Conflict and Human Services

Posted on 1st November 2017

In our preparations for a couple of leadership courses we have on the go we’ve come back to the topic of conflict.
What organisations want (and need), they say, is for their people to become better at managing conflict.
The textbooks say conflict is vital. It needs, scholar’s say, to be embraced and harnessed as the heart of creativity and diversity. It has multiple uses. Patrick Lencioni says that the consequence of no conflict (by which he means the active exchange of ideas) is a lack of sign up, commitment and poor attention to results. So organisations teach people not just how to work through conflict, but how to do it well.
You know that odd flash of insight you get when you are lucky enough to spend time mulling over a specific topic?
Well today we had one.
The course “topics” in the “conflict curriculum” usually look something like:
Managing conflict or
Conflict resolution
Interesting thing about these phrases is that for all the time we’ve been working on them our eye is drawn to the “c” word. “We are talking about conflict”.
Actually we are not.
The word “conflict” jumps out of the strap line because it’s the scary word, the thing we worry about and feel least competent to deal with.
Funny that, given how much practice life gives us at dealing with it. We know what it is. We stare it down in car parks when someone pinches our parking space and we stare it down when someone brutally offends our values.
So the moment of insight was this.
We have never ever been running courses about conflict at all.
Change the point of emphasis and the lens clears. We’ve are actually been working on:
Managing conflict and
Conflict resolution
What would it mean if the factional divisions of the world we work in like: institutions Vs. community, health Vs. social, positive behaviour support Vs. whatever it’s opposite is, dropped the polemics and entered into dialogue. What would it take? Each side to accept that one may have something to teach the other?
There are whole chunks of me that don’t want to embrace those questions. I love the moral high ground. I’ve been known to dismiss whole schools of thought on the ground that they offend my values. But what if I made it less simple for myself and learned to walk with the complexity of hearing all and judging none?
Outwardly and in the wider system working like that would be an end to win-lose arguments about service models, replaced by dialogue and what’s best for people and why.
Inwardly we’d have to deal with a little more complexity.
OK so, maybe it’s just easier to keep on shouting at and about the people we don’t agree with because they provide services in a way we don’t like? We help ourselves by avoid the inner conflict of listening and not judging?
See, the thing is I have not yet met any group who has changed their mind because another faction judged them to be wrong.
I’ve not met a person who uses support who has benefitted whilst energy that could be spent on supporting them well is wasted on squabbling.
Managing resolution is a much more complex topic than “conflict”. We all seem to do conflict pretty well already.
Conflict breeds polarity. If it wasn’t for the fact that people need to see the word on our flyers to feel confident we are selling them what they need I think we’d drop all reference to it all together. Maybe we will.
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