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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Conflict Resolution and the Hierarchy of Control

COUPLES AROUND THE WORLD RESOLVE CONFLICT in all sorts of way, with all sorts of outcomes. I’m suggesting here the use of a risk management concept to describe how we might better resolve conflict, or even avoid it altogether.

Picture these following headings and their descriptions in priority descending order i.e. number one is most preferred way of dealing with potential conflict; number five is the least preferred—though any, or a combination of a few, might be the order of the day:

1. Elimination

At the top of our hierarchy is the concept of eliminating the risk of conflict altogether—the need to resolve the conflict is eliminated i.e. there is no conflict. The conflict that would have occurred has been avoided—it is not denied though. It was avoided in the first place.

The only way this can be done, and really well, is to perceive the sources of future conflict before they happen and wisely not venture into that territory. This relies upon an implicit knowledge or our partners and those others we deal with, as well as applying this knowledge by thinking through their minds and feeling through their hearts.

This, I think you’ll agree, is no easy thing to do on a continual basis; therefore, we’ll need other methods too...

2. Substitution

If we can remove ourselves from the position of the conflict or issue at hand quickly enough, this is only slightly worse than sidestepping the issue altogether. This takes perceptiveness and decisiveness of will, to be aware and to act.

We’ve substituted an undesirable situation with a more desirable and liveable one.

3. Engineering

The next best place to be is to impart some sort of immediate compensation for the issue of conflict. Perhaps the conflict is unavoidable but at least we can see and communicate that and make some adjustments accordingly. We “manufacture” an appropriate solution—suitable to all parties. The hope is our partner or others we deal with can also see the efforts we’ve gone to in our methods and acts of compensation.

We’ve engineered-in a more desirable and liveable result from the less desirable one. Again, the key is perception of the actual problem and making appropriate, respectful and well-balanced compensation. If we’re smart, our compensations will more than compensate for the potential issues created.

A key thing here is precedence. If our partners can see an ugly pattern forming they may not accept the compensation no matter how many concessions we’ve made.

4. Administrative – Conflict Resolution

Now we’re starting to get into the nitty gritty of conflict—it’s “here” and unavoidable—the collision is happened and now for damage control.

This is where the ‘conflict resolution’ process fits in. The administrative level of control is always about procedures and training—yet not many of us like, or are even good at, procedures or techniques per se.

Though this “control” is still effective, it needs certain pre-conditions to be in place to work well. For instance, both partners or the party’s to the conflict must be able to absorb the emotions produced in the conflict before effective conflict resolution can take place. Trying to work through conflict where one or both partners are still hurting or fuming (even a little) is futile—it can only make matters temporarily worse and unsolvable at that point in time.

Effective conflict resolution is about shared empathy—putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes for a moment to see how it feels, and then acknowledging how it feels. The light bulbs then go on for us... ‘Okay, so that’s what she’s/he’s on about!’

5. Physical Barrier / Isolation from Conflict

The least best option regarding handling conflict i.e. if all the above fails, is we must seek some temporary barriers of isolation to allow tempers to simmer and cool.

The hope here, of course, is that with a little time to cool down and be apart from the other person—and therefore the problem—the sense of reason can return allowing conflict resolution process to eventually be used.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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