Change Power is in the Process: When Listening is Not Enough

INTRODUCTION

Since the untimely and senseless  killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, the response from many organizations, places of work, and corporations have been to hold listening sessions specifically for African Americans to “share their story”  with their peers.  St. Amour, L.K. (2020),  in her article George Floyd: What Leaders Need To Do Now,  references  an article written by David Rock and Khalil Smith of the NeuroLeadership Institute which  outlines    three steps for leaders to take in order to affect change within their organizations.  The three steps are:    listen deeply, unite widely, and act boldly.  In her discussion of the step of acting boldly, St. Amour   mentions that after having been here before with disturbing events,   one   may question   why things don’t change. This notion of things not changing because “we remained stuck in story-telling and systemic habits did not change”, is a valid one.  On the other hand, systemic habits stand the chance of changing only   when ALL involved parties fully participate in sharing their stories / experiences, thoughts,   and their feelings.  This approach of full participation, used in mediation and negotiation, has indicated that CHANGE POWER IS IN THE PROCESS.  Thus, the approach of asking only one group / person to express themselves, while everyone else is allowed to remain silent, contradicts the very premise of collaboration and cooperation which are necessary elements to affect any type of meaningful and substantive  change of any kind,  particularly  social justice .  There  is a need for both sides to speak, in the same setting, and both sides to listen.

THE POWER OF ENGAGEMENT BY ALL

The very nature of the Mediation process supports the idea of engaging both parties, both sides.  Mediation, a process of listening by each of the parties in conflict, allows   the disputants to communicate with each other and to develop ideas for resolution by mutual party agreement.  After the first step of Introductions then the second step of Fact Finding, the third step is critically important as both parties Identify Problems and Concerns that they want to resolve.  In this step of both parties speaking, the Mediator might engage the participants further by prompting phrases or questions  such as “tell me more about….”, ”how did you feel about that?”, “what makes you think that?”  Deep rooted underlying assumptions may begin to emerge which helps to get at the root cause of the conflict.  Then and only then are the parties able to successfully proceed toward the fourth step of Brainstorming Solutions and the fifth step of Agreement.  This simple but powerful process must not be forsaken as we seek to tackle today’s issues. 

Principles of Conflict Management by Crawford and Bodine (1997) serve as further guidance as we seek to resolve the inevitability of conflict.  Principle One insist that we separate the substantive issues (the conflict) from the relationship issues (the individuals).  When this happens, the disputants see themselves as working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other.   Principle Two states that we focus on the interest (that which defines the problem) and not the positions (things that individuals decide they want).  We must use a process such as Mediation that allows persons or groups to articulate their interests which are the underlying motivations behind the positions they take.  This type of open dialogue by all at the same time helps to divulge the root causes of conflict which once uncovered allows for growth and change. As change agents, this allows us to be part of the solution of change and not part of the problem of hindrance.

Lastly, the book IMAGINE COEXISTENCE: Restoring Humanity after Violent Ethnic Conflict (Chayes and Minow, 2003) examines how nations previously engaged in ethnic conflicts might foster peaceful coexistence after warring stops.  In the conclusion of the chapter Bureaucratic Obstacles to Imagining Coexistence, Chayes notes that when coexistence is approached on a case by case and project by project basis, “its power and usefulness will be limited”. (pg 186).  The reader is then challenged to insist on processes that will provide more than the ability to implement yet another policy.  We are urged to recognize that better choices can be made when organizations (or other entities)  move to a “culture of joint planning” … “because (then) they (all the participants) have a better understanding of the issues and the likely impact of what they do” (pg. 186).   As a result, this model of collaborative dialogue enables us to recognize our differences and similarities and, as a result ,  learn from one another which helps to  create a better opportunity for us to peacefully coexist.

CONCLUSION

Conflict is a pervasive part of group and organizational culture (Fasnacht, 1990) and of society as a whole.   Unmanaged conflict, however, is chaotic (Kormanski, 1982) wherein the absence of conflict results in apathy. Since conflict is expected by the very nature of human differences, the goal of groups (or individuals) is not necessarily to avoid conflict but to use conflict as a means of creating a more positive group atmosphere (Hungenberg & Moyer, 1996).   The process of Mediation used in managing conflict is inextricably linked to change outcomes; thus, the power is in the process.  The process in fostering change must be fully transparent and, again, one which allows everyone to talk, in the same setting, which in turn allows everyone to listen.  We must do better.  Doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results is insanity. Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.   

ENDNOTES

Chase. A. & Minow, M. (editors) (2003).  IMAGINE COEXISTENCE: Restoring Humanity After Violent Ethnic Conflict.  San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Crawford, D. & Bodine, R. (1997).  Conflict Resolution in education:  A guide to implementing programs in schools, youth serving organizations and community and juvenile justice settings (program report).  Washington, D.C.:  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Fasnacht, M.S. (1990). A conflict management-training module for a leadership development program. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Hugenberg, L.W. & Moyer, B.S. (1996). Groups in organizations and communication training: Closing the barn door (Report No. CS 509 446) San Diego, CA: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 404 696).

Kormanski, C. (1982). Leadership strategies for managing conflict. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 7(2), 112-18.

St. Amour, L.K. (June, 2020). George Floyd:  What leaders need to do now.  Retrieved from https://www.mediate.com/articles/kanter-george-floyd.cfm

                        author

Judy Rashid

Dr. Judy  Rashid has been involved in education for over 40 years as a former teacher, school principal, and university administrator.  After serving NC A&T State University for 25 years, she retired as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs / Dean of Students.  Presently she serves as Adjunct Faculty… MORE >

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