Well, if you think the title means you can solve every conflict easily, you must be living in a different world from the rest of us!
Indeed, one of the foremost books on conflict resolution, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, even has a chapter on ‘Intractable Conflict’. Intractable conflicts come in three flavours:
- Conflicts over irreconcilable moral differences
- High-stakes conflicts of distribution of resources
- Conflicts over relative power or place in a hierarchy
So, I will set the moral, resource and power stakes a little lower and talk about simple workplace conflicts; like ‘who moved my chair?’ or ‘why do you never wash up your coffee mugs?’.
Being able to resolve daily conflicts like these is an important workplace skill, and one that is often overlooked in schools, colleges and training for job-starters.
How bad will it get?
Morton Deutsch is considered by many as the founder of our modern theory and practice of conflict resolution. He wrote widely and The Resolution of Conflict is one of the most important books on the subject.
In it, Deutsch sets out seven factors that determine how well (constructively) or badly (destructively) the conflict will go:
- The characteristics of the parties
… their values, aspirations, intellectual and social resource, attitudes to conflict, and power relationships
- The prior relationship between them
… including their attitudes, beliefs and expectations about each other, and the levels of trust
- The nature of the issue causing the conflict
… its scope, flexibility, significance, expression
- The social environment of the conflict
… the encouragements and deterrents, social norms, mediating agents
- The stakeholder to the conflict
… their relationships to the parties and to each other, their own interests and characteristics
- The strategy and tactics employed by each party
… their legitimacy or illegitimacy, the use of incentives such as promises of rewards or threats of punishment or coercion, openness and integrity of communication, commitment, what they appeal to
- The consequences of the conflict to each party
… and also to other stakeholders: gains and losses, precedence established, short- and long-term effects, reputational impacts
Deutsch founded the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1986. It is committed to developing knowledge and practice to promote constructive conflict resolution, effective cooperation, and social justice.
There, the former training director, Ellen Raider, developed a useful mnemonic device that has been used in training in workplaces and educational institutions.
Students who are taught this mnemonic find it easier to share their needs and acknowledge other peoples’ needs and so work towards a solution.
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Here is an hour-long interview with Deutsch and, if conflict really interests you, there are also interviews with other key thinkers in the field on the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (SCAR) website.
It seems Ellen Raider’s is not the only AEIOU model for conflict management. A cursory wander around the web also unearthed: