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We are all SO GOOD at Resolving Conflict: Communication and Conflict Newsletter
October 27, 2009

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Resolving Conflict

We Are All Very Good at Resolving Conflict.
(....Or how we only notice a conflict when the responses to it have become destructive and it hasn't been resolved - meaning we overlook the countless times we resolve our conflicts superbly - so well we don't even notice........)

Alan Sharland

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The Communication and Conflict Newsletter is no longer published although the archives can still be visited via the above link. Instead, Alan Sharland now produces a blog associated with his organisation CAOS Conflict Management - you can visit this and sign up by clicking on the banner below:

CAOTICA the CAOS Conflict Management Blog

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to Newsletter no.20 - October 2009

I often hear that 'The world is in conflict', and 'Conflict is everywhere' and I think 'Yep, and that's always going to be so, so what matters is how we respond to those conflicts.' Do we treat conflict as a 'bad thing' and hope that it will go away? Or perhaps we see it as something that has to be 'nipped in the bud' so we suppress anyone who challenges the status quo before they get a chance to express themselves.

Some of you who have seen my website will know I'm referring to what I call the two ineffective responses to conflict ie.

Responding to conflict as a Problem to be Avoided and

Responding to conflict as a Competition We Must Win.

These two responses cannot lead to resolution as they do not offer a 'working through' of the inevitability of the conflict, they both, in their different ways, try to prevent its expression which is ultimately impossible. I've even heard some people say they want to ' in a conflict-free world'. How continuously difficult it must be to hold on to that expectation.

Conflict is like water, it will always find a way of taking its necessary journey and we can either try to stand in the way of it or we can allow its flow, keeping a consciousness of our own responses to it as it manifests in our lives.

And actually, we are very good at allowing its flow, but we aren't always so conscious of having done so. We usually only become aware of our resistance to allowing conflict to flow (in the belief we have a choice in this) when our responses to it have become destructive.

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So what I wanted to highlight today was how great we are at resolving conflict, of allowing its expression and resolution. We are so good it can occur in a matter of seconds, so quickly that we rarely acknowledge that it has occurred nor congratulate ourselves on the fact we have done it. Here are a couple of everyday, simple, but amazing examples:

Example 1:

I travel on the 'Tube', the London Underground, every day on my way to work. Millions of people continuously interact with each other, flow past each other, side stepping, letting others through, letting people off of crowded trains onto the platforms at each stop, letting others get on. It isn't the most pleasant of experiences but even so, the fact that there is a constant allowing, accommodating, adjusting by all involved means that there are only rare moments when these continuous conflicts are responded to destructively. It's amazing, and yet it happens day in, day out with only the smallest proportion of encounters leading to any kind of escalation of a conflict.

So please allow me one tiny, some might say, insignificant example of this, and yet, when so many happen on a continuous basis the overall effect is what enables us to live amongst each other without continuous violence and pain.....

I was on a crowded tube, stood in the entrance way by the doors, and even this area was packed before you reached the seats. One guy next to me had a guitar case strapped to his back like it was a rucksack.

It was falling off his shoulders as the train moved and so he adjusted it causing the top of the case, the head of the guitar, to move dangerously close to the face of another guy behind him but he seemed oblivious to that.

This article is written by Alan Sharland, Director of CAOS Conflict Management, London, UK

The adjustment of the guitar case wasn't working to keep it on his shoulder and so he shifted again, and again the head of the case came dangerously close to hitting the guy behind in the face. This time, the guy behind pushed gently on the top of the case to keep it away from him, which was obviously felt by the guy with the case, so he turned round to see who had done it and instead of an ‘icy stare’ as one might have expected (well, speaking for myself, 'I' expected), the guy who pushed the case gave a great smile to the guy with the case and that was the end of it. The guy with the case, without a word, took the case off his back and rested it on the floor, presumably to prevent further risk of battering someone. The rest of the journey passed without incident. Conflict resolved.

In terms of responses to conflict, there was learning, connection and insight. There always is at least one of these '3 Cheers for Conflict' as I like to call them, when a conflict is resolved. The guy with the case learned a better way of having his case on the tube, at that time and possibly for future journeys as well. Possibly, though I can't know this, there was a connection between them, an empathy for each other's situation. Insight? Again, I can't know, that is for them to create, or not.

The event was over in seconds, but how differently it could have gone and how long it could have lasted if there was not an immediate, effective response from both of them to their conflict.

It is often said that a conflict that has escalated is over 'competing needs' such as land or water or something else. But it has not escalated for that reason, it has escalated because those involved have not created an effective way of responding to the conflict. Competing needs - the phrase itself is indicative of the response and why there is not a resolution.

These two men showed an effective way of responding such that the situation did not become one of competing needs.

So many alternatives would not have turned out so well, and yet this sort of interaction happens continuously day in day out between human beings. Few in the carriage would have noticed it occurring. But if it had ‘blown up’, the whole carriage would have noticed it. And possibly many would have gone away saying – why is everyone always falling out? Why is there so much 'conflict' in the world.

Example 2

The next example is another area in which we continuously interact with each other and is often the analogy I use to show how amazing we are at responding to potential conflict. Again, we usually only 'notice' the problems that occur in this area but that is because they can be so traumatic. But as with all destructive conflict, they are a tiny proportion of the occurrences when compared to the number of constructive responses to conflict that we create on a continuous basis.

I was returning from a visit to see a party in dispute with my co-mediator at work. He was driving and we were in the inner lane, furthest from the kerb, of a 2 lane traffic jam and we were stationery. We were approaching a slope leading up to a roundabout about 100m ahead of us. About 10m ahead of us there was an exit/entrance to a garage on our left (we are driving in the UK). Suddenly the car in front of us indicated to go left to turn into the garage. At the same time there was a car exiting from the garage. As well as that there was a car coming down from the roundabout in the other direction wanting to cross both of our lines of traffic to enter the roundabout! Oh boy, how was this going to work?

So what happened? The car to our left, let the car in front cross over, that created a gap in the kerbside traffic for the car exiting from the garage to come out. The car in front of us stopped to allow that car out. But, that meant that the car coming out and the car crossing from the other lane wanting to enter the garage were heading for each other as they both moved in response the the gap that formed. Instead of getting stuck across the centre of the road, the exiting car continued on its way while the car crossing from the other direction entered into the garage, behind the first car that was originally in front of us.

Quotation Corner:

Conflict flows from life... providing opportunites to grow and to increase our understanding.

John Paul Lederach, 2003

Confused? Yep, I was at first. But it worked. There were so many potentials for getting 'stuck'. The car in front may not have been allowed to cross lanes, the car crossing from the other lane may have caused a tail back behind while it waited to be let across into the garage if it hadn't happened so quickly. That car and the one exiting the garage may have bumped into each other if they had not been aware of each other or the car that let the car in front of us cross lanes may not have seen the one crossing from the other direction.

And yet it all worked its way out in a matter of probably 5 seconds. Conflict resolved, everyone continued on their way.

And these 'incidents' are happening on a continuous basis day in, day out, between us. We are so good at resolving conflict, we have so much we can learn from the times we manage to do so. And yet there is often an expresssion of 'fear of conflict' because we have seen damaging responses to conflict and say that the conflict 'caused' it, rather than our own responses.

Try observing the people around you, your family, your work colleagues, the people you pass in the street, the people who drive the cars on the roads. Often we will be 'looking for' potential conflicts and observing how such and such 'could have happened'.....but it didn't and it was resolved, and if we have a fear of conflict it can lead us to linger on 'what might have been' rather than observe what actually happened. And what actually happened was usually an amazingly effective response to an inevitable conflict.

We are so good at resolving conflict.

Hey I got interviewed by Heather Sedlock for her Special Needs Kids Blog.

Heather E. Sedlock is a mom of two boys who have autism, and has years of experience dealing with issues related to ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and other special needs children. She is currently residing in Oklahoma.

You can read the interview by clicking HERE

Recommended Books

The Magic of Conflict: Turning a Life of Work into a Work of Art by Thomas F. Crum - a great book for seeing ways of approaching conflict as an opportunity. TFC often uses analogies from Aikido, in which he was an expert, to explain ways of flowing with conflict and supporting its resolution.

Connect with Alan on LinkedIn

or his Twitter page @alan_sharland

Besides being the author of the Communication and Conflict website Alan is Director of CAOS Conflict Management Tel. +44 20 3371 7507

Follow @CAOS_Mediation on Twitter:

Become a fan of CAOS Conflict Management on Facebook

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Free e-book - Contemplations on Communication and Conflict (click the link to download)

This e-book is an archive of some of the early observations and anecdotes I have written for these newsletters, but now collected together in a free downloadable e-book, my aim being to make them more accessible than for you to have to scan through various web pages to read them.

Please remember.....
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Consultation via Skype.

Would you like:

  • Conflict coaching to support you in a difficult situation to find more effective ways of responding?
  • Mentoring, if you are a Mediator or other conflict resolution practitioner, to support you in reviewing and developing your practice?

If you have Skype and would like to arrange a consultation, please go to the Skype Consultation page to send me details of what you would like to discuss and proposed times to call me.

Skype to Skype calls are free from anywhere in the world so there will not be any telephone cost, just the fee for the consultation which is a fixed charge per minute.

Some links that you may find interesting...... by Stephanie Goddard - a website very much in line with the thinking of this site. Stressed Out at Work AGAIN? Work Stress Is NOT Caused By -Your Difficult Coworkers - Your Diet - Your Lack of Time...So What Causes Work Stress? Stress is caused by only one thing....the way you think. Stephanie has 2 great books: 101 Ways to Have a Great Day at Work and 101 Ways to Love Your Job is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web. is a rich source of information, quotes and support to enable us to find and be true to ourselves.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

New This site is sooo full of great links and resources relating to Co-operative Communication skills - I would very much recommend it.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Aik Saath This is an amazing and interesting website, quite besides the work of Aik Saath that it promotes. Aik Saath works to promote conflict resolution skills in young people and the development and support of racial harmony in Slough, UK and its surrounding areas.

Would you like to build your own website?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

So, how did you like it?

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