Hazards and Outrage in Conflict Management

Conflict can bring with it a time of crisis and trauma, as well as an opportunity for growth and development. Many professionals dealing in the vast area of communication and conflict management, have developed ways of looking at conflict to assist in this task. Peter Sandman is one such expert who has an interesting way of understanding the interests of those involved in conflict, to assist in moving them from being locked in their conflict.


Sandman[i] suggests that when parties to a dispute require the assistance of a professional, they are generally entrenched and overwhelmed, and the success of any intervention depends on identifying all the interests and addressing all relevant elements. His writing is based in the commercial and business world, but I believe his ideas have a lot of insight to offer those working with family disputes.


Sandman describes those experiencing significant conflict as being confronted by negative consequences which he calls “Hazards” and this producing a negative reaction in that person of “Outrage”. It is easy to think of situations where this thinking is suited to the family setting. Perhaps, a partner has announced that they no longer want to continue in a relationship, and they intend to leave the home with the children. This is a situation where there can be a perceived Hazard that is very likely to have a significant impact and result in that person feeling Outraged by this decision.


The choice of terms by Sandman is very interesting. A ‘Hazard’ is not something minor or insignificant, but dangerous and harmful. ‘Outrage’ involves strong, deep, and real emotions. If looked through these lenses, the trigger results inevitably in conflict, which is overwhelming and founded in emotion. Retreating to a place of hurt and self-righteousness would often seem inevitable. Hence the need for a facilitator to assist in moving from this stuck position to a place of different understanding with space for hope of a better future.


Sandman states that the professional working with this conflict, must work to clarify and explore the Hazards, hear that the Outrage is high, and find out why. These tasks must be dealt with simultaneously. If the Hazard is not managed then the Outrage will continue. If the Outrage remains high then there cannot be appreciation that the Hazard is being well managed. For the conflict to be dealt with, all of these aspects must be attended to.


There are 12 elements of Outrage that Sandman says tend to contribute to Outrage and dominate most conflict:


  • Coercion


In our example the person who has initiated the separation has made the unilateral choice that the relationship is to end. To the other, this is often perceived as coercive as being forced upon them whether they want this or not. The result is often a feeling of Outrage that they have been placed in this position.


  • Industrial


It seems that people are more forgiving if something happens organically rather than being imposed by an organization. For instance being served with court documents making various actions and responses unavoidable, is likely to result in very negative emotions that can feed into Outrage.


  • Exotic


If a relationship has been long term and a far cry from all of the consequences that flow from being single, this can make lifestyle changes seem very exotic, unnatural and strange. This too can contribute to Outrage.


  • Memorable


If the events of the separation are memorable and likely to stick in the memory for a long time, this can heighten the sense of Hazard and with this the resulting Outrage. If at separation there was an episode of family violence, the police were involved and a party was excluded from the home, it is easy to imagine this effect.


  • Dreaded


If the consequences of the Hazard are dreaded, then this can contribute to a greater sense of Outrage. If a party is terrified of how they are likely to cope as a single parent, financially and emotionally, or if they see themselves as cut off from their children, this can create an overwhelming sense of grief and loss that could escalate to Outrage.


  • Catastrophic


The quicker something happens the more horrific it is likely to be viewed and the more likely there will be negative consequences. If an unsuspecting party is presented on the one occasion with the knowledge that their relationship is over, that they will not see their children daily as previously, that there is an IVO preventing them from contacting or going near their family, that court proceedings have been issued, this will be seen by that person as catastrophic!


  • Not knowable


A separation can result in such novel and unexpected situations, with no previous coping strategies or resilience, that behavior can become unpredictable and uncertain. The sense of not knowing what is happening and what is expected, can be devastating.


  • Controlled by others


An overwhelming sense of powerlessness and that someone else is controlling their lives can also have a significant negative impact in a time of crisis and conflict.


  • Unfair


It can appear that the distribution of risk and benefit arising from conflict is not lining up-all the Hazards may seem to be heaped on one party, and all the benefits with the other. Consideration of who gets the benefits and who pays the cost, can result is overwhelming feelings of unfairness that can escalate the perception of Hazards and the Outrage that flows from this.


  • Morally relevant


The impact of a situation on the innocent can produce a strong moral Outrage, which can result in taking what is seen as the high moral ground and being stuck in the conflict. It can be seen where a situation where extended family, step children or grandparents are forced to suffer the consequences of one party’s actions.


  • Lack of trust


Trust is crucial in family disputes particularly where there is a need for some degree of co-parenting.


  • Unresponsive process


This is particularly relevant where is is a backdrop of court proceedings with lengthy delays, and standard approaches that may not respond well to individual family needs.


Sandman points out that in most situations there are a different combination of these drivers. He recommends the use of a checklist to consider what else might be at play in a situation and work towards a comprehensive exploration of all the relevant elements. This can provide a more complete understanding of the dynamics involved and the unique underlying interests of each party to the conflict. This in turn will allow for the necessary acknowledgements, and room for the development of a different narrative that the family can live with into the future. By letting go of the Outrage and developing a different perspective of the Hazards, there can be a different focus on the strengths and positive hopes for the future.


If you are interested in developing a checklist to ensure that you consider all elements that might be at play in a particular conflict, contact Creative Family Law Solutions to compare notes!

[i] “Responding to Community Outrage:Strategies for effective risk communication.” By Peter M Sandman AIHA Press

More resources