My work as a mediator, arbitrator, and negotiator has taught me many important lessons. The first is that it’s all about “conflict resolution“, not conflict avoidance, or the pretense that the absence of conflict is necessarily a good thing. Some kind of conflict is inevitable in just about every situation, from finding your identity as a young person (or even an older person !), to growing up in a family, to the workplace, the broader community, and then of course the wider world. My own experiences have taken me to many corners of the globe, from Sri Lanka to Sudan to Kenya to Nepal and in many parts of Canada. I have learned a few lessons:
1. The first lesson is that the Golden Rule still applies, treat others with respect and more often than not they will respond in kind. Conflicts are inevitable, but they do not have to be violent, or abusive, or even rude. Civility can go a long way to getting somewhere.
2. The resolution of conflict is not the same as “conflict management” – the latter almost always happens when a party with the upper hand doesn’t really want to resolve the conflict, they just want continued control. This always breeds resentment, and then other problems.
3. Wherever you are in the conflict, don’t take it personally if you can avoid it.
4. Look for solutions and not “victories”, or simply beating the other buy. This will require a lot of imagination and goodwill.
5. Figure out the logic of the other side. It’s not about cutting the pie in half. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Whether you’re negotiating or mediating, try to figure out what the conflict is really about. Listen carefully, respectfully, and without interrupting, and try to see if there’s a reason, a logic, a narrative, to what’s being said. Establishing what competing interests are really after is a way to a principled resolution. That helps you to figure out your own logic as well.
6. Leave something on the table. Most conflicts, like more contract negotiations, are not just transactional, they’re about building a relationship. And goodwill does a lot to build a lasting relationship and connection.