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.
Conflict coach Cinnie Noble is a matchmaker par excellence bringing together some powerful ideas. Her book Conflict Management Coaching is an excellent resource for any conflict coach. In 1999 she created a seven-step conflict coaching model called Cinergy. It brings together three essential pillars; coaching, alternative dispute resolution and neuroscience. Her goal is to help people through their conflicts as well as anticipate and prevent others from emerging. What I particularly like about her approach is the incorporation of neuroscience into conflict coaching. I recall years ago Alexander Christakis and John Warfield developing the Demosphia. The Demosophia was a problem solving room, equipped with all the latest bells and whistles – computers, whiteboards, and projectors. Christakis and Warfield incorporated into their problem solving room insights from a range of disciplines. One of my favorites was the ‘law of requisite parsimony’, which states that “the human brain can only keep track of 7 things, plus or minus 2”. Many problems have more elements than 7 things, plus or minus 2. This complexity makes problem solving too difficult to manage. The Demsophia’s computers, whiteboards and projects all helped manage the large number of items.
Cinnie Noble has wisely left all the technology behind. Instead she builds her model on a newer understanding of neuroscience. Essential to her model are 1) focusing attention, 2) encouraging mindfulness and 3) harnessing creativity. The coach’s task is to orient clients in a positive direction towards success.
Conflict Management Coaching details the Cinergy model, as well as numerous issues with which conflict coaches must deal. The essence of the model comes from its name:
C – Clarify the goal
I – Inquire about the situation
N – Name of elements
E – Explore choices
R – Reconstruct the situation
G – Ground the challenges
Y – Yes, the commitment
Some of the material in the book will look very familiar to conflict coaches, and some may be novel. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in conflict coaching.
In Australia FDR–1 (family dispute resolution for one) has morphed from PS-1 according to John Cleary. Cleary is a family mediator with over 3000 hours of client mediation from Brisbane. He’s also a former student of mine, who adapted PS-1 to fit his needs. Key to effective use of FDR-1 begins with an appropriate triage of the presenting parties. Cleary explains, “…I developed a five choice instrument where I asked clients to tick what they wanted for the session:
- I have tried to mediate but without result. Where to now? What else can I do?
- I am going to mediate and want to prepare myself to maximise the opportunity
- The other parent will not agree to mediate. Where to now? What else can I do?
- I have problems and issues with the mediation that I attended.
- Something else, not in the list above. “
He had “…expected many clients would tick #4 because the creation of Section 60(I) certificates by the Australian Attorney General’s Department in the Family law Act, 2006, requiring such a certificate to be given before most people could approach the Family Court about parenting matters meant that there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the process.” Number four was rarely selected, instead number one, two and three proved most popular. The most commonly used skills according to Cleary include:
- coaching clients to understand how a mediator might view conflict,
- how a mediator operates in mediation,
- what facilitative mediation depends on from participants,
- how basic skills of mediation such as interest based statements and thinking could be applied,
- how reframing works,
- how future focus unlocks possibilities, and
- how the prospect of peace breaking out can be a worthwhile ambition in the face of pain.
In an anonymous case study John illustrates the power of FDR-1.
A grandmother approached and contracted for FDR-1. At first she seemed to be one of many grandparents who thirst to see more of their grandchildren when family relations have become strained through separation or re-location. This grandmother was running the risk of being charged with stalking and trespass as she drove a long distance to the coast ‘just to see her two grandsons in the school playgrounds’. Her son warned her that he would seek to raise a domestic violence order against her if she was seen near the boys’ school again; a sad and not uncommon scenario. Sobbingly she spoke of her wish, rebuffed, to mediate with her son about contact with her grandchildren. In the triage she ticked the boxes indicating ‘Where to from here? The other party cannot/ will not participate in FDR at this time’ and ‘How can I enhance the opportunity to make agreements/ get cooperation from the other?’ We began by tracking the narrative of recent events to locate who should be mediating (or something like it) with whom? I asked her about her grandsons. In this one-to-one private session where confidence was assured and truth telling was agreed, it quickly emerged that the boys didn’t like their grandmother and it was mutual! They threw things at her car when they came out of school and spotted her. She commented that they were both cheeky and unpleasant proto teenagers. I asked her then who was her dilemma with and it emerged that her only son had married a woman, and was still married to the woman, whom she didn’t like and never had. I asked her what kind of meeting she might envisage in the future between her son and his wife, thinking ‘maybe a family conference’? It emerged that she thought dealing with her son and daughter-in-law would be a lost cause. She conceded that her son would always side with his wife against her and that this was not really a surprise because he had always been a disappointment to her and her husband. I asked her about her husband. In a flood of tears she declared that their relationship had been a hollow shell of pretense for decades, even before her son left home. This brave client undertook an analysis that asked what the present situation was actually about, who the participants were, what the past history actually was, where the projections led (a referral to counseling in part came out of this) underneath the broadly known and also the more privately known and barely known presenting issues. As we searched together for what was really driving her to mediation, she found the unconscious driver sitting beneath the known facts and the explicit, known drivers:
- fear of losing her identity because her family was largely non functioning,
- fear of losing her security because divorce or separation from her husband was increasingly on her mind and
- fear of losing recognition and a sense of belonging because she was so lonely and was engaged in furious pursuits, even dangerous ones, because she felt engaged and socially included even if it meant joining the pool of ‘wronged grandparents’.
We finished exhausted but relieved after two hours. The client’s candor in the FDR-1 setting established that her conflict was largely intrapersonal and grew out of her increasingly less productive attempts to satisfy deep-rooted human needs. She took away the idea of seeking therapy for herself and was cured of mediating meaninglessly.
Encouragingly, John says he “…found that the most common sentiment … shared in the room was optimism and hope in the prospect of mediation or a similar conflict resolution offering working productively for the client.”
Dr. James Cartreine, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s NSBRI Neurobehavioral and Psychosocial Factors Team, has been working on a grant to develop a problem solving based treatment for depression and interpersonal conflict aboard the International Space Station. His work, drawing in part on Problem Solving for One, is discussed at Treating depression with Virtual Space Station.