Saturday, 28 July 2007

Holidays and a link before I go

That's it, I'm off work for a couple of weeks annual leave so it'll be quiet here for a while. I look forward to sharing more ideas and really making some progress with those other career plans when I get back mid August.

In the meantime here's an interesting post on Deloittes blog site that I thought presented some interesting personal dilemnas.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The relationship / time matrix

I was discussing matters with a colleague last week who could be called a "Distance service provider" - that is to say that their services were provided over the internet, mail, telephone, but not directly face to face.

This organisation were surprised at just how much conflict they had to deal with between the service provider and the consumer.

We had an interesting chat about an idea that occured to me there and then, namely the relationship / time matrix.

We explored whether the problem might be one of low relationship combined with long time delays between communications. Why should that provide a problem?

We came onto narrative theory. Within any given transaction there will be markers.

I placed my order on this date. I enquired by phone on this date and then the goods arrived on this date.

The problem is that the gaps between those recorded incidents then get filled with supposition as each party assumes what has been happening and what the other party has intended.

Within this particular industry, the relationship between provider and consumer of the service was low. This could have an impact given that it reduced understanding between the parties, leaving larger gaps to fill in with suppositions. Furthermore if the relationship had not been developed then there was nothing to preserve there through ensuring that we communicated carefully.

We then explored whether that low relationship was then compounded by the time between each response or element within the communication.

Whenever one party or the other raised a point, typically through correspondence, then there was a time delay. That creates more space to fill with second guessing.

We kicked about looking at a way of possibly reducing such conflict by enhancing the relationship to develop better understanding between provider and consumer, and also challenging the means of communication, systems and processes to ensure that such issues were handled more promptly.

It has led to me thinking, however, how such a matrix would map out. As relationship increases then we would presumably have some more lassitude on time. Indeed, we need to build in time if relationships are to be developed. But there will come a point on that time curve where longer time - too much time - will start to affect the relationship itself.

There you have it. A most nebulous of nebulous thoughts. I'll let you know of further developments on it. Is anyone else working on similar ideas?

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Oh to be in Kalamazoo!

Oh to be in Kalamazoo. Why? Well to have an address like that would be enough. Just saying the word is beautiful. It bounces off the tongue. Even typing it has its own unique rhythm. Try it for yourself.


But look at what insight into Kalamazoo life my Google alerts gave me this morning.

Not only have they got Richard's Magic Accordian Show scheduled for 7pm TONIGHT but they have a mediation drop in service at the Kalamazoo library. Now that is the first time I have seen one of those.

Count me as interested. Does anyone have experience of mediation drop in surgeries? I know that in my legal profession, especially in family law, that the free first half hour is prevalent, although it is not something I offer. If you put on a half hour free session then your client is going to be time wary. If they are watching the watch then they aren't able to relax into their story and I am only going to get the most cursory explanation of where their relationship has got to. At the very time that I need to understand them and develop trust and rapport, I restrict the likelihood of doing so because of time pressure.

I offer a fixed fee at a nominal charge but the meeting can take as long as it takes - normally around 90 minutes. You can see the client talk themselves through their initial anxiety, and time concerns, and there comes a stage where they visibly relax. There is a realisation that they can take their time and hopefully ensure that they are fully heard.

That in turn helps me to advise in a way that I hope might be more in keeping with their values and in response to what they have told me their position is.

How, I wonder, can the Kalamazoo mediation surgery settle the participants and get to an adequate level of communication working in the time available? If it works then it could be expanded upon. Imagine, you could have conflict kiosks everywhere. If people cannot agree on something they just pop into their neighbourhood Conflict Corner, settle into their booths, mediate, settle and move on with their day.

On closer examination I learn that Kalamazoo has its own website.

Here it proudly proclaims its status as a "Cool city" - which seems to be trying a bit too hard. Of much more interest though is the story of the Kalamazoo Promise which is a much more interesting matter altogether and something I'm going to have to look into. Real altruism. Real vision. A much more interesting story indeed.

Good morning Kalamazoo! We love you!

Conflict and social networking

Here's an invitation. Have a look at this networking site for people working in or having an interest in conflict resolution or peace work generally. There is some good debate starting to warm up over there. The site seems to be finding it's feet and I am benefiting from some interesting connections that are likely to lead to future collaborations.

My page can be found here. Please leave a comment there and introduce yourself.

The membership is predominantly people working in the field in conflict areas, as opposed to those in training or the corporate aspects of conflict. However there is a broad range of opinion, emphasis, experience and origin. A real hotbed of conflict thinking and application. Join in!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Airport queues and dispute resolution using conversational riffs

Have you ever been spear fishing? I had the opportunity to try it yesterday and it was remarkable. I caught a sea bass weighing about a kilo. Not bad for a man with a fish phobia. There was some healing going on right there. Albeit not for the fish.

Anyway I digress.

As we drove down to Studland Bay I was talking with a great chap called Lee. He travels frequently between the UK and America. We were discussing conflict and how people react to it.

He recounted an incident at an American airport. His flight was lost - whether cancelled, overbooked or whatever. He was in a queue of understandably angry people trying to get more information.

He got to the front of the queue and just had this one other passenger in front of him who proceeded to give the clerk an insight into his frustration.

Not surprisingly he was told there was nothing that could be done. He would need to come back the following day to continue his flight. Apologies on behalf of the airline and so on. He was frustrated when he started, he was angry when he spoke to the clerk, and he was still frustrated when he finished.

Lee steps up, with the same frustrations as the guy in front but tries a very different tack.

"Hi. How are you getting on?" he asks the clerk. "This can't be easy for you. What is the situation with flights?". The clerk tells him what she had told the last passenger, but then goes on to volunteer;

"If it will help I can offer you some meal vouchers while you are waiting"

Sure, says Lee, appreciating the gesture...

"And I can arrange" she goes on "complimentary hotel accommodation overnight to minimise your inconvenience"

The result? He didn't get home any quicker but he got to enjoy his unavoidable day in New York with only minor inconvenience and reduced stress. The passenger before him, with his aggressive, albeit understandable stance, was left with only his rage.

I wrestled with this, while fishing. Was Lee just being polite? Undoubtedly. But what else did he do?

He recognised or acknowledged the clerk's role in this situation, and gave her respect by doing so.

He also created space for himself to consider a different perspective rather than being consumed by the situation he found himself in. The result is that the situation was resolved as best as it possibly could have been.

Lee explained that a favourite line of his when faced with other frustrating situations is "Is there anything you could do to help. I'd greatly appreciate it if so." Again, Lee is inviting co-operation rather than laying down a challenge and even as he asks the question, he is reassuring the other party that they are safe to explore solutions together.

The other passenger was not only rude but unwittingly contributed to his own situation. Given the tack he adopted, which was quite a natural one in the circumstances, he not only reduced the likelihood of working together to find some solutions - meal vouchers and accommodation provided free of charge - but he made such collaboration impossible. In the face of his stance, was it easier, or safe, for the clerk to offer him assistance - which may well have provoked further outbursts - or easier to shut up shop, withdraw within herself and wait for him to move onto the next desk?

A simple fable but one I enjoyed in the telling. Thanks Lee for letting me share it. Now, anyone for sea bass?

Conflict resolution in practice

Just as very exciting things are happening to me here in the UK with various new developments, here is a top journal entry from Kumvera on developments in a mediation process in Zambia.

There is something about this article that really appeals to me. For whatever reason it feels wonderfully hopeful. Perhaps it is the opportunity to see conflict resolution in its most early stages. Besides, the photo-montage of the farmers meeting is a real winner and worth clicking through to in itself.

I hope that this journal will continue and that we can all share in the trials and tribulations that lay ahead. Please do visit Ka-Hey over at Kumvera and leave a comment encouraging more reports.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Conflict like Nam Pla

I was reminded today of a situation where someone had lost their cool in a meeting I was in. They were upset in case they had "Blown it."

They couldn't have been further from the truth. I explained that often conflict, or differences in opinion are like Nam Pla, or Fish sauce as it is better known.

Those of you who enjoy Thai cooking will be familiar with Nam Pla. It is made from steeping, or brewing, dead fish. It is utterly rank with one of the most offensive smells to come out of a bottle. But when it is added with other ingredients to make the dish, then it imparts this wonderfully evocative depth of flavour.

Very often, if we try to pass through a dispute without addressing the conflict then we only get part of the picture. We are trying to resolve matters at the levels where both parties feel comfortable. However, if we can make it safe to communicate our or their strongest grievances then we add so much flavour and understanding to the process.

Fish sauce on its own is rancid. But handled carefully, and added to the recipe at the right time and without allowing it to overpower the dish, then you get the full flavour. To leave it out altogether would only result in a tasteless compromise and deny all of the participants within the meal a full appreciation of what could have been.

Monday, 9 July 2007

5 tips on embracing conflict - from Jamie Notter

A great article here by fellow blogger Jamie Notter with no less than 5 tips on just how to embrace conflict. Please do click through to read them.

I responded in his comments that I once spent all day in a meeting where we there were some serious managerial issues to resolve. I knew that one of the non-agenda, unspoken issues was a dispute between two members and I spent the best part of the day trying to get that dispute to surface.

If we didn't then the ongoing animosity would have surfaced in some other environment or at an inopportune moment. At least if we wrestled with it here and now then we could ensure it was safe to explore the topic. I call this "bloodletting", a safe controlled releasing of the pressure.

A greater concern of mine was that if the matter was left unresolved then it would have sabotaged the real progress we had made that day.

It was frustrating that we got to 30 minutes of the end of the meeting only for the topic to rear its head then. I do wish we had got it out earlier. The participant who raised the issue had been worried that if he had raised the objections earlier that he would have spoiled the meeting.

A pity. If we are able to recognise our differences and embrace our conflicts, then we create such richly textured, sincere relationships on which to build future agreements. Who knows what we could have achieved. Who knows what suggestions might have been held back before the grievances were aired and resolved.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Despair within Conversational Riffs workshop

One of the cards within my Conversational Riffs workshop is despair. The "Black card of despair" as I call it.

Despair is a powerful concept and one we are all familiar with.

"This is pointless, we'll never get this sorted, here we go again..." and so on.

As I was presenting this on Wednesday I became aware that by raising the prospect of despair that I am in a way mapping out the future perils we should expect to encounter as we work in dispute resolution.

Just as a roadmap might show a perilous cliff, or (more colourfully) a treasure map might show an erupting volcano, if we are able to map out the future perils we will encounter then we give them a very different meaning.

Now, when I reach the cliff, or I see the fiery lava flow, my first response is not peril and a need to flee, but instead I am reassured that I am heading in the right direction. So, if I feel despair looming, I need not be overwhelmed and controlled by it, but rather I can think "Oh, there it is" and use that as a reference point as I continue to negotiate my way through the current conflict resolution.

Just a thought, and probably a good platform for a workshop game.

The fire powered fridge

Does such a thing exist? I remember reading something about one in "The Mosquito Coast", but I was young and I cannot remember what came of it. My Google searches so far have been fruitless.

The reason it sprang to mind was the concept that we can embrace something that threatens us - conflict or fire - and in doing so we not only negate the threat it presents but we can turn it to a quite opposite purpose.

Hence, embracing conflict to get to a resolution, or peaceful progression at least. Embracing fire to get refrigeration. Now if only I could reassure myself that such a thing exists, there is probably a whole workshop right there. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A warm welcome to workshop and seminar guests

Hello to people who are visiting following my presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

I'm glad that you found your way here to my "Embracing Conflict" blog. I use this site as a depository to jot down thoughts that occur to me where conflict can be seen impacting on our lives. It may well be that the material can then be used as examples within future workshops, or maybe, future articles.

Please do feel free to have a look through the various articles below for an extra insight into my approach to conflict and, specifically, the developing notion of embracing conflict.

If you have an issue you want to raise, or challenge from the workshops then please do not hesitate to post a comment and I'll be sure to respond to it.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Teaching children a new way of disagreeing - "Starting Young"

Meet Tar Heel, one of my fellow Bloggers within the stable.

He has a charming piece from earlier in the month that I have only just got round to reading. He comments on his young children and their fledgling attempts to resolve differences.

What are peoples thoughts on children and dispute resolution? When would be an appropriate age to start exploring other approaches with them and what challenges do they present all of us as we try to practice what we preach?

I would be interested in exploring this issue with readers. Are people aware of programs already out there? Even more interesting, anyone fancy a collaboration on this issue?