By Louisa Weinstein
Published by FT Publishing International (2018)
Disagreements are a normal part of life, and a healthy part when we listen to each other and use our creativity and insights to improve. Yet, for many, conflict is an unpleasant and inescapable part of the work environment.
In my own experience, I’m amazed at the sheer volume, breadth and depth of conflict that people can sustain. How they will fuel their own, and others’, grievances in order to maintain their status, position or power.
How leaders and managers often fail to acknowledge their role in supporting their teams to channel disagreement positively, recognise their responsibilities, or use their skills to address issues as they arise.
Having said that, I recognise that I need to develop my own skills (especially my patience) if I’m to be any value to the people I work with.
For all these reasons, it’s great to learn from the expert.
The author heads up the UK Conflict Resolution Centre and lawyer. Her interest in this field came about when she saw the difference mediation can make in her own professional field.
What’s immediately obvious about this book is the title: “Conflict Resolution” is so much more positive than ‘conflict management’, which implies (to this reader at least) a ‘one size fits all’ approach; suppressing the conflict, rather than resolving it.
Her definition of conflict is “the enduring condition where I disagree with you”. That’s the easy part. What the author shows is that, because of our different perspectives on what conflict resolution might look like, your solution may be different to mine. Our sense of ‘justice’ may be rooted in very different moral maps.
‘Resolution’ in this context seems to be about finding peaceful solutions: it’s a form of negotiation, often with additional parties, not just between the people in conflict. The conflicting parties may have tried already to sort things out – but how often do our actions not have the impact we intend?
Those peace negotiations may need to address career, personal, financial, political and/or emotional issues – sometimes more than one single issue or presenting factor.
To address this huge spread of challenges, the author has created 7 principles of conflict resolution, and peppers the book with stories and case studies to show how not every situation has a neat, ‘happy ending’.
What’s good about this book, first and foremost, is that sense of ‘no single right answer’. We each need to navigate our way through the conflict resolution maze, and this is the sat nav we need.
At the centre of the book, under the author also sets outs a series of clear steps towards resolution.
And the first step is as realistic and open as you can get – ask the question as to whether mediation might work, and how it might work.
This leads to the implementation of a support structure which includes a process and the opportunity to engage with mentors or conflict coaches, internal or external mediators, to ensure the process sticks: with the eventual aim of creating learning organisations, as well as skilled managers.
The author also describes the kinds of policies and communications steps that underpin the people and processes steps.
My conclusion from reading this book is that this is a great first step, and my understanding is greatly improved but that so much more is needed. I hear that the author is introducing a new training programme and I look forward to that.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend this book as a positive introduction to the topic of conflict resolution.