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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wars Of Words And Casualties Of Conflicts

Disagreements, deadlocks, stalemates, arguments, and prolonged disputes. Few people are enamored with any of these words and the mere mention of them will likely bear awkward discomfort. Yet, we are often confronted by the dilemma of not getting our way on an issue of contention. Nearly every dynamic imaginable, in fact virtually anytime there are two or more people together for an extended time, one may experience the frustration of an impasse at some point, be it husband and wife, college roommates, longtime friends, teammates, neighbors, partners, and the list goes on and on.

If the situation rests with competition, where in order for someone to win it means someone must lose, then it increases the odds of gridlock or a sustained struggle. Wrestling over a concept or issue expends considerable energy, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It takes a toll on the participants, both the winner and the loser since foes are generally not vanquished easy in a protracted skirmish.

Then what can be done to avoid these struggles? Toss a coin? Rocks, paper, scissors? Odds and evens? It's not easy to reach a resolution that meets varied interests and needs among concerned parties, especially when disagreements plunge into the depths of despair and exceed the civilized parameters of a debate. Emotions can interfere with reason and distort communication. Personal feelings exaggerate original differences and may boil over into anger and rancor. Judging from the adversarial spats that frequently air on talk radio and television shows our society has appeared to come to accept and expect behaviors that often resemble verbal wrestling matches.

Roger Fisher and William Ury are among the leading experts on negotiating techniques. They are co-authors of the bestselling book, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Their research and experience provides a valuable framework for resolving conflicts. This skill is evidently lacking in many people today. It's a skill that should be developed within a school curriculum, even if it is not included in the data bank of test questions on state assessments. I'm certainly not suggesting that exercising conflict resolution techniques will solve the world's problems or provide easy and fair answers to festering disagreements, but wouldn't it offer some improvement over current and popular methods - like who can yell the loudest, who can bully others, who has the best sound bite, who is the most popular, who is stronger...?

Fisher and Ury advise people engaged in prolonged points of contention to follow four basic principles associated with People, Interests, Options, and Criteria.
1. Separate the people from the problem,
2. Focus on interests not positions,
3. Invent options for mutual gain,
4. Insist on using objective criteria.

Keep score. On a national level, watch or read about the upcoming power struggle in Washington and check to see if the parties utilize the four strategies indicated above. Statewide, now that elections have altered the faces and balance of power in legislature, you can monitor progress toward crafting sensitive, correct, and responsive laws and policy. Locally, observe those gathered at contentious budget hearings when scarce resources become even scarcer and examine the behaviors of participants.

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