Preventing Destructive Conflict
Southern Methodist University
D. B. Skillern
16 December, 2007
1 Preventing Destructive Conflict HDDR 6319 2/25/2010
We understand the nature of conflict and recognize spiraling destructive
conflict should be prevented
• We all want effective relationships, but we have limited time to
achieve them, so…
– Our time should not be spent on cleaning up train wrecks
– Our time should be spent to preventing the disasters
• We should use the proven tools and techniques to lay the track and
turn the switches in the process
• If we avoid conflicts – others will: 1) avoid all potential conflicting
topics with us or 2) escalate the problem to balance your avoidance –
either choice sets in a motion a destructive system.
• We must recognize that conflict prevention involves staying on track
long enough to make a difference, rather than choosing to turn to
another lane to avoid the conflict.
Preventing Destructive Conflict 2
The key concepts require us to understand ourselves,
listen to others and take action to manage our
• Understand and apply our core values to support constructive and peaceful conflict
resolution; you core values reflect what is truly important to you:
– What’s your greatest challenge to these values?
• Recognize your conflict history with a TRIP down memory lane
– What happens in your conflicts?
– What’s your communication style/behavior?
– Recognize your habits – when do you escalate?
– What’s the trigger event, word or action?
• Consider the system in which you are engaged and create new rules
– What’s the communications protocol?
– What problem solving model should be used?
• Focus on personal evolution
– Three elements of change possible: 1) the other person, 2) the situation or 3) you.
– You can most easily control your actions and reactions
Preventing Destructive Conflict 3
Learn from yourself - how and when you engage in
Core values underlie your ability to have
constructive and peaceful conflict resolution….
There are many perspectives on values, determine
what’s right for you and apply vigorously..
– Spiritual: i.e. , the Ten Commandments; the Four
Noble Truths, etc.
– Dogma/Doctrine: i.e., Cannon Law; SBC Position
– Philosophical: i.e., Aristotle on Justice – A just
person is lawful and fair;
– New Age: Karma – the bad and the good must be
– Business, the Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge, …
and so on.
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Follow the map to discern your position in a conflict
We’ve all seen many maps of conflict
processes, the Comb’s four stage
model is a 10,000 foot view.. Change/Disruption New Solutions/Stability
– Stage 1 – Conflict Appears: something
changes or creates a disruption
– Stage 2 - Hope Disappears: chaos and
– Stage 3 – Creativity Emerges: some
change is made or adaption occurs
– Stage 4 – Stability Reached:
acceptance and/or new solutions
Preventing Destructive Conflict 5
Another tool for uncovering desired behaviours
Critical Incident Technique
Definition: a set of procedures for systematically identifying
behaviours that contribute to success or failure of
individuals or organisations in specific situations.
– We'd like you to think of what was happening when you
were (carrying out activity X).
– What lead up to the situation?
– Did you do anything that was especially effective or
ineffective? What was the outcome or result of this
– Why was this action effective or what more effective
action might have been expected?
Preventing Destructive Conflict 6
Spend some quality time with your numero uno
Spend some time in personal reflection
and introspection –
•What is your typical pattern of
• How do you de-escalate or escalate
• What can you change?
Preventing Destructive Conflict 7
Rules of the road
• Don’t drink and drive the conversation – never
talk about important thinking when you have
been imbibing with your favorite beverage
• If the language becomes sarcastic and angry,
you are not at a safe stopping distance – back-off
• Show some humility and slow down/soften your
• Stop the spinning – and matching increasing
speed of the conflict spiral – you can stay
connected and let your state of calm prevail
• Take a few practice runs to get the rules down
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Look at the system and set some rules of the
At the office….
• Follow the game plan– don’t just drop a loose ball for someone to react
• Provide tough coaching one on one – don’t be a Parcells
• Be specific and direct – don’t say ran the play poorly – say you didn’t wait for
your blockers to open a hole in the line
• Be respectful and show kindness – don’t say you #@$%ing idiot!
• Use some humor – e.g., “you have to keep your helmet on to understand the
difference between pain and injury”
• Offer to solve the problem – I’ll be here on Saturday to catch passes for you
• Thank the person for the talk – thank you for your time – now get back to
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Preventing destructive avoidance is making
the other person more comfortable to talk
• Put them at ease – talking slowly and softly – don’t corner
them in the car, the bathroom, and so on
• Provide some safety – ground rules and time to think
• Change method of communications – if emails are being
used, make a call or visit them
• Frame the conversation as relationship building – don’t say
“we need to talk”
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It’s all about you – personal change for conflict
• As stated earlier – there are three possible changes:
1) the other person, 2) the situation, or 3) you.
• Focus on the RI in TRIP – these an the intensifiers:
– Relationship – who are we to each other?
– Identity – who am I – to you and me?
• Work on your repertoire – make some changes to how you
interact with others and how you react to adversity
• Be authentic and genuine
• Seek collaboration
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Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
• Get the facts and maybe some advise
• Initiate the conversation
• Take action quickly, don’t let it simmer to a boil
• Be calm, cooperative and informal – listen!
• Be fair and respectful
• Maintain privacy of the conversation
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Be a peacemaker
If not you – who will?
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