Results-Based Leadership Video: Resolving Differences Using the "Circle of Conflict"

Posted August 4, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog rblcircleofconflict 2016

Rec­og­niz­ing and sort­ing out the types of con­flicts that inevitably arise among social and pub­lic lead­ers will go a long way toward help­ing reach desired results for chil­dren and their families.

When peo­ple work togeth­er, con­flict can range from a very sim­ple dif­fer­ence of opin­ion to a deep-root­ed dis­agree­ment over what should be done, and when con­flicts are left unspo­ken and unre­solved, they become bar­ri­ers to action and achiev­ing results,” Jolie Bain Pills­bury, a lead­er­ship devel­op­ment fac­ul­ty mem­ber at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, says in a new video. The Cir­cle of Con­flict described in the video is a mod­i­fied ver­sion of Christo­pher Moore’s Cir­cle of Con­flict (see Moore, The Medi­a­tion Process: Prac­ti­cal Strate­gies for Resolv­ing Con­flict: 2nd edi­tion, 1996, pgs. 6061).

The video, part of the Foundation’s series of video tools for results-based lead­er­ship devel­op­ment, lays out com­mon con­flicts on a cir­cle graph: data con­flicts, rela­tion­ship con­flicts, lan­guage con­flicts, val­ues con­flicts, inter­est con­flicts and struc­tur­al con­flicts. Being able to iden­ti­fy and dis­cuss the types of con­flict that are occur­ring will allow part­ners to bet­ter deter­mine how to resolve them so pro­duc­tive work can con­tin­ue to happen.

Data con­flicts involve dif­fer­ences in ways of col­lect­ing data, inter­pret­ing it and eval­u­at­ing its rel­e­vance. To resolve data con­flicts, dis­cuss data chal­lenges, iden­ti­fy­ing dif­fer­ences in def­i­n­i­tions, inter­pre­ta­tions and uses of data. Then, encour­age use of the best avail­able data and work togeth­er to devel­op bet­ter data.

You can see rela­tion­ship con­flicts play out when peo­ple choose where to sit to avoid some­one, dur­ing awk­ward silences when some­one is speak­ing or when ten­sion aris­es over issues unre­lat­ed to the top­ic at hand. Address the con­flict in a neu­tral set­ting, Pills­bury says, adding: As mutu­al under­stand­ing devel­ops, move to address the pain in the rela­tion­ship through amends, accep­tance or for­give­ness.” Doing so will help rede­fine the rela­tion­ship and build trust.

Lan­guage con­flicts arise when def­i­n­i­tions and terms remain unclear, so the same words seem to mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. To break through, iden­ti­fy lan­guage dif­fer­ences, focus on the under­ly­ing mean­ing of words and agree on what the words will mean as you build a com­mon language.

Val­ues con­flicts often stem from dif­fer­ent beliefs or ideas about what is impor­tant – typ­i­cal­ly root­ed in cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences, polit­i­cal posi­tions, reli­gious affil­i­a­tions or ide­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tives. Such dif­fer­ences sur­face when peo­ple leave the room with­out good rea­son, when strong dis­agree­ments flare up about what’s right or wrong and when cer­tain top­ics are con­sis­tent­ly avoid­ed. To get past val­ues con­flicts, iden­ti­fy them and agree to patient­ly lis­ten to one anoth­er, with­hold­ing judg­ment. Dis­cuss what expe­ri­ences shaped val­ues, accept dif­fer­ences with oth­ers’ val­ues and work on areas where you’re compatible.

Inter­est con­flicts grow out of people’s need to defend a posi­tion because they can’t explain their own inter­ests or don’t appre­ci­ate oth­ers’ inter­ests. You can nego­ti­ate inter­est con­flicts by sep­a­rat­ing the peo­ple from the prob­lem, focus­ing on the inter­ests being expressed and look­ing for mul­ti­ple ways to address those inter­ests and then paus­ing and decid­ing which of the options will best cre­ate a win-win solu­tion,” Pills­bury advises.

Struc­tur­al con­flicts typ­i­cal­ly emerge over the way things are set up and ambi­gu­i­ty about roles ––for exam­ple, con­cerns that resource lim­i­ta­tions will reduce your department’s share. Clar­i­fy your role and acknowl­edge lim­its to your author­i­ty, rec­og­niz­ing some things lie beyond your control.

For all these con­flicts, it is impor­tant to name the con­flicts that a group may be hav­ing and work to address them in an inten­tion­al way. Using the Cir­cle of Con­flict gives you a lan­guage for describ­ing what’s hap­pen­ing and a way to do some­thing about it,” says Pillsbury.

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