Thumb Wars: Y text conflict gets us nowhere

Newsletter Edition:  January 2016

I recently watched my son and his cousin argue with each other in a furious exchange of texts – and I thought to myself how unsuited this medium is for conflict resolution. This month’s newsletter is a reflection on how our mediums change our messages – and how texting might threaten more than it promises when it comes to dealing with conflict.



What are we really getting – and missing – when we carry out conflicts through texts?

Texting, though a popular and increasingly automatic habit for all kinds of communications, appears to have more likelihood of creating conflict than resolving it, due to its built-in one dimensional nature. Productive conflict – conflict that gets us somewhere, brings something to light, produces changed perspective or altered behavior  – involves a whole host of processes, only a few of which involve the literal exchange of words that could be translated into a text message. Read on to reflect on how we ended up ‘duking it out’ with our thumbs, and how the medium of texting changes our attempts to communicate. [Read more…]

Conflict and David Brooks’ Moral Bucket List

Recently David Brooks published a popular opinion piece titled “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. In it, he contrasts two categories of virtue, one which he dubs “résumé virtues,” the other “eulogy virtues.” Describing his admiration of striking and enlightened individuals who excel in the latter, he argues that culture in the United States encourages people to focus too heavily on cultivating the first category, frequently at detrimental personal expense.

“We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”

While acknowledging the importance and gratification associated with résumé virtues and career success, Brooks insists that this trend results in a kind of institutionalized disassociation.

“You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.”

Brooks paints a compelling picture, and when it went online the piece struck a chord with a substantial readership. As a mediator I was struck most poignantly by the way Brooks’ perspective relates to interpersonal relations, and the consequences of putting the human aspects of our lives beneath our professional imperatives. All too often such an imbalance manifests in our relationships in the workplace, in the community, or at home. And all too often, it results in avoidable conflict or escalation. Reading Brooks’ piece inspired me to write this blog post about conflict related insights that can seem at odds with marketplace pressures, but that are essential for maintaining our humanity and, ultimately, the sense of humanity in all the social spheres we inhabit. [Read more…]

Taxi taxi! The intersection of conflict, peace, and shared humanity, please

This post came to me on the fly. It’s not a formal message, focused on business or legal matters. Instead, this piece in the New York Times snapped my attention to the very informal, daily grind of human interactions that color our lives. We deal with tension, emotions, and conflict all day every day in a wide variety of scenarios. And though we might tend to emphasize those decisive institutional environs – the workplace, the family, an organization – a significant portion of our lives passes during the micro-exchanges of all the in-betweens: on the way to work, in line for coffee, dropping a child off at school. These moments are connective fabrics in our lives, and they are as real and as important as those contexts that we are more conditioned to think of as decisive for our career, or for our future. In them we live out our habits, our values, our hopes, and our expectations for how the people in our worlds should live amongst one another. Your opportunity to foster a culture of peace today might appear in the grocery line, or in a cab. [Read more…]

Cultures of Peace: Is it cliche?

Newsletter Edition: February 2015 

In light of recent tragic world events in France and the Middle East I thought it was timely to write about cultures of peace, a phrase we’ve been seeing in many different contexts.

What is a culture of peace?

If you look up the phrase “culture of peace” in any online search engine, it is likely to spit out a long list of varied and disparate results. Environmentalists, musicians, educators, activists, and mediators (myself included now, of course), all have resources online explaining how their work relates to realizing cultures of peace. But what is this broad maxim?

First of all, what is meant by peace? This is a terribly complicated question. If we poll the hive, the first line of the Wikipedia entry on peace reads “Peace is an occurrence of harmony characterized by lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence.” This is a good place to start, but then it gets more complicated. Does peace mean we don’t want any conflict at all? That’s a problematic notion. In conflict resolution we often emphasize that conflict is a part of all societies, and when managed mindfully, it can be healthy, important, and productive (in businesses and organizations, for example). To think through “peace,” especially from a conflict resolution perspective, it’s helpful to turn to the idea of “nonviolence,” which explores more concretely the ways in which conflict becomes harmful and begins to threaten “peace.”

Once the ideal of “peace” or “nonviolence” is outlined, there are many approaches to its realization. A “politics of peace” might be understood as attempting to structure policies of governance in a way that promotes as limited harm as possible to all. Mediation and conflict resolution might be seen as “peace strategies,” emphasizing the active and procedural elements of peace, and employing particular formations of interpersonal peace “making” or “building.” A “culture of peace,” then, implies another angle. It suggests that collective habits, consciousness, and normative practices of interaction can inhibit or contribute to peace – and also that we can learn and choose which kind we prefer. [Read more…]

Conscious Conversation: Fit the Format to the Fuss

Communication challenges and misunderstandings lie at the heart of all conflicts. When we are in a dispute or controversy, whether with fellow team members or partners, much of our communication is reactionary and one sided. We talk over each other. In fact, the language we use to describe these heat of the moment responses, “pushed my hot buttons” or “went ballistic” shows that angry heated communication is not a conscious process. Heated communication doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, it often inflames the issues.

Today’s article discusses various communication formats and their purpose.

[Read more…]

Intractable Conflict

Agreeing to disagree is a short term strategy for intractable conflict which generally can’t be solved by many of the tools in the mediator’s toolbox. While mediation is one process that can be used, deep understanding of the nature of the parties and the issues is a vital first step. Techniques of nonviolent communication are useful in this arena. In this month’s newsletter we explore some characteristics of intractable conflict.

Best wishes for a happy, peaceful holiday season and good health in 2013.

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Group Conflict as a Source for Problem Solving

This month’s newsletter follows last month’s topic on Groupthink and group conflict. Here we lay out some strategies for managing team conflict so that it can serve as a catalyst for change and growth, rather than drain your organization’s energy and resources.

Alternative Resolutions, LLC helps teams and organizations handle group conflict so that it can be an engine for productive growth.

[Read more…]

Communication Options in Conflict

It’s been a busy summer in our business. We’ve developed some new and exciting programs which are featured on our website and have won several contracts for training this fall.

Hope you’ve had some sunshine and fun this summer.


When you are faced with a conflict how do you typically respond? Do you always respond in the same way? According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011) there are three general categories of conflict communication responses: other-centered, self-centered or relationship-centered. Each of these possible responses has its own set outcomes, typical behaviors and messages. This article will explore the characteristics of each type of communication option. [Read more…]