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Conflict: Hazards of Helping (Part 4 of 4)

Aug 17, 2007
If you are going to help people resolve conflict, you should be aware of potential pitfalls that can undermine the entire process.

The most dangerous pitfall is that your clients may expect you to single-handedly design and implement a solution that will fix everything. The next most dangerous pitfall is for you to try to meet those expectations.

Successful conflict intervention professionals do not "fix" things for their clients. Instead, they lead clients through the process of resolving their own issues in a supportive and effective manner.

Avoid the Traps

You will have to avoid many traps to successfully help others to resolve conflict.

The first trap is often an invitation to accept at face value the client's definition of the problem and what is needed to solve it, for instance, the client's belief that more training is needed in cases where the real issue is suppressed or unidentified conflict.

You will need to look behind the explanation you are offered. You'll need to discover the needs, issues and values the explanation represents, if you are to assist clients in finding creative, appropriate options for solving their problems.

Another trap may be your eagerness to assist your clients without first determining whether they really want to solve their problems. Help your client explore the implications and risks, as well as the benefits, of dealing with potentially painful issues. This helps your client make a solid commitment to working with fundamental issues and letting go of problems that may have provided secret benefits.

A third trap you may face is the invitation to take sides and judge the rightness or wrongness of someone's position in a conflict situation. It is important to stay impartial and help clarify possible effects of various actions.

Be particularly wary of attempts to get rid of troublemakers in various ways.

Often the "troublemaker" has a great deal of energy available to help resolve the problem. A person who cares enough to "make trouble" really cares about the prob1em and needs to be included in the resolution process.

Another pitfall is the possibility that you will move too quickly into areas that clients consider risky. If you scare your client, even accidentally, you may get hostility instead of cooperation

Your ability to be of value in the conflict situation depends upon your not being thrown out by an angry client. If you stay sensitive to your client's fears, you may be able to avoid this hazard.

Stay Focused: Avoid the Drama

Getting involved in the drama of a conflict situation can also be a trap.

All drama involves victims, persecutors and rescuers. You may be greatly tempted to rescue your clients by proposing solutions prematurely, before they have brought their own information and resources to bear on the problem.

Rescues usually lead to dramatic role switches in which the consultant more often than not winds up in the victim position, criticized or even fired.

You will be a far more effective helper if you look for the needs, interests and values behind the roles and clarify them for everyone involved. Stimulate a search for options, instead of giving in to the temptation to reach a dramatic solution.

Accepting your role as a conflict intervention professional is a challenge. Your larger challenge as an executive, manager or HRD professional may be to change the perception of conflict from an unpleasant problem to an opportunity for change and growth.
About the Author
Communicate skillfully about sensitive subjects in business situations. Have the challenging conversations that lead to cooperation and success. http://www.DareToSayIt.com/blog
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is a Master Certified Coach and communication expert. Dr. Weiss has spent 35 years helping clients resolve conflict in business and personal relationships. Email feedback@laurieweiss.com
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