CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Principles

1. OWNING

Acknowledging a conflict is a natural survival instinct. It is not trouble-making. This is often the first and biggest hurdle to starting out on a productive pathway of conflict resolution. Because of the taboo around conflict, especially among 'polite' groups, there is always a tendency to deny or suppress it, as though this would obliterate its existence. There is also the hope that by not adverting to a conflict by word or gesture it might quietly stay in the dark and go away in the dark. The most idealistic denial of conflict believes that, purely by focussing on what is positive and constructive, the conflict will eventually be dispelled, and the energies held hostage by it will be sublimated. There may be a minority who sincerely believe and practice this idealistic denial, for its perfectionism is not irrational. However, the persistence of conflict interpersonally, internationally and so forth, is evidence that a realistic solution to the problem involves a method, a gradual process in time - a pathway stretching from a conflicted situation to peace. The arrival at the destination may be a gestalt shift, in which the situation is seen in a totally new light, reconfigured or transfigured. Then the problem truly no longer exists. 

2. CAUSES

Conflicts arise between individuals and groups because of differences. The differences extend to needs, values, motivations, perceptions, desires, priorities etc. Wherever difference is perceived, conflict can and will arise. Living is surviving on purpose. Our purpose is the cooperative dimension, and surviving is the competitive dimension of life. Brute survival is of the fittest. Siblings compete for attention; suitors compete for a spouse; applicants compete in the job market, and nations compete for scarce resources like land. Competitors selfishly seek their own advancement. This seeking collides with that of others and conflict ensues at some level. The fight-or-flight instinct evoked is shared with the animal kingdom, and is part of our evolutionary heritage. The animal in us wants to fight or run, feeling like predator or prey; the angel in us wants to stay and join in purpose. These carnal and spiritual energy systems form our humanity and bringing them into equilibrium may be seen as the task of conflict resolution. Beliefs, in the service of 'the carnal', are actually rationalisations for killing. They supply the pretexts for indulging the destructive impulses. Beliefs, in the service of 'the divine', provide the reasons for caring for life and creatively cooperating with its forms. Bringing beliefs to light exposes the underlying motivation, and makes the parties to interfaith conflict resolution transparent and accountable.

3. PROCESSES

A process involves doing a series of steps in the right order. Among the processes that make conflict resolution fair and functional is "active listening"; demonstrating emotional awareness, and attacking the problem rather than the person.


Speaking and listening need to be brought into alignment, otherwise, there will be miscommunication or communication at cross purposes. Purpose or common cause, the real solution to conflict, requires the antagonists to be reading off the same page, as it were. This depends on either side truly hearing what the other has to say. So called "active listening" begins with the (active) conviction that your best interest is served by deeply and thoroughly hearing your antagonist. Reactions and interjections to the superficial case of the antagonist prevent deep listening. On the principle that there are two sides to any argument, the listener must freely want to discover the basis of the opponent's position. In this way, deep listening leads to empathy - the ability to see and feel the situation from the other side. Without the element of empathy, there can be no negotiable end to the conflict. The other way that "active listening" is active is in the way it provides feedback to safeguard common understanding. After listening, the speaker succinctly repeats or paraphrases what has been heard and asks for confirmation of right reception from the one who voiced the position. Any mishearing can then be corrected before it compounds, and each confirmation builds trust between the parties.


Empathy is part of emotional awareness; hardness of heart towards the other does not allow two-way traffic of emotional information; and emotion is the psychic faculty that bonds people and groups of people together, thereby mitigating against hostile alienation. Being aware of one's own emotions is paramount. This means knowing what one feels and owning up to it verbally without blaming the other for causing it since, if the truth be known, when polarised in a conflict, one cannot be sure why and from where one's emotions are arising. Primal fears and impulses may be activated through memories or deep-seated psychological conditioning. By owning what one is feeling and not blaming the other conveys critical emotional intelligence about how charged and significant the issue might be, while helping the other not to put up more defences in the typical way that makes fighting escalate. 


Communicating one's own experience directly, using "I-messages" rather than "you-messages", helps to keep the focus on addressing the problem rather than attacking the other. A huge contributor to stalls and failure in conflict resolution is the tendency of embattled parties to take too much (or everything) personally. A natural consequence of taking something personally is the desire to make the other take something personally too. Defending or justifying one's ego is usually counterproductive in mediations because it distracts from finding common cause in a resolution.       

4. METAPERSPECTIVE

A win-win metaperspective based on comprehension of the parties' true interests is essential.  A metaperspective is a broader perspective on a matter that can take into consideration the other side's views as well as one's own. It is as though a part of you can stand outside the situation, viewing it as an unbiased witness. It is the intellectual antidote to polarisation as empathy is the emotional antidote. When there are options for mutual gain, enmity gives way to friendliness, and competitiveness to cooperativeness. The intellectual catalyst for conflict resolution is the insight that transfigures interests that are at odds with interests that are in harmony with each other. Obviously, therefore, the capital characteristic of the competent facilitator is the grasp of such transfiguring coordinates. At least the facilitator, to be more than a go-between, needs to be one step ahead of the parties in consciously grasping the plan which harmonises their interests. Then, observing timing and process, the facilitator can actually lead them to discover this plan themselves. It is not about dictating an answer to the conflicted individuals or groups, where they resist and do not consciously understand. The facilitator is not a judge handing a sentence down from on high, but more like a midwife assisting the birth of conscious understanding and reconciliation.

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