Managing power

We are pleased to continue our serialization of Bob Chadwick's learning manuals, which help teach people to confront and resolve conflict. In issues 1-6 we reprinted Beyond Conflict to Consensus: An Introductory Learning Manual.

It is important to realize that the processes outlined in these manuals are in no way intended to be a panacea or a final solution to all conflict. Conflict is a feature of life and growth. These materials help people confront and resolve conflicts so as to adapt to change, grow, and encounter new and different conflicts.

The following is the workshop report from a session several years ago at the Colville Confederated Tribes (northeast Washington State). Statements recorded from the group during the session are in italics. The first intallment covers the definition of power, power-equalizing behaviors, and the worst and best outcomes of empowerment. The second installment will cover the emotion spectrum, and a process for resolving one-on-one conflicts.

Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than the management of the power struggles that exist in every environment. The subject is often too threatening to even confront. It is more likely to be avoided. Yet this basic instinct and behavior lies behind many conflicts.

This module allows the participants to experience others' needs, and their own needs, for power and control over others and events. The participants will experience power experientially and visually, and understand its impacts on them.

The participants are introduced to the emotion spectrum concept, and how conflicts rise from increasing emotional states. They will use the process to develop movement to equity and empowerment-that inner motivation inside themselves and others. The concepts of personal power and position power, and the importance of perception are explored.

Exploring power and equity

In my past experiences with consensus seeking, it was unusual for a group to be open to exploring power. The word, the concept, the meaning, the experience are viewed so negatively, often with so much fear, that few groups will address it. In the past five years, however, as we have had to confront scarcity, it is becoming more acceptable to acknowledge "power struggles," to confront the issue of power and its uses.

The exploration begins with a panel of individuals who express the strongest energy on power issues. The panel members then served as facilitators of the small groups, allowing each person to express their point of view. The groups then recorded the definitions they heard about power.

THE QUESTIONS:

WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF POWER?

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?


Power is a word. We need to understand it better.

Power is the ability to influence people. When used properly, it can be very powerful. Power is the ability to impose your beliefs and values on others who do not share your beliefs and values.

To have power is essential for leaders. They need the confidence to make tough decisions, as often they are the person making final decisions. For the decision be effective, the authority needs to be shared.

Power is strength. It can be beautiful like a waterfall. To have power is to be in a position of strength and leadership. Power can be a very positive tool, if shared. If used properly, it is needed.

Power means assuming the authority to make decisions for others. Power should be used to empower others. Having power is the ability to make decisions with input from others. With the right people it is good.

Power is the ultimate control. It is somebody with authority. It's the exercising of authority to arrive at a decision. Some with power have the knowledge or feeling that they will have the last word. It is good as long as the right people have the power.

Power is easy to abuse and hard to effectively use. Power carries a lot of responsibility. There is some frustration with power because it's hard to hold people accountable for the abuse of it. To many people take advantage of it. Some people have a problem with authority figures.

Power is wisdom and respect. When it's used right it has a lot to offer, and when it's abused it can be a detrimental. Power can be given a life force being positive or negative which is accompanied by responsibilities, and life's experiences.

Power should be shared, and not owned. Power is the ability to persuade, empower other individuals, and carries a lot of responsibility.

Power is the ego.

The evidence of power struggles in the environment

Power only becomes an issue when it moves from an influencing behavior to a forceful behavior. This latter behavior is referred to as a "power struggle" between the opposing forces.

Differences exist between all of us. I can use my "personal power" to influence you in seeing things my way. This may not require that you give up your way, just that you will understand my way.

If I cannot get you to see things my way, or if I want you to go my way in spite of your resistance, then I must apply power. This is normally done through "position power." As the parent, the boss, the teacher, I assert my authority and expect you to respond appropriately. If you don't, I will discipline you. If you resist, then we are in a "power struggle."

Power discussions become the focus only if there is a perceived power struggle. This task asks the participants to describe the evidence of a power struggle in their environment. This allows the members to acknowledge the struggle, while defining the behaviors that result from it.

Talking about power, defining it, and how it feels, is somewhat abstract. The evidence of power "struggles" allows the group to acknowledge the emotional energy that exists around this concept in the real world. It allows each person to acknowledge the reality of power struggles in their personal world.

THE QUESTION:

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE OF A POWER STRUGGLE IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT?


People aren't being listened to. There is a lack of participation in planning. Everyone's needs aren't being addressed. People aren't willing to do their jobs. One program is trying to make another program do something (enforcement).

There are differences of opinions. There is evidence of unresolved conflict and disagreement and readily apparent opposing forces. This leads to dysfunctional behavior.

The intensity of discussions and behaviors increase. There is back biting, people leave the room, and co-workers get out of control. Speech gets louder. People are talking about each other; gossiping-some truths and some untruths. People avoid eye contact and don't acknowledge one another. For example, they don't say good morning to each other.

The lack of trust, or no trust. The lack of communication. The picking of fights over trivial things and the passing of the buck, "go ask so and so." People are bypassing the chain of command.

People feel like they are winners or losers. There are closed door meetings, and some Department Management personnel are not participating. People follow their personal agendas, leading to disagreements.

The evidence of power struggles between groups in our environment

Power struggles do not just exist in general in the environment, they occur between specific groups. During previous discussions, in earlier sessions, the participants disclosed struggles that are evident with the youth and adults, between Resource Departments, and within the Tribal Council.

In this next activity, the small groups explored the evidence that power struggles existed between these groups. This activity allows each group to focus on a specific group. This is one of the values of having small groups; each group can focus on a different arena of concern. It multiplies the value of the groups threefold, in this instance.

THE QUESTIONS:

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE THAT A POWER STRUGGLE EXISTS BETWEEN THE YOUTH AND THE ADULTS (RESOURCE DEPARTMENTS, THE TRIBAL COUNCIL)?


The evidence of a power struggle between resource departments:

Department managers are not participating. There is blaming and passing the buck. Some are seeking and lobbying CBC support.

There are conflicting program objectives, and the duplication of efforts. People are proposing new regulations that affect other programs, without their input. There is the concealing of pertinent information.


The evidence of a power struggle between the youths and adults:

There is anger and rebellion. This is leading to the formation of gangs. There are higher criminal rates, higher child abuse rates, and family relations are deteriorating. Students have poor grades.

There is a lack of patience, and distrst. There is increased depression, apathy, and suspicion. We have silence with no communication, or nonverbal communication. Parents go through not being very productive at work.


The evidence of a power struggle in the council:

They all think they're right. There are lots of differences in the votes for or against. Sometimes, they get up and leave the council chambers.

We find the inability to reach sound, consistent decisions. Council members don't ever want to speak up. We mainly hear about things at the office.


The evidence of power struggle between department heads:

The executive board currently does not have a defined role. The Executive Board is struggling over budget needs for their respective programs. They tend to show stubbornness.

There is a lack of communication. One department is saying they are better than another. There is a lack of coordinated activities, and duplicated services. A lot of them are not showing up for meetings, and using avoidance.

The worst possible outcomes if the struggle is not resolved

The small groups explored the worst possible outcomes if the power struggle is not resolved. Since each group (Department Heads, Youth, Adults, Council, those in power) has a different worst outcome focus, their communication is often incompatible and discordant.

Their worst outcomes affect the beliefs, strategies, and behaviors of the groups. They affect relationships so that information exchange is severely hindered. This actually may foster the worst outcomes of an issue.

These worst outcomes are possible. They are probably present, at some level, in the environment. They create the reactive force that develops the actions, strategies, and behaviors of the participants. They often describe the existing situation from the parties' viewpoints.

THE QUESTION:

WHAT ARE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES IF THE POWER STRUGGLES ARE NOT RESOLVED?


Between resource departments:

The resources will continue to deteriorate, and services to the membership will suffer. Projects halt, income drops, and people are laid off. This will mean disaster to the land base and people utilizing the reservation.

Due to conflicting regulations, the IRMP/HRM process fails. The natural resources departments will fold and the individual departments will do business like they've done in the past.

There will be more rehabilitation, less management. We may see the hiring of additional staff when it is not necessary.


Between youth and adults:

With no respect for each other, people will live in fear with the increase of gangs. Crimes will become worse, and will escalate to even worse crime. Each side will feel so powerless, they will resort to killing.

Families become more dysfunctional. Our children have children, and dysfunctionalism becomes inherent. Children will become a burden. There will be an increase in high school dropout rates, leading to homelessness. This will lead to more alcohol and drugs.


In the Colville Business Council:

Good consistent decisions do not get made. There is widening factionalization, and confusion.

The Tribe as a whole loses. We cease to function and exist as a tribal government, and all resources suffer.


The worst possible outcomes if we don't solve the power struggle between those in power:

People will suffer. There is no productivity, and low staff morale. The Staff will start "checking out." The Department Head is terminated.

Things stay in the same old rut, with no change for the better. Economic stability may decline. Potential decrease in valued staff and programs. Ripple effect within the general membership.

Organizational competition increases, and leadership becomes less valued. The HRM concept and training investment will be wasted. The CBC becomes more factionalized.

A visual activity in balancing power

Power is rarely visible in human affairs, but it is deeply felt. This activity attempts to make power visible, to show how people will balance power.

I begin by passing out 3 by 5 cards to each person. I ask them to draw a power circle for themselves and a person they believe is more powerful than them.

More Powerful             THEM Less Powerful           ME

I then ask them to draw a power circle for themselves and someone who is less powerful than they are.

Less Powerful     THEM More Powerful        ME

I ask a tall male to come to the center of the circle. I designate him the superintendent. I ask a small female to come to the center of the room. I designate her as the secretary.

1. Distancing: I ask the secretary to use distance to equalize what she perceives to be the power of the Superintendent. Normally, the woman will turn and walk to the corner of the room. This is still not enough. She may step behind the door, or turn her back. The man is amazed at this action.

S                                           SUP

Distancing is one of the ways that we equalize power with people. I feel less threatened by you if there is more distance between us. I may enter your office, stand by the door and come no closer. I may want a chair between us to stand that close. These are power-equalizing strategies.

2. Authority: I ask the secretary to move within three feet of the Superintendent, and to select one person from the group who would make her feel powerful enough to do so. She will normally pick a male of the same size, of the Deputy Superintendent.

SUP         S             DS

This is another way we equalize power. We get someone to stand with us who is equal to the person we are intimidated by. Attorneys play this role for us in society, as do police, news media, elected representatives.

3. Numbers: I ask the Deputy Superintendent to return to his chair. I ask the woman to select others who would provide her the same power that the male did. She will select all the other secretaries, plus a few teachers.

S                 SUP XXXXX

We rely on numbers to give us a feeling of security. I can tell how powerful I am by the number of people who come to see me about an issue. If I have a public meeting on an issue and 400 people show up, this is an indication of how powerful the decision and I are.

4. Conflicting perceptions: If the Superintendent thinks the secretary is more powerful because she is the wife of the school board president, he has a different perception of how the power circles look. The result is that he will react to each of her power-equalizing behaviors with some of his own.

When she confronts him with the group he feels threatened, so he asks the Deputy Superintendent to stand with him.

S                         SUP                            DS

She is threatened by that move, so she asks the Secretary Union president to stand with her group.

S                SUP UP                   DS

This threatens him more, so he asks the school attorney to join him.

S                    SUP UP                     DS MED                    ATT

This threatens her, so she invites the media to the meeting. I know you are getting the picture. This is the escalation of conflict, of the power struggle that we see every day in our homes, the community, the country, the world. It results from the belief of both parties that the other is more powerful.

This imbalance of power is dealt with in the consensus process with the grounding, listening with respect, the greeting circle, the life-long learning experience, the worst/best outcomes and the creation of facilitator and recorder skills. All of these serve to focus on personal power instead of position power.

5. Managing power: You can observe power in any situation with yourself. If people yell at you, that means you are perceived as having more power than they. It matters not that you feel that way, in fact you may feel the opposite.

But, if they perceive you have more power than them, they will try to equalize it, causing you to respond to them. You can, however, chose to empower them, to be the power balancer-listening with respect, seeking their help in solving the problem, providing them access to information that will answer their questions on their own.

Or, if you feel less powerful than someone else, observe your own power-equalizing behaviors. Are you using distance, bringing someone along to the meeting with you? Are you spreading rumors, or writing letters to the editor? Then you may want to think of some more adult ways of balancing power-getting to know the person, letting the person know you. Maybe asking for advice from the power person, or listening to her with respect.

Exploring power-equalizing behaviors

The rule with power, especially in conditions of perceived scarcity, or with well-educated people, is:

"FOR EVERY ACTION, THERE WILL BE AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE REACTION."

This applies to human relationships where power is being exerted. If this law does apply, as a beginning assumption, then what are the power-equalizing behaviors that people use? This question is answered for "others" first. It is easier to talk about others.

Then it is answered for yourself. What are your equalizing behaviors? This question is more difficult and personal to answer. It is not easy to admit that I have power-equalizing behaviors. Yet, this information is more truth than the first question, because we can only guess others' intent. We know ours.

THE QUESTIONS:

WHAT ARE THE BEHAVIORS OTHERS USE WITH US TO EQUALIZE POWER?

WHAT ARE THE BEHAVIORS WE USE WITH OTHERS TO EQUALIZE POWER?

How others equalize power when I am more powerful

Aggressive behaviors:

Getting his mom, or her uncle. She asks her mother when I say no. He will get his dad on his side.

She knows my sore spots and picks at them. She blames me for her problems. She projects her problems on me.

He gets mad and yells. Raising her voice. She cries loud. Whining. He will bicker! Complain.

They have more numbers at the meeting.

They sit behind the table or their desk.

He does the things I do to equalize, but more.

She will argue with me.

Passive aggressive behaviors:

They will discredit me, talk about me behind my back. They will run me down with others! They say I am the one causing the trouble! They will try to trip me up.

They promise to do something and then don't. They take no action, ignoring me. He ignores my wishes.

He makes messes of himself and the house. He does this at critical times like when we are ready to leave for somewhere.

He asks me for help and then rejects it.

He reminds me of what happened before.

She will rationalize my decision.

He says; "You don't trust me."

He avoids responsibility.

They blame someone else.

They go back to college.

He goes around me.

Passive behaviors:

He will distance.

"I'm moving out."

Adult to adult behaviors:

He comes to work every day, strives to be better. She supports me in my job.

With open communications, honesty and trust.

They talk to me, in my office.

He respects all people.

She claims equality.


How I equalize the power of those more powerful than me

Aggressive behaviors:

I gang up on him with others who agree with me. I get the staff to agree with me, or I side with them.

I go over his head, if confronting him does not work.

I react defensively. I get mad, yell.

Passive aggressive behaviors:

I talk negatively about them. I put him down with one of his managers. I make fun of his money spending.

I take out my frustrations by eating, leaving, fighting with others.

I make self-fulfilling prophecies come true.

I compliment others in front of her.

I make people feel guilty.

I use excessive logic.

I smile at her.

I don't listen.

Passive behaviors:

I distance myself. I withdraw and distance myself. I leave the area. I turn away. I stay physically away.

There is no communication because I avoid him.

I don't look at him. I ignore him.

I withdraw my nice side.

I won't talk to her unless I feel I am more knowledgeable.

I feel sorry for myself.

Adult to adult behaviors:

I tell him how I feel and what I am going to do instead of asking for his permission.

I write memos to back up in writing why I disagree.

I increase my knowledge.

I treat them with respect.

I say "Good Morning" first.

The best possible outcomes of empowerment

A balance of power ... is equity. A sense of fairness. A sense I am acknowledged as an equal member of the group, honored and respected for what I bring to the group. This sense of equity is often referred to as "empowerment" . . . that internal drive that fosters actions out of self esteem.

What is the evidence of empowerment? This describes the situation that is the opposite of the "abuse of power." This allows the participants to develop the best possible outcomes, or the environment they want to create.

It is interesting that this group found it easier to develop the information on power than on empowerment. This is because we are used to being "powered" by those in command. This is the cause of the "power struggle." Exploring empowerment allows us to develop the conditions we want to create that go beyond the struggle.

THE QUESTION:

WHAT WILL BE THE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF EMPOWERING THE DISTRICTS?


D-1:

People will freely participate, and productivity will increase. Growth will occur, within the scope of responsible efficiently, and ownership. There will be a sense of completeness.

Everyone will feel respected. We will have quality involvement in the district decision-making process, and achieve community unity. People can and will reach consensus, and unity.

The district will attain their best possible outcomes. 20 hour work week and double pay will be enjoyed by all.


D-2:

We are allowing for the opportunity for the best possible and soundest decisions to be made. We will have a bigger and better source of knowledge to make decisions for the whole. Creativity will be abundant as a resource.

People will feel valued and respected. People will have courage and have trust in each other. It would encourage participation and increase trust in one another.

People can take ownership in their communities. People will once again have pride in themselves and their community.


D-3:

There is unity. Planning brings more participation. There is more willingness to participate. The community will enlighten you by saying something intelligent.

We get on course toward our goal. We are staying on course or on one subject at a time.

We increase creativity and increase productivity. We operate more efficiently; answers come more quickly. We reach our goals and objectives quickly and professionally. Empowering the cutters to select the trees increases efficiency.

We have a win/win situation. There is positive growth and less stress. Because we have been successful, we take on new challenges that we can succeed with. We take pride in our accomplishments because everyone has sound models in the decision making process.


The Omak district:

People will get along, be unified, and be very powerful on the national level. People have ownership in their decisions. People and resources will be happy, healthy and productive.

Our future generations will see a beautiful reservation. The people and the land will be healthy and productive. There will be a sense of balance. Our culture won't be lost.

People will want to get involved and creativity will increase.

The emotion spectrum

The emotion spectrum is a concept I developed to explain the behavior I observed with groups in conflict. It is not scientific, and is mostly based on subjective or anecdotal information. It is diagrammatic, a "road map" which provides a general overview of a perception, a concept.

Facts do not attach us to issues, emotions do. If I am emotionally involved in an issue, I will respond with more energy than for an issue which is of little interest to me.

The emotion spectrum uses descriptor words that are defined below. Each word describes an increasing level of emotional attachment to an issue.

It is assumed that the public emotional attachment for or against an issue will be expressed in some sort of normal curve, although there may be a skew to one side of the argument or the other.

In any issues, there are unconcerned people (the "silent majority") who allow others to represent them, and assume this is being done. It is not wise to assume that unconcerned people are unconcerned about all issues. These unconcerned people may, at some point, be assertive on some other issue.

They rely on the observers to sound any alarm, if one is needed. The observers, in turn, look to the supporters to let them know there is an increased need for concern.

The assertive representatives are the ones on the front line, encountering the opposition. They feel the implied responsibility from others to see the issue is fairly represented. If the other side is receptive to their advocacy, then the issue is solved without too much conflict energy.

If, however, the other party is not receptive, and becomes aggressive (an emotional, or power move) then the assertive members will respond, in kind, with an equally, or slightly more, aggressive stance, balancing the power.

This is the point at which a decision can be made to move back towards resolution, acknowledging each party's advocacy, and seeking a responsive solution. Or, a decision can be made to move out more aggressively, based on worst outcomes, becoming defensive, becoming "adversary."

If the latter happens, then the groups will tend to respond in increasing emotional intensity towards arrogance, and then violence. Each party increases the "fight" energy, or pressure, in the hope of eliciting the "flight" mode from the other party. This is now like a game of "chicken." The "survival of the fittest" is the operational belief. Facts and figures no longer matter. Stereotypes of the "enemy" become operational.

The move to violence is done in stages, beginning with words that are demeaning, threatening, and violent. The response to this may be equally violent, or may move to damaging the property of the other party (breaking windows, damaging machinery, blowing up buildings). This is responded to in the physical arena, pushing, shoving, punching, injuring, killing.

Two other elements now become imposed. There are people in the violent end of the curve who will move to become the leaders, or the "coyotes," for the group, urging each side towards more violent actions. They are the inciters, delighted with this opportunity to be on center stage, to be acknowledged. They teach the heretofore assertive people the ropes, or act as their surrogate.

The other element is the general public (the unconcerned) who now are aware of the violent consequences, and who tend to choose sides, with the curve skewing toward the "underdog" or the "little people" as opposed to the "government bureaucracy," or those "in power."

At any point in time, the group can be moved back to the assertive, or advocacy position. It requires a willingness to risk the encounter, and a process that balances the power, bringing equity, lowering the voices, venting the emotion so that the words can be heard, and increasing the respectful listening so that a new information base is created.

Definitions

Violence: Physical force used to injure, damage, or destroy; extreme roughness of action. Unjust or callous use of power or force, as in violating another's rights or sensibilities. (Acrimony, coercion, cruelty, mistreatment, rage, vehemence.)

Arrogance: Overbearing pride or self-importance. Haughty. Full of unwarranted pride. (Contemptuous, defiant, imperious, insolent, proud, sure, vain.)

Aggressive: Ready or willing to take direct issue or engage in direct action; militant. Aggressive implies a bold and energetic pursuit of one's ends, connoting, in derogatory usage, a ruthless desire to dominate; and, in a favorable sense, enterprise, initiative. (Attacking, energetic, enterprising, gruff, quarrelsome, warlike.)

Assertive: Positive or confident in a persistent way. To state positively; declare, affirm. Implies a way of representing ourselves, our integrity, in a nonthreatening, helpful way. Assertiveness needs receptiveness to be effective.

Receptive: A way of receiving asserted information in a respectful way, through listening, assuming the information may have value to the listener.

Supportive: Giving approval to, or be in favor of. Advocating (implies support in speech or writing and sometimes connotes persuasion or argument). Helping (bearing, comforting, confirming, promising, reinforcing, helping, maintaining, financing).

Observers: To pay special attention to, perceptive or alert. To take notice of. To be curious.

Unconcerned: Neutral, not interested, not concerned.

Contented: Implies a filling of requirements to the degree that one is not disturbed by a desire for something more or different.

Advocacy:The act of speaking or writing in support of something. (Justifier, supporter, advise, urge.)

Adversary:A person who fights or opposes another; an enemy, an opponent.



Empowering others, empowering ourselves

Once we have explored the best possible outcomes of empowering the districts, then we can explore how to foster these outcomes. This can be done through our relationships by focusing on how we can empower others and then how we can empower ourselves.

We can empower with aggressive, passive, or passive aggressive behaviors. But, each of these results in power equalizing behaviors from others. Only adult-to-adult behaviors will foster a sense of equality and equity in power.

We all have a birthright to power, the ability and the right to influence others and our environment. Often this right is taken away, or given away, so that we feel less, we feel powerless. This happens to others whom we work and live with.

Recapturing this power requires that we acknowledge this right, that we see our personal power as having potential for both negative and positive consequences, but, that we are the ones who choose the intent. Since we are people of good intent, the outcomes will most likely be good. When we have empowered ourselves, then we can learn to empower others who give us "position" or "personal" power.

THE QUESTIONS:

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER OURSELVES?

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER OTHERS?


How we empower ourselves

We empower ourselves by listening and showing respect. By gaining trust and respect by being respectable and trust worthy. By being proud of what we have to offer others. By increasing our own self respect and self esteem. We recognize our limitations.

We empower ourselves by broadening our knowledge base. By acknowledging and accepting that we all have power. That we can maintain a broad perspective. That we are using our god-given talents for the betterment of others. By learning more, we reach beyond one's own perceived limits.

We can empower ourselves by tapping into other sources of power; attend a consensus-building workshop. Attain more knowledge. Have confidence in your knowledge and abilities. Recognize and honor what you know. Learn by not being afraid of sharing what information you have.

We can empower ourselves by expressing ourselves clearly and concisely. One should speak and express themselves. Setting realistic goals and objectives and walking your talk. We get empowerment by empowering others. One should not overextend oneself. Strive to reach a common level.

We can empower ourselves by participating. Just do it! Don't be intimidated, and realize that failure is okay. Acknowledge your strengths and utilize them. Ask questions. Be confident and ask others "What can I do to help you achieve your goal?"


How we empower others

We empower others by granting them trust. By being respectful of their ideas, and respecting them, and trusting them. Run by the saying "It's your choice and I trust you." Empowerment comes from offering opportunities and encouraging participation.

We empower others by sharing skills and knowledge. By seeking advice and direction. By encouragement. Ask them what they think. Acknowledge they have knowledge. Approach them at their level. To give feedback and not only listen, but hear them.

We empower others by listening to people; listen, listen, listen. Listening to their ideas, and listening to them. Try their ideas, and ask them for help. Agree with them, and delegate tasks, not to prioritize programs and not to assign hierarchy.

We empower others by being people of integrity; of honesty and of your word. Remember who you are serving, and allow (embrace) failure. Follow up by standing behind them. Adjust to the situation and find their comfort zone. Even change the general overall structure.

We can empower others by washing toilets!

Resolving one-on-one conflicts

Interpersonal conflict happens every day in the workplace, in the family, in the community. It is often unexpected, sharp, with ultimate violent overtones. This surprises us, introduces fear and worst possible outcomes into the situation. Our minds become immobilized. Our brains are telling us to flight, or fight.

A conscious approach is needed to intervene in this kind of situation. The participants explored a role-playing situation in which two members of the group burst into conflict. The process for dealing with this situation was demonstrated. The process itself follows.

Perhaps the greatest challenge people face in the family, the workplace, in education, and in the community is the resolution of conflicts between two people. Often these erupt on the spur of the moment, beginning with an apparent minor disagreement, but rapidly progressing to a shouting match between two people. The rest of the participants are shocked and frightened by this outburst. The raising of the tone of voice will cause people to become paralyzed in their thinking, to mentally leave the discussion.

It often results in the two parties asking a third party to decide who is right, to choose one of them. To do so is to doom the decision maker to choosing sides, with one party a winner and the other a loser. It is better for the facilitator, or the manager, to offer to help them resolve their own issue.

The activity goes through predictable and manageable stages:

1. THE ARGUMENT: It often happens so quickly that it is started before you know it. It begins with a minor disagreement, then raised voices, followed by hardened positions and even threats. The facilitator or manager needs to be patient, to let the parties argue for a while, expressing the issue so it is well defined. It is OK to let their positions harden somewhat. When the parties have volleyed back and forth a few times, and are beginning to repeat themselves, or magnify their statements, then the facilitator can move them to the next stage. Often the parties will look to the facilitator or the manager for help in reaching some resolution.

2. GAINING ATTENTION: The facilitator gains the attention of the parties by quietly and directly speaking to them, asking for their attention. Normally, they will be delighted to respond. They are in a no-win, out-of-control situation, and want some way to retreat.

By keeping an even and moderate tone of voice you will get their attention. There is a tone of voice that will be heard across the angry sounds. It is not necessary to yell, to raise the voice tone to that which matches the protagonists. To do so only makes you, the facilitator, another antagonist.

Then there are two possible approaches to consider:

A. In the first, the facilitator suggests the group complete the talking circle that was started before the argument. If this is a grounding, or a large talking circle, the rest of the circle completes what was interrupted. The facilitator may even go on to complete other tasks. But, be sure to let the protagonists know that you will deal with their issue later in the meeting.

B. The second approach deals with the conflict almost immediately. This may be needed if you sense that the conflict has caused emotional stress in the rest of the group. They will be reluctant to move ahead with these emotions unresolved.

In both cases, a break is needed when there is an appropriate ending of the activity.

3. THE OFFER: In this stage, during the break, the facilitator meets with the parties and offers to facilitate the resolution of the conflict. They are offered the opportunity to resolve their differences with the intent of helping the whole group learn. The parties are asked to select two listeners they trust (members of the opposite gender, for balance). The process is then briefly described. It is always the parties' choice.

If the parties agree to resolve the issues (an almost sure thing) they are asked to select their listeners and then meet together with you. You inform the listeners that they will play the role of listening nonjudgmentally to what each person says, and then conveying that information, again nonjudgmentally, to their client. Reinforce the importance of this role, the importance of passing the information along clearly and objectively.

4. SETTING THE STAGE: When the group has reconvened, the facilitator describes briefly what is going to happen. He will honor the parties for being willing to confront this issue with the group looking on. This provides a learning experience for all the participants. The facilitator then describes the role of the listeners.

5. THE SITUATION: The facilitator begins with the person (Person One) who started the argument. This question is asked:

WHAT IS THE SITUATION AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?

Make sure that Person One speaks at, and looks at the other person (Person Two). Often the speaker will use the name of the person as if they are not in the room. Remind them to speak to the person, to say "you did this...," not "Jon did this...."

When Person One is done speaking, the facilitator asks Listener Two (for Person Two):

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

The listener for Person Two now restates what she heard Person One say, speaking directly to Person Two. This is done nonjudgmentally, attempting to communicate the message to Person Two without the emotion getting in the way.

The facilitator then asks Person Two:

WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF THE SITUATION AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?

Person Two now states his point of view about the situation to Person One. The person is encouraged to speak to, to look at, the other person.

The facilitator now asks Listener One (for Person One):

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

Listener One restates what he heard Person Two say, speaking directly to Person One. This is done nonjudgmentally, attempting to clearly communicate what was said.

At this time, the facilitator may summarize what he heard the two people say, filling in any information the listeners may have passed over. This assures a complete communication of the two points of view. It also helps the listeners to become more focused for the next questions.

6. THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES: The facilitator asks Person Two (for balance):

WHAT ARE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF THIS SITUATION FOR YOU? WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR THE OTHER PERSON?

Person Two states what his worst possible outcomes are for himself, then for the other person. He may have to be reminded by the facilitator to answer the second question, since this requires he be concerned beyond himself. This allows the person to state, to empathize with, what he feels are the fears of the other person.

The facilitator asks Listener One:

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

Listener One restates the information to Person One. The listener will probably be more complete this time.

The facilitator asks Person One:

WHAT ARE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF THIS SITUATION FOR YOU? WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR THE OTHER PERSON?

Person One now responds with her worst possible outcomes. She will confirm some of the worst outcomes Person Two described for her, and add others. Then she, with some reminding, will express the worst possible outcomes she believes the other person has. Again, some confirmation will occur, as well as some new insights.

The facilitator asks Listener Two:

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

Listener Two transmits the message to Person Two. He will be more clear this time, and have listened better than the first time.

Be prepared for a remarkable reduction in tension by this time. The tones of voices will be lower, the parties will be more focused and deliberative in what they say.

7. THE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES: The facilitator asks Person One (for balance):

WHAT DO YOU WANT AS BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR YOURSELF IN THIS SITUATION? WHAT DO YOU WANT AS BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR THE OTHER PERSON?

She will express the best possible outcomes for herself, then the best outcomes she want for the other person. This allows her to be concerned for both of their welfare. Be prepared for a change in emotional context as these outcomes are expressed.

The facilitator asks Listener Two:

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

Listener Two will restate the information to Person Two. There is normally a decided change in the tone of voice as these are expressed. The listeners are often amazed that the other person would have best possible outcomes for Person Two.

The facilitator asks Person Two to respond:

WHAT DO YOU WANT AS BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR YOURSELF IN THIS SITUATION? WHAT DO YOU WANT AS BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR THE OTHER PERSON?

He will express the best possible outcomes for himself, then the best outcomes he wants for the other person. He will validate some best outcomes expressed by Person One, and add others.

The facilitator asks Listener One

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

Listener One will restate the information to Person One.

8. COLLABORATION: The facilitator now asks Person Two to respond to the questions:

WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO FOSTER THOSE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR BOTH OF YOU? WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM THE OTHER PERSON TO MAKE YOUR BEST OUTCOMES HAPPEN?

He can now express what he is willing to do to foster both of their best possible outcomes. This is a question that fosters collaboration and bonding between the two individuals. Each person is responsible for fostering the best possible outcomes for both parties.

The facilitator asks Listener One

WHAT DID YOU HEAR THE SPEAKER SAY?

Listener One will restate the information to Person One.

The facilitator now asks Person One to respond to the questions:

WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO FOSTER THOSE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES FOR BOTH OF YOU? WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM THE OTHER PERSON TO MAKE YOUR BEST OUTCOMES HAPPEN?

Person One responds to Person Two, expressing her willingness to foster the best possible outcomes, and her needs from Person Two.

9. THE CLOSURE: The facilitator moves the group to a closure by asking these questions of the listeners, then the parties, finally himself.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS MEETING?

WHAT DID YOU LEARN THAT WILL MAKE YOU SUCCESSFUL?

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THE TWO PEOPLE TO MAKE THEM SUCCESSFUL?

These questions are answered by the listeners, and then the two persons, followed by the facilitator. This allows the group to reach closure on the discussion, to acknowledge their learning from the situation. Others in the larger group may be asked these questions to add to the information and insights, to add to the learning. They are also able to provide information to the people which will help make them successful.

None of this has to be written down, because the four people involved become the group memory.

10. THE HONORING: The facilitator asks the parties and the listeners to go to the center of the circle to be honored. After acknowledging the courage it took to risk this confrontation, the circle applauds the participants in the activity. As this happens, do not be surprised to see the parties shake hands, hug each other, or otherwise display a visual symbol of their commitment to their new relationship.

Questions and answers

How do you facilitate conflict resolution when you are inside and part of the conflict?

This is an often asked question, because we often are part of the conflict. Can we be our own facilitators? In most instances, this is not desirable. If there is time to delay the decision, if the participants are willing to wait until an outside facilitator is available (from another department or district), and the waiting is low risk, then obtain an outside facilitator.

If there is no time for delay, and no outside facilitator is immediately available, then you are "it." A nonneutral facilitator is better than no facilitator at all.

Some hints that will foster success:

1. Let the group know you will both facilitate and participate. When you decide to participate, let the group know you are now a participant, not a facilitator. (Let them know which "hat" you are wearing at all times.) When you are done with being a participant, let them know you are the facilitator again.

2. Always answer the questions last. It is helpful to first summarize what you heard the others say, first. Then let them know you are a participant, and give your point of view.

3. If you have deep feelings, and want to debate another person, ask another more neutral member of the group to facilitate while you do this. Then, after your contribution, take back the facilitator role.

This may not always work, but it is better than a whole bunch of unresolved conflicts.


How do you know what questions to ask or which ones to start with when facilitating a new conflict?

Use the basic process:

What is the situation? How do I feel about it?

What are my worst possible outcomes of the situation?

What are my best possible outcomes of the situation?

What beliefs/behaviors/strategies/actions will foster the best outcomes?


Would it help with a diverse group of people who don't know each other not to at first give their title? Maybe just give their name?

I suggest not. The process works best when this information is disclosed immediately. Otherwise people will feel betrayed if they find they have been open with a person who is in a position to "overpower" them. It is better to deal with the position power issue immediately, with the grounding and the greeting circle.