Conflict Resolution is the process of understanding and resolving conflict between individuals, teams or processes.
Conflict in processes tends to be simple to solve, it is simply a matter of interfacingoe mapping different elements. When teams or individuals complain of process conflicts they are often projecting a personal conflict onto the nearest suitable vehicle.
Team and personal conflicts are more difficult to resolve. If conflicts are non-trivial they are often emotionally biased and may have a violent (in language) element. To understand the root cause of conflict we need to be able to examine it without emotion. The concept of “Mindfulness” is helpful here.
“Mindfulness” has roots in Buddhism as one of the seven factors of enlightenment and has since been adopted by clinical psychology, especially in “positive psychology” over the last few decades. More recently business change and management professionals have started using the term somewhat interchangeably with emotional intelligence.
As Jedi we are mindful of our thoughts and feelings
Psychology today tells us
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
There is some value in the idea of separation of emotion from logical thinking in a professional context. Emotion tends to complicate things and needs attention otherwise it can override everything else. In any given situation there is always an emotional context, both on the part of yourself and the others you’re interacting with. In Holistic Software Development we consider mindfulness to be a state of understanding emotional context from every position (including neutral) in a communication event.
“Mindfulness” has a role in conflict resolution as the first part of resolving conflict is to understand each perspective. You can’t do that if you ignore the emotional context. Rapport between individuals is force multiplied by acknowledged sharing (or perception of sharing when used by the manipulative) of emotional context so being aware of it is a good thing.
Mindful Conflict Resolution in practice
We recommend a simplistic approach to growing awareness of emotional contexts for conflict resolution in a business context (although this mechanism is just as appropriate for non-business situations). At first this technique can be quite slow for someone not used to such behavioral analysis but, as with everything, practice will speed it up. Initially we don’t recommend using this technique in realtime, but perhaps after a conflict to understand it better. Once it’s familiar it can be employed during a conflict to resolve issues in realtime.
Imagine a moment of communication, especially one with emotion. Ideally consider an event where the result wasn’t what you expected or intended, or indeed a moment of conflict.
1. First play back the event from your perspective, focusing on your emotional responses during the event and visualizing enough detail to consider the opponents emotional state. Hopefully this will give you some insight into your actions.
2. Second play back the event again from the opposing person’s perspective. Put yourself in their place and try to interpret both their emotional intents and responses to your original communication. Hopefully this will give you some insight into their actions.
3. Finally, play back the event again from the position of an objective observer. You could imagine a fly on the wall or a psychologist studying the event with a number of curious students in tow behind a one-way mirror. The point is to examine the event, the communications, actions and responses with emotional detachment to again consider the emotional motives behind what happened.
Doing this little exercise will increase your understanding of the emotional context of any event, especially conflict events. You’ll most likely gain significant insights into your own motivations and actions and those of the other parties. This exercise helps you achieve mindfulness regarding the event.
With practice this technique can be used in a fraction of a second when conflict appears to be emerging or during a conflict helping you to resolve the conflict before damage is done. We’ve found that the source of much conflict in a professional setting comes from mismatched expectations or a fear of change. Often small behavioral changes can be made to improve communication and reduce conflict in these situations.
In line with our principles we believe in putting individuals before processes, tools and hieirarchy and to this end we consider there to be little place for negative emotion in a professional setting. However sometimes business change activities may cause the negative emotion of conflict, it’s these situations in which an eye on mindfulness or emotional intelligence can help.