7 posts categorized "Early Recognition"

October 11, 2016

Guidelines For The Design Of Integrated Conflict Management Systems Within Organizations

Screenshot - 10_11_2016 , 11_31_34 AM

By The Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR)


In 2001 a committee of the ADR in the Workplace Initiative of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR) prepared these guidelines for employers, managers, labor representatives, employees, civil and human rights organizations, and others who interact with organizations. This document explains why organizations should consider developing integrated conflict management systems and provides practical guidelines for designing and implementing such systems. The principles identified in this document can also be used to manage external conflict with customers, clients and the public. It is the committee's hope that these guidelines will provide guidance, encourage experimentation, and contribute to the evolving understanding of how best to design and implement these systems.

Why Organizations are Developing Integrated Conflict Management Systems.

Organizations generally move through four phases in addressing conflict. Organizations in the first phase have no defined institutional dispute resolution processes. Organizations in the second phase have introduced rights-based grievance procedures -- some ending in adjudication processes such as peer review and arbitration -- for the resolution of conflict. Today, all unionized organizations, most government agencies, and most medium and large-sized non-unionized organizations have internal rights-based grievance processes. Some organizations have moved to the third phase, by introducing specific "interest-based" processes, often some form of mediation, to supplement rights-based processes. Increasingly, organizations are moving to the fourth phase, by developing "integrated conflict management systems." These systems include both grievance processes and mediation, but go beyond them, introducing a systematic approach to preventing, managing, and resolving conflict.

Organizations have moved to integrated conflict management systems for several reasons:

First, grievance procedures and most mediation programs are not available to address many kinds of interpersonal disputes that cause significant workplace disruption. Moreover, many in the workplace are unwilling to use these procedures. An integrated conflict management system introduces and focuses on other tools of conflict management -- referring, listening, anonymous problem identification and consultation, coaching, mentoring, informal problem-solving, direct negotiation, informal shuttle diplomacy, generic solutions, and systems change. These are the processes most employees are willing to use and are the processes most likely to prevent unnecessary disputes and to resolve conflict early and constructively.

Second, while the more formal dispute resolution processes such as grievance procedures and mediation are necessary, they are insufficient because they usually address only the symptoms, not the sources of conflict. An effective integrated conflict management system addresses the sources of conflict and provides a pervasive method for promoting competence in dealing with conflict throughout the organization.

For these reasons, when implemented effectively, integrated conflict management systems decrease the highly visible costs of conflict -- government investigations, legal costs and lost time associated with defending against charges and lawsuits -- and address many less visible costs of unaddressed conflict: loss of valuable employees due to transfers, stress leave, early retirement; movement to a competitor; loss of productivity; petty sabotage, waste, theft of intellectual property; increased health insurance claims; and the loss of public confidence when organizations are accused of allowing discrimination, harassment, unsafe working conditions, fraud, or other unacceptable behavior.

Effective integrated conflict management systems share these five characteristics:

  1. Effective integrated conflict management system provide options for preventing, identifying, and resolving all types of problems including "non-hierarchical" disputes between employees or between managers; and is available to all persons in the workplace -- workers, managers, professionals, groups, teams involved in disputes, and those close by ("bystanders") who are affected.
  2. Effective integrated conflict management systems foster a culture that welcomes good faith dissent and encourages resolution of conflict at the lowest level through direct negotiation.
  3. Integrated conflict management systems provide multiple access points. Employees can readily identify and access a knowledgeable person whom they trust for advice about the conflict management system.
  4. Effective integrated conflict management systems provide multiple options for addressing conflict, giving employees the opportunity to choose a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution, to seek determination and enforcement of rights, or to do both.
  5. Effective integrated conflict management systems provide necessary systemic support and structures that coordinate access to multiple options and promote competence in dealing with conflict throughout the organization.

Necessary System Support and Structures

To implement an integrated conflict management system successfully, an organization must develop support throughout its infrastructure, including:

  • Sincere and visible championship by senior management and workplace/union leaders who communicate and implement the goals of the integrated conflict management system, often led by one person who is the acknowledged "keeper of the flame."
  • A "continuous" oversight body composed of representatives from all key stakeholder groups. Managing the system requires dedicated resources and constant communication among all critical stakeholders. Regular meetings of the oversight body are necessary to increase coordination and communication.
  • A person or persons who function as an internal independent confidential neutral. It is essential that the person (or persons) who function in this capacity are independent and impartial, and that organizational policies protect the confidentiality of employees who speak with them. This person does not act as an advocate or representative for either employees or management, does not perform the functions of a collective bargaining representative, and performs in a manner that respects that role.
  • A central coordinating point (office or group). This group spurs the development and implementation of the system, administers some of its resources, and monitors internal and external best practices. It ensures coordination between access points and works with the oversight body to ensure that the system is responsive to information it produces and to changing circumstances.
  • System evaluation and monitoring mechanisms. Feedback loops ensure that there is a connection between conflicts, resolutions, identifying the need for systemic change, and assessing trends. Harmonious communication requires that each function know of, talk with, and refer to others, and that some accessible people know the entire system and any changes that take place in the system. Evaluation is key to a system's success, as it informs the organization of the strengths and weaknesses of its design, thereby allowing the opportunity for continual improvement.
  • Critical mass training, "just-in-time" on-the-spot training for individuals as needed, and educating managers, supervisors, union personnel and human services personnel.
  • Alignment. The organization must ensure that its mission, vision, values, and published policies are in alignment with the philosophy of conflict competency and that its human resource strategy supports the integrated conflict management system.
  • Institutionalization of incentives. Performance management and evaluation systems should reward continual as well as exceptional conflict management, resolutions which preserve or enhance existing relationships, and collaborative and creative problem solving. Participation in integrated conflict management system processes should be an element of performance appraisal and management.
  • Communication strategy. An interest-based communication strategy should be developed through discussions with workplace stakeholders and carefully implemented from the start of the process.
  • Cost Allocation. Costs should be allocated in a manner that gives managers and employees incentives to deal with conflict early and effectively.
  • Resources. Sufficient financial and human resources must be allocated to the system. While an organization must allocate funds and resources to develop and implement an effective, integrated system, the organization can expect that costs of maintaining the system will be matched or exceeded by savings resulting from conflict prevention and early and effective dispute resolution.
Design Considerations

There is no ideal integrated conflict management system that will fit all organizations. Each organization must design a system tailored to its specific needs and culture. Each organization will, however, face certain design decisions that are central to the fairness of the system. Certain principles are critical to the fairness of processes within a system and to the system as a whole, including voluntariness, protection of privacy and confidentiality, impartiality of neutrals, qualifications and training of neutrals, diversity and accessibility, prohibition of reprisal and retaliation, respect for the role of collective bargaining agents, and non-preclusion of statutory and workplace rights

Practical Guidance

The guidelines provide practical guidance in several areas: 1) determining whether an organization needs an integrated conflict management system; 2) phases and components of design and implementation of a system; and 3) critical elements in designing and evaluation and monitoring program. The guidelines also include a description of some highlights in the evolution of conflict management systems in the United States and a short bibliography.


Ann Gosline, Co-Chair, Mediator/Arbitrator, Litchfield, Maine
Lamont Stallworth, Co-Chair, Professor, Loyola University and Center For Employment Dispute Resolution, Chicago, Illinois
Myrna Adams, Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Norman Brand, Mediator/Arbitrator, San Francisco, California
Cindy Hallberlin, Counsel, Brown and Wood LLP, Washington, D.C.
Carole Houk, ADR Counsel, Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
David Lipsky, Professor, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., President PDG Personnel Direction Group, Ottawa, Ontario
Nancy E. Peace, Arbitrator, Mediator, Trainer, Boston, Massachusetts
Mary Rowe, Ombudsperson, MIT, Cambridge Massachusetts
Anne Thomas, Director, Office of Equal Opportunity, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico


April 01, 2016

The New SHRM Competency Guidelines: Should HR Professionals Mediate Internal Workplace Disputes?


For many years the gold standard for HR certification in the USA, endorsed and supported by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), was provided by the knowledge focused HR Certification Institute that awarded the Professional HR (PHR) and Senior Professional HR (SPHR) designations.

All that changed when in May 2014 SHRM announced a new competency based certification process that they would administer as an alternative to the HRCI certification, with two new certification designations: the SHRM certified professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP).

Henry G. Jackson, SHRM president and CEO at the time said: “We view SHRM certification as the next evolution of certification for HR professionals. Certification started out as testing for knowledge. Now it’s evolving to how to demonstrate competency.”

Many expressed surprised at the way things were handled. At the very least, it has been awkward and created confusion among HR Professionals as HRCI seeks to maintain, and SHRM now seeks to grow, its certification numbers! Exactly how this tension will play out, remains to be seen.

What is interesting, is that the new SHRM competency guidelines are very explicit about how HR professionals manage conflict as part of their relationship management obligations and in particular state that senior HR professionals should be able “to mediate difficult employee relations situations as a neutral.”

However, when I talk to HR professionals, most are not fully convinced that mediation is a required HR skill.  For the most part they think that mediators are like attorneys and that mediation is a formal legal process. In addition, they express concern about their ability to remain neutral.

Mediation is a conciliatory process that is premised on an acceptable third party not making a decision on behalf of those in dispute. Rather, they support the conflicted participants to find their own way. Here’s how I define mediation:

Mediation is a conciliatory process in which an acceptable third party intervenes in the conflict or disputes of partici­pants, in our case, employees, with the goal of supporting them to reach agreement.

A myriad of benefits flow from adopting a mediating approach including the obvious stronger buy in, more creative solutions, emotional closure and a positive impact on the bottom line.

More informally, what this means, is that when you sit down with two employees to facilitate a conversation and help them to work something out without telling them what to do, you are effectively mediating. HR professionals, not just employee relations specialists, do this all the time!

What matters most is whether you are acceptable to the employees who are in conflict. Which means they are willing to give you a chance to be their conflict resolution guide. Even when mediation is mandated, if you as the mediator are not accepted, there is not much that you can do.

And if you are deemed acceptable, you do your best not to take sides. You are neutral, impartial, balanced and equally there for all.

If our definition of mediation was premised on attaining pure neutrality, we’d never get to mediate. Which is why I prefer to say that mediators need to be acceptable and strive to be neutral.

Whether or not you are taking sides is for the participants to determine.  What we do know is that HR professionals do mediate conversations between conflicted employees all the time, whatever they may call it.

Maybe it in the striving to be neutral, rather than the attaining, that allows the mediator to be effective. And this, I believe, is well within the grasp of most HR professionals. Especially when all you want is for two employees to get along and do their job!

That said, it is not just senior HR professionals that according to SHRM, need to be neutral. Early level HR professionals are expected to develop a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR representative.”

And mid-level professionals are expected to “develop a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR professional serving employees and the organization.”

Clearly SHRM thinks it’s possible for HR professionals to be neutral mediators of internal workplace conflicts.

But what about the HRCI, and what is the full extent of the SHRM relationship management competency obligations?


20% of the questions for the Professional in HR (PHR) and 14% for the Senior Professional in HR (SPHR) certification tests are devoted to employee and labor relations. Employee and labor relations is considered an important part of any HR professional’s responsibilities and is described as follows:

“Developing, implementing/administering and evaluating the workplace in order to maintain relationships and working conditions that balance employer/employee needs and rights in support of the organization’s goals and objectives.”

When we drill down to see what functional responsibilities and knowledge HRCI requires, we find many references to the word investigate, and significantly the word mediation is mentioned only once:

“Investigate and resolve employee complaints filed with federal agencies involving employment practices or working conditions, utilizing professional resources as necessary (for example: legal counsel, mediation/arbitration specialists and investigators.”

 Clearly the HRCI certifications do not place much emphasis on mediation, other than as a process with external professionals in the context of cases filed with federal agencies.

Their general tool of choice is the investigation. This inevitably leads to a focus on rights more than needs, and not the emotional underpinnings of the conflict.

In addition there is a provision stating that HR professionals should have, “Techniques and tools for facilitating positive employee relations (for example: employee surveys, dispute/conflict resolution, labor/management cooperative strategies)”

Still no mention of mediation as an HR skill, but HR professionals are expected to be able to support positive employee relations through facilitation.  Mediation is of course a form of facilitation. We facilitate conversations and allow them to reach their agreements.

Given that HRCI has been the gold standard for so long it’s no wonder that not much emphasis has been placed on mediation here in the USA.

However, a case can be made to say that HRCI expect HR Professionals to have conflict resolution capacity and to be able to facilitate as well.


But what about the new SHRM competency guidelines. What exactly do they say about mediation and conflict resolution more broadly?

The SHRM competency model identifies nine competencies that define what it means to be a successful HR professional. Relationship management is one of them.

Relationship management is defined as “the ability to manage interactions to provide service and to support the organization.” Here is more of what they mean by relationship management:

 To manage interactions while providing supportive service, “HR professionals should maintain productive interpersonal relationships and demonstrate aptitude to help others to do the same.”

 They note that “healthy interpersonal relationships among employees at an organization contribute positively to employee and organizational success.”

This is the graphic SHRM provided to summarize the focus areas of the four different levels of HR. It’s like the bird’s eye view of the relationship management competency.


When we take a closer look at what is expected competency wise for each of the levels we see a focus on relationship management, conflict resolution and the skill of mediation.

 What is apparent, is that the focus of the skill set has shifted dramatically from what the HRCI certification entailed. The emphasis is on conflict management in the broadest sense and embodies many best practices from that field.

In addition, HR professionals are expected to be developing their conflict management competencies at all levels and that by the time you get to a mid-level, are expected to be able to mediate.

Most HR professionals have heard about mediation, but not all are confident in their ability to mediate successfully.

What is apparent is that to comply with the SHRM competency standards HR professionals need to be conflict resolution competent. They need to be able to handle their own conflict challenges well, and help out others with their conflicts. In a nutshell they need to be conflict competent mediators.

What is fascinating, is that SHRM, accurately in my view, identified what it is that HR professionals (and other leaders for that matter) do a lot of the time in the management of employees: mediate.

However, for the most part, they don’t know that they are already mediating. Certainly they are mediating informally more often than they realize.

This is encouraging as with a little training and guidance HR professionals make great mediators.

In conclusion, my answer is yes! HR professionals should continue to mediate workplace conflicts and disputes as confirmed in part by the HRCI and in full by SHRM.

And while concerns about neutrality are well founded, there is still a way to use the mindset and process of the mediator with diplomacy.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this question…

SHRM Relationship Management Competency

Key attributes that focus on conflict management:


Early level expectations focus on:

  • Listening without immediately providing the solution,
  • Making referrals of difficult situations to their manager,
  • Preventing transactional conflicts and when that is not possible facilitating their resolution,
  • Providing information about conflict resolution options, and
  • Developing a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR representative.

 Mid-level expectations focus on:

  • Recognizing potential employee relations issues in a proactive manner and resolving the issue,
  • Mediating difficult interactions, and escalating problems when warranted,
  • Developing a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR professional serving employees and the organization,
  • Fostering a positive team environment among staff, and
  • Facilitating conflict resolution meetings.

 Senior level expectations focus on:

  • Mediating difficult employee relations as a neutral party,
  • Developing policies and practices for resolving conflicts,
  • Resolving escalated conflicts among stakeholders,
  • Managing challenging issues in union and non-union environments,
  • Negotiating with internal and external stakeholders,
  • Building consensus and settling disputes internal to HR on policy and practice decisions, and
  • Facilitating difficult interactions among organizational stakeholders to achieve optimal outcomes.

Executive level expectations focus on:

  • Creating conflict resolution strategies and processes throughout the organization,
  • Negotiating with internal and external stakeholders to advance the interests of the organization,
  • Fostering a culture that supports intra-organizational relationships throughout organization,
  • Proactively developing relationships with peers, clients, suppliers, board members, and senior leaders.

July 03, 2015

How positive do we need to be in our relationships?

According to evidence based psychologist, John Gottman, “the ratio of positive to negative affect during conflict in stable relationships is 5:1; in couples headed for divorce, it is 0.8:1!” 

As Gottman points out, this does not require that we declare war on negative emotions.

All emotions have value when we view them as sources of decision making information to navigate life. In fact, without them, we would be rudderless! 

Take anger, as an example of a negative emotion. 

Anger arises when someone or something is interfering with the attainment of our actual or expected needs. There is a sense of being powerless about the situation. It burns a lot of energy and is ultimately tiring. There is a danger of impulsive and premature decisions.

Importantly, emotions are not the same as the behavior that follows. Slamming the door, shouting and acting out is the behavior. Not the emotion! 

These graphics give us a window into what is occurring. In the healthy couple on the left we see that the trend is generally upward despite moments of rupture and contraction. On the right, the trend reflects the downward spiral of poorly managed conflict.
One practical application of this insight (where I have had great success) is with email. As research by Kristin Byron, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2005, shows, regardless of the sender’s intention, recipients interpret the impact of emails to be:

• Neutral when they are positive
• Negative when they are neutral

I was coaching a client recently. He told me that he had just received an email from his boss, and needed to respond. His concern about what he was going to say was preventing him from focusing, so I asked if he’d like to draft his reply during our session. 

He said yes, and I gave him a moment to write something out. We then took a look together and I asked him to indicate – sentence by sentence – whether his boss would perceive the statement as positive, negative or neutral. His score: 5 negative, 2 neutral and 2 positive sentences!

As a result of this review, his changes and additions, we were able to significantly shift the tone and tenor of the email from negative to positive. We removed ‘unnecessary story’, negative leaks, and outright threats while also adding more positive statements. 

We didn’t get to the gold standard of 5:1 and his score after our process was 3 negative, 4 neutral and 4 positive sentences. Still way better!

He sent it, and we got back to focus on our session goals. And here is the best part: before the session ended he had received a positive reply back from his boss. The relief was palpable.

And now he was struggling to focus because he was so happy!

Challenging relationship are a reality. We all have them. And there are things that we can do to change the quality of our experience as we navigate our challenging relationships.

So the next time you have to send out an important email, take a moment to review each sentence and determine your score. See what you can do to clean up your message and give yourself the best chance of being heard.

January 05, 2015

Part One of Michael Toebe's Interview of me about my book...(thanks Michael)

Helping people resolve conflict at work Part 1 of 2

Professor and author John Ford
Where there are people and different perceptions, needs and personalities, strong disagreements are going to exist. Organizations, however, can show their employees the bridge to overcoming those challenges by better understanding conflict, how to effectively address it and helping them help themselves problem solve. 

And that's what John Ford does in his book Peace at Work: the HR Manager's Guide to Workplace Mediation.
Book Cover Front

Ford is a professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-Hastings, a professor at Creighton University's Werner Institute of Dispute Resolution and Negotiation and owner of John  Ford and Associates, which serves companies with mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution.

Today, in part 1 of an interview with Ford I talk to him about family inspiration, how we all first and most dominantly experience conflict psychologically, how to change toxic workplace relationships or cultures, and about overconfidence bias and the fear of anger.


November 01, 2007

From Reaction to Response: Conflict As A Choice

Once we embrace that conflict is inevitable in social relationships, the question we have to ask is “how do we respond?” Responsibly, we’d hope. Yet, for the most part, when we are in conflict, we are not very responsive, and tend to be reactive. Shifting to a responsive approach to conflict is easier said than done. When we are in conflict situations, we are typically being triggered and reverting to our unconscious conflict handling scripts.

What’s the difference between a responsive and a reactive approach? When we respond to the challenges of life-including our conflict situations-we take responsibility for our role in the situation, we are in tune with what we are feeling and why, and our thoughts, words and behaviors are conscious of the bigger picture. By contrast, when we react, we shift responsibility for the situation to the other through blame; we assume the victim role and are ‘justifiably’ carried away by powerful feelings like anger, fear and grief. We use an unconscious template for reaction that seeks acknowledgement, justice, restoration, and even revenge.

One of the reasons that it is so hard to be responsive is that we experience and are typically exposed to unproductive conflict scripts from the time of our birth. Our earliest lessons come from the approach our parents take to their own conflict, our experience of how our parents deal with us, and as we grow up, through our interactions with siblings, friends, colleagues, teachers and bosses. If we struggle to deal with our differences with the aid of language, try and imagine how hard it was during those early pre-verbal years when we didn’t even have a word to describe conflict.

As a species we have achieved great physical and mental milestones, and yet when we are threatened by another’s behavior-as is typically the case in conflict-we reveal how immature we are emotionally. It is as if we revert to our childhood mentality when we are triggered.

Knowing this at an intellectual level is one thing. Being able to shift our physical and emotional behavior from reaction to responsive choice when we are actually triggered is another. If only, because when we are triggered, we are by definition not in our most conscious state. Our well worn neural pathways take us away from the perspective taking cortex, into the reflexive limbic structures such as the amygdala. We are in a reactive survival mode.

As modern neurologists, such as Antonio Damasio, have helped us understand, emotions are enmeshed in the neural networks of reason. In other words, there is no such thing as a decision free of emotion. Yet in our culture, we continuously hear expressions that extol the virtue of not making emotional decisions. This is one of the great challenges of our time-how to mature emotionally, such that we can make responsible emotional decisions about how to deal with our differences (aka conflict).

There are two ways we can approach our penchant for reactivity. One focuses on the moment that we are triggered, and seeks to restore short term balance. It is really the symptomatic response-the band aid-that helps the person in conflict calm down, and release the primal grip of the amygdala so that the cortex can come into play. There are a variety of calming techniques that help with this. Until the next time we are triggered!

The other is more causal and seeks to transform the trigger mechanism itself. This approach is centered on taking responsibility for our own emotions and learning new templates for our emotional responses. It relies on the inherent plasticity of the brain to rewire its well worn templates.

Stuff happens. We all experience pain and discomfort. The shift is in seeing that when we are triggered, it is not because of something out there that is happening, but rather the interpretation we give to the situation. A blue sky can mean hell for a farmer desperate for rain, and joy for a sunbather at a beach. What triggers one, will not necessarily trigger another. Playing the victim is a choice. And when we do, it feeds into our tendencies to react.

If we can make the shift from victim to navigator of the quality of our own experiences, we can start to work with the energy of the emotion. So often we suppress what it is that we are feeling, or just give our emotions free reign. Both of these reactions are tempting, but do not help shift the trigger mechanism. In fact the unresolved emotional energy continues to seek release and sets in motion the characteristic spiral dynamic of destructive conflict.

Gestalt therapy has a simple suggestion for change-feel what you are feeling. It is only when we are able to experience where we are emotionally that we can move somewhere else. Some find this scary. Imagine, allowing yourself to feel the anger. Almost immediately you tell yourself to be bigger, and to show compassion. Or if you are disappointed at a friend, you chastise yourself for being judgmental. Yet, to change the way we are triggered, we must allow ourselves to feel what it is that we are feeling.

This does not mean that we wallow in our feelings. We use the attention of our mind to focus and clearly identify what it is that we are feeling. If we are able, we trace back in time, other experiences where we were triggered in a similar manner. You have probably heard people asking in exasperation, “why does this keep happening to me?” It is because they are carrying unresolved emotional energy that in all probability will take them back to an incident that occurred in the earliest years of their lives.

Once we have identified the emotional signature that we associate with the trigger, and explored its commonality with other life experiences, we can allow ourselves to feel the emotion, ideally with a mind that is compassionate. In other words, we do not judge ourselves for what we are feeling. When we can do this, the energy of the emotion can move, and not be hijacked by limiting neural structures like the amygdala.

When we allow our feelings, when we start to experience them fully, and to welcome them into the neural hallways of reason, we can start to respond in a more mature way to our life challenges. We are able to take the stock of the bigger perspective and incorporate the significance of what is happening to us right here, right now.

As long as we have unresolved emotional energy, we will always be triggered by this or by that. Each of us discovers through his or her triggers, the areas that seek integration. When we allow these situations to morph into conflict situations, we have choices. One path takes us toward the well worn templates of reaction. Another takes us toward calming techniques, and ways that work with (not against) the energy of the emotion.

This path is not easy, for in the moment of being triggered we are outraged that we are being treated the way we are. The situation in our mind rises to a level that demands a reaction-and when we don’t get the ‘response’ we expect, our ire only increases, and we set in motion the destructive cycles that we ultimately call conflict. A shift that is honest about our proclivity for reaction and which moves us toward-not away- from our emotions increases our chances of a conscious response to the challenges of the inevitable conflict that comes our way.

Being aware of the difference between a reactive and responsive approach is the start. Then the hard work begins. As we uncover the contours of our unconscious conflict handling scripts we can begin to shift. We learn how to calm down, to take responsibility for our reactions, and hopefully to feel what is going in a wholesome manner that doesn’t exclude our most creative problem solving capacities.

September 21, 2007

How to Recognize Conflict Situations Early

Conflict is inevitable. Disputes are not. A dispute begins when someone makes a claim or demand on another who rejects it. For the most part when people think of a conflict, they are already in a dispute. Being able to distinguish between a conflict on the one hand and a dispute on the other is a key skill. If we want to address conflicts early, before they become full blown disputes, we have to know how to recognize them early.

Most definitions of conflict focus on the substance of the conflict-the fact that there are differences about resources, communication, roles, etc. For example, conflict may be defined as differences about how expected needs will be met.

However, there are two other dimensions of a conflict that are often neglected-the psychological and procedural. If we expand our definition to include them, we increase our capacity to detect conflict early.

Let’s start with the psychological dimension. We all know that conflict surfaces a range of emotions, typically those that fall within the negative range of the spectrum, like anger and fear. We often experience awareness of these emotional states before we have cognitive awareness that we are in a conflict. So if we use emotional tension as an early warning sign we are going to be ahead of the game.

Turning to the procedural dimension- When all is said and done, there are really three core responses to conflict- some form of avoidance (flight), some form of combative engagement (fight) and some form of collaborative engagement (talk). Again, we often exhibit or see others exhibit these behaviors before there is awareness that there is a conflict.

So, next time you notice that you have a negative emotional charge in respect of someone that you didn’t normally, and that you are starting to avoid them, then chances are that there is a conflict brewing. Now is your best chance to do something.

That is, if you want to head off a dispute, which is really a conflict that has moved from a difference to a disagreement.

September 20, 2007


This new blog is the result of feedback I received from readers of my Conflict Managment E-Newsletter. Many indicated that they wanted me to write more, and to share my pracitical insights about the management of conflict through articles, case studes, practice notes, and in the form of tips.

I have created a number of categories that appear in the left hand navigation bar. My intention is to add at least one new entry a month that will address the categories that I have created.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts as we go along.

With appreciation for your support,

John Ford