Constructive Conflict

Crafting Constructive Conflict:
Principles and Practices
Karen L. Poulin, Ph.D.
Washington State University ExtensionClark County
Jana S. Ferris
Washington State University
Extension-Snohomish County
Workshop Objectives
• Introduce a basic model for understanding &
dealing strategically with conflict
• Explore your individual approach to conflict
• Learn & practice core skills
• Understand why efforts to deal with conflict
often fail
Exploring Assumptions
About Conflict
What do you believe about conflict?
Common Assumptions About
Conflict & Alternative Views
• “Conflict can and should be avoided”
 Conflict is a normal part of life
 Conflict can be a source of creativity,
energy & learning
• “Conflict is a bad thing”
 Conflict in itself is neither positive or
 Responses to conflict can be either
destructive or constructive
Exploring Sources About
In your experiences, over what kinds of
issues do people have conflict?
Common Sources of
• Limited resources
 Time
 Money
 Property
• Different Values
 Beliefs
 Priorities
• Unmet basic needs
 Physical
 Psychological
Skill Building:
Identifying Source
• Large Group:
brainstorm “Five Typical 4-H
• Within your group: determine the possible
source of the conflict.
“Getting to Yes” Basic
Components of a
Constructive Process:
• Choose a general approach to problemsolving
• Take specific steps to implement the
• Use general principles to guide the
“Getting to Yes”: 3 Common
• Negotiation: Disputing parties or
representatives meet face to face to resolve
dispute, unassisted
• Mediation: neutral 3rd party (mediator) assists
disputants or their representatives
• Consensus Decision-Making: Group process,
ith or w/out assistance, collaborate to resolve
6 Concrete Steps to
• Set the stage
• Gather perspectives
• Identify interests
• Create options
• Evaluate options
• Generate agreement
Implementing ProblemSolving: 4 Principles
• Separate people from the problem:
Differentiate between relationship &
substantive issues
• Focus on interests, not positions: Identify
underlying motivations for what is wanted
• Invent options for mutual gain: Brainstorm
without evaluating
• Use objective criteria to evaluate options:
Select standards against which to evaluate
The Potent Role of History: The
Past in the Present
• History of the situation
 Past critical incidents can intrude on
 Emotional reaction can retain original
• Personal histories of participants
 Strategies learned from family-based
experiences can later be maladaptive
 Early traumatic experiences can trigger
response mediated by limbic system
instead of frontal cortex
Foundational Abilities for
Constructive Conflict
• Perception Abilities
• Emotion Abilities
• Communication Abilities
• Creative & Critical Thinking Abilities
Perception Abilities
• Empathy: Seeing situation as other
• Self-Evaluation: Recognizing personal
fears, style
• Suspending Judgment: Putting aside
blame long enough to have an
exchange of ideas
Skill-Building: Developing
Empathy through Perspective
• Choose a partner
• Each person tells partner about conflict
situation they’ve experienced
 First tell from point of view of self
 Then tell from point of view of other
Skill Building: Self-Reflection &
• Complete Adult Conflict Style Inventory
 From your point of view
 From a significant other’s viewpoint
• Group results?
• Debrief: What did you find out?
Conflict Styles: Personal
• Collaborating
• Forcing
• Compromising
• Avoiding
• Accommodating
Another Way to Think About
Response Style: The
“Getting to Yes” Model
• Soft: withdrawing, ignoring, denying, giving
• Hard: threatening, pushing, hitting, yelling
• Principled: listening, understanding,
respecting, resolving
• “Soft” & “Hard” strategies yield lose-lose or
win-lose results
• “Principled” strategies yield win-win results
Emotion Abilities
• Recognizing emotions (yours & theirs)
• Vocabulary for emotions
• Dual attention to internal and external
• Self-control to prevent over-reaction to
others’ emotional outbursts
Simple De-escalation
Techniques to Balance
• “Take a break”: Appropriate exits
 Inform other(s) you need break (don’t just storm
 Let them know when you’ll be back to finish
“Take a deep breath”: Breathing techniques
 Physically impossible to sustain stress response &
relaxation response at same time
 Diaphragmatic breathing induces relaxation
Skill Building: Diaphragmatic
• While standing, place one hand on chest, one
on abdomen
• Breath slowly and deeply, filling lower part of
chest cavity with air
• Success indicator: As you breath, hand on
chest stays still; hand on abdomen moves up
and down with inhalation
How Do
You Do
Clarify Needs
• Substantive
• Procedural
• Psychological
What are your
Desired Outcomes?
•Which needs are threatened?
•Which needs most need to be negotiated at
this time?
•What about the other person?
•What do I really want to happen?
Safe Place to Negotiate
• Space
 Is the space neutral?
 Mutually convenient/inconvenient?
 Is it scheduled for a realistic time for all
 Is there enough time to do it right?
Ground Rules
 Agreed upon by all parties
 Sets the tone
Communication Abilities
• Expressing emotions & wants in nonaggressive, non-inflammatory ways
• “Active” listening skills to convey
accurate understanding of other’s
• Constructive feedback skills to work out
tensions on ongoing basis
Core Skill: Active Listening
• Listener reflects content & emotions
• Listener refrains from editorializing
• Main skills are non-verbal encouragers,
summarizing, paraphrasing
 What I hear you saying is…
 If I understand you correctly…
 Let me see if I’m getting your point…
Core Skill: Constructive
• Focus is on observable behaviors
rather than “mindread” intentions
• Describe what was done well; give
specific example
• Describe what could be done
differently next time to improve; be
specific; focus on what to DO rather
than on what NOT to do.
• Invite reaction/response
Skill Building: Active Listening
& Constructive Feedback
• Form small groups (triads if possible)
• Take turns as listener, speaker, observer
• Speaker describes a memorable conflict
situation s/he experienced or observed: Be
detailed; use non-inflammatory language
• Listener practices active listening
• Observer offers constructive feedback to
listener re: active listening, to speaker re:
• Large group debrief
Problem Solving
With flexibility
Creative & Critical Thinking
• Creative Thinking Abilities
 Considering the situation from several
 Brainstorming “outside the box”
• Critical Thinking Abilities
 Recognizing underlying criteria & standards
for evaluating possibilities
 Establishing & applying criteria & standards
for evaluating possibilities
Skill Building: Approaching
Conflict “Creatively”
• “Multiple intelligence”: Many ways and
skills for knowing
• We tend to use rationale-language
based processes to deal with conflict
• Cutting edge organizations beginning to
explore alternatives (e.g., team lego)
• Practice for fun: Draw “conflict”. Then,
explain your drawing to your partner.
Manage Impasse
• Go back to desired outcomes
• Check your own energy level
• Take breaks
Why Conflict Resolution
Strategies Often Fail
• Frequent emphasis on cognitive skills &
processes, rush to problem-solving (rather
than problem-setting through deep listening)
• Emotional/ psychological components often
minimized, or avoided
 Variability & reality of stress/cortisol
response underestimated
• Potent role of history often misjudged
 History of situation/problem
 Personal histories of participants
Recap & Final Debriefing
What might you take away from
today’s experience?
And Last But Not Least…
Final Questions and/or Comments?