From Conflict Towards Consensus: The Continuum of Engagement

© 1999 John Perkins


If we hope to solve any of the complicated organizational and social problems facing us, we must learn to speak about our conflicts so that we can resolve them, learn from them, and move ahead (Lewin, 1948). Problems of trust, sincerity, accountability, mutuality, communication and personal integrity can be difficult enough within an organization, board, group or country. These problems only multiply in wide-open multilateral negotiating situations involving parties of relatively equal, or presumably equal, rank.

This paper has five main sections. The first will review models of communication; the second and third sections will look at definitions of conflict and consensus. The fourth section will examine problems encountered on the way to agreements, and the fifth section will look at theoretical frameworks and practical strategic actions any member can use to nudge conflicts towards agreements.

Models of Communication

One person encounters another and together they create something new (naturally and without needing to intend to) which neither had before: their relationship. And with that encounter begins their negotiations. The duration of the relationship may be brief, as quick as buying a hot dog at a sports event; or very lengthy, such as lifelong friendships. A particular relationship exists within a wider network of relationship and meaning, called by Gregory Bateson the context, which each person has less control and influence over, but still has some. As one person speaks and acts towards the other, he or she communicates, and that communication has subtle or direct effects on the speaker, the listener, their relationship, and the context. Jay Haley, a colleague of Gregory Bateson, first presented this framework for analyzing and discussing interpersonal communication:
  1. I (sender)
  2. am saying something (message)
  3. to you (receiver)
  4. in this situation (context) (Ricci, 1986: 161).
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:
  1. I (sender)
  2. am saying something (message)
  3. to you (apparent receiver) and inevitably and concomitantly
  4. to him/[her]/them (other receiver[s])
  5. in this situation (context) (p. 162).
William Torbert in The Power of Balance (1991), takes a view of communication as an effort by the communicator to implicitly and explicitly convey
(1) a frame-the assumptions that bound the conversation, the "name of the game," the purpose of speaking;

(2) an advocacy-a particular goal to be achieved, an abstract assertion 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 the effects of one's action (one's speaking) on others' perspectives on the matter (p. 233).
To Torbert's and Ricci's models, I would add three new considerations: time, 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 Semantics have taken a keen interest in the effects of time on meaning (Lauer, 1996: 295-296) since Alfred Korzybski wrote Science and Sanity in 1933. A temporal marker helps by raising the possibility that parties need to attend to matching their time references if they sincerely desire a settlement. A modern instance of this happened during the secret meetings in Oslo, Norway between two Israeli citizens and a representative from Yassar Arafat's Palestian Liberation Organization. They quickly realized the fruitlessness of arguing about the past and accepted an agreement not to mention the past but instead to concentrate on planning a common future (Elon, 1993).
Perhaps ancient Greek philosophy's preference for rationality has deflected attention from emotions and their influence on political and organizational decision-making. But Stephen Fineman, the editor of Emotion in Organizations (1993), believes we miss the whole picture by overlooking emotions:
In what ways do decisions unfold over time as a function of the ways people feel, and change their feelings-about themselves, their projects, and significant others? How, for example, does anxiety, suspicion, love, and hate take decision making through paths towards particular outcomes? Such issues are at the heart of the intertwining of cognition and emotion, often falsely separated (p. 217).
Of course, where Fineman uses decisions, we can substitute conflict or agreement with no loss of meaning. Emotions also offer a handle on understanding the often surprising and inconsistent behavior of individual people involved in a conflict. Some people cannot acknowledge their own contradictory feelings 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 and C into conflict. Furthermore, B and C might not be able to reconstruct A's contribution to their differences. Even if they do reconstruct A's contribution and confront A about his or her behavior, A may not accept responsibility or acknowledge a role in the dispute between B and C.

According to Edrita Fried, a psychoanalyst, within A, "a confuse world image prevails, leaving it unclear just what troubles originate in the self and which ones are caused by others" (1970: 94). Sincere sounding promises and reassurances substitute for action (p. 100). Sometimes A seeks to be known as being a member on the "winning side" but since relative advantage jumps from faction to faction rapidly in volatile conflict situations, 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 understands that A cannot be trusted, "attention should be turned on the giveaways of [A's] nonverbal behavior, and [A's] completed actions should be given more importance than declared intentions" (pp. 123-124).

With the inclusion of time, emotion, and unconscious behavior, we have a fuller model of communication:
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 (unconscious portion of sender's communication)

11. and I invite you to respond (an invitation).
Recent works have described four qualities a successfully cooperating relationship must have: trust (Fukuyama, 1995), reciprocity, publicity, and accountability (Guttmann and Thompson, 1996).
1. Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community. Those norms can be about deep "value" questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like professional standards and codes of behavior (Fukuyama, p. 26).

2. Reciprocity and mutuality provides a group with "fair terms of social cooperation for their own sake" Mutual respect helps to resolve conflict by keeping open the possibility of a future solution. (Guttmann and Thompson, p. 52).

3. Publicity brings the work of the individual members, and the collective group or organization into public view (p. 93).

4. Accountability means that each is accountable to all (p. 128).
With these models of communication and qualities of cooperation serving as guides to this inquiry, I will take a brief look at the polar extremes of engagement: conflict and consensus.


In a wide open discussion, the type which usually occurs over important and divided social issues such as slavery, abortion, women's suffrage, economic justice and militarism, one often notes great agitation among a few people and tremendous silence or inactivity among the many. In fact, three simultaneous activities command the attention of partisans: assessing and "managing" opinion and debate within their own allied group or groups; addressing the "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 and adversarial modes of engagement, the discussions and debates needed to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome appears alien and eludes comprehension. Ellen Raider, a trainer on mediation and negotiation based in New York City, continually stresses the importance of attending to the climate of the discussions. Climate, being an element of the relationship between the parties, can only be influenced unilaterally. But that ability, when used with skill, often can significantly change the climate, and thus the context, the "talks" and ultimately the final agreement (see Wehr, 1979, Chapter 3: "Self-Limiting 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 annihilation of one of the conflicting parties" (Simmel, 1955: 14). The unrestrained effort to secure an outcome favorable to one's side, by whatever means and 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 frightening to think the other side will act without restraint, and it is freeing to imagine ourselves fighting unencumbered by the usual restraints of social norms. Thus, during war times the propaganda engines use all the arts of 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 norms against killing.

Simmel's point about resolving dualism bears repeating for emphasis, because it implies that our lack of cultural socialization with, and shared norms about, multiple points of view, alternative hypotheses, divergent opinion, 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 conflicts occur when decisions which affect everyone in the community cannot be subdivided or apportioned to each member according to that member's preference. Parties or factions struggle for an (apparently) indivisible prize, and the winner secures it and the loser goes without. Slavery, abortion, women's suffrage, prohibition, declarations of war, etc. fall into this type of conflict. For example, in the waning years of slavery, each newly admitted state had to vote whether it would be a slave state or free, either one or the other and not sometimes one and then the other, or partially both.

In many competitive situations, a curious loss of responsibility occurs-parties feel forced to act as they do by the actions of their competitors. Allan Teger (1980) created a research game called the dollar auction. Teger auctioned off a single dollar bill, with the condition that the highest bidder got the dollar, but the second highest bidder had to pay their last bid, but go nothing. In a class setting, the last two active bidders almost always competed past the value of the prize ($1). Bidders playing the auction game showed a shift in perception of the situation: first bidders saw it as a 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 bewilderment-some felt the other person was crazy. Teger states that
It was quite apparent that in the majority of cases the bidders never realized that the same pressures which were forcing them to bid were acting on the other bidders. It is this extreme egocentric view, probably more than anything else, which prevented the bidders from gaining a larger perspective on the conflict and thus being able to quit without losing face (emphasis added, p. 18).
In conflicts without the restraints of social norms against violence to others, my self, my group, my issue(s) takes preference in the thinking of the hierarchy of values of practically every participant. Each party's rank order of values in the egocentric thinking of participants line up in this order (see Diagram 1):
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 their different opinion)

Negative campaigning, war propaganda, etc., combines positive statements of my point of view with negative statements about both the point of view-and the humanity-of those on the opposing side(s). When parties contest an issue with this hierarchy of values, victory might become the only way for the victor to finally, publicly, recognize the humanity of the other side. President Reagan once used very humane and compassionate terms when describing how 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 would have completely destroyed many countries, with no one left with much of anything, or anybody. Fortunately, during the Cold War, citizen diplomacy projects inverted this hierarchy of values by making personal links with 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 the group and the twin goals of preserving positive intragroup relations while deciding in the best interest of the whole. In this context, trust, reciprocity, publicity, and accountability all reinforce one another-ultimately to the benefit of the whole.

With this hierarchy of values in mind, in a community accepting a consensus process, the context and climate move up to the top of the list and valuing the other person's humanity outranks defeating their point of view. Also, a value is added near the top for preserving the unity of the whole community while sustaining a meaningful mission. The consensus hierarchy of value appears like this (see Diagram 2):
Preservation of the Community

Meaningful Mission



My (or my sub-group's) Communicated Point of View

Other Side's people (accepting their humanity and right to their different opinion)

Other's (or other Group's) Point of View

With values ranked like this, members will moderate their behavior and how their point of view is stated in order to preserve the group. Issues of face, face saving, face building and facework become evident as important parts of the social calculations of members (Bohannan et al, 1993; Ting-Toomey, 1994, 1996).

After a three-day workshop with M. Scott Peck in Texas, a group of physicians involved in a large medical practice defined consensus. A careful reading of this 150 word definition shows this hierarchy of values and the importance of becoming aware of the impact of one's behavior on the success of the group:
Consensus is a group decision-which some members may not feel is the best decision but which they can all live with, support, and commit themselves to not undermine-arrived at without voting, through a process whereby the issues are fully aired, all members feel that they have been adequately heard, in which everyone has equal power of influence, and different degrees of influence by virtue of individual stubbornness or charisma are avoided, so that all are satisfied with the process. The process requires members to be emotionally present and engaged; frank in a loving, mutually respectful manner; sensitive to each other; to be selfless, dispassionate, and capable of emptying themselves; and possessing a paradoxical awareness of both people 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 the group determines a need for revision (Atkisson, 1991: 27).
A unified decision has greater power and meaning for the group than a simply majority (Sheeran, 1983). Carolyn Estes, a founder of the Alpha Farm community in Oregon, asserts that Alpha Farm uses consensus twenty-four hours a day. She named three characteristics of consensus:
(1) That all agreements are arrived at in unity, not unanimity, [but] in unity.

(2) If you don't like the decision but can live with it you can stand or step aside. You are expected to publicly state that you are stepping aside 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 it from going forward (Estes, 1993: tape).
In this paper, consensus decision-making serves as the ideal. The Ontario Public Interest Research Group has identified seven critical conditions for consensus to work:
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, Internet).
Given the relative ease in describing ideal personal communication and group decision making processes, why do parties in conflict fail to find their way to an agreement? Answering this will be the subject of the next section.


The four pillars which support cooperative success-trust, reciprocity, publicity, and accountability-need private, uncoerced commitment to their value from each group member, and each faction or sub-group. Chris Argyris and Donald Schön have devoted great attention to understanding how commitments to norms of discourse (or their absence) and resultant behaviors (or their absence) contribute to (or detract from) organizational learning. Their book, Organizational Learning: A theory of Action Perspective (1978), presents their perspective that organizations, and the people within them, operate from two theoretical perspectives. Their espoused theory, or theory in action, means the create formal rules about missions, strategies and norms. This 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. Healthy, learning organizations strive to bring the theory in use and the espoused theory into alignment and harmony. Learning might occurs within the member, team, or organization, when they can make changes which bring the espoused theory and theory in use into alignment.

The internal set of images or representations each member of the organization constructs, Argyris and Schön call maps. The lived experience of the organization exceeds the ability of anyone to map its full complexity. "The organization's members strive continually to complete it, and to understand 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 proscribed behaviors for their profession.

To Argyris and Schön, single loop learning maintains the central features of the (implicit) theory in use (p. 18). For example, the first few times the espoused theory is not followed may prove to be a test of the theory (for the new member), so that if changes, or learning, are not seen in the organization members learn that what the organization says, and what it does are different.

Double loop learning is the type of "inquiry which resolves incompatible organizational norms by setting new priorities and weightings of norms, or by restructuring the norms themselves together with associated strategies and assumption" (p. 24). Double loop learning involves parties in examining behavior, theory in use, and epoused, twice. Once considering the content of the behavior and the second time asking what process led to it.

When engaged in double loop learning, the organization holds the behavior (theory in use) and the formal rule or norm (espoused theory) in its attentional span at the same time until it resolves the discrepancy. This type of learning, though full of potential benefits, can also be extremely uncomfortable because of the questions of accountability and responsibility. In addition, because each person and group has slightly different maps as well as different ways of selecting and describing the relevant events, finding agreement and resolution might prove out of reach (p. 93).

Achieving double loop learning may prove challenging, and usually other behaviors predominate:
Games of deception, of gaining credit and avoiding blame, have a tendency to occupy the foreground of organizational attention. They loom large in each individual's universe of concerns, distracting him or her from awareness of the uncorrectable error and the related processes which underlie it.

Moreover, such games create an impression of organizational fragility and rigidity. Polarization of groups and persons allows each person and group to feel that it is blocked by others. Each member of the organization, aware of the layers of potential vulnerability shared with others and of the games designed to protect against that vulnerability, experiences the organization as brittle. A false move, an unwitting disclosure, a direct confrontation, 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).
Of course, all of the difficulties which afflict an organization only multiply in multilateral situations which needs the cooperation of many people, organizations (or nations) who relate to one another as peers. Each party has it's own 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 requests may be reacted to by one or more of the other parties as though they were part of the usual games of deception. Ultimately, "the problem is not that these conflicts exist, it is that they are not discussible" because parties have no common protocol for talking about what is happening between and among them (p. 122).

To suggest that the conflicts might be solved if a way could be found to discuss them, presupposes that most people could articulate their experience of the conflict, if only given a safe forum for that expression. But, to complicate matters further, some of the parties to the dispute might be involved because of their roles in their respective organizations, and lack any commitment to the substance of the negotiations. They know they cannot express their personal indifference, or even antipathy, without bringing their personal lack of commitment into the public discussion. This places them in the uncomfortable situation of negotiating on concerns about which they feel no passion. Though previously, people with that same role in their organization may have shown great enthusiasm, the ambivalent current holders of key role positions will resist publicly committing to new proposals involving their organization. As noted earlier, this internal stress might even be attributed to others because it may fall outside the conscious awareness of this person. Their implicit hope is that the conflict ends without new agreements and without their role in the breaking off of the talks being 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 on a surface level in support of settlement and communication, they simultaneously undermine any genuine prospects of success through their behind-the-scenes and off-the-record behavior.

The Fundamental Solution: Discuss the mismatch

Getting the problem out and discussed falls into that category of phenomena "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 spirit of the group (Collins 1994; Sheeran 1983). In multilateral situations with low-trust nothing can be taken as a agreed upon. What gets discussed, how the discussion proceeds, and how the parties view their relationship to one another, as well as their likely future together become part of what needs settlement. Human capabilities of forgiveness and tolerance, often easily displayed towards people on one's side, seem beyond the scope and scale of what can be summoned when considering the behavior of the "other" side.

These tough settings face a particularly difficult dilemma: third party mediation might help settle some of the issues and it might help the parties agree to a process for resolving the rest. The catch becomes getting agreement to invite a mediator in?! Though mediation occurs informally in families and workplaces and among friends, the idea of "needing" formal mediation to settle disputes suggests to many people that the parties have 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 their positions because of the contentiousness on every issue and process suggestion. Any member at any time, however, though known to have a partisan position, can suggest procedures and norms which might help the group progress towards agreement. In next two sections I will look at how members and third party mediators contribute to helping a parties to a negotiations move towards settlement.
The Member as Catalyst

The following suggestions, gleamed from the literature (Mindell, 1992; Bellman, 1993; Torbert, 1991; Argyris and Schön, 1978; Kolb and Bartunek, 1992; and Kritek, 1994) and personal experience, show how anyone in a conflict involving relative peers can nudge the "negotiated order," (Morrill, 1992: 93) or the field (Mindell, 1992: 8) forward in low-trust situations. Of course, these suggestions can apply to people in settings with hierarchical relations among parties, but they will naturally be modified by the member's 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 trust. 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 the talks. Catalytic members work overtly and covertly to gain many small wins which help the group learn which norms it needs to have. The catalytic member needs to understand that they serve in the interest of the group, hoping to help it arrive at the best possible solution. The catalyst for improvement, of course, can come from any member or party to the conflict. The work can be difficult, but full of adventure and growth for those cut out for it.

Catalytic members have five tasks:
behaving with the greatest integrity and congruency themselves-that is, becoming a model of trustworthiness;

supporting the open acceptance of neutral and applicable-to-all-parties norms;

drafting neutral processes for discussing specific issues which can be reviewed and ratified by the parties before any substantive talks;

timing when to bring up "undiscussible" issues before the group; and

using their experiences in the negotiations to grow as a group member and as a human being.
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 harmonious relationship. Arnold Mindell, in The Leader as Martial Artist (1992), defined a field as
an area in space within which lines of force are in operation. It is simultaneously everywhere with everyone. It is here and now in its entirety, whenever we merely think about of it. The world is you and me. It appears in dreams and body problems, in relationships, groups, and the environment (p. 8).
Because the catalytic member hopes to influence the field of the conflict, she can influence the forces in opposition even when "away" from the conflict by attending to her own growth, process, communication, and emotional needs. The catalytic member must prepare herself by studying her own behavior and becoming as deeply human as possible (Kritek, 1994: 317). Learning will come to the catalytic member as she comes to understand her own ways of mapping the conflict, avoiding topics, sending mixed messages, etc.

Group meetings of all parties involved might not always work, so behind-the-scenes private conversations might be productive. The catalytic member should prepare for each meeting or private conversation by carefully considering each person's motivation for change in perception and action. Whenever possible, people can be praised and shown in a good light in indirect ways in order to ease their anxiety and reduce the general emotionality of the dispute (Lewin, 1948: 140).
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 written communication with another person. Especially hazardous are any communications with any parties to the negotiations. Based on the theories of Argyris and 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 herself her personal theories (1996: 41). She found, over time, that she could empathize 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 Yale, described in The Power of Balance how his team of instructors helped business 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:
(1) a description of a feeling they experienced while working with their group;
(2) a description of the way they behaved;
(3) a theory from the literature which might explain why they felt and acted as they did; and
(4) a new behavior they might try as an experiment the next time a similar opportunity offered itself. (p. 110)
Torbert's team of instructors also used learning papers as they prepared for the classes and found that they helped to deepen their conversations about their work and their mutual respect for one another (p. 141).

Edwards, too, found that her reflective practice provided ideas for improving her own behavior:
Through reflective practice, I gained insight into the extent to which my nursing actions had been unwittingly shaped by history and ideology. Future actions in similar situations will be directed towards understanding the insecurities which underscore a patient's actions and my own (Edwards: 43).
The concepts of learning papers and reflective journaling bring about similar results: experimenting with new personal behavior based on personal and researched theory.

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 dialogue, and so on.

Because of the pressure of trying to navigate a field in conflict, the catalytic 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 supportive person could be a professional counselor or therapist but doesn't have to be-a sympathetic colleague or friend who will maintain confidence can provide the needed support.

These support sessions need not be restricted in any way, and the catalytic member can use them to role play previous or anticipated negotiation scenes. All of the doubts, ambiguities, and pressures-which the catalytic member might not feel safe to reveal to the members involved in the negotiation-can be confessed and fully felt. The catalytic member might find himself feeling great sorrow, sadness, pessimism, self-criticism, and other emotions too risky to display in a low-trust environment. The supportive listener can help keep the conflict in perspective for the catalytic member by reminding her of her skills and other successes and to relax and take vacations from the conflict.

Whenever communicating to parties to the negotiations, the catalytic member must be highly congruent meaning their personal espoused theory and behavior must match. As a participant in a setting scarred by incongruent behavior, the catalytic member must model congruency. This congruence by the member shows up in taking agreements seriously, in insisting on delivering on personal promises (even if others fail to meet their end of the agreement), and explicitly asking other members to behave in alignment with agreed upon norms.

This very congruence makes the catalytic member a target, since he is violating 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 discussions arise, it offers the member a chance to: discuss the incongruency, explicitly open the discussion about which norms seem to have been violated, and asking the group to forgive the missed promise while accepting the just discussed norm as applying to everyone. By explicitly discussing norms the group begins to accept publicly discussed and agreed upon standards of behavior to which members' behavior can be held accountable.

If the concerns about the catalytic member's temporary incongruencies arise sponstaneously the catalytic member often appears alone in the meeting, though some may voice support after the meeting in unofficial and off-the-record communication. Thise unofficial communications offer the catalytic member the chance to recruit allies who support the proposed norms for the next time the issue arises.

Recruiting allies in advance and asking for their public validation of the catalytic member's suggestions may help speed up the acceptance of general and explicit norms. Allies are recruited for support of general norms and neutral processes, not in support of a particular position the member might be known to support. The distinction is delicate and requires judgment about timing and appearances. In extreme low-trust settings, the very fact of the meeting, regardless of content, may arouse suspicions and accusations. 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 turn this to the benefit of the group by asking that the group rebuke personal attacks as one of its implicit norms (in Robert's Rules of Order this is called a Point of Personal Order) and immediately asking for an apology, and if failing to get one, next insisting on mediation or third-party facilitation to resolve it. Bringing in the idea of third-party mediation breaks up the group's habitual stalemating patterns, and offers the chance that someone (the mediator) can take control of the process of the dispute so that resolution might be achieved. Insincere or deeply incongruent members will dampen their attacks with the hopes of avoiding third party involvement. Again, the catalytic member can trade accepting an apology in exchange for the attacking person's 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 Phyllis Kritek states in Negotiating at an Uneven Table, every table is uneven to some degree (1994: 155). That unevenness may be due to larger contextual histories of conquests, enslavement, wealth accumulation, and attitudes about gender roles. Because of these long-standing imbalances, catalytic 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 towards an open and honest negotiation process (p. 190).

William Torbert (1991) and Arnold Mindell (1992) are far more optimistic than Kritek, because they both accept conflict and enjoy the process of moving a group from unevenness towards resolution and balance. This is partly due to different timeframes. Mindell, unlike Kritek and Torbert, enters a conflict for a few hours to help facilitate a specific resolution, then 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 understanding and attitude needed to apply his "worldwork" process techniques and tools successfully. Even fewer organizations or institutions have the right attitude. Unevenness of the table does disturb him; still he claims 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 the flow of painful or difficult events with awareness and compassion (p. 8).

Because Torbert understands that accomplishing certain types of changes takes as long as a generation (21 years) or longer, he acts much more nonchalant about the temporary perturbations of the moment (p. 73). For Torbert, the real goal is creating organizations which serve to support the growth of their members, not the other way around:
We need a mode of organizing that serves as a vehicle to carry us from organizing that involves manipulating and conforming to externalized power while remaining unaware of our inner, spiritual, erotic, transforming power-to organizing that involves mutual goal-setting along with supportive and confrontative feedback (p. 132).
This process of goal-setting, support, and feedback actually helps both the catalytic member and the group progress. Whereas Mindell believes that embracing the flow of the painful will support the healing work of the group, Torbert trumpets a belief that being present to the conflict provides a pathway to fuller consciousness for the catalytic member:
The more one is willing to trust one's current experiencing and attend to the actual situation in all its fullness-the more one is willing to sacrifice one's preconceptions-the more surprising, dynamic, mysterious, and unpredictable reality becomes (p. 164).
At the negotiation "table" in the arena of the conflict, incongruities of all types makes the challenge of moving forward seemingly overwhelming 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, conflict resolution, group dynamics, psychology, social practices, norms, etc. the catalytic member can find much to occupy his attention. By sensitizing their awareness to opportunities which might present themselves, the catalytic member can hope for small wins (Weick, 1984) and a slow but positive ratcheting effect on the climate in the group.
Because of organizational allegiances or prior statements, most participants in an open dispute cannot offer themselves as neutral facilitators for conflict resolution. Most groups, conflicts, and negotiations can benefit from third party facilitation for the resolution of their differences.

Third Party Mediation

Though it may not appear so when one of the members suggests it, mediation or third-party facilitation can be much easier on the group than an effort to resolve a conflict based solely on the conflict resolution skills of disputants. Third party mediation of discussion includes the fields of diplomacy, organization development, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), arbitration, and family therapists working with organizations.

Successful mediation need not be an elaborate formal exercise; indeed, anyone without direct stakes in a particular outcome can serve in this role. Because of their neutrality and disinterest in any particular outcome to the conflict, third-party mediators play an effective role by providing a protocol or process for discussion most likely absent hitherto. In informal or behind-the-scenes type of mediation, the mediator's strongest contribution might be as a message carrier between the parties in conflict (Kolb, 1992).

Christina Merchant, a designer of dispute resolution systems, believes "alternative mediatory processes" require the:
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 resolution ("who") (1996: 11; see also Walton, 1969: 116-127).
Within the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a distinction is made between arbitration and mediation. Arbitration means a third party imposes a settlement after listening to the parties. Our legal system operates out of the arbitration model. Mediation means the parties themselves remain the final decision makers about the worth of any proposed settlement. Any settlement, therefore, becomes a voluntary one (Merchant, p. 11).

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 perception that those norms are the permanent "way things are around here." Groups faced with conflict who delay seeking mediation risk having factions 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 the issue(s) in dispute, as they work with parties to a conflict still get a sense of what might be a workable solution. Soon after they enter a conflict mediators face an important choice-they can help the parties reach a settlement, or they can help the parties communicate better with one another. Personal preferences plays a part, as well as the requirements of the situation in how a particular mediator makes this decision (Kolb, 1994: 468-479).

This distinction- between success measured as a settlement versus success measured as improved communication-might even become one of the concerns to be aired and resolved during the negotiations, since one party might be seeking a quick settlement (perhaps because of their culture's preference in negotiations) while the other party might see the negotiations as the beginning of a process of more or less continuous communication and renegotiations (because of their cultural preferences).

In Closing

In some of my conversations with friends, I jokingly referred to this paper as the one about "Getting Things Done When No One is In Charge," (with apologies to Mr. Bellman, 1993) because one cannot always expect widespread understanding and support for the norms which might lead to consensus, as one might find among the Quakers; nor can one always hope to have a choice as to which conflicts one will participate in.

This paper has touched upon many ideas: my eleven-point model for analyzing communication; the four pillars of cooperation; the hierarchy of values seen in conflict and consensus settings; the problem of incongruency between what people say and what they do; and creating ways for incongruities to be discussed. When I began writing it, I did not quite know where it would lead me. Well, now I do: I have discovered that navigating the continuum between dissolution and unity-conflict and consensus-offers rich terrain 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 encounter-whatever 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 I have a place to reflect upon my experiences along the continuum of engagement.



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