Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Conflict Resolution – A Win/Win Example

When coaching your clients to open up their perspective about conflict, this classic example can be helpful.

In a meeting to discuss possible prison reforms in Wisconsin, nine of the state's top prison officials met to design an ideal correctional institution. In the course of the discussion, one group member proposed eliminating uniforms traditionally worn by prison guards. There was a lengthy argument about whether or not uniforms should be worn.

One official suggested the issue be resolved democratically by vote. As a result, six voted against uniforms and three voted in favor of them. The winning members looked pleased while the losing members either became angry or withdrew from further discussion.

A third-party observer suggested they take another look at the situation, asking those in favor of uniforms what they hoped to accomplish. They said part of the rehabilitative process in correctional institutions is teaching people to deal constructively with authority, and they saw uniforms as a means for achieving that goal. Those against uniforms said there was such a stigma, guards had additional difficulty laying to rest the stereotypes held by inmates before they could deal with them on a one-to-one basis.

The observer then asked the group what ways they might meet the combined goals – teaching people to deal with authority while avoiding the difficulty of stereotypes held about traditional uniforms. The group generated ten possible solutions, including identifying prison personnel by name tags, by color-coded casual dress, or by uniforms for guard supervisors but not for guards in constant contact with prisoners. After discussing the various alternatives, all agreed on the third solution.

In their first discussion, the group engaged in clear-cut conflict, only partially resolved by vote. In the later discussion, the group turned to problem solving, eventually developing a win-win method acceptable to all parties.