intro to conflict resolution

I ran a short training session with the NGO Capacity Builders Skillshare Forum the other day. Posed with the issue of how to condense what could be a several days long training into 1hr 45mins, I decided to focus on four themes –

  1. State of mind
  2. Core listening and interactive skills
  3. Roles
  4. Application

State of mind covered two broad concepts – multiple perspective and issues of impartiality and judgement. Using a simple example of imagining the colour blue, we looked at how words form different impressions and/or images in our minds; and extended this concept to think through how our own thoughts about what we hear may be different to what the intended meaning was and the consequences for working with others and their disputes. I also worked with the group to understand that it’s useful to differentiate between what you perceive, what others are perceiving (and the obvious need to check this out) and what an observer might notice.

Looking at impartiality and issues of judgement, we acknowledged that our sub-conscious processes militated against an ability to be completely non-judgemental or impartial. But recognised that an awareness of what we’re thinking and how we’re acting can ameliorate this and its effect on people we’re working with. In short we can aspire to becoming non-judgemental in the role of mediator, but should retain the humility of understanding that we can’t be.

Core listening skills covered the elements that I share with all developing mediators and facilitators. For the purposes of the session I put them into blocks-

  • Listen, reflect, clarify
  • Summarise and signpost
  • Explore possibilities
  • Agree and review

We looked at each of these, but focused on the first block; as my experience is that this block is the one that is the most absent from our socialised way of communicating and therefore needs more active work in learning. And it throws up how people’s desire to share their solution or idea can undermine their attempts to be ‘impartial’.

Roles and application looked at how a worker in an organisation attempting to resolve disputes could characterise their role in this. I shared the idea that there are three ways of looking at this –

  1. 3rd party ‘neutral’
  2. critical friend
  3. personally/professionally involved

The likelihood of their being asked to be a 3rd party neutral was slim, but in their jobs it was apparent from the examples they gave that the skills could be applied to different circumstances – internal team disputes, disputes among local groups and acting as peer mediators for other organisations in the network. We then spent some time discussing how the skills could be applied to these different situations.

We concluded by thinking through how we could deliver a deeper two day programme in conflict resolution skills that would develop the core skills and look at how they can be applied to people’s needs in their roles in NGOs and campaign groups.

Let us know if you’d be interested – the cost will be (hopefully) below £100.