Communication between even two people presents a number of challenges that are multiplied geometrically as more people become engaged in the communication network. When organizational amnesia and multiple breakdowns in the communication networks occur, the feedback loops that are necessary for consistent and timely error correction are broken or disrupted so error compounds upon error. This is particularly noticeable when a crisis occurs. Unresolved interpersonal, intradepartmental and interdepartmental conflicts increase and are not resolved. Under such circumstances, interorganizational conflicts are likely to increase. The organizational conflict culture becomes rigid and inflexible; hierarchies become more fixed with one conflict management style dominating the rest. Organizations who participate in adopting the Sanctuary Model must learn how to use nonviolent forms of communication, repair broken feedback loops and employ nonviolent methods of conflict resolution, management and transformation. To be effective in this, they will have to look to the health of the organizational grapevine, minimize gossip and rumors by distributing a large amount of accurate information, and promote situations where the “elephants in the room” are openly discussed and politely escorted to their appropriate place.
Leading the Way Out of the Shadows
If you are in a leadership position, you have a responsibility to obtain a thorough knowledge of the shadow side of your organization. To do that there are things for you to look for and be curious about . What are the hidden arrangements and activities that may give you clues to the shadow side of the organization? You don’t have to be a detective; you just have to be curious about questioning established practices. What are the unwritten rules in meetings and other decision making forums? What are the skeletons in the organizational closet? Where are the blind spots in the organization, the subjects you bring up that make everyone else look at you as if you have two heads? What happens when you ask the questions behind the questions? Think about ways in which you might be “in the dark” and explore what you don’t know – don’t be intrusive, be curious.
Think back about the things that surprised you that you hadn’t expected and ask yourself why you were surprised. And when you think about the times you were surprised, had someone already tried to warn you and you didn’t listen? Ask yourself what you would rather not know and be honest about it, at least to yourself. If the things you see in the shadows that may or may not be there, are in fact there, what are the consequences of not dealing with them? Who can you talk to about your worst fears? Talking about the presences in the shadows often takes away their power. Identify issues that you don’t want to discuss, that frighten you and figure out how you can stop avoiding the things that worry you and find effective strategies to manage the situations and your fear. Look for laziness, indifference and cynicism and root it out – find out what darkness lies behind it. It takes courage to confront the undiscussables and the organizational silent that surrounds them.
As a leader it is your job to lead in creating a culture where people say what they mean and where it is safe enough for people to speak from their heads and their hearts. You have to become skilled at tactfully naming those elephants in the room and desensitizing issues that are threatening and helping people who are emotionally reactive develop better emotional management skills. Much of that happens through role modeling. As a leader, it’s important not to take people’s fear of you too personally – it may have little to do with you. We carry into every new work situation all the baggage we have accumulated from our previous work experiences and then make a largely unconscious assumption that the same thing is going to happen now as has happened before. In doing so, we are likely to create self-fulfilling prophecies so that the new situation does indeed replicate the old. One of the roles of leadership is to surface these unconscious assumptions that are determining the nature of interactions and help the person understand and respond to what is happening in the present rather than what happened in the past.
The Transparent Organization
According to Richard Breon, CEO of Spectrum Health, “Living one’s values is what it means to be part of a transparent organization. And that is what will help us realize our vision.” Qualities that characterize a leader committed to transparency include: interpersonal skills – being able to discern the question behind the question, knowing whether the message sent was the message received; empathy, good listening skills, ability to facilitate dialogue, ability to read cues, moods and tenor of individuals and groups, openness and honesty, self-confidence, and good emotional management .
For people who have been injured by trauma their lives have often been shrouded in secrecy. They are not able to talk about what has happened to them for fear of retribution or because of an overwhelming sense of shame. We make a commitment to open communication because we believe communication is crucial to building connections and a sense of community. If we cannot communicate our thoughts, opinions and ideas we remain isolated and cut off from each other. Open communication also allows for the possibility for self correction and group problem solving. If we can state our opinion, challenge another point of view we can help make better decisions and better protect ourselves in the process. We believe that open communication leads to better decision making and faster error correction. The transparency that occurs as a result of open communication protects against potential abuses of power and makes for a safer environment overall.
Leaders must have a philosophy that the free flow of information is constructive and vital to healthy organizational function. Just as in the “whisper down the lane” experience, the fewer links there are between sender and receiver, the less likely that the message will be distorted. Good leaders are good listeners – they listen for what is said and what is not said.
Many places have a “need to know” basis for all communication. The trouble with this strategy is that it only serves to further compromise trust rather than build it. We all seem to keep each other a little more in the dark than we need to. In doing so we build obstacles to communication and trust that only leave us feeling more pressured and put upon. This behavior is organizational reenactment. As a manager I fail to share some piece of information about a proposed change because I am afraid you will get angry or anxious. When you hear about it through the grapevine you become angry and anxious, not necessarily because the information is so upsetting but because it was withheld. It makes staff mistrustful and it makes them wonder what else they are not being told. Conversely, when a child is hurt because we had fewer staff on duty than were on the schedule and an inquiry reveals that the staff in that unit are always late but no one has said anything, how do people in leadership feel and how much trust does that inspire?
Metaphors are one of the short cuts our brains take to understand and sort out the complex nature of reality. Using metaphors to compare one thing to another helps us more quickly understand something new when we can relate it to something we already understand. As a result, however, metaphors can be dangerous, leading us into territory in a secondary domain that is far more problematic than in the primary domain to which the original metaphor refers. One example of this is the metaphors that are frequently used in organizational language and communications that promote aggression and a way of viewing other people that may not be conducive to creating and sustaining safe environments. In corporate life, the metaphor of war is used to describe corporate operations and the militaristic metaphor is conveyed through language, through what has been called “the rhetoric of aggression” [3-4].
The metaphor of war describes competition as the enemy and the implications of this are profound. War leads to dehumanization – the enemy is always less than a person – and dehumanization leads to aggressiveness. Control and coercion language leads to control and coercion. What we think, we speak and what we speak eventually we act on. So the Commitment to Open Communication reminds us to reconsider our linguistic metaphors. How do we describe the clients in our care? What are the words we use, particularly when we are angry with them? What about the words we use to describe co-workers and subordinates – if not out loud, then in our own heads? What picture do we paint of our leaders? If we are to create nonviolent environments than our thinking and our words must also become nonviolent and are likely to proceed nonviolent action.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is sometimes referred to as compassionate communication. Its purpose is to strengthen our ability to inspire compassion from others and to respond compassionately to others and to ourselves . Better communication skills can be learned and an organization that is committed to open communication may need to teach those skills and not just count on hiring people who are good communicators.
In his work on nonviolent communication, Rosenberg has offered some useful guidelines for improved listening and communicating skills that are consistent with a nonviolent approach. For example, barriers to communication are things like using the verb to be without indicating that you are taking responsibility for what you are saying. It’s better to say, for example, “I think you were too harsh with that child” instead of “You were too harsh with that child”. Then there’s the use of words that are loaded with evaluation rather than just observation, for example “you are irresponsible” does nothing but arouse the other person’s defenses, whereas “I have noticed that you have been late three days in a row” guarantees that you are both observing something and taking responsibility for what you are saying. Then there is confusing prediction with certainty, like, “You won’t be on time tomorrow” would be better expressed as “I am concerned that you won’t be on time tomorrow since you have been late three times this week”. Or have you ever had someone make generalities about you instead of making a specific complaint, as in “You always procrastinate and never get your reports in on time” vs. “I notice that you have not gotten your report to me on time in the last two months”. If you listen to people talking about troubled children you may hear the use of adverbs and adjectives that are make what is a personal observation sound very objective – “Jimmy is just a bad kid” instead of “Jimmy really scared me today when he walked out and slammed the door”. In the mental health professions, we often use diagnoses as a way of expressing an evaluation that sounds objective but that is not necessarily objective at all – “Susan is clearly a ‘borderline’, or “Well, what can you expect from Timmy, he’s a ‘budding sociopath’.
Becoming aware of how we say things becomes critically important when we need to confront negative behavior in each other. Because we often feel so awkward knowing what to say, we don’t confront problems soon enough and then when we finally do, we either overreact or avoid conflict all together so that the situation further deteriorates. When confronting problematic behavior in co-workers or clients, a confrontation should not be held with the intention of making it a negative or destructive process, and should never demean or humiliate the other person. It must be done respectfully and not used as a way of exerting authority. It should occur as soon as the negative behavior begins, not waiting until the problem has been compounded over time. It should be a problem-solving meeting, not dominate by emotion but matter-of-fact, and never when we are angry or upset. This is part of creating a nonviolent environment, that we can openly confront problems without intending to hurt, without retaliating, and with a clear intention to resolve our differences.
Keeping Your Grapevine Healthy
Managers recognize that communication along the grapevine will never disappear, but they can make efforts to make information that travels the grapevine more accurate and less malicious by providing abundant and accurate information to people, as early as possible. Remember about 70% of organizational information flows through the grapevine. Managers set an example for open communication and staff can observe in practice that there are few subjects that are “undiscussable”. Managers and staff make efforts to insure that the system remains flexible and responsive to individual needs, while still guaranteeing fair treatment for everyone in the system. They do this by focusing less on making new rules for every new situation and instead commit themselves to engaging in processes that examine, assess, and evolve adequate responses to complex individual and group situations. In this way, the organization remains open to new information - to learning – and it can readily and spontaneously engage in processes of information sharing and knowledge creation that allow it to mobilize complex responses, even in emergency situations.
Rumors represent unverified information that spring from collective concerns, so there are typical rumor topics that can plague organizations: turnover, pecking order, job security or job quality, costly errors, consumer concerns all are likely to be the stuff of which rumors are made . Leaders can reduce the problematic nature of rumors and prevent rumors as well by working at communicating information about anything that arouses anxiety and uncertainty – even if it is just telling me “I don’t know yet but I will let you know as soon as I do”. Anticipate rumors that are likely to arise, particularly during times of change and transition. If rumors appear to be unrelenting, hold a workshop and get employees talking about the nature of rumors, the harm they can do, and getting them involved in resolving the issue.
Conflict Management Strategies
There is a difference between conflict resolution and conflict management. Similar to the idea of emotional management, conflict management does not imply that conflicts should be avoided, reduced or even terminated. Instead, it suggests that conflicts must be properly managed so that the dysfunctional impact of conflict is minimized while the constructive functions of conflict are maximized to produce greater organizational effectiveness . But different people have different strategies for handling conflict. Some people face conflict directly and focus on problem-solving, collaborating, and integrating various points of view. Others tend to be “peace makers” who try to minimize conflict, smooth the waters, and will yield to others. A third group tries to maximize their own outcomes at the expense of others through domination, control, competing and forcing. A fourth group try to avoid conflict altogether by withdrawing, refusing to engage, or not taking action . Different people use different strategies at different times and part of emotional intelligence is being able to be flexible and apply the right strategy at the most appropriate moment.
There are signs that indicate whether or not conflict management strategies are adequate to the needs of the organization. Some indicators that conflict management strategies are insufficient include: organizational conflicts that run on for years without really changing; a general attitude that conflict-laden problems will never be resolved or even addressed; a predominance of private complaining with little attempt to fix the problem; staff who show little interest in working on common goals but spend significant time and energy protecting themselves or their own interest – or just whining and complaining. These are frequently signs of some pathological organizational strategies that have led to this outcome including non-action, administrative “orbiting”, secrecy and a law & order approach.
In non-action, conflict is simply ignored or denied with the end result of a significant escalation of conflict. In administrative orbiting, managers put people off by telling them that “we are dealing with the problem” but in reality the problem never gets addressed. Management may in fact produce many stalls including “we are collecting more data”, “we are documenting performance”, “we cancelled that meeting”, “we have called in a consultant”. Another way of avoiding conflict is through secrecy and both managers and employees can utilize this approach. Although secrecy may work in the short term to keep people from knowing what is happening, in group settings secrets have a way of inevitably leaking out through the grapevine and when that happens, conflict is escalated even further. Yet another way of not addressing conflict directly is through invoking a “law and order” strategy, by leaning on people to repress the outward manifestation of conflict which does little except to drive the conflict underground where it can grow in destructive power .
Conflict management strategies involve: 1) recognition of the types of conflict that may have negative effects on individual and group performance and therefore must be reduced; 2) recognition of the types of conflict that can have positive effects on individual and group performance and thus should be generated or maintained; and 3) teaching individuals different styles for managing different conflicts so that they have a wider repertoire of skills to draw upon .
Conflict management strategies must meet some important criteria: 1) they must be designed to enhance organizational learning by enhancing critical and innovative thinking. This involves proper diagnosis and intervention of the correct problem; 2) they must be designed to satisfy the needs and expectations of all of the stakeholders while achieving a balance among them – and this involves figuring out who all the stakeholders are and solving the right problem; and 3) they must involve ethical decision making . As one organizational consultant has remarked, “if we can’t define a problem so that it leads to ethical actions that benefit humankind, then either we haven’t defined or are currently unable to define the problem properly”(p. 148) .
To meet these criteria effectively conflict management cannot simply focus on individual conflict but must look to the ways in which conflict is – or is not – managed within the organizational culture. A successful strategy must minimize emotional conflicts at various levels within the organization, while promoting a moderate level of substantive, task-related conflict. It should also teach people to use different kinds of conflict management styles to fit varying circumstances.
Many of the existing conflict resolution strategies such as dispute resolution, negotiation and bargaining, mediation and arbitration can be very useful in minimizing emotional conflict but they do not necessitate significant change in the organization. Finding and maintaining the right level of task-related conflict, however, is likely to require shifts in fundamental organizational approaches toward double-loop kinds of learning (see below) .
In the Sanctuary Model, carrying through on the Seven Commitments offers an expectation that organizational members will develop the emotional and social intelligence to respond to and ultimately prevent much of the dysfunction that occurs on an unconscious level as a result of group dynamics. These include a reasonably accurate self-evaluation, increased transparency, repairing broken lines of communication and welcoming conflict in service of creating a learning organization. Part of the learning in a learning organization is learning about what is “under the carpet” and revealing the “skeletons in the closet” and then giving them proper burial. To do that it is necessary to find ways to discuss whatever is undiscussable.
Discussing the “Elephants in the Room”
Every organization seems to have undiscussable topics. Some have so many that the “elephants in the room” are crowding out everything else. The only thing that varies is which topic cannot be talked about, and how paralyzing is the “organizational alexithymia” – the inability at an organizational level to give words to feelings that are always present. The problem is that undiscussables become such a problem. They can paralyze and completely block communication and that suffocates the flow of organizational information – and that can be deadly - literally.
In examining the Columbia accident after it disintegrated on February 1, 2003, it became clear that there were definitely elephants in the NASA room. This is how Admiral Gehman, Director of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board described NASA’s culture:
They claim that the culture in Houston is a ‘badgeless society’ meaning it doesn’t matter what you have on your badge – you’re concerned about shuttle safety together. Well, that’s all nice, but the truth is that it does matter what badge you’re wearing. Look, if you really have an organization that has free communication… But then when you look at how it really works, it’s an incestuous, hierarchical system, with invisible rankings, and a very strict informal chain of command. They all know that. So even though they’ve got all the trappings of communication, you don’t actually find communication… if a person brings an issue up, what caste he’s in makes all the difference. Now again, NASA will deny this, but if you talk to people, if you really listen to people, all the time you hear, ‘Well I was afraid to speak up’. Boy it comes across loud and clear. You listen to the meetings: ’Anybody got anything to say?’ There are thirty people in the room, and slam! There’s nothing. We have plenty of witness statement s saying ‘If I had spoken up, it would have been at the cost of my job’”
Naming the elephant and seeing how each person sees it is a good place to start. After looking at the problems at NASA and the Enron scandal, two organizational development consultants have made some suggestions for how leaders can encourage naming of the “elephants” (p.83):
- Institute a Name-the-Elephant award so that people who have the courage to discuss the undiscussables are rewarded.
- Establish an ombudsman role – the traditional role of an ombudsman (utilized far more in Europe than in the U.S) – is to be the person whose job it is to gather data and name the elephants. To do so this person must be independent from the traditional hierarchy and must guard their own neutrality and everyone else’s confidentiality. An ombudsman (or ombudsperson) can be an invaluable organizational asset for helping to resolve situations that are loaded with conflict.
- Create a “Naming Elephants” website – where people can talk but do so anonymously.
- Use the power of a “Fundamental Surprise” – when something unexpected occurs, this should be the time for care review and reexamination about our previous assumptions and choices – and what we missed. Otherwise you “waste the crisis” which otherwise is a tremendous opportunity for learning
- Revise and reassess. Don’t stick with a situation that is a loser because you don’t want to talk about the problems or conflicts that have been aroused
- Don’t drift into hubris – meaning don’t get overconfident and forget to always question your own assumptions
- Assume incomplete communication – executive summaries, email, telephone messages, all may leave important information out of the “conversation” so that the “elephant” gets missed. Think about who has spoken up and who hasn’t said anything and ask why.
- Explore the saying/doing gaps – if you are in a position of leadership you have to model what you want other people to do – if you are behaving hypocritically that will be just another “elephant”
- Learn from your success – look at where there is extraordinary performance and learn from it
- Be relentlessly curious, not passive – ask people about what information you are not getting and push them further.
- Remember “it only takes one brave person to bring up the undiscussables or name the elephant. We can’t stress enough that it also can take only one leader to shut it down” (p.89) .
Conflict and Organizational Learning
Conflict is a necessary component of a learning environment because conflict is a necessary component of learning. Conflict spurs motivation and the desire for change. Organizational development researchers have defined organizational learning as “detection and correction of error” and have described two types – single-loop learning and double-loop learning. . In single loop learning a problem is recognized, diagnosed and addressed without changing the underlying policies, assumptions and goals. In double-loop learning the recognition, diagnosis and intervention requires changes in the underlying policies, assumptions, and goals.
This latter form of learning is what is necessary to address the astonishingly complex problems of adults, children, and families who enter treatment environments and present challenging problems for staff members whose goal it is to help them. Trauma-informed learning is double-loop learning. Mental health and social service workers have to change paradigms of thinking and behaving in order to meet the goals of recovery that trauma-informed change necessitates.
But all too often, this kind of shift in underlying paradigm is inhibited by defensive reasoning on the part of organizational members because they so fear complaints of errors in judgment or incompetence that they will not take the risk of making a mistake and learning from it . As one group of investigators have pointed out,
“Call it escalation of commitment, organizational defensiveness, learning disability – or even more bluntly – executive blindness. It is a phenomenon of behavior in organizations that has been widely recognized. Organizational members become committed to a pattern of behavior. They escalate their commitment to that pattern out of self-justification. In a desire to avoid embarrassment and threat, few if any challenges are made to the wisdom and viability of these behaviors. They persist even when rapid and fundamental shifts in the competitive environment render these patterns of behavior obsolete and destructive to the well-being of the organization” (p. 642) .
When organizations cannot deal directly with conflict using methods that utilize good conflict management skills, the organization cannot learn from its own mistakes and error is likely to become systemic. Employees are likely to develop escalating negative feelings about the organization that include loss of trust or pride in the organization resulting in diminished dedication and commitment; increase in political or self-protective behavior; contemplated or real job transfers; petty revenge or sabotage; lack of any extra effort; making and hiding mistakes or failing to meet deadlines or budgets; loss of effective problem solving, work on wrong priorities, poor methods; loss of creativity, motivation, and risk taking; negative feelings about oneself, loss of self-esteem, self-criticism; negative emotions of anger, frustration, depression, disappointment, disillusionment and tension; deepening cultures of cynicism (p. 111-116) .
There are many sources of potential conflict in caregiving environments as anyone who has ever worked in one can tell you. In many healthcare, social service and mental health care delivery programs, people who come from a variety of disciplines must work together on common tasks and finding common ground can be challenging. Everyone believes that their “piece of the pie” is the most important so that in a setting such as a children’s residential program for example, it is not unusual for childcare workers to be in conflict with clinicians and educators who are in conflict with both other groups. Time is short, demands are high and the troubled children need so much. In hospital settings, conflicts often arise between shifts. In other social service settings, conflicts between line workers and management are routine.
In the section on the Commitment to Emotional Intelligence we touched on the issue of “emotional labor”. Another dimension to be added is the concept of “relational work” and in caregiving it is this kind of work that drives the interpersonal aspects of delivering care to someone else. It is often work that is invisible, but very noticeable in its absence . Practical experience and research has demonstrated that the most powerful buffer against the impact of workplace stress is social support which is eroded under conditions of chronic conflict. In fact, interpersonal conflict within caregiving organizations is a far greater source of stress than actually doing the work of caregiving.
Conflict management has been defined as “the positive and constructive handling of difference and divergence - how to deal with it in a constructive way, how to bring opposing sides together in a cooperative process, how to design a practical, achievable, cooperative system for the constructive management of difference “(p.18) . Conflict transformation addresses the possibility of transcending conflicts and envisioning something new, of looking for the positive change that can emerge from conflictual situations . The Commitment to Open Communication requires that every organization adopting the Sanctuary Model must have conflict resolution resources available that are regularly used by administration, clients and staff. Many methods exist and with the global development of conflict management and conflict transformation resources, these methods are available to every community and organization. We do not recommend a specific method but believe that every organization should adapt its own conflict management techniques to its own unique situation. Here, however are some examples of how other cultures and communities have found methods to help resolve the inevitable conflicts that accompany human group existence.
Conflict Management In Different Contexts
Conflict Resolution Among the !Kung Bushmen
The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert are nomadic hunter-gatherers. They live in small groups, are relatively egalitarian and have no formal leaders. Although perfectly capable of violence with their poisoned arrows, they do a good job of controlling harmful conflict (hide the poisoned arrows). Their secret is the vigilant, active, and constructive involvement of the surrounding members of the community. When a serious problem comes up, everyone sits down and they talk and talk and talk. Each person has a say. The process is open and inclusive. The community members work hard to discover what social rules have been broken to produce such discord and what needs to be done to restore social harmony. Their discussion is a people’s court, decisions are made by consensus. The goal is a stable solution that both the disputants and the community can support. As the group conversation proceeds, a consensus about the appropriate solution gradually crystallizes. After making sure that no opposition or ill will remains, the elders voice this emergent consensus. The people will not rest until the dispute is fully addressed. Meanwhile, the disputants will be prevented from harming each other. And they keep the disputants present and do not allow them to run away .
Conflict Resolution Among Semai of Malaysia
The Semai people of the Malaysian rain forest have a reputation for being the most peaceful people on earth. This is how they resolve conflicts. When conflict emerges, people zealously seek to avoid taking sides even when it involves a close relationship. Their standard of conduct says that taking sides is wrong and resolving disputes is right. They do not believe in hitting children, forcing them to do things, or even admonishing them. They totally disapprove of the use of force while endorsing talking and apology. They hold long community talks that are organized to settle disputes between adults and between children. When a child hits another child, the children sit down in a circle, discuss what happened, and talk about how to resolve the issue and repair the injured relationship .
Buddhist Method of Conflict Resolution
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, who has been instrumental in bringing Buddhist practices to the attention of the West. In his writing he has shared the Buddhist 2500 year-old system of Seven Practices of rReconciliation, originally formulated to settle disputes within a circle of monks (p.74-79).
The first practice is Face-to-Face Sitting in which everyone involved sits together, mindfully, breathing and smiling with a willingness to help and an unwillingness to fight. Where there are two conflicting people, they should be sitting facing each other and surrounded by others of the community who expect them to make peace. Everything that is to be said is said to all, and within the community, not outside and not as rumor.
The second practice is Remembrance. Both people who are party to the conflict try to remember the entire history of the conflict, every detail of the life having to do with the conflict, while everyone else patiently sits and listens. The more detail the community has, the easier it is to help.
The third principle is Non-stubbornness. Everyone in the community sets an expectation that the people involved in the conflict will not be stubborn, that they will work towards reconciliation.
The fourth practice is Covering Mud with Straw. One respected, usually senior member of the community is appointed to represent each side of the conflict. These two advisors then address the assembly, trying to say something to de-escalate the feelings of the people concerned. In the course of this dialogue, each advisor is “laying down straw across the mud” – soothing the feelings of both parties to the conflict. The mud is the dispute and the straw is the loving-kindness that is applied.
The next stage is Voluntary Confession. Each party to the dispute reveals his own shortcomings, without waiting for other people to say them. As one makes a small confession, it gives the other permission and encouragement to do the same. The atmosphere is encouraging. Everyone is supportive, expecting that de-escalation will be realized. In such an atmosphere, the capacity for mutual understanding and acceptance can be born. The senior advisors make it clear to both parties in the conflict, that they must consider the well-being of the community.
The sixth and seventh practices are Decision by Consensus and Accepting the Verdict. It is agreed in advance that both conflicting parties will accept whatever verdict is pronounced by the whole assembly, or they will have to leave the community. After exploring every detail of the conflict, after realizing the maximum of reconciliation, a committee presents a verdict. It is announced three times. The head of the community reads the decision in this way: “After meditation, after exploration, after discussion, after all efforts have been made, it is suggested that this person will do so and so, that person will do so and so, this should be repaired in this way, that should be repaired in that way. Does the assembly accept this verdict? Silence means “okay”. The leader makes this announcement three times. If silence remains, he pronounces that the community has accepted the verdict, and instructs both parties to carry out the decision.
Gandhi’s Method of Conflict Resolution
Mohandas Gandhi taught that in order to resolve conflicts, it is necessary to recognize the truthful and untruthful elements in each side and then put the truthful elements from each side together. This then becomes the side you ally with while struggling with your opponent. He cited the necessity of revising positions as the struggle with the opponent continues, and ending the struggle only when both sides occupy the same side .
- Do not avoid confrontation – avoidance simply prolongs the underlying conflict between principles. Instead you should welcome an encounter between positions and the clarity it brings.
- Stay open to communication and self-criticism – each side in a conflict has only a partial view. It needs the critical perspective of the other to sort out truth from untruth.
- Find a resolution and hold fast to it – once a harmonious alternative becomes apparent, you should seize upon it and base your strategy on it – but be willing to challenge and change it as well.
- Regard your opponent as a potential ally – do nothing to harm or alienate your opponent. Remember your goal is to join forces to struggle together against untruth.
- Make your tactics consistent with the goal – use the goal itself as the weapon for fighting, when possible. When not, use only those actions that are consistent with it.
- Be flexible – be willing to change tactics, alter proximate goals, revise your notion of who your opponent is, and even reconsider your conception of the truth.
- Be temperate – escalate your actions by degrees. Keep your opponent from feeling intimidated, so that he or she will be communicative rather than defensive in responding to you.
- Be proportionate – determine which issues are trivial and which deserve your time and energy. The basis for judgment is the degree to which life and the quality of life are abused. Mount a campaign with a strength equal to that of the opponent, and appropriate to the issue.
- Be disciplined – Especially when a large number is involved in a collective effort, make certain that your side is committed to a nonviolent approach and that your position is coherent. Consistency is one of your strengths.
- Know when to quit – A deadlocked campaign or one with negative results, may require that you revise your tactics and perhaps even change your proximate goals. A concession to your side without an agreement on principle is not victory.
In a Gandhian fight, you can claim to have won only if your opponent can say the same.
The United States Navy’s “Alternative Dispute Resolution”
The United States Navy recognizes the dangers inherent in unresolved interpersonal conflict and the toll it takes on workplace efficiency, teamwork, and ultimately mission success. The navy uses a “alternative dispute resolution” methodology for resolving conflicts in the workplace and has a website with video presentations explaining their methods that range from informal, where the parties have complete control over the outcome of the dispute resolution to highly structured processes where the parties have little or no control over the outcome that is decided by a mediator. Here is how the U.S. Department of Navy describes the variety of steps:
In partnering the parties seek to prevent disputes before they occur. Often used at the beginning of a contract where a multidisciplinary team will be working together, a partnering workshop provides a facilitated, open environment for parties to work as a team in order to discuss expectations and determine methods for managing conflict and preventing disputes. Partnering fosters increased communication and promotes team-building. It helps build strong working relationships among the parties. It often features a partnering agreement and general commitment to resolve disputes early using other ADR methods if necessary.
In conciliation a neutral third party attempts to build a positive relationship between parties to promote dialogue and trust. The third party is not a decision maker, but a facilitator for resolution. Conciliation is a process in which disputants, with the assistance of a conciliator, identify the issues, develop options, consider alternatives and seek to reach an agreement. The conciliator may have an advisory role on the content of the dispute or the outcome or its resolution, but not a determinative role.
In facilitation a neutral third party acts as a process guide to improve the flow of information between disputing parties. The facilitator focuses on the process used to resolve the dispute and does not render a binding decision. Decisions are reached through the process adopted by the participating parties. Facilitators are recommended when meetings need to flow efficiently or when there is information presented that may be controversial or invoke an emotional response.
In mediation a neutral helps the parties resolve their own dispute in a manner that is acceptable to both. The mediator’s role is to help parties focus on their interests and goals in order to seek an agreement that meets the needs of everyone. The mediator has no decision making authority. In practice many mediators blend the two styles. In the facilitative style, the mediator concentrates on getting the parties to communicate with each other in order to come up with their own solution. But in the evaluative style, the mediator is more actively involved in getting the case settled, hearing arguments and assessing strengths and weaknesses of the parties' arguments.
There are many types of ombudsman, but generally an ombudsman is a neutral senior official (usually an employee) appointed by the senior leadership of an organization to recommend systemic changes, seek to prevent conflict, and assist in resolving disputes. An ombudsman uses a variety of methods such as coaching, facilitation, mediation, and fact-finding. Ombudsmen provide a grievance mechanism within the workplace by listening to employee concerns.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Advice from the U.S. Department of Navy
- Think Before Reacting: The tendency in a conflict situation is to react immediately. After all, if we do not react we may lose our opportunity. In order to resolve conflict successfully it is important to think before we react--consider the options, weigh the possibilities. The same reaction is not appropriate for every conflict.
- Listen Actively: Listening is the most important part of communication. If we do not hear what the other parties are communicating we cannot resolve a conflict. Active listening means not only listening to what another person is saying with words, but also to what is said by intonation and body language. The active listening process also involves letting the speaker know that he or she has been heard. For example, "What I heard you say is......"
- Assure a Fair Process : The process for resolving a conflict is often as critical as the conflict itself. It is important to assure that the resolution method chosen as well as the process for affect- ing that method is fair to all parties to the conflict. Even the perception of unfairness can destroy the resolution.
- Attack the Problem : Conflict is very emotional. When emotions are high it is much easier to begin attacking the person on the other side than it is to solve the problem. The only way conflicts get resolved is when we attack the problem and not each other. What is the problem that lies behind the emotion? What are the causes instead of the symptoms?
- Accept Responsibility: Every conflict has may sides and there is enough responsibility for everyone. Attempting to place blame only creates resentment and anger that heightens any existing conflict. In order to resolve a conflict we must accept our share of the responsibility and eliminate the concept of blame.
- Use Direct Communication: Say what we mean and mean what we say. Avoid hiding the ball by talking around a problem. The best way to accomplish this is to use "I-Messages". With an "I-Message" we express our own wants, needs or concerns to the listener. "I-Messages" are clear and non-threatening way of telling others what we want and how we feel. A "you-message" blames or criticizes the listener. It suggests that she or he is at fault.
- Look for Interests: Positions are usually easy to understand because we are taught to verbalize what we want. However, if we are going to resolve conflict successfully we must uncover why we want something and what is really important about the issue in conflict. Remember to look for the true interests of the all the parties to the conflict.
- Focus on the Future: In order to understand the conflict, it is important to understand the dynamics of the relationship including the history of the relationship. However, in order to resolve the conflict we must focus on the future. What do we want to do differently tomorrow?
- Options for Mutual Gain : Look for ways to assure that we are all better off tomorrow than we are today. Our gain at the expense of someone else only prolongs conflict and prevents resolute
Finding Emergent Solutions to Complex Problems: The Practice of Dialogue
Given that conflict is such a prevalent component of human service delivery environments, while the problems they each encounter become more complex in an atmosphere of diminishing resources, we need to find out-of-the-box and creative solutions to difficult problems. To do that, we need new methods of group interaction that stimulate rather than squash, creative and participatory conversations.
Dialogue is a special form of conversation that goes beyond normal conversation – or at least what we think of as normal today. It is the opposite of debate. In debate, the objective is to vanquish the opponent and inevitably creates a win-lose situation. The objective of dialogue is to find some common ground, to establish shared meaning. Dialogue is also different from discussion, which also usually ends up as a win/lose conversation. Dialogue has at least three distinguishing characteristics: 1) it occurs in the presence of equality and the absence of coercive influences and becomes possible only when there is mutual trust and respect; 2) it requires listening with empathy to the opinions of others, not just expressing one’s own opinion; 3)dialogue involves bringing underlying assumptions out into the open without responding to the surfacing of these assumptions with judgment and criticism .
The art of dialogue has ancient roots as well as modern definitions. The word “discussion” is derived from the words dis quatere, meaning to scatter, examine or shake apart, and its companion word, debate is derived from battuere (the same root as dueling), which means to beat down or to do battle with words. In contrast dialogue is derived from the ancient root leg which means to collect or speak, as well as from the Germanic word lekjaz - the one who speaks magic words - and most recently from the Greek dia-logos which translates into the flowing through of the word or meaning or relationship .
From the ancient Greeks, to Native American tribal councils, and Quaker practice, the capacity for dialogue has been recognized as a vital way of maintaining a peaceful community and better decision making. Three significant twentieth century thinkers have discussed dialogue as an important aspect of meaningful organizational communication . The philosopher Martin Buber emphasized the importance of fully accepting individuals in a genuine, open and affirming way as vital component of true dialogue . Psychologist and group analyst Patrick DeMare explored the ways in which dialogue fosters community and allows for the healing of social conflicts. He described a state of group consciousness he called “koinonia” meaning “impersonal fellowship” that evolves into a level of creativity and insight that is not generally available to groups of individuals. He borrowed the word from the early form of Athenian democracy in which all the free men of the city gathered to govern themselves .
But the best known descriptions about dialogue were discussed by a quantum physicist, David Bohm. In Bohm’s thought, dialogue encourages a group to learn collectively and produce new ways of thinking . He thought that communication in human groups becomes blocked because of the basic cultural – or subcultural – assumptions that each person brings into any conversation. Groups of twenty to forty people produce a microcosm of the larger world and will create their own microculture – their own shared meaning, language, and customs – if permitted the time to do so. As a result, in the typical workplace, a wide variety of “subcultures” may need to interact and share a common meaning, otherwise they will never be able to think together and work out complex problems and conflicts. As Bohm described the process, a dialogue works best with between twenty and forty people are seated facing one another in a single circle. He believed that smaller groups, on the other hand, lack the requisite diversity needed to reveal these tendencies and will generally emphasize more familiar personal and family roles and relationships .
William Isaacs is a senior co-founder with Peter Senge of the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT and he has written extensively about dialogue . For Isaacs, dialogue is a "sustained collective inquiry into the processes, assumptions, and certainties that compose everyday experience" (p. 3). In his view, dialogue’s intent is to have people learn how to think together, not just in the sense of analyzing a problem or issue, but in the sense of surfacing fundamental assumptions and gaining clearer insight into why those assumptions arise. This can produce an environment in which people are consciously participating in the creation of shared meaning and the development of new and aligned actions. He emphasizes that this capability is fundamental for team learning to occur. He strongly endorses the philosophy that the same thinking that created our most pressing problems cannot be used to solve them. He has outlined a “conversational journey” that starts with people just talking about something and then coming to a choice point where they decide to argue a point and end in debate, or to find some common ground, some shared meaning that evolves through dialogue.
The Sanctuary Model, the Seven Commitments, S.E.L.F., and the Sanctuary Toolkit all provide human service organizations with a trauma-informed, scientifically-based shared meaning system that allows administrators, clinicians, line-staff, children, adults and families to “get on the same page” so that they can realistically and openly communicate. The Sanctuary Model itself was created through a prolonged, multi-decade dialogue with a wide variety of representative groups and cannot be attributed to a single author. Out of this dialogue, something new has emerged that could not have been predicted by its individual parts and that is what is at the heart of the practice of dialogue – creating meaningful conversations out of which new ideas, strategies, and tactics may emerge.
Organizational Alexithmia and Miscommunication
Silencing of Dissent
Link to Bloom, S. L. (2004) The Importance of Dissent
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