Objectivity, Subjectivity, and the Known Unknowns: Intentions vs. Assumptions in Conflict Resolution

In my last post I wrote about asking, and the important role questions play in creating possibility for conflict resolution. Today is an exploration of important areas of objective and subjective inquiry.

Perhaps we’re all familiar with the analytical equation: in life we have our ‘knowns’ and our ‘unknowns.’ Both can then, in turn, be known or unknown. There are things we are aware that we know (known knowns) and things we know, but not consciously (unknown knowns). Then there are things we know that we don’t know (known unknowns) and things we don’t realize we don’t know (unknown unknowns). In conflict, it’s the unknowns that often trip us up, and the last category – the things we don’t even realize we don’t know – that can be the most insidious. [Read more…]

Holiday Post: The Hyperstress of Relaxation

Newsletter Edition: December 2014

The holidays are upon us, those blissful few weeks of tradition and cheer, vacation time, family gatherings – and, according to surveys by the American Psychological Association, boatloads of stress. I want to share how conflict resolution theory and practice can help us deal with the troublesome side of this season. If you’re trolling around the Internet looking for holiday gifts or recipes, you’re likely to bump into troves of gimmicks referring to “holiday stress” (“stress free” holiday recipes, gifts schemes that are sure to help you relax!) It’s become such a trope of American Christmas culture that the Huffington Post has an entire blog post category devoted to it. Insights from conflict resolution and mediation shed light on how it is we end up so stressed as the year draws to a close, and to find some richer, more thoughtful strategies for avoiding conflict and managing hyperstress during the holidays.

Insight on Stress: What’s at the root?

Insight mediation is a mediation strategy that emphasizes reflection and digging into the root source of a conflict or problem. Sometimes taking notice of where an issue originates can completely change our perspective. By putting some mental distance between the strong emotions we are experiencing and their underlying causes, we may avoid misplaced, displaced, and overblown conflicts (which I wrote about last year at this same time). Below are some possible places to look for the instigators of holiday hyperstress.  [Read more…]

Trust: Foundations for Peace

Trust is a fundamental part of all relationships. While we often have a basic understanding of how trust is vital in very close and personal scenarios, we may not be fully aware of the constant role it plays in daily functional exchanges. Trust can be pivotal to successful negotiations, collaborations, or conflict management. A more complete awareness of trust may aid us in understanding how relationships of all kinds can be geared towards more positivity and cooperation.

Types of Trust

In her book The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Leigh L. Thompson[1] describes three types of trust, and ways we can be mindful about how it is both built and broken.

[Read more…]

Conflict Climate: Context Matters

When it comes to confronting conflict, there is a wide array of valuable tools and tactics available for mediators, conflict managers, and individuals to learn and employ in the face of growing tensions or the threat of escalation. However, to see a conflict only in the moment it arises is to see it out of context. The norms and structures within an organization play an influential role in how conflicts originate and play out.  Well before you find yourself searching for a way to intervene on a destructive conflict, you can take account of the conflict climate in your organization, and change the nature of conflict before it even begins to take place. We wrote about this topic in our November 2011 Newsletter as well.

Conflict Climate: More than the Environment

It’s summer, and the heat is creeping in, but when we talk about conflict climate we don’t mean the settings on your air conditioner or the rise in global temperatures. While the environmental characteristics of a setting can influence the tenor of human interaction, conflict climate refers to the social and psychological landscape in which a conflict takes place. No matter the climate, conflicts of varying intensity are likely to punctuate any workplace, community, or relationship, but variables such as trust, power, conflict strategy, and behavioral patterns can have a tremendous impact on their constructive or destructive potential.

[Read more…]

Handling Chronic Complainers: The Whiner at Work

I spoke last week about managing conflict at the annual meeting of a national non-profit.  One gentlemen asked me,  “How do you handle the whiners?”

In order to figure out the best approach for handling the whiner you need to  analyze and diagnose the conflict.   What is the source of the conflict? There may be multiple conflict sources  that are causing the problem.   In the case of someone who is a constant complainer the source of conflict might be any of the following:  emotions, poor or failed  communication,  unmet  or incompatible needs or negative patterns of behavior.

Emotion as the conflict source

When emotions are an issue it is important to acknowledge feelings and recognize the emotions.  Many leaders are uncomfortable doing this but it is very important.   If people feel heard and acknowledged it takes the sting out of many painful conflicts.  [Read more…]

A Process View of Conflict: Can Conflict be Constructive?

In addition to the mediation, facilitation and training work our firm does, I am an adjunct professor at University of Maryland University College and at Catholic University of America’s graduate program in Human Resource Management. Teaching and consequently learning the theory of conflict enriches my practice. So I thought I’d share some nuggets of theory with my readers followed by some practical tips.


A process view of conflict means that conflict is not just a discrete interaction; rather, it is a series of stages with distinct characteristics. A process is dynamic, ongoing and continuous and changes over time. Similarly, communication is a process even though it comes so natural to us that we don’t think about it that way. But any interchange with another human being is a process. When we fail to look at another person’s point of view and assume our frame of reference is the only correct one we are not taking a process view of conflict. [Read more…]

Organizational conflict

Happy New Year and welcome to the inaugural edition of our newsletter. Every month we will feature a lead article, information about alternative dispute resolution, conflict resolution events in the community and other helpful resources for mediators and professionals interested in consensus building processes.

In order to better serve our readers we have designed a survey so that this newsletter is of the highest value. See the link below. We look forward to hearing your response.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to look at what systems you have in place in your organization for handling conflict when it occurs. This is a field called dispute system design which combines principals of organizational development and conflict resolution.

You might say, “We don’t have any conflict.” While that is certainly possible, conflict is a naturally occurring phenomenon and occurs in most healthy systems. Conflict is defined as an incompatibility in interests, needs or goals. The productive resolution of conflict produces change and growth that help people and organizations move ahead. [Read more…]