Sometimes organizations find themselves in the midst of such intense conflict that the stability of the community is felt to be at risk. There are parties which are so alienated from each other that they can't safely and openly speak with each other. Everyone within the organization is seen by someone as being allied with the "other side" and thus no one is in a position to moderate a conversation about the issues.
In these circumstances I am asked to create an event or series of events in which there is enough safety that the parties can speak and be heard and the issues clarified. It is my role to be an advocate for the whole organization and its mission, not for either side.
There are two sets of issues which make this difficult. One is the way the parties see the problem and the other is the way I am seen by them.
- When we are in an emotionally highly charged situation it becomes very hard to see another's point of view. Indeed, we may lose any motivation to see the other's position as having any validity. We tend to see the world is divided into those who agree with us and those who are wrong. My role is to see the validity of both positions and thus each is likely to see me as an agent for the other side.
- I am brought into the situation by a group with some authority to address the situation. Most often this group is a board or council or administrative body which is one of the parties to the conflict. Since they are hiring me to do a job, they are likely to believe that I will represent their position. I will not. It is their job to represent their own position. Similarly the other party or parties will see me as an agent for the governing board. I will have to establish their trust if the effort is to be successful.
There are several intervention formats which I have used to good effect for facilitating the resolution of high level conflicts in organizations, but at the core they all have one thing in common. They are ways to support the parties in conflict becoming able to hear how the positions of the other party are valid for the other.
If the parties would rather make each other lose than invest in the stability of the organization then this intervention will not be successful. But I have never found this to be the case. I have often heard parties say about the other, "they are just trying to tear this organization apart," but I have never found this to be true. The passions would not be this strong if both parties did not genuinely care about the mission of the organization.
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