Sunday, 24 June 2007
Is there a role for conflict in conflict resolution?
As I was working through my Collaborative law training I was repeatedly troubled by the role that conflict actually has to play within the process.
We were taught that when one party starts to express some strongly held opinions, no doubt in equally strong terms, that we should seek to acknowledge that with a phrase such as "I can see that this is clearly an important matter for you."
I explored the possibility of not seeking to contain the grievance in this manner but to really embrace it and get it out in the open. If I am in a dialogue with my client, and his/her wife, and one spouse is getting agitated about something then I want to understand just what is at play.
The alternative, to nod, acknowledge and contain, deprives us all.
The concerned party is deprived of what might be the only opportunity or forum to safely set out what their position is. Such an opportunity can be incredibly cathartic and just knowing that they have been heard can provide real breakthroughs. There is always the possibility that the storm might blow itself out and simply pass once it has been aired.
Both myself and my collaborative colleague are denied the opportunity to fully understand the dynamic between the parties and so we are left with our own guesses filling in the blanks.
We are all denied the possible insights that a fully aired grievance might provide. Perhaps that raw and unguarded outpouring might offer footholds or show signposts to a new shape of proposal that hadn't been anticipated before.
"Alison, while you were explaining how you felt about John leaving, you indicated that none of this would be as bad if only the problems with Connor's schooling hadn't started 2 months earlier. Would it help if we looked at addressing that problem before moving forwards with ...."
Both partners can be coached that such complaints are normal and almost inevitable. We can listen and acknowledge, we can listen and choose not to defend ourselves. "I hear what you say and I can see why it must have felt that way to you." Full stop. There might be a role for apologies.
So is there a role for conflict in conflict resolution? There has to be. We should be skilled enough and courageous enough to embrace it. How can we ensure the communication is expressed without violence or intimidation? How can our clients be assisted and coached as to what is likely, almost inevitable? How can we move away from the reactive response of seeing criticism as an attack. Very often it is nothing more than the other party's opinion. They are entitled to that and we can learn a great deal by hearing it and understanding how they came to hold that opinion.