I’ve been writing this column since October 2003, and frankly, I am just a bit miffed. After all those words and all those columns, A. Keith Barnes has summarized key ideas about conflict resolution in the workplace into just three bullet points, which are actually quite good. Drat.
“Confront the situation openly with all parties together, and invite full disclosure.
Treat each party equally and with respect and dignity.
Bring focus on the superordinate goals.”
Barnes wrote those bullet points in an article on managing conflict with people from different generations and how best to manage their different approaches to work (T+D, June 2013, p. 32). They summarize a lot of information on conflict resolution and are especially useful for the workplace.
I keep wanting to ask, though, But how? What do you do? What do you say? Will everybody in the room talk to each other or would it be better to talk to people separately for a while? Is full disclosure really always a good thing? How do you know when to invite it? What about underlying issues and hidden agendas? Will people really reach resolution if their goals are not addressed and only the superordinate goals receive attention? Will the resolution last?
The questions are not meant to undermine Barnes’s approach; I think it’s great shorthand for several major principles. My thoughts go in the direction of whether individual goals should always be subordinate to the organizational goal, or whether, at least sometimes, paying attention to the individual’s goals will build a relationship that is equally important to reaching the primary goal. Maybe acknowledging other goals can add an element of creativity and additional perspective to the discussion that will result in a better general goal and a more acceptable resolution.
I would also add one principle to the list: Listen, Listen, Listen with every ounce of energy you have. Listening carefully to every single word is the only way to understand what the real issues are, how they explain the conflict over larger goals, and how each party defines respect and dignity. Listening is the key skill in managing conflict and the primary way to reach resolution no matter which generation is involved.
Note: The second issue of the ejournal on conflict resolution from the program on Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding at CSUDH, edited by Prof. Margaret Manning, is now available at www.ejournalncrp.org and I am absolutely delighted that three of the articles were written by my students!
“Napalm Girl,” an article written about that very famous picture from the Viet Nam war of a little girl running down a road naked after a napalm attack was written by Regina Q. Cash who interviewed the photographer, Nick Ut, who was just 19 at the time.
“Black Public Intellectuals: Positive and Negative Media Portrayals” written by Constance Reese explores how Black intellectuals have been portrayed in the media using examples such as Angela Davis.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Did It Fail to Resolve Conflict between South Africans?” was written by Jason le Grange, and explores the long term effects of the Commission and the testimony relating to the violence in South Africa.
These are wonderful articles, highly accessible and relevant, and the other articles are equally interesting. They deserve to be read and warrant your attention.