Going Upstream: Shifting from Conflict Resolution to Conflict Transformation

Photo by  Jora Orchau  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jora Orchau on Unsplash

I’ve worked in the field of mediation and conflict resolution well over a decade. And I am tired of resolving conflicts. I’m tired of working with people who are trying to end relationships or are focused on solving a single issue once and for all.  I want to help people see that if they do it right, conflict can become a positive and productive experience.

Mediation (the heart of conflict resolution) is amazing. 85-90% of people who are willing to sit down in good faith and participate in a structured conversation will leave the mediation process with a mutually agreeable solution, where both sides win. This usually can be done in less than 3 hours. If you have a conflict that you want to resolve, I urge you to hire a mediator or go to your local conflict resolution center non-profit.

But for me, I’m done working with people who want these easy solutions to end their problems and walk away. I’m interested in working with people who want to avoid these problems and learn how to thrive together.

Lately I’ve shifted my focus to teaching people the skills they need to prepare for conflict and transform it into a positive experience and where they can maintain and deepen the relationships with people they disagree with. I want to work with people who recognize the value of their long-term relationships, and see that relationships are not served by anyone winning or losing. I want to help people work together, to build beautiful futures and navigate complexity with agility.

I’m inspired by the parable of the Babies in the River (popularized by Saul Alinsky (I’m still seeking the origin of this story (if you have any leads, please tell me))). Here’s a short version from ParableSite.com:

A group of people are standing at a river bank and suddenly hear the cries of a baby. Shocked, they see an infant floating--drowning--in the water. One person immediately dives in to rescue the child. But as this is going on, yet another baby comes floating down the river, and then another! People continue to jump in to save the babies and then see that one person has started to walk away from the group still on shore. Accusingly they shout, "where are you going?" The response: "I'm going upstream to stop whoever's throwing babies into the river.” (www.parablesite.com)

As I see it, mediators, lawyers and the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) have built an industry by waiting downstream from “the rapids of conflict” in the “river of life.” They are there to help people heal and repair after being ravaged by conflict (the rocks and rapids). They’re pretty darn good at this, but they don’t seem to do much to prepare folk for the inevitability of next set of rapids further downstream. Often they give them the illusion that it will be smooth sailing from here on (and if it’s not, “Here’s my card.”)

Photo by  Firdouss Ross  on  Unsplash

I have chosen to take what I have learned and hike upstream to get in front of the rapids. Upstream I am able to give people rafts, kayaks, paddles, life vests and helmets. Upstream I can give people maps of the rocks, waves and eddies. Upstream I can teach folk the skills to navigate the rapids safely, or even with style and finesse. Upstream, if you want to take the time, I can even show how the make riding the rapids fun and exciting. It’s hard sometimes to convince folk that the rapids are ahead, or to help them see that the strategies they’ve used to navigate the calm waters may not apply to the rough and tumble they are bound to face.

How can I know that you’re sure to be running into rough waters ahead? Because—whether it’s love, work, community, government or organizing—if you are doing it right, you are harnessing the power of a diversity of perspectives and approaches to life. Variety will lead to disagreement, yet the capacity to flourish hinges on one’s ability to honor and use this diversity to improve whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
Even if you have already crashed through the rapids, there is still time to learn. If you plan to stay on the river they will surely come again.

If you feel like you, your team or your organization could benefit from learning the skills of navigating the river of life, I’m eager to talk to you. You can schedule a free discovery call at calendly.com/Duncanautrey.

Photo by  Julie Thornton  on  Unsplash