearful part of the brain, and the frontal cortex, which can calm the amygdala and sort things out rationally.  Curiously, there is a limit to what the rational brain can handle.  People cant deal with an issue rationally when emotions are swirling. Basically, when you are emotional and in an argument (or fight), the limbic system guides your actions, feelings, words and even your perception of 'reality.' Your brain is bathed in different chemicals and rational thought is impaired. What confuses many people about this idea is just because non-rational parts of the brain are active, doesn't mean we lose the ability to talk. Worse, is because it's going on inside of our heads people think they are thinking. While technically speaking we are still processing information, that isn't the same thing as 'rational' thought.
  • In conflict between people, expressions of overt anger, argumentativeness, nastiness or hostility are some of the most difficult things to deal with. This type of resistance can infuse a whole room with negative, angry energy. The person expressing these emotions is in no mood to listen, negotiate, reason rationally or brainstorm. Unfortunately, it can also elicit an equally strong emotional response from the others involved, which can further derail effective communication. Knowing how to deal with these types of emotional situations is an important skill.
  • Secret to dealing with resistance is not to fight it but to join it. This does not mean giving in. Its more like Akidio or Judo, where from a balanced position, moving to align with the ‘attacking’ energy so that’s its possible to begin to change the direction of that energy. Fighting back directly is not usually very effective. Think about the last time you were in an argument, who was right (of course you were!). Did the person arguing with you make you changer your mind (probably not)? Resistance and argumentativeness depend on separateness (you vs. me). However, the more you are like me, the more you understand me, the harder it is to single out you as an other and attack. The goal is to help the person feel understood and listened to, and you can do this using the CARE method.
  • Observe the Situation Identify if there is a true immediate threat. Observe Your Own Reaction Pause, wait, count to ten if needed.
  • Many people think listening is easy. In fact, it often requires years of practice to learn how to listen effectively. It is very difficult to not make assumptions, judgments, or responses when listening. Yet it is very important to let yourself focus on listening rather than thinking about your own concerns. Pay attention to unspoken body language, gestures, voice tone, attitude. Sit to converse in a quiet environment. Listen for the emotions beneath the words. listening carefully without interrupting, maintaining eye contact, and allowing the other to form their thoughts and define what they need to say. Try to find a meaning in what the other is saying. Repeat what you hear being said to give it time to marinate in your mind and confirm it was heard acurately.
  • When people get along with one another, they naturally blend by mirroring each other’s body posture, facial expressions, tone, and level of animation. This is a nature occurrence but be careful not to overdo it and always be sensitive to cross-cultural messages. It is not necessary to do so much nonverbal blending that the other person notices what is happening and feels like they are being mocked. Never blend with hostile gestures! S quarely Face Person O pen Posture L ean a Little Toward the Person V erbal Acknowledgments: “Yes”,“OK”,“I see” E ye Contact (this is culture specific) R elax, Slow Breathing, Decrease Voice Volume Empathize and Validate “ I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue.” Apologize As Appropriate I’m sorry about my… (statement/reaction). I was getting upset. “ I’m sorry that happened.” Assure of Your Intent “ I want to understand what has upset you.” "I believe we can work together to resolve this problem.”
  • When people express themselves verbally, they want feedback that they have been heard and understood. By helping a person to express themselves completely, you increase the likelihood of them being able and even willing to hear you in return. Understanding occurs on two levels -- emotionally (the person feels that you understand what they are feeling) and intellectually (the person believes that you understand what they are saying). Repeating some of the key words that the other person is using can also send a clear message that you are listening.
  • Clarifying questions are open-ended questions designed to get a response. The benefits of asking clarifying questions include: 1) to gather better information than what is initially offered; 2) to help the other person become more rational; 3) to demonstrate that you care; 4) you can surface hidden agendas; and 5) you can manage the situation down.
  • Tools and Techniques for Managing and Resolving Conflict

    1. 1. Welcome to Tools and Techniques forManaging and Resolving Conflict Amanda Murphy Project and Research Specialist, The William D. Ruckelshaus Center Extension Faculty, Washington State University Phone: (206) 219-2409
    2. 2. Mission• Neutral resource for collaborative problem solving• Expertise that improves the availability and quality of voluntary collaborative approaches.• Help public, private, tribal, non-profit and other community leaders work together, build consensus and resolve public policy conflicts.• Advance teaching and research missions of the two universities by bringing real-world policy issues to the academic setting.
    3. 3. Services• Neutral Forum• Situation Assessment• Facilitation, Mediation, Conflict Resolution• Project Management, Strategic Planning• Applied Research• Information Portal• Training• Policy Discussions
    4. 4. Webinar SeriesSession 1: Understanding and Responding to Conflict - July 18,2012Session 2: Effective Communication: Thebasis of conflict resolution - July 25, 2012Session 3: A Framework for ProblemSolving - August 1, 2012
    5. 5. Where are you located? What department/area do you work in?What’s one thing you hope to learn from this session?
    6. 6. Session 1 Objectives • Define Conflict • Introduce Types of Conflict • Introduce Conflict Styles • Introduce Skills for Responding to Conflict and De-Escalating Emotions
    7. 7. What words come to mind when you think of the word “Conflict”?
    8. 8. What is Conflict?Definition: A conflict occurs when two or more partiesperceive that they have mutually incompatible values,priorities or goals.
    9. 9. Conflict Characteristics• Normal, inherently neither good nor bad• Can be stressful and unpleasant• Is a process, rather than a moment in time• Rarely just about the content• Does not have to result in winners and losers• An opportunity for positive change In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. – Albert Einstein
    10. 10. Steps to Resolving Conflict1. Understand the Conflict2. Create a Positive Atmosphere3. Develop a Mutual Understanding4. Problem Solve
    11. 11. Causes of ConflictAdapted from:Christopher Moore, The Mediation Process, Third Edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), 2003.
    12. 12. Approaches to Conflict
    13. 13. AvoidWhen this style is appropriate:•Issue is trivial•Cooling off period is needed•Timing is wrongWhen this style is not appropriate:•Issue is important and conflict will not disappear, butinstead continue to get worse
    14. 14. AccommodateWhen this style is appropriate:•Maintaining the relationship more important•Issue is very important to the other person and not toyouWhen this style is not appropriate:•Issue is important to you•Lead to evading the issue when others are ready toaddress it
    15. 15. CompeteWhen this style is appropriate:•A decision needs to be made quickly•Agreed upon that power comes with position ofauthority•Unpopular decision needs to be madeWhen this style is not appropriate:•Losers are powerless to express themselves•Feelings are sensitive•Decision is not urgent
    16. 16. CompromiseWhen this style is appropriate:•A decision needs to be made sooner rather than later•Both parties are better off than attempting a win/loseWhen this style is not appropriate:•Situation is urgent•Unbalanced power•Many important needs must be met
    17. 17. CollaborateWhen this style is appropriate:•An important decision must be made•Situation is not urgent•Previous resolution attempts have failedWhen this style is not appropriate:•The matter is trivial to all involved•Time, commitment and ability are not present
    18. 18. Which of the styles best describes the way you dealt with conflict? What were the results of your chosen style? Is there another style you would prefer to have used? Why?
    19. 19. Conflict Approaches Competing Collaborating •Low relationship •High relationship •High Issue •High Issue •Win/lose power •Expand range of struggle possible options ASSERTIVENESS •Goal is win/win Compromising •Relationship undamaged •Goal is to find “middle ground” Avoiding Accommodating •Low relationship •High relationship •Low Issue •Low Issue •Withdraw from the •Give in to other party situation •Maintain harmony •Maintain neutralityAdapted from Kenneth Thomas &Ralph Kilmann, 1974. COOPERATIVENESS
    20. 20. Responding to ConflictVideo.
    21. 21. Think of a recent conflict. What emotion(s) did you feel? In what part of your body do you experience these emotions?What effect do emotions have on the outcome of a conflict?
    22. 22. Our Brain’s Response to Stress Fight, Flight or Freeze ?Nature has designed us to react to danger signals faster than conscious thought.
    23. 23. What Does an Emotional Person Want?• To Vent• To Be Heard• To Be Understood• To Feel Cared About
    24. 24. De-Escalating Skills
    25. 25. CA RE 2• Control Yourself• Attend• Acknowledge• Reflect• Explore
    26. 26. Control Yourself Before you can de-escalate someone else, you must first de-escalate yourself.•Observe the Situation•Observe Your Own Reaction•Slow and Depend Your Breathing•Relax Your Muscles TIP:•Get Space or Assistance Simply Admitting to Yourself That You Are Becoming Emotional Is the Biggest Step to De- Escalating Yourself.
    27. 27. Attend• Listen and Wait to Respond• Let Them Vent• Don’t Try to Tone Them Down• Suspend Judgment• Listen for Content and Feeling
    28. 28. Acknowledge• Open, Inviting Posture• Verbal Acknowledgments• Eye Contact (this is culture specific)• Relax, Slow Breathing, Decrease Voice Volume• Empathize and Validate• Apologize As Appropriate• Assure of Your Intent
    29. 29. Reflect• Reflect (What You Heard) Back Content and Feeling • “Let me check with you if I’m following. You feel (state feeling) because (state content)…
    30. 30. Explore• Explore and Clarify What You Didn’t Hear • “I’m not clear on that: can you say more about that?” • “So the main concern you have is…?• Keep Focused on the Issue
    31. 31. Summary and Close Steps to Resolving Conflict:2.Understand the Conflict • Analyze the conflict situation – what is the cause? • Identify the appropriate conflict resolution style.3.Create A Positive Atmosphere • CA2RE – neutralize your emotions and the other person’s emotions
    32. 32. Next Sessions Steps to Resolving Conflict:3. Develop a Mutual Understanding • Using communication skills to gain information and understanding.4. Problem Solve • Using the problem solving framework.