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Monday, August 26, 2019

Review: The Art of Conflict Management

The Art of Conflict Management is a 24-lecture series about conflict management. It's probably something alien to most engineers, since our approach is: "do the right thing." And the key to this book is in the title: it's about conflict management, not resolution. The lecturer points out the most conflicts are never resolved, and the idea isn't necessarily to resolve a conflict, but to management --- i.e., come up with compromises that both parties can live with.

The approach he espouses is a multi-step approach, and one that's probably very well-suited for a corporate environment. (1) Ask for a meeting to discuss the problem (2) During the meeting, discuss the problem and brain storm solutions, listening to all sides as much as possible (3) Decide on a temporary solution (4) Schedule another meeting in the future to follow up (5) repeat! Now you know how corporate environments frequently devolve into meeting after meeting with no effective resolution or solution to the problem. Everybody must have gotten some version of this course at one point or another!

Ok, I was being slightly facetious and sarcastic: the series is punctuated with examples (acted out by actors) that ring familiar: this includes a couple where a man is itching to move to Colorado but his wife's career is hitting the fast track and doesn't want to move, a worker who has a disability and wants to be relieved from lifting trash cans, two roommates who have to live with each other, but one wants to study and the other one wants to have a party. The lecturer explores various approaches, and sometimes the consequences are role-played out, varying effectiveness.

The lecturer also doesn't shy away from big conflicts that have had no resolution, such as the abortion cultural wars, the Arab-Israeli conflicts, etc. There, he presents the history of certain historic resolutions, and demonstrates the approach that the famous leaders in those situations had applied. (Note that in many of those cases, the folks who led the resolution of such conflicts got assassinated, not a happy ending for the people involved!)

You can argue that this stuff is obvious and you needn't listen to 24 hours of lecturing on it. On the other hand, whenever I think about how many conflict resolution failures I've had, it can't hurt to listen to common sense one more time, right?

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