This article was originally published for the Breakthrough Newsletter.
"You have a choice. You can promote and support adversarial advocacy, politics and division or collaboration, synergy, exploration and excellence.",1
When these values are NOT present the probability of poor outcomes is higher.
What are the values?
- Mutual benefit & Non-harming
- Optimal resolutions
"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." Friedrich Nietzsche.
Is an approach to conflict management that is based on these values practical? Is it justifiable based on a cost benefits analysis; or is it just something to do because it sounds nice and feels good?
From a purely analytical perspective, I think it is quite practical, particularly when we look at conflict resolution results over time. What happens when one side wins without considering the outcome's effect on the other party? Often the result is a long term dissatisfaction that eventually undermines the resolution and the relationship. Take an example in which a conflict over price is resolved by the stronger of the parties 'forcing' the other party to agree to a less than satisfying price.
Will the forced party be motivated to cooperate through the delivery process? Will the forced party look forward to doing future 'deals' with the stronger party? In the geo-political realm, we have centuries of examples of what happens when conflicts are settled by force (Yugoslavia, Iraq ...). Frustration and anger fester and as soon as the force is removed there is an eruption.
Conflict management styles that value winning at all cost and devalue harmonious relationships and their long term benefits seem to be less effective than those that are based on confronting problems collaboratively. Resolving conflicts in a way that leaves a dissatisfied opponent, who is going to be around for the long term, risks failure, not only in the current situation but intothe future. Remember that conflicts are events within a larger process. They are parts of a system in which any action anywhere can affect the system everywhere. When we do something that may give us short term gain, we must think of the long term results as well. We want to avoid hostility that results in active resistance, lack of motivation, opposition, or contentiousness.
What are the consequences of one's actions? When we are committed to action stemming from the intention to do no harm and, instead, to help, we will be less likely to create unintended negative ripple effects. When we can step back and, at least for a moment, become unattached to the end results, we are more likely to see the big picture and think creatively. Ideally we can behave compassionately with loving kindness and sympathetic joy. We can achieve useful outcomes and perfect our process. Perfecting our process makes it easier to sustainably achieve optimal outcomes.
When we recognize that there is more to any conflict than the left brained components like time, money and product quality we are more likely to seek win-win resolutions. The right brain components of feelings, pride, trust, etc. must be considered to find the optimal resolution.
What is the optimal resolution to a conflict? It is the one that leads to an outcome that meets as many of the parties' acceptance criteria as possible and results in a stronger relationship among the parties. A stronger relationship will reduce the volume of conflicts going forward and improve the quality of resolutions and the ease of resolving those conflicts that do arise.
That brings us back to the basic values. These values are the foundation of strong relationships.
1. George Pitagorsky, Conflict - Opportunity for Relationship Building and Effective Decisions,Project Management for the Business Professional: A Comprehensive Guide, Ed by Joan Knutson, Wiley & Sons, 2001
© 2010 Pitagorsky Consulting
George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management and Project Management Basics™ and directed development of Unified Project Management™ Methodology (UPMM™) and of a global training provider’s project management curriculum and PM competency model. He has been published on project management, process improvement, and personal development subjects. George teaches applied meditation and is on the Board of the NY Insight Meditation Center.