B S Raghavan

New mode of resolving conflicts

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on November 15, 2017

Conflicts are the spice of life. Whether it is running a household or an enterprise, differences of opinion on the approaches, policies and courses of action to be adopted are inevitable. There can be conflicts arising out of a number of ways of interpreting and solving the same problem, depending on the knowledge, experience and perspectives of those called upon to handle them.

The degree of success attending on their efforts, in its turn, is contingent upon their willingness to consider alternative views without ascribing motives, ability to accept the right of honest dissent without feeling a sense of self-importance and self-righteousness, emotional stability to take in stride occasional loss of temper and hot exchanges without letting them affect inter-personal relations.

All of these traits are not easy to come by in group endeavours. They get ingrained only to a limited extent by reading text-books or attending seminars.

Often, the exercise of patience and tolerance in dealing with colleagues pulling in different directions becomes difficult amidst the stresses and strains arising from the work environment itself.

For a win-win situation

There are deadlines to keep, crises to manage, competing demands on time to meet, and complaints to address. Giving curt orders, rather than reconciling alternative viewpoints to mutual satisfaction, becomes the best option as it saves time and energy.

But this is the temptation to which it is most important not to yield under any circumstance. For the simple reason that it leaves a trail of bitterness and latent hostility within the household, group or organisation, which acts as a drag on the fulfilment of its common goals and interests in the future. People engaged in such group activities, especially those in leadership positions, should be prepared to invest enough time to forge a consensus in a spirit of harmony and goodwill, leading to a win-win situation for all.

I came across recently a reference to a book, The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life's Most Difficult Problems, by Stephen R. Covey, in the Web site of Strategy+Business, recommending, in respect of organisations, a new problem-solving strategy that, to my mind, is also applicable to any collective effort.

I have only an excerpt of a chapter from the book to go by, but within that brief canvass, a very convincing case has been made of how, in a conflict, everybody can win and feel energised.


The secret is to be able to see conflicts as fertile ground instead of battleground, and treat them not as situations to get rid of but as opportunities to bring about a constructive and positive transformation in attitudes, promote mutual understanding and instil synergy and convergence, and thereby converting them to the group endeavour's own advantage. Mr Covey's advice, which I find eminently sensible and practical, is that if one finds oneself caught up in a conflict at work, one must not fall automatically into the defensive mind-set.

Pointing out that the natural, unthinking response to a challenge is to fight or flee, he says that mature human beings should choose the Third Alternative of winning over the opposition by bringing home the fact that there is always something better than what the contenders had thought of.

That involves demonstration of a profound respect for dissenters, and valuing their ideas, their experience, their perspective, and their feelings. Indeed, an honest effort should be made to seek them out and make them know that “I am fascinated — not threatened — by the gap between us…You see things differently. I need to listen to you.” The conflict itself then becomes irrelevant and dissolves right in front of one's eyes, and often one doesn't even remember after some time what it was all about.

The introduction to the write-up by Dr Douglas R.Conant sums it up well: The thorniest problems faced each day are soft stuff — problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness — not hard stuff such as return on investment and other quantitative challenges. Stepping back from the problem, listening more carefully, and framing the conflict more thoughtfully, while still finding a way to advance the group agenda empathetically, leads to a more promising path forward and a better relationship, which in turn makes the next conflict easier to deal with.

Published on May 06, 2012

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