Part three of a four-part look at Conflict Resolution Tools Every Business Needs.
Heidi: It's analogous to focusing a pair of binoculars to achieve higher resolution--a clearer picture.
Bruce: Why is dialogue effective? What is experienced through dialogue?
Dan: A better understanding. Otherwise it's not a successful dialogue. And emotionally the participants feel heard. To illustrate: being in a conversation where someone repeats themselves over and over again, this means they aren't sure they've been heard. Dialogue closes that loop. Participants know they've been heard and can move on to the next step. The natural progression of the conversation then continues, maybe to where the next person wants to go.
Sometimes the goal of conflict resolution isn't ongoing dialogue. The word communication covers it better. Some people don't have dialogue skills. They come into a dispute in full debate mode, or with a power perspective.
Heidi: The word dialogue is a specialized term as we are using it here.
Dan: Deborah Tannen, in her book The Argument Culture 5, distinguishes between dogmatic thinking, argumentative (or debate) thinking where the point is winning, and dialogue, which helps people get a fuller perspective and in which they are listening to understand.
Bruce: So the word dialogue describes the quality of communication in a relationship instead of signifying just an exchange of information between people.
Heidi: Sometimes people have such a communication breakdown that they aren't ready for genuine dialogue. That's the best point to get to, but they can still be productive short of that.
Dan: Sometimes two people just want to quickly and painlessly get through a situation. "Dialogue" suggests a level of depth that they don't want to achieve. If a group is ready to go there, it's best for them, but we can't make them go that way.
Bruce: So ideally a leader would have his or her people in a dialogue relationship with one another.
There are always emotional and substantive aspects to conflict resolution, as well as procedural.
Bruce: Who can implement conflict resolution initiatives? Can it be done by somebody inside an organization, like a manager?
Dan: Somebody from the inside can.
Bruce: How important is it to get the top levels involved in conflict resolution?
Dan: Sometimes it may be critical. Sometimes they don't want to be involved. Some kinds of leadership aren't about telling employees what to do, but about inviting employees to come up with something that works for them.
Bruce: What happens when you get called in to a company?
Dan: We will talk with the key parties first. There may be a lot of people connected to the project at issue, for different reasons.
Once we have a sense of the multiple perspectives involved, we design a process with them.
If it's just two people, maybe simple mediation is best. If there are many more, it may be an open space, or a series of gatherings. In some situations a multiple track process might be appropriate. There might be any number of constraints based on budget and other issues.
We ask: what are likely repercussions if various options are chosen? What are their goals, what are their hopes? We ask and get clear about these as part of the process.
Bruce: What are indications that conflict resolution is a good solution to implement for an organization?
Dan: If a group is working well together, with creativity and learning happening, you can see [their] happiness, joy, curiosity, liveliness, energy, etc. If they are not being creative and learning, or are destructive, you will see apathy, low energy, dullness, and a lack of energy.
If morale is down, that is an indication that something can be done. A specific conflict may not be so obvious that it can be identified right away, but apathy and low motivation are sufficient indicators to think about starting a process.
Bruce: Are there any potential negatives, any side effects, that one should know about before attempting conflict resolution?
Dan: One is failure to follow through with promised changes. Another is a not sufficiently competent facilitator who, for example, doesn't honor confidentiality or allows bias to enter into the process. The more you anticipate how things might go wrong, the better. This is one of the things that an outside consultant should be responsible for doing if you hire them.
Bruce: Can it be embarrassing?
Dan: Potential for embarrassment in a conflict resolution process tends to come out ahead of time, during the assessment phase. Sometimes issues can be raised in a way to let people be comfortable.
Bruce: Who have we heard of who has used conflict resolution successfully?
Dan: One example is the Camp David accords. Sadat and Begin came to an agreement through Jimmy Carter's skillful mediation-diplomacy work using a single-text document 8 .
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