From Conflict Towards Consensus: The Continuum of Engagement
© 1999 John Perkins
If we hope to solve any of the complicated organizational and social
facing us, we must learn to speak about our conflicts so that we can
them, learn from them, and move ahead (Lewin, 1948). Problems of trust,
sincerity, accountability, mutuality, communication and personal
can be difficult enough within an organization, board, group or
These problems only multiply in wide-open multilateral negotiating
involving parties of relatively equal, or presumably equal, rank.
This paper has five main sections. The first will review models of
the second and third sections will look at definitions of conflict and
The fourth section will examine problems encountered on the way to
and the fifth section will look at theoretical frameworks and practical
strategic actions any member can use to nudge conflicts towards
Models of Communication
One person encounters another and together they create something new
and without needing to intend to) which neither had before: their
And with that encounter begins their negotiations. The duration of the
may be brief, as quick as buying a hot dog at a sports event; or very
such as lifelong friendships. A particular relationship exists within a
wider network of relationship and meaning, called by Gregory Bateson
context, which each person has less control and influence over, but
has some. As one person speaks and acts towards the other, he or she
and that communication has subtle or direct effects on the speaker, the
listener, their relationship, and the context. Jay Haley, a colleague
Gregory Bateson, first presented this framework for analyzing and
Carlo Ricci, after considering the difficulties and opportunities faced
by psychologists working in organizations, revised Haley's framework by
adding other receivers, so that the scheme looked like this:
- I (sender)
- am saying something (message)
- to you (receiver)
- in this situation (context) (Ricci, 1986: 161).
William Torbert in The Power of Balance (1991), takes a view of
as an effort by the communicator to implicitly and explicitly convey
- I (sender)
- am saying something (message)
- to you (apparent receiver) and inevitably and concomitantly
- to him/[her]/them (other receiver[s])
- in this situation (context) (p. 162).
To Torbert's and Ricci's models, I would add three new considerations:
emotion, and unconscious behavior. Time and emotion might be considered
subsets of the context element, but making them explicit brings them to
our attention for deliberation and analysis. Practitioners of General
have taken a keen interest in the effects of time on meaning (Lauer,
295-296) since Alfred Korzybski wrote Science and Sanity in 1933. A
marker helps by raising the possibility that parties need to attend to
their time references if they sincerely desire a settlement. A modern
of this happened during the secret meetings in Oslo, Norway between two
Israeli citizens and a representative from Yassar Arafat's Palestian
Organization. They quickly realized the fruitlessness of arguing about
past and accepted an agreement not to mention the past but instead to
on planning a common future (Elon, 1993).
- (1) a frame-the assumptions that bound the conversation, the
of the game," the purpose of speaking;
- (2) an advocacy-a particular goal to be achieved, an abstract
about perception or action;
- (3) an illustration-a concrete example, a colorful story; and
- (4) an inquiry-an invitation to respond, an effort to determine
effects of one's action (one's speaking) on others' perspectives on the
matter (p. 233).
Perhaps ancient Greek philosophy's preference for rationality has
attention from emotions and their influence on political and
decision-making. But Stephen Fineman, the editor of Emotion in
(1993), believes we miss the whole picture by overlooking emotions:
Of course, where Fineman uses decisions, we can substitute conflict or
with no loss of meaning. Emotions also offer a handle on understanding
often surprising and inconsistent behavior of individual people
in a conflict. Some people cannot acknowledge their own contradictory
or accept personal responsibility for their actions even to themselves.
In a three person situation, A's behavior towards B and C might get B
C into conflict. Furthermore, B and C might not be able to reconstruct
contribution to their differences. Even if they do reconstruct A's
and confront A about his or her behavior, A may not accept
or acknowledge a role in the dispute between B and C.
- In what ways do decisions unfold over time as a function of the
people feel, and change their feelings-about themselves, their
and significant others? How, for example, does anxiety, suspicion,
and hate take decision making through paths towards particular
Such issues are at the heart of the intertwining of cognition and
often falsely separated (p. 217).
According to Edrita Fried, a psychoanalyst, within A, "a confuse world
image prevails, leaving it unclear just what troubles originate in the
and which ones are caused by others" (1970: 94). Sincere sounding
and reassurances substitute for action (p. 100). Sometimes A seeks to
known as being a member on the "winning side" but since relative
advantage jumps from faction to faction rapidly in volatile conflict
A changes his or her story in an erratic effort to avoid the tension of
the unresolved conflict. As soon as B or C or a third-party mediator
that A cannot be trusted, "attention should be turned on the giveaways
of [A's] nonverbal behavior, and [A's] completed actions should be
more importance than declared intentions" (pp. 123-124).
With the inclusion of time, emotion, and unconscious behavior, we have
fuller model of communication:
Recent works have described four qualities a successfully cooperating
must have: trust (Fukuyama, 1995), reciprocity, publicity, and
(Guttmann and Thompson, 1996).
- 1. I (sender)
2. am saying something (advocacy through implicit and explicit messages)
3. and showing something (other-than-verbal behavior)
4. with this feeling (emotional marker)
5. to you (apparent receiver)
and inevitably and concomitantly
6. to him/her/them (other receiver[s])
7. in this situation (context or frame)
8 about this flow of events (my, your, our or their story) and
9. about this period of time (temporal marker)
10. and I may not be fully aware of my complete communication
portion of sender's communication)
11. and I invite you to respond (an invitation).
With these models of communication and qualities of cooperation serving
as guides to this inquiry, I will take a brief look at the polar
of engagement: conflict and consensus.
- 1. Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of
honest and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the
part of other members of that community. Those norms can be about deep
questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass
norms like professional standards and codes of behavior (Fukuyama, p.
2. Reciprocity and mutuality provides a group with "fair terms of
cooperation for their own sake" Mutual respect helps to resolve
by keeping open the possibility of a future solution. (Guttmann and
3. Publicity brings the work of the individual members, and the
group or organization into public view (p. 93).
4. Accountability means that each is accountable to all (p. 128).
In a wide open discussion, the type which usually occurs over important
and divided social issues such as slavery, abortion, women's suffrage,
justice and militarism, one often notes great agitation among a few
and tremendous silence or inactivity among the many. In fact, three
activities command the attention of partisans: assessing and "managing"
opinion and debate within their own allied group or groups; addressing
"opposition" in public fora such as public hearings and the media;
and awakening latent support from within the large group of the "silent
many" (Coleman, 1957).
In a country and culture enamored with competition, conflict, contests
adversarial modes of engagement, the discussions and debates needed to
a mutually satisfactory outcome appears alien and eludes comprehension.
Ellen Raider, a trainer on mediation and negotiation based in New York
continually stresses the importance of attending to the climate of the
Climate, being an element of the relationship between the parties, can
be influenced unilaterally. But that ability, when used with skill,
can significantly change the climate, and thus the context, the "talks"
and ultimately the final agreement (see Wehr, 1979, Chapter 3:
Conflict: The Ghandian Style", pp. 55-68).
Sociologist Georg Simmel, said conflict resolves "divergent dualisms;
it is a way of achieving some kind of unity, even if it be through the
of one of the conflicting parties" (Simmel, 1955: 14). The unrestrained
effort to secure an outcome favorable to one's side, by whatever means
at whatever costs leads ultimately to what we call "all-out war."
The specter of all-out warfare both frightens and frees us-it is
to think the other side will act without restraint, and it is freeing
imagine ourselves fighting unencumbered by the usual restraints of
norms. Thus, during war times the propaganda engines use all the arts
that trade to induce the public to believe the enemy is something other
than human so that soldiers can be freed to violate customary social
Simmel's point about resolving dualism bears repeating for emphasis,
it implies that our lack of cultural socialization with, and shared
about, multiple points of view, alternative hypotheses, divergent
and the like generates many conflicts. Yet clearly, some choices can be
left to group or individual preferences, and the need for open conflict
disappears if all parties accept the diversity of choice. Other
occur when decisions which affect everyone in the community cannot be
or apportioned to each member according to that member's preference.
or factions struggle for an (apparently) indivisible prize, and the
secures it and the loser goes without. Slavery, abortion, women's
prohibition, declarations of war, etc. fall into this type of conflict.
For example, in the waning years of slavery, each newly admitted state
to vote whether it would be a slave state or free, either one or the
and not sometimes one and then the other, or partially both.
In many competitive situations, a curious loss of responsibility
feel forced to act as they do by the actions of their competitors.
Teger (1980) created a research game called the dollar auction. Teger
off a single dollar bill, with the condition that the highest bidder
the dollar, but the second highest bidder had to pay their last bid,
go nothing. In a class setting, the last two active bidders almost
competed past the value of the prize ($1). Bidders playing the auction
showed a shift in perception of the situation: first bidders saw it as
game, then the saw the loss involved. Also, responsibility shifted from
gaining money to being "forced to bid by the bids of the other person."
When asked why the opponent kept bidding people showed
felt the other person was crazy. Teger states that
In conflicts without the restraints of social norms against violence to
others, my self, my group, my issue(s) takes
in the thinking of the hierarchy of values of practically every
Each party's rank order of values in the egocentric thinking of
line up in this order (see Diagram 1):
- It was quite apparent that in the majority of cases the bidders
realized that the same pressures which were forcing them to bid were
on the other bidders. It is this extreme egocentric view,
more than anything else, which prevented the bidders from gaining a
perspective on the conflict and thus being able to quit without losing
(emphasis added, p. 18).
- My (or my Group's) Communicated Point of View
Other's (or other Group's) Point of View
Other Side's people (doubtful of their full humanity and rights to
Negative campaigning, war propaganda, etc., combines positive
of my point of view with negative statements about both the point of
the humanity-of those on the opposing side(s). When parties contest an
with this hierarchy of values, victory might become the only way for
victor to finally, publicly, recognize the humanity of the other side.
Reagan once used very humane and compassionate terms when describing
he saw the United States helping the USSR recover after a US victory in
nuclear war. He seemed to miss the irony that an all-out nuclear war
have completely destroyed many countries, with no one left with much of
anything, or anybody. Fortunately, during the Cold War, citizen
projects inverted this hierarchy of values by making personal links
those on the "other side."
If all-out conflict means the suspension of norms of mutual respect and
acknowledgment, then consensus means the super awareness of norms of
group and the twin goals of preserving positive intragroup relations
deciding in the best interest of the whole. In this context, trust,
publicity, and accountability all reinforce one another-ultimately to
benefit of the whole.
With this hierarchy of values in mind, in a community accepting a
process, the context and climate move up to the top of the list and
the other person's humanity outranks defeating their point of view.
a value is added near the top for preserving the unity of the whole
while sustaining a meaningful mission. The consensus hierarchy of value
appears like this (see Diagram 2):
- Preservation of the Community
My (or my sub-group's) Communicated Point of View
Other Side's people (accepting their humanity and right to their
Other's (or other Group's) Point of View
With values ranked like this, members will moderate their behavior and
their point of view is stated in order to preserve the group. Issues of
face, face saving, face building and facework become evident as
parts of the social calculations of members (Bohannan et al, 1993;
After a three-day workshop with M. Scott Peck in Texas, a group of
involved in a large medical practice defined consensus. A careful
of this 150 word definition shows this hierarchy of values and the
of becoming aware of the impact of one's behavior on the success of the
A unified decision has greater power and meaning for the group than a
majority (Sheeran, 1983). Carolyn Estes, a founder of the Alpha Farm
in Oregon, asserts that Alpha Farm uses consensus twenty-four hours a
She named three characteristics of consensus:
- Consensus is a group decision-which some members may not feel is
best decision but which they can all live with, support, and commit
to not undermine-arrived at without voting, through a process whereby
issues are fully aired, all members feel that they have been adequately
heard, in which everyone has equal power of influence, and different
of influence by virtue of individual stubbornness or charisma are
so that all are satisfied with the process. The process requires
to be emotionally present and engaged; frank in a loving, mutually
manner; sensitive to each other; to be selfless, dispassionate, and
of emptying themselves; and possessing a paradoxical awareness of both
and time, including knowing when the solution is satisfactory, and this
is a time to stop and not re-open the discussion until such time that
group determines a need for revision (Atkisson, 1991: 27).
In this paper, consensus decision-making serves as the ideal. The
Public Interest Research Group has identified seven critical conditions
for consensus to work:
- (1) That all agreements are arrived at in unity, not unanimity,
(2) If you don't like the decision but can live with it you can stand
step aside. You are expected to publicly state that you are stepping
so that it can be noted in the minutes.
(3) Blocking, or "standing-in-the-way-of," is when you feel the
group is about to make a mistake and you need to single-handedly stop
from going forward (Estes, 1993: tape).
Given the relative ease in describing ideal personal communication and
decision making processes, why do parties in conflict fail to find
way to an agreement? Answering this will be the subject of the next
- 1. Unity of purpose
- 2. Equal access to power for all members
- 3. Autonomy of the group from external hierarchical structures
- 4. Time
- 5. A willingness in the group to attend to process
- 6. A willingness in the group to attend to attitudes
- 7. A willingness in the group to learn and practice skills (1996,
The four pillars which support cooperative success-trust, reciprocity,
and accountability-need private, uncoerced commitment to their value
each group member, and each faction or sub-group. Chris Argyris and
Schön have devoted great attention to understanding how commitments
to norms of discourse (or their absence) and resultant behaviors (or
absence) contribute to (or detract from) organizational learning. Their
book, Organizational Learning: A theory of Action Perspective (1978),
their perspective that organizations, and the people within them,
from two theoretical perspectives. Their espoused theory, or theory in
means the create formal rules about missions, strategies and norms.
may, or may not, match their theory in use which are the informal norms
which people show by their behavior and the real way work gets done.
learning organizations strive to bring the theory in use and the
theory into alignment and harmony. Learning might occurs within the
team, or organization, when they can make changes which bring the
theory and theory in use into alignment.
The internal set of images or representations each member of the
constructs, Argyris and Schön call maps. The lived experience of the
organization exceeds the ability of anyone to map its full complexity.
organization's members strive continually to complete it, and to
themselves in the context of the organization" (p. 16).
Though Argyris and Schön do not mention it, each member also harbors
representations of more encompassing maps, such as the legal regime for
their type of industry or a code of ethics describing allowed and
behaviors for their profession.
To Argyris and Schön, single loop learning maintains the central
of the (implicit) theory in use (p. 18). For example, the first few
the espoused theory is not followed may prove to be a test of the
(for the new member), so that if changes, or learning, are not seen in
organization members learn that what the organization says, and what it
does are different.
Double loop learning is the type of "inquiry which resolves
organizational norms by setting new priorities and weightings of norms,
or by restructuring the norms themselves together with associated
and assumption" (p. 24). Double loop learning involves parties in
behavior, theory in use, and epoused, twice. Once considering the
of the behavior and the second time asking what process led to it.
When engaged in double loop learning, the organization holds the
(theory in use) and the formal rule or norm (espoused theory) in its
span at the same time until it resolves the discrepancy. This type of
though full of potential benefits, can also be extremely uncomfortable
of the questions of accountability and responsibility. In addition,
each person and group has slightly different maps as well as different
of selecting and describing the relevant events, finding agreement and
might prove out of reach (p. 93).
Achieving double loop learning may prove challenging, and usually other
Of course, all of the difficulties which afflict an organization only
in multilateral situations which needs the cooperation of many people,
(or nations) who relate to one another as peers. Each party has it's
internal set of "games of deception, of gaining credit and avoiding
blame" and the would-be collaborative enterprise encounters inter-party
games of deception, etc. as well. In addition, without a common culture
shared among the parties, perfectly honest and sincere statements and
may be reacted to by one or more of the other parties as though they
part of the usual games of deception. Ultimately, "the problem is not
that these conflicts exist, it is that they are not discussible"
parties have no common protocol for talking about what is happening
and among them (p. 122).
- Games of deception, of gaining credit and avoiding blame, have a
to occupy the foreground of organizational attention. They loom large
each individual's universe of concerns, distracting him or her from
of the uncorrectable error and the related processes which underlie it.
Moreover, such games create an impression of organizational fragility
rigidity. Polarization of groups and persons allows each person and
to feel that it is blocked by others. Each member of the organization,
of the layers of potential vulnerability shared with others and of the
designed to protect against that vulnerability, experiences the
as brittle. A false move, an unwitting disclosure, a direct
and the house of cards might come tumbling down. It is inherent in such
judgments that they are unlikely to be put to the test (p. 115).
To suggest that the conflicts might be solved if a way could be found
discuss them, presupposes that most people could articulate their
of the conflict, if only given a safe forum for that expression. But,
complicate matters further, some of the parties to the dispute might be
involved because of their roles in their respective organizations, and
any commitment to the substance of the negotiations. They know they
express their personal indifference, or even antipathy, without
their personal lack of commitment into the public discussion. This
them in the uncomfortable situation of negotiating on concerns about
they feel no passion. Though previously, people with that same role in
organization may have shown great enthusiasm, the ambivalent current
of key role positions will resist publicly committing to new proposals
their organization. As noted earlier, this internal stress might even
attributed to others because it may fall outside the conscious
of this person. Their implicit hope is that the conflict ends without
agreements and without their role in the breaking off of the talks
publicly known, discussed, and documented.
Often in low-trust settings negotiators will not "publicly" discuss
lack of mutual trust. Many times, while some participants communicate
a surface level in support of settlement and communication, they
undermine any genuine prospects of success through their
and off-the-record behavior.
The Fundamental Solution: Discuss the mismatch
Getting the problem out and discussed falls into that category of
"easier said than done." High-trust groups and teams with high
quality communication find ways around "differences of opinion"
and settle on a common plan of action while preserving the mission and
of the group (Collins 1994; Sheeran 1983). In multilateral situations
low-trust nothing can be taken as a agreed upon. What gets discussed,
the discussion proceeds, and how the parties view their relationship to
one another, as well as their likely future together become part of
needs settlement. Human capabilities of forgiveness and tolerance,
easily displayed towards people on one's side, seem beyond the scope
scale of what can be summoned when considering the behavior of the
These tough settings face a particularly difficult dilemma: third party
mediation might help settle some of the issues and it might help the
agree to a process for resolving the rest. The catch becomes getting
to invite a mediator in?! Though mediation occurs informally in
and workplaces and among friends, the idea of "needing" formal
mediation to settle disputes suggests to many people that the parties
hardened their positions and cannot settle their differences "on their
own." Paradoxically, this very delay in getting third party help may
mean that the parties will not find a settlement and indeed may harden
positions because of the contentiousness on every issue and process
Any member at any time, however, though known to have a partisan
can suggest procedures and norms which might help the group progress
agreement. In next two sections I will look at how members and third
mediators contribute to helping a parties to a negotiations move
The Member as Catalyst
The following suggestions, gleamed from the literature (Mindell, 1992;
1993; Torbert, 1991; Argyris and Schön, 1978; Kolb and Bartunek, 1992;
and Kritek, 1994) and personal experience, show how anyone in a
involving relative peers can nudge the "negotiated order," (Morrill,
1992: 93) or the field (Mindell, 1992: 8) forward in low-trust
Of course, these suggestions can apply to people in settings with
relations among parties, but they will naturally be modified by the
relationship with-and relative status to-"those at the top" (Bellman,
1993; Torbert, 1991).
Low-trust negotiations need people with superior observation skills and
effective powers of persuasion to help the group grope towards greater
I call people with these skills catalytic members, since in a low-trust
setting no one will be allowed to presume to have enough power to lead
talks. Catalytic members work overtly and covertly to gain many small
which help the group learn which norms it needs to have. The catalytic
needs to understand that they serve in the interest of the group,
to help it arrive at the best possible solution. The catalyst for
of course, can come from any member or party to the conflict. The work
be difficult, but full of adventure and growth for those cut out for
Catalytic members have five tasks:
The group's dynamics might be thought of as a "field" of contesting
energies, which the catalytic member tries to help bring into a more
relationship. Arnold Mindell, in The Leader as Martial Artist
defined a field as
- behaving with the greatest integrity and congruency
is, becoming a model of trustworthiness;
supporting the open acceptance of neutral and applicable-to-all-parties
drafting neutral processes for discussing specific issues which can be
and ratified by the parties before any substantive talks;
timing when to bring up "undiscussible" issues before the group;
using their experiences in the negotiations to grow as a group member
as a human being.
Because the catalytic member hopes to influence the field of the
she can influence the forces in opposition even when "away" from
the conflict by attending to her own growth, process, communication,
emotional needs. The catalytic member must prepare herself by studying
own behavior and becoming as deeply human as possible (Kritek, 1994:
Learning will come to the catalytic member as she comes to understand
own ways of mapping the conflict, avoiding topics, sending mixed
- an area in space within which lines of force are in operation. It
simultaneously everywhere with everyone. It is here and now in its
whenever we merely think about of it. The world is you and me. It
in dreams and body problems, in relationships, groups, and the
Group meetings of all parties involved might not always work, so
private conversations might be productive. The catalytic member should
for each meeting or private conversation by carefully considering each
motivation for change in perception and action. Whenever possible,
can be praised and shown in a good light in indirect ways in order to
their anxiety and reduce the general emotionality of the dispute
Away from the "battle field" the catalytic member can use personal
writing as a means of recording experiences and learning from them. The
great advantage of writing for the catalytic member is that its secrecy
and confidentiality can be much better protected than a verbal or
communication with another person. Especially hazardous are any
with any parties to the negotiations. Based on the theories of Argyris
Schön and others, a nurse, Margaret Edwards, kept a "reflective"
journal of her interactions with a "difficult" patient in her
care. The process of reflection helped Edwards in making explicit to
her personal theories (1996: 41). She found, over time, that she could
with his situation. To her distress, she failed to find the right words
and actions which might have shown her empathy (p. 43).
William Torbert, who studied under Chris Argyris while a student at
described in The Power of Balance how his team of instructors helped
school students become aware of their learning. Each week, each student
was required to write a "learning paper" which had to include
at least two of the following four elements:
Torbert's team of instructors also used learning papers as they
for the classes and found that they helped to deepen their
about their work and their mutual respect for one another (p. 141).
- (1) a description of a feeling they experienced while working
(2) a description of the way they behaved;
(3) a theory from the literature which might explain why they felt and
as they did; and
(4) a new behavior they might try as an experiment the next time a
opportunity offered itself. (p. 110)
Edwards, too, found that her reflective practice provided ideas for
her own behavior:
The concepts of learning papers and reflective journaling bring about
results: experimenting with new personal behavior based on personal and
- Through reflective practice, I gained insight into the extent to
my nursing actions had been unwittingly shaped by history and ideology.
Future actions in similar situations will be directed towards
the insecurities which underscore a patient's actions and my own
In the "real world," a catalytic member can write a learning paper
at any time to help him think about, and record, what he feels and does
in support of the group. This type of log can also go much further, and
record dreams, co-incidences, surprising developments, snippets of
and so on.
Because of the pressure of trying to navigate a field in conflict, the
member will want to talk to someone at regular intervals to relieve the
stress and for emotional and moral support. Ideally, this person should
not be a member involved with the conflict or negotiations. This
person could be a professional counselor or therapist but doesn't have
be-a sympathetic colleague or friend who will maintain confidence can
the needed support.
These support sessions need not be restricted in any way, and the
member can use them to role play previous or anticipated negotiation
All of the doubts, ambiguities, and pressures-which the catalytic
might not feel safe to reveal to the members involved in the
be confessed and fully felt. The catalytic member might find himself
great sorrow, sadness, pessimism, self-criticism, and other emotions
risky to display in a low-trust environment. The supportive listener
help keep the conflict in perspective for the catalytic member by
her of her skills and other successes and to relax and take vacations
Whenever communicating to parties to the negotiations, the catalytic
must be highly congruent meaning their personal espoused theory and
must match. As a participant in a setting scarred by incongruent
the catalytic member must model congruency. This congruence by the
shows up in taking agreements seriously, in insisting on delivering on
promises (even if others fail to meet their end of the agreement), and
asking other members to behave in alignment with agreed upon norms.
This very congruence makes the catalytic member a target, since he is
the unspoken norm of "Let's play along with this agreement thing shall
we, but not mean what we say." Any inconsistencies will be quickly
pointed out, as will any missed or forgotten promises. When these
arise, it offers the member a chance to: discuss the incongruency,
open the discussion about which norms seem to have been violated, and
the group to forgive the missed promise while accepting the just
norm as applying to everyone. By explicitly discussing norms the group
to accept publicly discussed and agreed upon standards of behavior to
members' behavior can be held accountable.
If the concerns about the catalytic member's temporary incongruencies
sponstaneously the catalytic member often appears alone in the meeting,
though some may voice support after the meeting in unofficial and
communication. Thise unofficial communications offer the catalytic
the chance to recruit allies who support the proposed norms for the
time the issue arises.
Recruiting allies in advance and asking for their public validation of
catalytic member's suggestions may help speed up the acceptance of
and explicit norms. Allies are recruited for support of general norms
neutral processes, not in support of a particular position the member
be known to support. The distinction is delicate and requires judgment
timing and appearances. In extreme low-trust settings, the very fact of
the meeting, regardless of content, may arouse suspicions and
Catalytic members are advised to proceed with caution.
During the discussion about norms, should someone stray from the issues
and personally attack the catalytic member, the catalytic member can
this to the benefit of the group by asking that the group rebuke
attacks as one of its implicit norms (in Robert's Rules of Order this
called a Point of Personal Order) and immediately asking for an
and if failing to get one, next insisting on mediation or third-party
to resolve it. Bringing in the idea of third-party mediation breaks up
group's habitual stalemating patterns, and offers the chance that
(the mediator) can take control of the process of the dispute so that
might be achieved. Insincere or deeply incongruent members will dampen
attacks with the hopes of avoiding third party involvement. Again, the
member can trade accepting an apology in exchange for the attacking
acceptance of the proposed norm of no personal attacks being permitted.
Every negotiating situation, and every human interaction or group above
the group size of one involves negotiations, has some imbalance. As
Kritek states in Negotiating at an Uneven Table, every table is uneven
some degree (1994: 155). That unevenness may be due to larger
histories of conquests, enslavement, wealth accumulation, and attitudes
about gender roles. Because of these long-standing imbalances,
members cannot expect overnight success, and progress may feel slow and
tedious. Kritek admits that she lack patience any longer for sitting at
negotiation tables which repeat patterns of dominance rather than work
an open and honest negotiation process (p. 190).
William Torbert (1991) and Arnold Mindell (1992) are far more
than Kritek, because they both accept conflict and enjoy the process of
moving a group from unevenness towards resolution and balance. This is
due to different timeframes. Mindell, unlike Kritek and Torbert, enters
a conflict for a few hours to help facilitate a specific resolution,
withdraws; while Kritek sits on boards of directors of community groups
and faces the same conflicts and players on an on-going basis.
Mindell admits that presently only a few in a hundred will have the
and attitude needed to apply his "worldwork" process techniques
and tools successfully. Even fewer organizations or institutions have
right attitude. Unevenness of the table does disturb him; still he
his methods "do not require equal or common social, cultural, material,
or political ethics or frameworks to be applied" (p. 9). With proper
facilitation, Mindell trusts that healing will emerge when we follow
flow of painful or difficult events with awareness and compassion (p.
Because Torbert understands that accomplishing certain types of changes
takes as long as a generation (21 years) or longer, he acts much more
about the temporary perturbations of the moment (p. 73). For Torbert,
real goal is creating organizations which serve to support the growth
their members, not the other way around:
This process of goal-setting, support, and feedback actually helps both
the catalytic member and the group progress. Whereas Mindell believes
embracing the flow of the painful will support the healing work of the
Torbert trumpets a belief that being present to the conflict provides a
pathway to fuller consciousness for the catalytic member:
- We need a mode of organizing that serves as a vehicle to carry us
organizing that involves manipulating and conforming to externalized
while remaining unaware of our inner, spiritual, erotic, transforming
organizing that involves mutual goal-setting along with supportive and
feedback (p. 132).
At the negotiation "table" in the arena of the conflict, incongruities
of all types makes the challenge of moving forward seemingly
even while the catalytic member may be growing by becoming aware of the
"surprising, dynamic, mysterious, and unpredictable" dynamics.
Yet, by using the conflict opportunity to learn more about themselves,
conflict resolution, group dynamics, psychology, social practices,
etc. the catalytic member can find much to occupy his attention. By
their awareness to opportunities which might present themselves, the
member can hope for small wins (Weick, 1984) and a slow but positive
effect on the climate in the group.
- The more one is willing to trust one's current experiencing and
to the actual situation in all its fullness-the more one is willing to
one's preconceptions-the more surprising, dynamic, mysterious, and
reality becomes (p. 164).
Because of organizational allegiances or prior statements, most
in an open dispute cannot offer themselves as neutral facilitators for
resolution. Most groups, conflicts, and negotiations can benefit from
party facilitation for the resolution of their differences.
Third Party Mediation
Though it may not appear so when one of the members suggests it,
or third-party facilitation can be much easier on the group than an
to resolve a conflict based solely on the conflict resolution skills of
disputants. Third party mediation of discussion includes the fields of
organization development, alternative dispute resolution (ADR),
and family therapists working with organizations.
Successful mediation need not be an elaborate formal exercise; indeed,
without direct stakes in a particular outcome can serve in this role.
of their neutrality and disinterest in any particular outcome to the
third-party mediators play an effective role by providing a protocol or
process for discussion most likely absent hitherto. In informal or
type of mediation, the mediator's strongest contribution might be as a
carrier between the parties in conflict (Kolb, 1992).
Christina Merchant, a designer of dispute resolution systems, believes
mediatory processes" require the:
Within the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a distinction
is made between arbitration and mediation. Arbitration means a third
imposes a settlement after listening to the parties. Our legal system
out of the arbitration model. Mediation means the parties themselves
the final decision makers about the worth of any proposed settlement.
settlement, therefore, becomes a voluntary one (Merchant, p. 11).
- gathering of affected disputants on neutral ground ("where"),
targeting the issue to be resolved ("what"),
uncovering the reasons for the dispute ("why"),
creating possible options for resolution ("how"),
evaluating for discovery of the best resolution option(s) ("which"),
and reaching consensus among the disputants themselves on the
("who") (1996: 11; see also Walton, 1969: 116-127).
Often, parties to a conflict wait too long to invite a mediator to come
help them with their dispute(s). An overly long delay can contribute to
the hardening of feelings and the ossifying of implicit norms into a
that those norms are the permanent "way things are around here."
Groups faced with conflict who delay seeking mediation risk having
become overly invested in seeing their position "win" to the detriment
of long-term group unity or intergroup collaboration.
Mediators, though initially neutral towards any specific resolution of
issue(s) in dispute, as they work with parties to a conflict still get
sense of what might be a workable solution. Soon after they enter a
mediators face an important choice-they can help the parties reach a
or they can help the parties communicate better with one another.
preferences plays a part, as well as the requirements of the situation
how a particular mediator makes this decision (Kolb, 1994: 468-479).
This distinction- between success measured as a settlement versus
measured as improved communication-might even become one of the
to be aired and resolved during the negotiations, since one party might
be seeking a quick settlement (perhaps because of their culture's
in negotiations) while the other party might see the negotiations as
beginning of a process of more or less continuous communication and
(because of their cultural preferences).
In some of my conversations with friends, I jokingly referred to this
as the one about "Getting Things Done When No One is In Charge,"
(with apologies to Mr. Bellman, 1993) because one cannot always expect
understanding and support for the norms which might lead to consensus,
one might find among the Quakers; nor can one always hope to have a
as to which conflicts one will participate in.
This paper has touched upon many ideas: my eleven-point model for
communication; the four pillars of cooperation; the hierarchy of values
seen in conflict and consensus settings; the problem of incongruency
what people say and what they do; and creating ways for incongruities
be discussed. When I began writing it, I did not quite know where it
lead me. Well, now I do: I have discovered that navigating the
between dissolution and unity-conflict and consensus-offers rich
for my own growth and learning. Now, when faced with a conflict, either
by choice or chance, I am much more confident I can grow from the
may be the fate of the conflict or the group(s) involved. Though I must
close this paper, I do so as I simultaneously open my journal, so that
have a place to reflect upon my experiences along the continuum of
Argyris, Chris, and Schön, Donald. (1978). Organizational Learning:
A Theory of Action Perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Arnold, John D. (1993). When the Sparks Fly: Resolving Conflicts in
Organization. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Atkisson, Alan. (1991). The Joy of Community: An Interview with M.
Peck, In Context 29:26-31.
Bellman, Geoffrey M. (1993). Getting Things Done When You Are Not in
New York: Simon & Schuster.
Block, Peter. (1981). Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your
Used. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.
Block, Peter. (1993). Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest.
San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Center for Conflict Resolution. (1981). Building United Judgment: A
for Consensus Decision Making. Madison, WI: Center for Conflict
Coleman, James S. (1957). Community Conflict. Glencoe, IL: The Free
Collins, Mary Ellen. (1994). The Journey to High Performance: The
of Teams Who Have Made It. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Cincinnati,
Edwards, Margaret. (1996). Patient-Nurse Relationships: Using
Practice. Nursing Standard, 10(25)40-43.
Elon, Amos. (1993). The Peacemakers. New Yorker, 12/20/93:77-85.
Fineman, Stephen, editor. (1993). Emotion in Organizations. Newbury
CA: Sage Publications.
Fisher, Roger, and Ury, William. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement
Giving In. New York: Penguin Books.
Fried, Edrita. (1970). Active/Passive: The Crucial Psychological
New York: Harper Colophon.
Fukuyama, Francis. (1995). Trust: The Social Virtues and Creation of
New York: The Free Press.
Gordon, Mildred. (1993). About Ganas, Feedback Learning, Community
& Networking, Communication, and Direct Democracy. Staten Island,
Griffiths, M., and Tann S. (1991). Ripples in the Reflection. BERA
5, 82-101, cited in Edwards (1996).
Gustafson, James P., and Cooper, Lowell W. (1990). The Modern Contest:
Systemic Guide to the Pattern That Connects Individual Psychotherapy,
Work, Teaching, Organizational Life and Large-Scale Social Problems.
Gutmann, Amy, and Thomspon, Dennis. (1996) Democracy and Disagreement.
MA: Harvard University Press.
Kearns, David, and Nadler, David. (1992). Prophets in the Dark: How
Reinvented Itself and Beat Back the Japanese. New York: HarperCollins.
Kincaid, Kathleen. (1973). A Walden Two Experiment: The First Five
of Twin Oaks Community. New York: William Morrow.
Kincaid, Kat. (1994). Is It Utopia Yet?: An Insider's View of Twin Oaks
Community in Its 26th Year. Louisa, VA: Twin Oaks Publishing.
Kleiboer, Marieke, and 't Hart, Paul. (1993). Time and Time in
Conflict Management. Unpublished paper prepared for the Sixteenth
Scientific Meeting, International Society for Political Psychology held
in Cambridge, MA.
Kolb, Deborah M. (1992). Women's Work: Peacemaking in Organizations. In
Kolb, Deborah M., and Bartunek, Jean M., editors. (1992). Hidden
in Organizations: Uncovering Behind-the-Scenes Disputes. Newbury Park,
Sage Publications, pp. 63-91.
Kolb, Deborah M., and Bartunek, Jean M., editors. (1992). Hidden
in Organizations: Uncovering Behind-the-Scenes Disputes. Newbury Park,
Kolb, Deborah M. and Associates. (1994). When Talk Works: Profiles Of
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Korzybski, Alfred. (1955). Science and Sanity: An Introduction to
Systems and General Semantics. Lakeville, CT: International
Library Publishing Company.
Kritek, Phyllis Beck. (1994). Negotiating at an Uneven Table:
Moral Courage in Resolving Our Conflicts. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
W 50 K92n
Lauer, Rachel. (1996). Some Basic Ideas of General Semantics. Et
Lewin, Kurt. (1948). Resolving Social Conflicts. New York: Harper and
Merchant, Christina. (1996). Building Capacity to Collaborate and
Workplace Disputes. National Institute for Dispute Resolution (NIDR)
Mindell, Arnold. (1992). The Leader and Martial Artist: Techniques and
for Resolving Conflict and Creating Community. San Francisco:
Morrill, Calvin. (1992). The Private Ordering of Professional
In Kolb, Deborah M., and Bartunek, Jean M., editors. (1992). Hidden
in Organizations: Uncovering Behind-the-Scenes Disputes. Newbury Park,
Sage Publications, pp. 92-115.
Nierenberg, Gerard I. (1973). Fundamentals of Negotiating. New York:
Noyes, John Humphrey. (1975, originally published in1876). Mutual
Introduction by Murray Levine and Barbara Benedict Bunker. Syracuse,
Syracuse University Press.
Owen, Harrison H. (1994). The Millennium Organization. Potomac, MD:
Palazzoli, Mara Selvini, et al. (1986). The Hidden Games of
New York. Patheon Books.
Parker, Louise E. (1993). When to Fix It and When to Leave:
Among Perceived Control, Self-Efficacy, Dissent and Exit. Journal of
Pask, Gordon. (1976). Conversation Theory: Applications in Education
Epistemology. New York: Elsevier.
Peterson, Ivars. (1996). Formulas for Fairness: Applying the Math of
Cutting to Conflict Resolution. Science News, 149(5/4/96):284-285.
Pettigrew, A.M. (1987). Context and action in the Transformation of the
Firm. Journal of Management Studies, 24:6:649-670.
Popadak, Geraldine L. (1995). An Alternative Dispute Resolution Model
a Traditional Organization Using Negotiation and Arbitration.
Ph.D. dissertation. Cincinnati: Union Institute.
Ricci, Carlo. (1986). Interactional Complexity and Communication. In
Mara Selvini, et al. (1986). The Hidden Games of Organizations. New
Pantheon Books, pp. 159-169.
Robertson, Constance Noyes. (1972). Oneida Community: The Breakup,
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Schindler-Rainman, Eva and Lippitt, Ronald. (1975). The Volunteer
Creative Use of Human Resources. Second Edition. Fairfax, VA: NTL
Resources Corporation. UWlib: HV 41 S287 (1975
Sheeran, Michael J. (1983). Beyond Majority Rule: Voteless Decisions in
the Religious Society of Friends. Philadelphia: Religious Society of
Simmel, Georg. (1955, originally published 1908). Conflict and The Web
Group-Affiliations. Translated by Kurt H. Wolff and Reinhard Bendix.
York: The Free Press.
Skinner, B.F. (1948). Walden Two. New York: Macmillan.
Staw, Barry M., and Ross, Jerry. (1989). Understanding Behavior in
Situations. Science 246(10/13/89):216-220. PDE/Failing
Sullivan, Timothy J. (1984). Resolving Development Disputes Through
New York: Plenum Press.
Teger, Allan I. (1980). Too Much Invested to Quit. New York: Pergamon.
Ting-Toomey, Stella, editor. (1994). The Challenge of Facework: Cross
and Interpersonal Issues. Albany, NY: State University of New York.
Torbert, William R. (1991). The Power of Balance: Transforming Self,
and Scientific Inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Seattle U: HD 58.9 T67.
Urban Land Institute. (1994). Pulling Together: A Planning and
Consensus-Building Manual. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute. ©
Walker, Vivian G., editor. (1991). Resolving Association Disputes.
Edition. Alexandria, VA: Community Associations Institute.
Walton, Richard E. (1969). Interpersonal Peacemaking: Confrontations
Third-Party Consultation. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Watzlawick, Paul, Bavelas, Janet Beavin, and Jackson, Don D. (1967).
of Human Communication. New York: W.W. Norton.
Wehr, Paul. (1979). Conflict Regulation. Westview Special Studies in
Conflict and Conflict Resolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Weick, Karl E. (1984). Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social
American Psychologist, 39(1):40-49.
Weisbord, Marvin R. (1992). Discovering Common Ground: How Future
Conferences Bring People Together to Achieve Breakthrough Innovation,
Shared Vision, and Collaborative Action. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler
Bohannan, Paul, et al. (1993). Face Saving Devices as a Mode of
Settlement. Portland, OR: National Conference on Peacemaking and
Estes, Carolyn. (1993). Community and Consensus. Langley, WA:
for Intentional Community.
Adams, Bruce. (1996). Building Healthy Communities. Available 11/3/96
Better Business Bureau. (1996). Single-Issue vs. Multi-Issue Mediation.
Available 2/16/96 at http://www.bbb.org/cbbb/adr/so/index.html
Estes, Carolyn. (1995). Consensus Ingredients. Available 2/23/96 at
ICAR (1996). The Field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Available
Ontario Public Interest Research Group. (1996). Consensus
Available 2/16/96 at