Critical Questions in Conflict

By: Laurie Weiss

When you've taken on the task of helping others resolve conflict, your most important job is to know what questions must be answered to help clarify the situation. The more of these questions you can answer, the better you be able to help your clients to tap their own resources to resolve the conflict.

The questions you must keep in mind will help your clients to identify the problem, identify the goal they want to achieve and discover the areas in which they already agree.

Here are some questions to keep in mind that will help you and your clients to resolve the conflict.

Identifying the problem—?Do the participants know what their problem is?
? Do they need your help in order to define it?
?Is the problem actually within the group, or is it a symptom of conflict?
?Are clients arguing about solutions before the important issues have been identified?
?What issues are being avoided or brought up in conversation and then quickly dropped?
?What are the group's sacred cows?
?Is there an elephant—something that is obvious that nobody is willing to talk about—in the vicinity?

Identifying the goal—?What is the desired overall result?
?Do all participants agree on that goal? If not, is there a larger goal on which they agree?
?Does disagreement concern the goal itself, or only the means by which the goal should be attained?

Establishing areas of agreement—?On what issues do all participants agree? If you begin the conflict resolution process by establishing a climate of agreement, it is easier for the participants to accept that an agreeable solution can be reached.

Behavioral and communication patterns are often just as important to understanding the situation as are specific areas of disagreement. Keep these questions in mind as well to help you understand what happens from moment to moment.
?To whom is most of the communication in the group addressed?
?Are remarks responded to politely?
?Are speakers interrupted?
?Who directs traffic?
?Who doesn't respond at all?
?How do individuals within the group position themselves in relation to each other?
?What does their body language imply?
?Are verbal and physical messages congruent?
?Who is active?
?Who is passive?
?Who facilitates the process?
?Who creates obstacles to clarification?
?Are unwritten rules interfering with resolution of this conflict?
?If so, how can the group be made aware have and dispense with them?

This may seem like an overwhelming number of things to keep in mind. An expert in conflict resolution is probably aware of most of them most of the time. The more of these questions you're able to keep in mind the more effective and helpful you will be in a situation.

Remember it's your job to help your clients resolve their conflict, not to do it for them.

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