Conflict Resolution

Note: This page needs some ‘fixing’ – a few scattered typos, a few other spots and formatting improvement! I believe it reads “OK”, but you may find yourself wondering in a few spots … I will get back to this and make repairs!

My Enthusiasm For The Conflict Resolution Process Knows No Bounds!

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A review of the Conflict Resolution process: (A review drawn from memory, please refer to formal descriptions and expert sources as authoritative.)

  • the process described and illustrated (begins this ‘page’, has multiple ‘sections’)
  • who might use the process (small but escalating ‘conflict’ right through to international conflict) (scroll to ‘pg’ 5 … just under ½ way along my scroll bar.)
  • finding a trained guide (cost, my thoughts on alternatives if cost is an issue) (‘pg’ 5)
  • individual, (independent of guide), use (‘pg’ 5)
  • the process introduced to our district: as I experienced it (in an elementary school), (‘pg’ 6)
  • description of my use of it within a classroom community (‘pg’ 7)
  • flow-chart view of process steps (not posted – may take awhile!)

If you want to ‘cut to the chase’ (if you want to skip items beyond this point):

  • Type ‘conflict resolution training’ into your browser search line and you will find countless listings. I offer the resource used by my school district: The BC Justice Institute, in Vancouver, BC, Canada: http://www.jibc.ca/conres/
  • Explore ‘hits’ as they fit for the needs you have in mind – try ‘conflict resolution for schools’ or ‘conflict resolution for kids’ if you are an educator or parent, (kid-level process descriptions are useful for anyone!)
  • Notice : the process strengthens relationships in communities, workplaces,
  • Notice : career opportunities, something to look into!

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What is the Conflict Resolution Process?

  • A formalized, structured, process to be followed by both sides (could be more than 2 sides) of a dispute.

What is the outcome of Conflict Resolution:

  • Conflict Resolution allows parties involved to walk away feeling heard,
  • parties are likely to feel satisfaction, a situation ‘reasonably resolved’,
  • parties gain increased understanding of ‘where the other party was coming from’. (The conflict, unpleasant as it may be/have been, “makes better sense”, is “normalized”.)
  • “Normalization” reduces stress of “how awful this is”. Normalization puts conflict where it belongs – in perspective, a “real life situation” that can develop for anyone, anywhere, of any age.  When we appreciate conflict is normal, we are more confident dealing with it.
  • People who participate in Conflict Resolution develop understanding and skills just by “being there” and going through the process. They can use many of the learned perspectives, paradigms, and skills in other day to day affairs – both private and public.

  • As more people become familiar with the process, its positive effect, knowledge and practice, spreads into the broader community and society.

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What is the underlying/overriding rationale on which Conflict Resolution is based?

A. We live in an earthly, human organized, world : “Stuff (conflict) happens”. People cheat, don’t tell the truth, steal stuff, borrow without asking, act mean or angry and won’t say why, or say it’s your fault when it really isn’t. People ruin or break stuff and don’t take responsibility, they break promises and agreements.

When we ignore or deny conflict, real discomfort does not actually “go away”.  It is “swallowed”, “held in”.  People become more defensive, or hurt feelings deepen.  Uncomfortable feelings escalate. “Power struggle” increases. The urge to suffer, or to ‘get back at’ can be strong.

These kinds of negative experience destroy friendships and increase ‘abuse’ and ‘suffering’. People begin to practice “distance”.  They may “label” another person by race, ethnic group, economic class and dismiss, or even “hate” the “other”. People decide (assume) unpleasant ‘facts’ about one another’s personalities:  (He/she’ll never change; doesn’t ever understand me; can’t be trusted – ever; can’t be pleased no matter what I do; enjoys being mean, selfish, bossy, …)  If we haven’t had a conversation with someone we’re in conflict with, we have no idea why they may be behaving as they are.  None of our labels and negative descriptions are based on hearing what the other says about their experience.  Or we may be in conflict because another seems to be labeling us in a negative way, may be ignoring or mistreating us – they need to hear how it feels to us!  The Conflict Resolution process provides a safe environment for us to hear and be heard.

B. The Conflict Resolution process agrees that “stuff happens” – including conflict.  Conflict Resolution doesn’t try to “fix” the world so there will be no conflict. It says: We humans can do better than this. We can acknowledge that conflict is normal, that it happens. We can invent a structure, a process, that’s designed to sort out the issue. We can bring players and issues into an ’emotionally safe’ environment and work the conflict through to resolution. (An emotionally uninvolved guide is present to assure emotional comfort – more on this below.) We can stop needing to label or describe others as ‘negative’ human beings.  We can learn the satisfaction of resolving conflict.

We can “get real”rather than “wish” situations were resolved.  Arguments don’t always need to go to court; abuse does not have to be suffered.  If we’re so angry over conflict that we can’t be pleasant or we can’t enjoy people we we live with, or work with, or would like to enjoy the company of the ‘conflict person’ – Conflict Resolution offers great possibility.

Conflict resolution says: Most of the time in our relationships we do not know, (we are ignorant of), underlying desires and fears behind the other party’s behavior. Conflict resolution adds: Whether we know it or not, people engaged in conflict are missing, and want to experience, certain basic fundamental human rights and needs. Rights and needs include feeling respected, personal safety, experience of sharing and caring for others – including the ‘other’ in a conflict!

(Note: one habit of people with good natural empathy is to “imagine” why someone is hard to deal with, and decide to “put up with their behavior”. This does not resolve the conflict – it is a type of “swallowing” or “holding in”.  In one way this isn’t fair – it doesn’t help the person who’s hard to get along with learn.  It doesn’t help anybody develop comfort talking about what’s bothering them.  Conflict Resolution, by letting issues come out in open, safe, discussion, helps everyone develop healthy confidence and greater relationship honesty.  This kind of confidence is also an “empowerment”.)

Conflict Resolution believes “empowerment” to resolve conflict already exists in people, and can be brought forth. It says: “Resolution is within the capacity of the those in conflict”.  It says: “Most people have not been around conflict resolution practice, haven’t watched it in their environment, and simply are unaware how to go about it.”

An essential part of the process is an external ‘guide’ or facilitator. The guide does not have private chats with anyone in the conflict, and does not supply solution.  All explaining and listening is between the people in conflict. A guide knows the process, so guides it!  Resolution develops from, out of, conversation between conflicting parties. Conflict Resolution believes that people actually want, desire, to experience value in self and other. Because of the emotionally safe environment, the process allows points of conflict to be discussed, explored, resolved.

Key components are: all parties involved agree to use the process, all parties, once agreed to the process, agree to its basic rules of ‘conduct’. There is a guide.  A no-guide process can work IF the people in conflict know skills well enough to be confident, comfortable and effective. The process is NOT advised unless this is true because a power-issue would likely quickly develop.

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A simple scenario : conflict and opportunity for resolution:

A parent and a teen are at odds. (Keeping it very simple – one parent, one teen.)

The teen contributes little to household chores, does not even clean her room, which is a mess. The teen also wants to go out socially on a regular basis, wants an allowance, wants to borrow the family car, may say she will be home at a certain time but seldom keeps her word. The parent ‘reasons’, begs, cajoles, makes rules (that we already know are unlikely kept). The parent increases threats, but these reach such extremes that both parties know there will not be follow-through.

Lots of escalation, nobody’s very happy. There is little cordiality and good-will in the parent-teen relationship. This is not what either party actually had in mind, back before all this began to develop!

One approach is for either or both to review how this got started. Neighbors and family contribute stories of how, when the teen was but an 8 year old, the parent handled situations a certain way, and a pattern was set, “You’ll just have to tough it out”, they might observe, and (to the parent):“Maybe when the teen is older you can have a happier relationship.” (The teen at this stage says out loud, she could care less about getting older and having a happier relationship with her parent.) The future looks bleak!

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Conflict Resolution could do a lot to immediately address what is happening in this conflict. Here’s how it might work.:

(I remind – I describe from memory, also I strip the process to skeletal form. The process is very simple, but may have components not described here.):

Parent and teen agree to follow the Conflict Resolution Process. They schedule a meeting with a resolution facilitator or guide who is 100% uninvolved emotionally with what is going on. This can be someone known to them, but it must be someone who knows how to “not take sides”.

At the meeting, the guide lists 4 rules: “no blaming and no name calling”, “take turns speaking”, ‘when one speaks the listener remains silent’, ‘the listener repeats back, in the listener’s own words (no simple parroting) what is heard’.

(Repeating back gives the speaker opportunity to clarify, to say: No, that’s not what I said”, or “No, that’s not what I meant”, or “Yes (head nodding perhaps), NOW you know what I mean!”

If there is not agreement on what has been said/heard, the process stops, allowing back and forth clarification, until there is agreement – see below, “a stop and follow steps moment”.)

The guide stands ready to remind of the rules, if necessary, (as it often is to persons new to the process!)

The guide has a large ‘poster sized’ paper on a stand or taped to a wall, has drawn two lines down the paper, dividing it into three columns, has labeled one “parent-concern” the second “teen-concern”, and the third “agreed outcome” (resolution).

The guide asks each, in turn, to identify, name, what is ‘wrong’. I’ve outlined what the parent finds ‘wrong’ above. The teen’s list might include: I have to fight just to go out with my friends, I am not trusted, I am constantly nagged to clean my room. In either case, as each speaks, the guide creates a list under ‘parent-concern’, uses point form, key words, to note items of concern. The parent list might include: “She never listens to me.”, “I can’t trust her.””I worry about her future.”

Once the list is made, the guide asks the pair to go over the list again, this time filling in sentence blanks to the following sentence: “When you (name the action) I feel (name a feeling) because (what I want instead.)

Example from teen: “When you nag me to clean my room, I feel angry, because I want freedom to handle my own life, it makes no sense – what’s the big deal?”

Example from parent: “When you don’t come back at the time you promise, I feel worried, because I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”

Each of these examples is by itself a place to ‘stop and follow steps of listen/repeat back’.

The teen example extended as a sample ‘stop and follow steps’ moment: (Parent: “When you don’t clean your room I feel upset at a messy house even though it’s just your room, because I want us to have a tidy house.”) (Teen: repeats back and adds: “I don’t see what’s so important about a tidy house – and the rest of the house is tidy.” “When you say the house has to be tidy, I feel ignored as a person, why does my room have to be as tidy as the rest of the house, it’s my room?”) (Parent: repeats back and adds: “Well, maybe your room does not have to be quite a tidy as the rest of the house. If you could at least keep stuff up off the floor, I would feel better when I see your room.)

The guide sees this spot through, records an agreed outcome, (after checking with both parent and teen to make sure what is recorded is in fact agreed and acceptable to each. The process moves on to a new item.

Each point raised and noted in the ‘concern’ list of each “party involved” is processed this way unless parties agree a point is no longer of concern.

Benefits — release from fight, increased felt respect, increased enjoyment of shared respect — tend to accumulate, increase, as the process continues.

Three final steps to the process: 1- Each party describes what she/he will do as “changed behavior” toward the other. These statements, as with the entire process, can be clarified with more taking turns speaking/listening/repeating back if both are not satisfied. 2- Lingering issues not covered may be agreed as ‘next meeting’ material, or dismissed at least for the time being. 3- An agreed time-frame is set for a next meeting, at which the parties will use the process to review progress, re-visit lingering issues, etc. (If both parties feel ready, they might continue this process on their own, scheduling a meeting only if either feels it is not working to “go unguided”. – see my ideas about ‘cost’ and affordability below. )

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What ‘really’ happens during Conflict Resolution?

The guide models and practices respect for both parties, both parties move a little closer to feeling respected, to enjoying some release from ‘fight“ point of view. The guide also demonstrates value of the process, and demonstrates confidence in both parties.

In the scenario both hear one another, both experience being heard, both shift from ‘defensive, unmovable’ stance toward agreement.

Much more than ‘mere’ details shift. The process opens a path of shared feelings of respect toward one another. Both experience this, wisdom and skill carry forward into future conflict situations for either.

(Wisdom especially carries forward as more experience in the process is gained. This is a major argument in favor of bringing this process into elementary schools if it is not yet being taught and used.)

Mutual respect, the experience of receiving and sending respect, confidence in self, and trust in other, are major developments during the Conflict Resolution Process.

Equally important is both parties have heard, and repeated back, statements that reveal neither deeply wanted to over-burden, hurt, or injure the other.

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Who Might Use the Conflict Resolution Process?

Parent-teen relationships offer a long list of “conflict” situations. Outcomes give each party experience in releasing blame felt and carried, releasing worry, releasing ‘shame/guilt’, and “normalizing” the very real “stuff” of unavoidable human conflict.

This shift occurs also among young school children, whose initial ‘fight’ may be over mis-treatment of someone’s felt coloring crayons, ‘hogging’ the swing at recess, impact of a mean remark or name calling, … school stuff .. another unending supply of “conflict” situations!

Neighbors with “falling outs” are good conflict resolution situations.

Workplaces offer many situations amenable to conflict resolution.

Given skilled, effective guidance, even international disagreements can be processed through Conflict Resolution steps.

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Where Are Guides, Facilitators, Found, Cost Concerns?

Depending on where you live, guides and facilitators may advertise under counseling services, legal services, perhaps even the label ‘mediator’, (there is a ‘formal role description’ for ‘mediator’ that may not match the description a Conflict Resolution guide or facilitator). When, if, you contact a professional, ask specifically about “Conflict Resolution”, ask for a general description of how the process works with that professional. And of course, you want to know cost involved.

Regarding cost, I have no intention to down-play the value of a professional guide. A friend of mine years ago, ‘living a bush life’ filled one of his own cavities. Sometimes a professional is what you want and I think he eventually, on a visit to the city, made a dental appointment!!

But! Use of the basic process should not depend on funding to pay for guidance if income is limited. You, or you and interested others, can teach yourself much, if not all of this process.

The process is pretty simple and straight forward, even if there is a lot of time spent ‘stopping at a stuck place’ until it is resolved.

Outcomes include learning new skills which this society, and world, badly need: Resolving immediate conflict, repairing relationships, learning new skills, insights, and “new patterns” to use in all relationships. With new skills, sometimes “issues” are resolved before critical conflict develops!

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If you are thinking of trying the Conflict Resolution process without professional help:

NOTE: This section intended ONLY for INDIVIDUALS.  Any efforts at group use of Conflict Resolution takes quality research, in-service for those who will lead the program. Use professional publications, and/or internet browsing to find resources for group systems (for example school or business programs.)

Read the following with care, and think it through, bit by bit:

If you, and the other, have already experienced practice, perhaps through school, you likely have at least basic memory and skills to give the process a try.

Arm yourself with as much ‘pre-tryout’ review and understanding as you can. Use on-line resources, use libraries, use your own sense of how this process can work from the description here.

BUT!! Remember part B of ‘rationale’ above. To make this work, you have to believe human basic desires are common to each and every person. This includes desire to experience respect and to enjoy respecting another. Anyone with whom you try this has to believe this also!

Remember this list: No blaming, no name calling, must identify an issue, must take turns speaking with immediate ‘listener repeating back in own words’, and so on….

In simple little flare-ups with friends and family, it is possible to “try out the process” and begin to see (or remember) how it works. For example – a conflict about what movie to watch may seem ‘trivial’, but it’s a great ‘low key’ conflict for skill practice!

Both parties must have a sense of how Conflict Resolution is meant to work, and share underlying belief in its principles and rules. You are not the boss of the process, and neither is the other. The “boss”, if there is one, is in the underlying principles, and in the structure and rules of the process, not in any human being.

Do not attempt the process to resolve deeply felt conflict unless the other party agrees, and is as familiar as you are with the process. Be extremely cautions with ‘reluctant’ agreement – make sure you are not ‘demanding’ and playing a ‘boss’ role. Respect is paramount! You can express disappointment if the other does not want to try this out. (“When you say you don’t want to do this, I feel … because … “) But ‘the rule of respect’ says you cannot ‘insist’.

Have confidence! Consider it “going exploring”!

Remember: Conflict is NORMAL! The principles of resolution involved are based in ordinary human desires turning into “conflict stuff”. If we get into these situations out of ordinary human impulse, we can use other ordinary human capacity to get out. But new skills are likely needed, a new approach. One not seated in ‘judgment’, ‘blame’, and ‘making others do what we want so we can be comfortable’.

The new approach becomes as ‘ordinary’ as judging and blaming once we practice it enough.

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Description (sketch style) of a Conflict Resolution program coming to our school district, how our school used it, and how I also used it within the classroom community.

SCHOOL DISTRICT: (A district with many, many “high needs” schools)

District officials, especially the counseling professionals, viewed a program of Conflict Resolution as offering schools alternatives to long-standing traditional “discipline” responses. Conflict Resolution practice serves, as mentioned above, to empower individuals in conflict, to heighten awareness of how conflict arises, steps that can be taken to resolve issues without introducing side-taking, blame, and shame. The program was viewed as bringing new paradigms to the present, and building helpful paradigms for the future.

Not only do students experience conflict in ordinary school day-to-day relationships, but they eventually emerge from the schools, ready to join adult society. As educators we are charged with educating. In our district, indeed throughout the entire province of British Columbia, Canada, “educating the whole child” is principle and mantra.

District officials examined the CR Process already at work in other districts, many in the United States. It was enthusiastically viewed as valuable to our work in educating students – in personal development and in social development. Plus, experience in other districts already using Conflict Resolution programs showed changes to entire school environments (by empowering as described above and earlier). Benefit to adults in schools is that “pressure” to play “judge/jury” is off. Responsibility for conflict is shifted back source, with guidance and insight to support resolution. Win – win, everybody grows, everybody gains. (Teachers, of course, included in ‘everybody’. The concepts of Conflict Resolution, the process steps, once known, are available to teachers in their professional and personal lives!)

TRAINING FROM DISTRICT TO INDIVIDUAL SCHOOL LEVEL:

A training resource was selected. (BC Justice Institute). A small group from the district counseling staff was selected for extensive in-service. Further, a 3-day training in-service was offered in our community for district personnel, attended by school principals and interested teachers. BC Justice Institute experts and trainers came to our location. Training covered rationale of the program, film documentary of it at work in other schools, and role to become familiar with the steps, with listening and ‘reflecting back what is heard’, and other essentials.

Following principals and teachers developing background understanding, each elementary school (K-6) drew from (or accepted all) grade 6 students who volunteered to become “Conflict Managers” for the student body. Once the school year began, these students, and a ‘sponsor teacher’ attended a full day, local, training session focused especially on young students “delivering the program” as Conflict Managers. A rotation schedule was drawn up, assigning two trained Conflict Managers to work as a team, available to fellow students at recesses and lunch break. Teacher Sponsors were available to draw up schedules, offer guidance as the Managers might ask for it, and generally see the program’s effectiveness.

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FROM SCHOOL TO CLASSROOM LEVEL: (Our school a “high needs” environment.)

As a grade three/four teacher I viewed the program as having valuable potential. I viewed students as capable of understanding and using the process. I wanted students of my classroom to have some personal, independent skill at conflict management, wherever it might arise – on the playground, or in the classroom. (Classroom relationships often “play out” during less tightly supervised times, such as recess. When 2 or more students return from lunch “still steamed” at something that came up during lunch break, it can introduce disruptive potential.)

Given my responsibility to design and deliver learning programs aimed at both personal and social development, it made perfect sense to introduce my students to rudiments of Conflict Resolution. This gave them ‘extra’ opportunity to develop insight and skill, gave them understanding of the process. If they took conflicts to the school Managers, my students would be pre-familiar with the process. I also suspected they could learn to use the process independently – especially if there were no managers or adults available.

I designed an in-class “social studies/personal responsibility” unit modeled on in-service: discussion of principles, and lots role play, ‘scenarios’ were drawn from students volunteering common types of conflict in their experience during the “principles discussion” part. During the discussion part, I also either “played all roles” to demonstrate, or used student volunteers to model conflict resolution while I guided. Students caught on quickly.

I cannot over-state the pay-off to our classroom! For classroom purposes, we stripped the model down to belief that students familiar with the process, if in conflict, could practice the steps independently, without a Manager or adult guide present. This is exactly what developed! Early in the fall, classroom students once trained, benefited from being assigned a place in the classroom to practice the skills with myself attending. Within a few weeks, they began returning from lunch break and recess with pleased reports to me of conflict they resolved themselves. Within a month or two it was possible, if conflict came up during a classroom study time – for instance small groups working on a unit activity – it was possible to suggest a distant spot in the classroom, send the students to that spot, and give them a few minutes to work through whatever it was.

I always made it a point with independent conflict efforts to ask each involved: “Do you feel this is resolved for you?”. I also kept mindfulness of ‘power issues’ on behalf of a child who might answer ‘yes’ to ‘accommodate another students social power position.’ In such cases, I would later, privately, ask the student again if they felt the issue resolved. (And follow-up as seemed appropriate.)

Using in-class Conflict Resolution work as a unit of study, I had to track student success for marking. I did this by assigning criteria driven tasks such as visual/verbal presentations, (posters which we posted throughout the school to illustrate and encourage use of the process). I also used observation to track student “conflict occurrence” and willingness to participate if conflict arose (effort and sincerity played a larger role than ‘success’ – although success was the most common outcome anyway).

Tracking occurrence gave me criteria for students who seldom became involved in conflict, but allowed me to ‘not penalize’ those who did – providing they made sincere effort, with guidance as needed, to follow the steps. “Frequency or not of conflict” made a difference, but was not “punitive”. Students perceived it as “fair”. Both ‘types’ considered “making sincere effort” valid criteria. (As often as possible we used ‘consensus models’ to pre-decide marking criteria for units, when I felt it necessary, I openly stated as teacher I needed to ‘override’ a student criteria point – not common, but did happen! ‘Whole class’ discussions of criteria – for any and all study areas – helped students to know ahead of time what they were aiming for, and gave them voice in their studies.))

Classroom atmosphere was one of “cooperative community”. Name calling, pushing, shoving, and hitting were reduced to almost never, and quickly sorted out if it occured. And a major pay-off for me as teacher, was that students did not expect me to resolve all their conflicts! They knew I was available, and interested, and would help – but they did not expect me to play “judge/jury”!

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Between Conflict Managers at work during less structured times like recess and lunch break, and independent student resolution practice in our classroom, (and in other classrooms to some extent), I feel “the Conflict Resolution Process” proved its value and then some. (I add: additional school programs aimed at student “whole child” development) were also at play. The entire school atmosphere was one of developing and growing personal and group insight and skill. A Conflict Management program was one of the key components to whole school positive atmosphere.

Bringing a program of Conflict Resolution into our school, teaching the formal process to older students, and even to younger students for personal use, remains with me as one of the best steps we could have taken toward “building a better future” for the entire society into which these students, eventually, would move.

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Whether you want to see this introduced to your school or work place, seek professional guidance for a personal conflict situation (a best idea if available), or try out these skills independently, on your own …

You have my enthusiastic best wishes! – MaggieAnn

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