Conflict Literacy-what is it?

As mediators and coaches interested in best practice, we work hard to develop and consolidate fundamental skills such as reframing, reflecting and summarizing, refraining from advising, being non-judgmental, impartial and even handed. We acquire knowledge to improve our practice regarding conflict dynamics and the identification of conflict types and ideas as to how to manage this.

But every individual facilitator brings their own personal qualities to the conflict resolution process. Each of us has our own experience with conflict, our own ability to tolerate ambiguity, capacity for emotional restraint, and impact on the process. As a result of our own approach to conflict identification and management, our resolution mindset, the process runs better!

It is our appreciation of this impact and our ability to use this to understand ourselves and to educate our clients, and prepare them and guide them through the dispute resolution process, that constitutes our conflict literacy. It is this capacity, and the knowledge and skills we possess to pursue this, that enables us to encourage a resolution mindset for our clients. It is this that facilitates progress for them in moving towards maximizing their potential to resolve a dispute and to develop conflict competency to manage conflict better in the future.

Two of the most obvious tools that we often use to affect the resolution mindset of our clients involve the language that we use, and the type of questioning that we engage in. There are often very subtle ideas embedded in our use of language and the way that we construct our questions. These often trigger a certain response on the part of the listener that can have a profound impact on their reaction and engagement in the ensuing dialogue and process.

As mediator we set a frame and encourage our clients to view the dispute through that lens. One that we are all familiar with is the frame of law that we operate in with family disputes. This involves notions of being adversarial, positional, defensive, focused on what went wrong in the past, and a win/lose outcome. The response is generally an emotional one, with feelings of annoyance, resistance and getting ready to fight.

Another is the interests based or collaborative frame. This is based on ideas of people and relationships being important, opening up a dispute, understanding how things might be better in the future, and finding an outcome that both can live with and commit to. The response is generally one of being more willing to listen, more open to creative and innovative ideas, and empowerment for future change.

Asking questions within one of these frames can encourage a response from that mindset. A question that is focused on the possibility of positive changes for the future and a mutually acceptable or child focused outcome, will create an opportunity for this type of behavior to occur. Imaging this as an option in the future will create subtle differences in thinking that can have profound psychological consequences. Based on our knowledge of our conflict literacy, and the skills, we can use the power of this type of questioning and language, to change the frame of the conversation.



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