This paper will discuss the use of preparation strategies for establishing a foundation for sustainable conflict resolution outcomes, to be an objective of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes. Sustainable conflict resolutions are agreements that have been strategically negotiated to meet present and future needs of the stakeholders. They are supported by initiatives outlined within the agreement to successfully sustain the outcome. These agreements ensure that all relevant issues, including relational and emotional aspects brought on by the conflict are addressed in a collaborative and consensual manner. This comprehensive approach prevents feelings of injustice, ill will, resentment, anger, and dissatisfaction to linger and cause further entrenchment and escalation of the conflict. Those who subscribe to Morton Deutsch’s subjectivist view believe that conflict exists in the perception of the individual. According to this view, one party who perceives conflict can change the dynamics of the relationship, causing a corresponding reaction from other parties in the rapport. It is important that stakeholders benefit from a conflict preparation strategy that helps to change their perception of the issues, and expand the options available for resolution of their conflict.
The conflict resolution preparation strategy concept requires critical thinking and reflection. Critical reflection demands an open mind and heart, willingness to question one’s interpretations of the situation, suspension of blame, as well as the ability to slow things down and probe for alternative viewpoints. Critical reflection is more easily carried out before or after the fact, in the cooler light of day and with time to learn new skills in order to change one’s customary response patterns” (Deutsch & Coleman p.389).
Sustainable conflict resolution is possible when the correct preparation strategy is applied. There are a wide variety of strategies that can be applied to prepare parties for sustainable resolution. Pre-sessions, Skill building, Coaching, Workshops, Problem Solving Sessions, Pre-mediation, and Orientations are some possible preparation tactics that can be implemented. The key however is in the practitioner’s assessment and analysis of the conflict issues, to determine what aid the stakeholders may need to help them negotiate a sustainable outcome.
Not all conflicts are ready, or appropriate for a process that is driven by stakeholder negotiated resolution options. In order for conflict resolution processes to be “transforming” and attain its “unique promise of validating the problem and the goals of the parties” (Bush & Folger, 1994), it is essential that the stakeholders embark on a self-determination journey to discover whether it may be fruitful or possible to resolve their dispute. This can be accomplished through conflict resolution preparation.
It is not surprising to hear mediators in a training session when presented with a scenario ask questions such as: where is the deal? My response to this question is that there is no deal to be made. Sustainable conflict resolution is much more than deal making or battering positions for interests. This practice of deal making at times perpetuates the ensuing of the conflict, repressing the issues causing them to later emerge as feelings of resentment and ill will, manifested through low productivity and uncooperative attitudes in the workplace.
The settlement approach that I have encountered, gives little consideration to helping the parties change their perceptions of the issues. The complexity of the human social conflict phenomenon makes it impossible to dismiss hurt feelings without undergoing a change in the way we perceive the situation that resulted in those feelings. Practitioners need to develop strategies that will provide the stakeholders with deliberation, self-reflection, value assessment, and brainstorming to develop visions of a resolution to their conflict that include measures necessary to support the negotiated outcome into becoming a sustainable conflict resolution.
Practitioners of conflict resolution should be visionaries, applying the very fundamental futuristic concept of conflict resolution as the foundation for sustainable outcomes. They should be efficient at issue identification, conflict assessment and conflict analysis to design strategies to aid stakeholders move from position to interest through acquisition of a changed perceptions. Individual reflection and self -assessment is fundamental to changing their perceptions. Many stakeholders lack the ability to identify the issues of their conflict. They often approach the resolution process enshrined in their stories, the way they perceive the situation to have unfolded. Without deciding whose story is write or wrong, the skilled practitioner recognizes the value of aiding the parties in identifying the issues, to separate positions and explore the underlying interests.
When conflict ensues, the prevailing view is that communication is always the right thing to do. A strategic approach to conflict resolution will include coaching, support, conflict transformation, and perception enhancing measures to enhance skills, and make communication a fruitful and productive tool for conflict resolution. Access to conflict preparation strategies has been minimized and trivialized for far too long. I belief that a reawakening of interests in preparation strategies will serve to produce more sustained agreements on all levels, through effective communication skills and other preparation strategies readily available, to reduce the emotional and financial cost of entrenched conflicts.