Saturday, July 11, 2015

Qualities Wanted from Members of the Conflict Resolution Team

I recently worked with a group seeking advice about how to work constructively with conflict. 

Even though the group had been around for 15+ years and this was the first time they'd asked for training in conflict, they were still ahead of the curve. Though all groups experience conflict, only some have agreements in place about how to respond. Mostly groups rely on members sorting it out on their own and hoping for the best.

While this works to an extent, it invariably breaks down when two people are swamped in the waves of their reactions. And it's too late to call a meeting to discuss how to proceed when the water is coming in over the gunwhales. If you want help in place for those chaotic moments, you have to put it there before the waves get big.

While I appreciate that the dream of cooperative living often includes the rose-colored ideal that members will get along well enough that they'll never experience conflict (or only rarely), that's a myth. If you lead lives that are intertwined and are dealing with serious issues (such as how much you're willing to pay to be environmentally benign; how much diversity you can tolerate; the limits of support you can extend to members aging in place; how to handle situations where you think power has been abused) conflict is inevitable, and occasionally it will be thermonuclear.

OK, suppose I've convinced you that it will rain from time to time no matter how dedicated you are to sunny skies. Once groups accept this (some never do) it's common for them to empanel a Conflict Resolution Committee (or something with a similar name) to help members who have trouble navigating high seas on their own.

While that's good as far as it goes, you're not safely into the harbor yet.

One the more common problems that cooperative groups struggle with is not understanding how to delegate effectively. There are essentially two parts to doing this well:

First, crafting clear mandates that lay out what the subgroup is expected to accomplish and the authority it has to do so. [See Consensus from Soup to Nuts for a template of all the generic questions that you'll need to address in order to develop a thorough mandate. See The Fire Fighting Committee for my thoughts on what the mandate for the Conflict Resolution Committee should be.]

Second, care should be given to selecting the people who serve on the subgroup. This entails delineating the qualities wanted from members of the subgroup before you start selecting them. (I apologize if that seems obvious, but you'd be amazed how frequently groups fill committee slots by simply taking the first hands that are raised in a call for volunteers.)

Here's my pass at what I consider to be the qualities that groups might want in people serving on the Conflict Resolution Team:

Group A Qualities
o  Discretion (ability to keep private information private)
o  General open-mindedness about people who are triggered (doesn't think less of those who get upset)
o  Ability to collaborate well with other members of the team (group chemistry)
o  Doesn’t always need to have things go their way
o  Ability to think clearly about what's best for the group, especially in the arenas of safety and health
o  Ability to hear critical feedback about how they're coming across without getting defensive

Group S Qualities
o  Ability to communicate clearly both thoughts and feelings, and to know the difference between them
o  Ability to function well in the presence of distress in others
o  Ability to empathize with people in distress, establishing to their satisfaction that they've been fully heard
o  Self-awareness about when they're triggered
o  Courage to say hard things
o  Has the bandwidth to be able to devote chunks of time to emerging needs (conflict doesn't erupt on a predictable schedule like Old Faithful)
I have sorted the qualities into two categories: Group A are qualities I think you want in all committee members; Group S are qualities that you need in some committee members.

While your list may differ from mine, I think this is a solid point of departure for any discussion about what you'll want. Meanwhile, keep those buoys and life jackets handy.

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