conflict resolution for business - dialog and listening in conflict resolution for businesses managers and executives
conflict resolution for business - dialog and listening in conflict resolution for businesses managers and executives
conflict resolution for business - dialog and listening in conflict resolution for businesses managers and executives

Q&A With Mediator-Facilitators Dan and Heidi Chay

Part three of a four-part look at Conflict Resolution Tools Every Business Needs.

Bruce Wilson interviewed professional mediators and facilitators Dan and Heidi Chay of Kenai, Alaska to find out more about conflict resolution for businesses.

Bruce: What's at the root of conflict resolution that makes it work?

Dan: At root, you might say, is dialogue. Communication. "Dia" for flow, "logos" for meaning, dialogue is the flow of meaning in and among people.

In an intense and difficult situation [the goal may be] only trying to make the situation a little better. For example, with such an intense conflict that parties can't meet face to face, such as certain family cases, still a flow of meaning can occur that helps.

The conflict resolution process doesn't always mean coming up with a total solution, it can also mean illuminating [the conflict] to [arrive at] a better understanding.


Conflict Resolution and Negotiation

This segment of was written by Bruce Wilson based in part on a series of conversations with professional mediator-facilitators Heidi and Dan Chay.

Part I, Conflict Resolution Basics for Business covers the what, why, and how of conflict resolution. More....

Part II, A Simple Process for Resolving Business Conflicts presents a step-by-step guide to simple conflict resolution. More....

Part III, Q&A With Mediator-Facilitators Dan and Heidi Chay explores in greater depth why an exchange of listening between parties in conflict reduces conflict and builds relationships. More....

An appendix offers Recommended Reading For Conflict Resolution in Business for those who want to learn more. More....

Heidi: It's analogous to focusing a pair of binoculars to achieve higher resolution--a clearer picture.

Bruce: Why is dialogue effective? What is experienced through dialogue?

Dan: A better understanding. Otherwise it's not a successful dialogue. And emotionally the participants feel heard. To illustrate: being in a conversation where someone repeats themselves over and over again, this means they aren't sure they've been heard. Dialogue closes that loop. Participants know they've been heard and can move on to the next step. The natural progression of the conversation then continues, maybe to where the next person wants to go.

Sometimes the goal of conflict resolution isn't ongoing dialogue. The word communication covers it better. Some people don't have dialogue skills. They come into a dispute in full debate mode, or with a power perspective.

Heidi: The word dialogue is a specialized term as we are using it here.

Dan: Deborah Tannen, in her book The Argument Culture  5, distinguishes between dogmatic thinking, argumentative (or debate) thinking where the point is winning, and dialogue, which helps people get a fuller perspective and in which they are listening to understand.

Bruce: So the word dialogue describes the quality of communication in a relationship instead of signifying just an exchange of information between people.

Heidi: Sometimes people have such a communication breakdown that they aren't ready for genuine dialogue. That's the best point to get to, but they can still be productive short of that.

Dan: Sometimes two people just want to quickly and painlessly get through a situation. "Dialogue" suggests a level of depth that they don't want to achieve. If a group is ready to go there, it's best for them, but we can't make them go that way.

Bruce: So ideally a leader would have his or her people in a dialogue relationship with one another.

Dan: Yes....

Why Are "Needs" Relevant?

Some of the issues that parties will raise correspond to underlying needs such as the needs for power or influence, approval, belonging, fairness, and self-esteem. It's not the mission of the mediator or the conflict resolution process to provide therapy for the parties regarding their needs, however if these needs are a part of the problem, the act of validating these needs by listening to the parties' issues and allowing them to buy in to the conflict resolution process will contribute substantially towards finding a consensus solution. 7

Heidi: Until we understand what the other person needs, and what we need, it's very difficult to do any problem solving that will last. Where does conflict come from? How you understand conflict drives how you think of conflict resolution. We start from the assumption that human beings have fundamental needs and that they have effective and ineffective ways of getting their needs met. Often if you look deep enough at a workplace conflict it's not about "turf" or monetary resources, it's about deeper needs like being respected, being independent, being understood, and when these needs don't get met they get expressed through conflict.

Bruce: Are these needs the same as the needs discussed by Maslow in his "Hierarchy of Needs"?

Dan: We expand our definition of needs to include a whole host of needs, hopes, fears, concerns and desires. It includes all interests, not just Maslovian "needs." The key is connecting what a demand or position is on its surface to the interests underlying it. This principle is explained by Fisher and Ury. 6 They refer to "interest-based" or "principle-based" as opposed to "position-based" negotiation.

There are always emotional and substantive aspects to conflict resolution, as well as procedural.

Bruce: Who can implement conflict resolution initiatives? Can it be done by somebody inside an organization, like a manager?

Dan: Somebody from the inside can.

Bruce: How important is it to get the top levels involved in conflict resolution?

Dan: Sometimes it may be critical. Sometimes they don't want to be involved. Some kinds of leadership aren't about telling employees what to do, but about inviting employees to come up with something that works for them.

Bruce: What happens when you get called in to a company?

Dan: We will talk with the key parties first. There may be a lot of people connected to the project at issue, for different reasons.

Once we have a sense of the multiple perspectives involved, we design a process with them.

If it's just two people, maybe simple mediation is best. If there are many more, it may be an open space, or a series of gatherings. In some situations a multiple track process might be appropriate. There might be any number of constraints based on budget and other issues.

We ask: what are likely repercussions if various options are chosen? What are their goals, what are their hopes? We ask and get clear about these as part of the process.

Bruce: What are indications that conflict resolution is a good solution to implement for an organization?

Dan: If a group is working well together, with creativity and learning happening, you can see [their] happiness, joy, curiosity, liveliness, energy, etc. If they are not being creative and learning, or are destructive, you will see apathy, low energy, dullness, and a lack of energy.

If morale is down, that is an indication that something can be done. A specific conflict may not be so obvious that it can be identified right away, but apathy and low motivation are sufficient indicators to think about starting a process.

Bruce: Are there any potential negatives, any side effects, that one should know about before attempting conflict resolution?

Dan: One is failure to follow through with promised changes. Another is a not sufficiently competent facilitator who, for example, doesn't honor confidentiality or allows bias to enter into the process. The more you anticipate how things might go wrong, the better. This is one of the things that an outside consultant should be responsible for doing if you hire them.

Bruce: Can it be embarrassing?

Dan: Potential for embarrassment in a conflict resolution process tends to come out ahead of time, during the assessment phase. Sometimes issues can be raised in a way to let people be comfortable.

Bruce: Who have we heard of who has used conflict resolution successfully?

Dan: One example is the Camp David accords. Sadat and Begin came to an agreement through Jimmy Carter's skillful mediation-diplomacy work using a single-text document 8 .

Additional source material:
5 Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue (Random House, 1998) (>
6 Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, Getting To Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin, 1991 (2nd Edition)) (>
7 Daniel Dana, Conflict Resolution (McGraw-Hill, 2001) (>, pp. 108-110.
8 See, for example, Fisher, Ury, and Patton, pp. 112-116. In the one-text procedure, a neutral party listens to all the parties' needs and interests, prepares a draft agreement, and asks each party for criticism of the draft. Based on the criticisms, the mediator improves the draft and brings it back to the parties for more criticism, repeating this step until the mediator feels she can improve the draft no further. At this point, she recommends to the parties that they accept the agreement, although they are under no obligation to do so.

Heidi and Dan Chay with Bruce Wilson


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