Establishing Conditions for Productive Conflict Management, Part 2: Norms and Practices

Conflict Management: NormsB. Kim Barnes

Norms for productive conflict resolution

Establishing some explicit norms and demonstrating these approaches publicly can help create an environment in which productive conflict behaviors are seen as desirable and are practiced. Some “rules of the road,” if communicated, agreed upon, and reinforced, can help shape the way individuals and groups perform in potential or actual conflict situations. These norms may include:

  • Be clear about your own goals, vested interests (what you might gain or lose), and/or needs related to the conflict situation.
  • Ask questions, draw out, and listen actively to learn about others’ positions, concerns, vested interests, and needs.
  • If any party has specific fears, concerns, or negative expectations related to the conflict, raise and deal with them early to establish an atmosphere conducive to negotiation and/or peacemaking.
  • Identify areas of agreement or shared values.
  • Agree on a process for resolution and identify the parties who should participate.
  • Deal directly with the person or group with whom you are in conflict (or ask an agreed-upon third party to work with all parties to resolve it).

Practices for productive conflict resolution: Negotiation, peacemaking, or problem-solving?

  • If there is a set of common interests as well as conflicting ones, use the principles and process of constructive negotiation,[1] including establishing shared goals, exploring needs and interests, developing alternative options to meet one another’s needs, and agreeing on responsibilities and timelines for taking actions.
  • If there are few common interests, and numerous fears and concerns, take a peacemaking approach in which the parties (usually with the help of a trusted third party) tackle each concern and find a way to resolve it to the satisfaction of all.
  • If there are significant common interests and fewer conflicting ones, take a problem-solving approach, seeking to come up with a creative alternative solution that all parties can accept.

Whichever approach you decide to take, concentrate on resolving the most important issues. If some issues are difficult to resolve, consider whether the parties are willing to let go and live with issues that are of relatively low concern to them. Make sure all parties are satisfied that their most important issues have been resolved; their most important needs met.

Remember to check for understanding and agreement on the issues discussed, then summarize the agreements and communicate them to those who may be affected. Take time to consider what you have learned in the process and find a way to celebrate productive agreements (those that lead to improved relationships, innovations, important learnings, etc.).

[1]Some material adapted with permission from Constructive Negotiation and From Conflict to Consensus, copyrighted programs of Barnes & Conti Associates, Inc.

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