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Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

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Appreciative Perspectives on Conflict

Even with effective communication, members of a group will create or become involved in conflicts that disrupt group functioning. Members of a group begin to recognize their differences of opinion and differing styles and values precisely because members of the group have communicated successfully with one another. Difference of opinion and perspective are now apparent. Pandora’s box has been opened. It can never again be closed without disrupting the preliminary trust that has been built in the group.

As the leader or a member of the group, one can take several courses of action to mediate a group conflict. First, the leader or facilitating member can help each party to the conflict communicate their version of the conflict in a systematic manner. In this way, other members of the group can assist in managing or even resolving the conflict. Second, the leader or other members of the group can call on a third person in the group to mediate between the two parties. This assumes that the third party is neutral, respected by both parties, and open to this difficult role. Third, the leader or other group members can identify the person in the group with the lowest stake in the outcome of the issue and ask their opinion. This is a dangerous step to take in that this person may suddenly and inappropriately take on the burden of the conflict. As a last recourse, the group may choose to bring in an outsider to consult on the issue or even mediate the conflict.

There is another strategy that can be employed. It is more appreciate in nature. Members of the group can exhibit a little patience and courage. They can exhibit patience by giving each party sufficient airtime to present his grievance or perception of the problem. Frequently, conflicts erupt primarily because one or more members of the group have not found space in which to talk and react to other ideas that have been presented. Conversely, the conflict might be based on one member’s overuse of group time. The leader or other members of the group might exhibit courage by testing out group opinion about the excessive use of time by this member of the group: “I think we’ve spent a lot of time on what’s really a minor point. Do you agree?”

Paraphrasing

This appreciative approach to the resolution or management of a conflict often requires extensive use of a specific communication tool: paraphrasing. Neither party to the conflict may have heard the other side of the argument clearly. A paraphrase by a neutral party or leader will often be heard long before comparable words are heard from the adversary. While a group leader and other members of a group can evoke effective group discussion through the use of questioning strategies, they will be most successful in the resolution of conflict if they make use of paraphrasing. This technique requires that one state in one’s own words that which another person’s remarks convey. Rather than asking a question, “What do you mean?” or asking for more information, “Tell me more”, one paraphrases the other person’s statement so that the other person can begin to determine whether his message is coming through as he intended. Then, if he thinks you have misunderstood, he can speak directly to the specific misunderstanding you have revealed. To paraphrase, therefore, is to show the other person what his idea or suggestion means to you. It is a way of revealing your understanding of his comment in order to test that understanding.

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