SOME THOUGHTS ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION


         "Be careful how you interpret the world:  It is like that."
Erich Heller
"I want Richard to do certain things-- but I also want him to want to do them! And I realize that wanting to do things is something we are going to have to teach him."
Conflict is inevitable whenever we communicate with other human beings. The above example-- though an extreme form known as a "paradox"-- illustrates the peculiar impasse that arises when messages are structured to form untenable situations. For example, the way the parent above attempts to change his (her) child's behavior makes impossible what she really wants to achieve, and she is just as caught as he: To teach someone to have a spontaneous idea is in itself a conflict of values.
Conflicts can develop within oneself or between and among individuals. In order to successfully cope with conflict it is useful to address some fundamental issues: What is your position? Whom do you wish to influence? What is his/her position? And what do you need to do or say to alter that position? There are many ways to organize your thoughts and behaviors to satisfy those questions and thus, resolve conflict:


  1. Determine the purpose of your actions. In order to successfully resolve a conflict you need a position-- a goal. Obviously, you cannot expect to reach a goal prior to having clearly identified one so you can move in the right direction. Take a step back from the immediate difference between you and the other individual. Examine your purpose. Before you again engage the other individual, consider whether or not your current position will facilitate achieving that purpose. Is there another position, more closely aligned with that of your opponent, which will still allow you to accomplish your purpose? Is there a position that could work for you which, in your opinion, might seem more palatable to the other party? Considering your purpose in this manner can often facilitate efficient and peaceful conflict resolution.
  2. "Try-on" the other person's perception of the situation. Conflicts generally occur when individuals experience the same situation in different ways. This is inevitable, as each of us has his(her) own "maps" of reality. That is, we each perceive experiences according to very specifically learned modeling processes. To have someone have your perception of an experience-- to get him to act in certain ways deemed desirable-- you need to understand his position as well as your own. Ask him useful questions: "When you think about this situation, what exactly happens inside? Do you picture the events a certain way? Are there any associated feelings? How do you know to have those and not others? Do you describe the events to yourself as they are occurring?"
  3. "Step into" the other person's choice of action. A step beyond understanding another's perception of a situation, is "becoming" that individual and taking his (her) action of choice. If you truly wish to align someone's position with your own, it is important to carry your perception of his perception of the situation to it's conclusion. Then consider the consequences of those actions as a function of your purpose. How will it affect that purpose if he does (does not) do what you want?
  4. Generate new, creative ideas. From your perception of the other individual's position, try to create new choices that will still satisfy your purpose. At the end of my sophomore year, having become discouraged with science courses, I impulsively changed my major to "Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management." Arriving home for the summer, my father asked what I hoped to pursue with this major. I was unsure. I answered, "hotels", knowing only that I was displeased as a science-related major. Interested, he asked me to take a ride to Manhattan to explore several facets of hotel operations; that this might help clarify how I could use my talents in a hotel. On the trip he also casually handed me several "want ads" for entry- level hotel positions-- bell men, desk clerks, and so forth. We never reached Manhattan. Impressed with his strategy, the next day I was on a plane to Michigan State...where I promptly changed my major to psychology.