Conflict prevention rather than cure

As professionals in the area of dispute resolution we acquire significant knowledge regarding the nature of conflict, and develop many skills to assist in managing and dealing with disputes. This week Resolutions Institute hosted a presentation by Olivia Davis and Professor Camilla Baasch Anderson where they suggested that these skills have a much wider application, and that this conflict literacy can be applied to everyday situations to prevent conflict arising in the first place, thereby avoiding the escalation of a situation and therefore the need for dispute resolution. This has the potential to create life skills that result in a better world.

Mediation, collaboration, conciliation and negotiation all require the development of listening, questioning, summarizing, paraphrasing and reframing skills. Together with an understanding of the nature of conflict, these result in the development of conflict literacy. This in turn predisposes us to a certain world view or mindset. Such a mindset allows us to sit with differences of perspective, to tolerate ambiguity, to acknowledge alternative interpretations, develop mental flexibility, and to be able to undertake cognitive reappraisal. We can distinguish between process and content, and focus on the HOW rather than the WHAT of a situation.

This mindset allows us to rethink the nature of conflict and our approach to it. Rather than seeing conflict as something negative and to be avoided, it can be regarded as an energy force, an opportunity for growth and change. By harnassing this energy and engaging with it in a positive and constructive manner, our blind spots can be revealed and new insight can result in the evolution of new perspectives and outcomes. The skill set of the conflict resolver, together with the knowledge of conflict dynamics, emotional intelligence, and the qualities of empathy, adaptability, mindfulness and tolerance, are likely to promote the ability to handle conflict productively and positively, rather than competitively and negatively.

Any human interaction takes place in a context or system, and must be regarded on a holistic basis. The frame within which this human interaction takes place must be appreciated as multi-dimensional, and requires an understanding of the source of the information, as well as the context of the events. A level of critiquing is required to facilitate the understanding of multiple perspectives, to allow for diverse points of view to coexist, and to look with curiosity rather than the need to defend. Differences in frames often result in the collision of assumptions arising from these inconsistent systems. Curiosity and adaptability are required to be proactive, rethink a situation and avoid the escalation of this collision from conflict into a dispute.

Such a change in mindset is reflected in current developments in many areas including business, economics, medicine and even law. It reflects an holistic approach to situations and the need to work as a multidisciplinary team to give necessary support for the best outcome. It is represented in attempts to rethink the role of lawyers and the development of proactive and preventative law. This great opportunity for change that has been championed by J Kim Wright in her books “Lawyers as Peacemakers” and “Lawyers as Changemakers”. She encourages us to look not at how we can assist with traditional approaches and processes to resolve disputes, but how we can encourage a more creative approach to conflict that will leave those we come into contact with able to turn these situations into opportunities for growth and positive development, and the chance for a better world.

If you would like to be involved in a dialogue around these ideas contact me at Creative Family Law Solutions. I can introduce you to a group of professionals who are gathering on a regular basis to explore a new and exciting approach to conflict management-Changemakers in the legal system.

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