Worker co-operative people are very aware that conflict can be an issue and over time can cause real problems. Conflict shouldn’t be avoided, but equally you shouldn’t revert to “because I told you to” (even if you can).
I always like posting guest blogs; and here is one from Kate Whittle a co-operative developer of more than 20 years, who has recently written a series of publications for Co-operatives UK called From conflict to co-operation.
I was on my way to a meeting I expected to be very challenging a few days ago, and as I got off the train and started walking I noticed my knees were feeling wobbly – and I understood – it was adrenaline – my body was getting ready for fight or flight … (not really sure if wobbly knees are any use at all for either fighting or fleeing, but you get the picture ..)
So I started thinking what can we do when our physical body is reacting to a real or perceived threat – by flooding our system with adrenaline? How can we find a way to acknowledge the signal that the body is sending us, but at the same time adopt a stance in the confrontation that is going to give us the strength to insist on a negotiated settlement, rather than run away or engage in physical or verbal fighting?
I believe that having a recipe – such as the one that the book Getting to Yes gives us – can help us find that strength, and help us behave in a way that is most likely to produce a satisfactory outcome.
The recipe has 4 ingredients:
- separate the people from the problem – i.e. build trust, try to help them to see that you are not their enemy, but that you want to find a solution that will satisfy both of you
- focus on interests, not positions – try to find out why they feel like they do, or want what they say they want. A great but simplistic example shows us what this can mean. A mother separates two little girls who are fighting over an orange. She cuts it in half and gives them half each. However one eats the fruit and throws away the peel, whilst the other throws away the fruit and makes marmalade with the peel. If the mother had asked them what they wanted to do with the orange, she could have given the peel to one child and the fruit to the other, a much more satisfactory outcome!
- invent options for mutual gain – once you are working together on a solution, and you each understand where the other is coming from, it’s much easier to brainstorm potential solutions that will satisfy both parties
- insist on using objective criteria – it’s important to use criteria that are independent of the will of either side, and find a solution based on principle, not pressure or power.
That’s why the approach is called Techniques of Principled Negotiation – and this handy little book should be on the shelf of every co-operative or community enterprise. The first third of the book explains these four steps in more detail, with examples. However the rest of the book concentrates on what happens when people won’t play – when they are more powerful, or if they use dirty tricks, the techniques are still useful, and will help you get as much as you can out of a difficult situation.
From Conflict to Co-operation is a series of five cartoon booklets from Co-operatives UK, the first book focuses on dealing with conflict and books 2-5 on preventing conflict.
From conflict to co-operation, Co-operatives UK (free to download)
Getting to Yes Roger Fisher and William Ury Arrow Business Books (buy from Amazon)