Got conflict? Want to work it out?

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The notion of "conflict resolution" is one of those things that is tempting to assume we all understand as well as or as much as we need to. We all have conflict in our lives, and we all make decisions every day about how we're going to deal with it: avoid it, engage it head on, active passive-aggressively about it, pretend to smooth it over but not really deal with it, commit an act of violence, and so on. But most of the time, no matter what course of action we choose, dealing with conflict is hard. It's stressful. It can be draining and debilitating, at a personal level but also for an organization or business or family as a whole. And even though we may have learned a lot about how to deal with it by now, that doesn't mean we don't need help sometimes. Thank goodness for the existence of the Conflict Resolution Center, located right here in Richmond. They're a non-profit providing affordable, accessible mediation services to our community, and they educate us about non-violent resolution of conflicts of all types.

I mentioned before that I was doing training with them to be a volunteer mediator, and now I'm actively doing mediation sessions with parties in conflict. It's been hard but quite fulfilling. But it wasn't until the CRC's annual meeting this past Tuesday evening (where I ended up providing geek services, in addition to representing Summersault for the unveiling of the logo we designed for them) that I was struck by how many incredible and useful things that they're involved in around the region: programs at local educational centers for kids, conflict resolution and education in the prison system, diversity workshops for communities of faith, mediation of legal cases referred by the court system, and so much more. For a small, under-paid staff cooped up in a small closet of an office with funding sources that are constantly in question, they touch the lives of so many people on a regular basis. And I don't mean touch like "they make someone smile" - they're improving and facilitating change in the fundamental ways that people see the world around them, deal with conflict, interact with family members, co-workers and friends. They're helping people lead happier lives, every day. This is amazing stuff.

So, in keeping with my recent theme of unabashed plugs: if you have a conflict in your life that you want some help with, call the CRC. If you have a stressful situation with a co-worker in your office environment, call the CRC. If you're considering or are already a part of some sort of legal action and want to find a better, perhaps more "humane" way to resolve that issue, call the CRC. If you know friends or colleagues or family members that could benefit from a neutral third party to listen and help move things forward, send them to the CRC. If you support the CRC's mission and want to donate some funds, they'll thank you warmly! And if you want to learn about how to be a part of the amazing things that CRC is doing (including being trained as a mediator), call the CRC OR come to their strategic planning session on February 18th.

2 thoughts on “Got conflict? Want to work it out?

  1. Chris:

    I'm glad to hear that you are working with this group. There are certainly some good things going on at CRC.

    While your on the subject, I recommend a book my anthropologist Laura Nader, "The Life of the Law." I found out about her when she came to Earlham to speak (I think it was last year). I did not hear her speak, but I did pick up a copy of the book at the Earlham Bookstore. As someone who is in the business of helping people resolve conflict (by nominally combative means), I got a lot out of it.

    One of the themes she explores is the beneficial aspects of conflict in society. She also discusses the recent movement in the law towards requiring litigants to attempt to mediate their disputes before coming to a trial. Mediation, much like conflict resolution, focuses on taking the parties through a process where needs and desires are prioritized, and the parties work through a facilitator to find a resolution that provides a reasonable compromise.

    In her observations, she notes that litigation and conflict between parties is frequently between parties of unequal power: a large corporation and an individual harmed by the corporation somehow, an employer and an employee, a government and a citizen, even between spouses there is often great differences in thier relative power. Through her analysis, what emerges is the realization that "compromise" between two unequally matched parties provides a forum for the powerful to use their power. In her words, mediation becomes a game of "how would you like to loose" for the weaker party.

    Contrast that to the courtroom where the parties are effectively equal by virtue of the litigation system: the jury can go either way, and the powerful have no means to force the results to their favor. This factor is why large companies hate lawsuits: the suddenly are held to account by a mere individual. think of the plaintif in Houston who recently won a huge award from a drug maker.

    Over the course of the many formal mediations I have been through, I have found this observation to ring true. Mediation attempts to make both parties a "winner." Ms. Nader's book points out that sometimes society benefits from having someone forced to be the loser.

    If you're interested, I'll let you borrow my copy . . . .

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