Association for Conflict Resolution
If you missed the Association for Conflict Resolution’s annual conference, then you also missed our problem solving for one presentation. The three hour session featured Alan Tidwell’s introduction and overview of PS1. Daniel Rainey of the National Mediation Board outlined how PS1 has been used in labor relations. James Cartreine discussed his problem solving for one inspired software designed for the International Space Station. Tricia Jones from Temple University wrapped discussing the many threads of PS1 in conflict coaching. The panel combined a hands on workshop featuring PS1, case studies, a software demonstration, as well as discussion.
You can find out more about the session, link to presenter bios and find other materials by visiting the ACR link to the session at Problem Solving for One: Conflict Coaching and ADR Innovations.
People in the throes of conflict often feel at sea, not knowing what to do. To whom should they turn? Lawyer, social worker, minister, mediator or friend? Sometimes it’s just not clear from whom parties should seek help. Self directed conflict triage is often a difficult process.
Triage, or the process of sorting, often requires expertise and knowledge. Expertise both in unpacking the dynamics of a conflict and expertise in who can help both play a necessary role. Take, for example, this story of an interpersonal conflict at work.
Betty sits isolated from coworkers. It seems to her that nobody in the office wants to work with her. Sure, her coworkers will work with her when they have to, but given the choice her coworkers actively ignore her. It all seemed to start after last year’s Holiday Party. Betty can’t figure out what happened, only that it was after the Holiday Party that things started to go dreadfully wrong. Today, she sits with her sandwich, alone at lunch, wondering how things became so dysfunctional. When she started at this job, only a couple of years ago, she seemed to fit in so well. That seems like a very long time ago now.
Working with Betty requires unpacking that story. Digging more deeply into the details of what happened, what relationships were like in the past and how they are now. A triage of her problem may well reveal the dynamics of a shared problem, such as mis-communication. Or, it may show other potential problems. Is this the case of workplace harassment, for example? Is mediation a good solution? Or, are other solutions better? The process of conflict triage is helped by problem solving for 1 (PS1). A PS1 facilitator can work with Betty, in this instance, to pick apart the dynamics of the conflict to better determine some good next steps for her. Helping Betty better triage can help to improve the outcomes, and help to reduce the negative consequences of conflict.
Problem Solving for 1 (PS1) helps people to help themselves. While PS1 aided in kicking off conflict coaching, it also makes another important contribution. Training people in how to use PS1 in everyday life helps people to better think through their daily challenges.
Workplace conflict often happens because of poor reactions to situations. Poor reactions are of ten the product of bad planning and misunderstood dynamics. PS1 helps people to better analyze their problems and conflicts. Breaking big problems down into small more manageable parts makes things easier. An ongoing argument with a co-worker, once better analyzed may reveal, for example, several smaller problems. Resolving these smaller problems can help to reduce tension and improve the workplace climate.
Training in PS1 takes just over half a day to complete. With the support of colleagues and coworkers PS1 provides a great opportunity to reduce workplace tension, build cohesion and resolve problems speedily. It also helps support a climate of problem solving throughout the organization.
Earlier this week Zach Jones, head of Employee Services at CSX, the railroad company, gave a guest lecture to my students enrolled in Managing Organizational Conflict (in the conflict resolution masters program at Georgetown University). He outlined the ways in which the effective management of employee conflict aligns with the strategic goals of CSX. Effective conflict management translates into a competitive advantage when employees are engaged, retained and motivated.
As part of the CSX approach to handling conflict they have undertaken a project to build conflict handling competencies and one of the core practices is problem solving for one. PS1 offers a quickly developed skill in helping employees the ability to gain greater perspective on their conflicts and devise more productive conflict handling strategies.
Engaged and motivated employees offer a critical competitive advantage to corporations. Effective problem solving and reducing the negative consequences of conflict play a critical role. PS1 represents an effective and beneficial way to enhance employee engagement.
Problem solving for one offers parties a useful tool in preparing for negotiation. Effective planning should happen before any negotiation. Planning, however, is not a script to be followed, nor a negotiation position to be taken. Remember President Dwight Eisenhower’s admonition that “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ’emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”
Think of the emergency Eisenhower mentions as surprise. Negotiators often encounter a surprise from the other party. Negotiators who have planned effectively are better prepared in how to reply to such surprises. They have thought about not only their positions, but the motivations and needs of the other party to the negotiation.
Problem solving for one provides negotiators with a quick and efficient method for understanding the negotiation situation and developing appropriate and effective strategy to dealing with surprise.
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The National Mediation Board (NMB), the primary US Federal agency with responsibility for resolving labor disputes in the air and rail sectors, has been honing their skills in Problem Solving for 1 (PS1). In November 2013 key personnel at NMB received training in PS1. Forming a working group NMB has reviewed and adapted PS1 for their particular needs. Working with NMB a training program has been developed for internal use. NMB is investigating how PS1 might be used in the labor relations context. The great benefit of PS1 rests in how readily it can be learned.
I have often felt that PS1 lends itself to helping negotiation teams better understand the negotiation environment, and think through how negotiation proposals will be considered by the other side. The simplicity of the process hides its power. By creating better understanding of the negotiation parties don’t focus on crafting the perfect negotiation proposal. Instead, they focus on proposals that will be heard, leading to better outcomes.
On July 15 Alan Tidwell offered an update on problem solving for one to members of the Association for Conflict Resolution via a teleseminar, chaired by Cinnie Noble. The teleseminar series, chaired by Cinnie Noble, links people from around the globe on issues of common interest and concern.
If you missed the ACR workplace section conflict coaching teleseminar you can access the recording here.