6th March 2017

How to Resolve Conflicts – A Practical Exercise for Teams and Individuals

The first casualty of a conflict situation is the very thing that lies at the heart of good relationships – listening.  At these times it is not only that we don’t want to hear the other party – we cannot hear them because we are too busy listening to our own point of view and to all the reasons we can generate to justify our opinions. We are defensive of our views, and if we are defensive, we are in a state of fear. Fear breeds suspicion, mistrust and rejection.  And if we are afraid (of whatever) how can we drop our defenses to connect with the other?


An understanding about the root of conflicts was developed by Marshall Rosenberg and expressed in his “Nonviolent Communication” processes that have been used across the world for major and smaller conflict resolution situations.  The essential principles are:


  1. Each of us has essential needs that we seek to be fulfilled in relationships - recognition, security, trust, being seen/heard, acknowledgement …
  2. When our needs are met we experience “fulfilled” feelings such as happiness, satisfaction, peace, presence and connection
  3. When our needs are unmet we experience “unfulfilled” feelings such as anxiety, fear, impatience, anger, distrust.
  4. When we have disagreements or experience disconnection from others it is because we are disagreeing over the strategies to meet needs, i.e. what is best to do in the given situation
  5. By distinguishing needs from strategies and focusing first on the needs in play, rather than moving immediately to strategies, we create connection and shared understanding
  6. When we connect on the level of these needs we can discover new, specifically relevant strategies that maximise the “win-win” by avoiding the imposition of imported/subconscious strategies that can only ever be partly relevant and are usually defensive.


The exercise I use with great effect is as follows:


  • Look around the people in the other team(s)
  • Everybody writes down three to five things they need  (not just “want”!) from the other team(s). 
  • Each team appoints a “spokeperson” and a “scribe”
  • Taking turns, the spokesperson asks each person of the other team “What would you like from us?” and LISTENS WITHOUT ANSWERING, saying only “Thank you” when they have received their requests
  • The scribe of the team receiving suggestions notes down the responses (best on a flip-chart) omitting any replications
  • It is important to say “Thank you” when receiving requests.  If anyone would like a further conversation on any point they make an appointment with the individual to follow up after three days …
  • When the needs of all parties have been heard and noted, each team then works together to determine what they can do /what needs to happen to fulfil the needs of the other team(s)
  • These “actions”/strategies are presented back
  • The receiving team agrees that the strategies will enable the needs to be fulfilled; discussions can take place to make any necessary adjustment to ensure maximum fulfilment    


This exercise will deepen significantly the levels of connection, trust and respect between the involved parties.  Once this is done, meaningful discussions can take place on related topics – e.g. purpose/vision/values/mission, strategic and tactical planning, project and business development – with an openness and sustainability that would have been impossible prior to the relational “re-set”.




Create Peace

Create Peace

Posted by Jefferson Cann

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