The Conflict Resolution Toolbox
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The Conflict Resolution Toolbox

Models and Maps for Analyzing, Diagnosing, and Resolving Conflict

Gary T. Furlong

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eBook - ePub

The Conflict Resolution Toolbox

Models and Maps for Analyzing, Diagnosing, and Resolving Conflict

Gary T. Furlong

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About This Book

Learn to effectively resolve conflict the way that works best for you

When it comes to real-world conflict resolution, one size does not fit all. In the professional world especially, it's critical for individuals to be prepared for a variety of situations and to know what tools and techniques can be used to settle disputes and disagreements in a way that is respectful of both party's needs. The Conflict Resolution Toolbox shows mediators, negotiators, managers, and professionals at all levels how to simply and effectively assess conflict situations and choose the right tools to resolve the issue in a meaningful way.

  • Understand the why behind the conflict and how it can be resolved
  • Recognize the unconscious judgements and biases that are obstacles to conflict resolution
  • View conflict situations objectively and from multiple viewpoints
  • Learn how the latest neuroscience and behavioral economics research plays a role in conflict resolution

With over 25 years of experience in mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution, author Gary T. Furlong brings to light the intrinsic habits and interpretations that can unwittingly surface and lead to further tension during times of conflict and unrest. This timely update to The Conflict Resolution Toolbox marries theory and practice and is a hands-on guide to understanding the root of conflict and selecting the simple strategies for addressing specific scenarios that individuals routinely face in the workplace and in life.

Conflict may be unavoidable, but resolution is within reach with the invaluable guidance and techniques found in The Conflict Resolution Toolbox.

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Since the first edition of this book was published in 2005, research and scholarly advances have made significant contributions to our understanding of how people communicate and engage with each other.
This second edition recognizes the important research done over the last 15 years in the fields of neuroscience, neuropsychology, and behavioral economics with two new models that look at the deeper patterns and biases our million-year-old brains use to connect and make decisions. It also recognizes the value that the tools in the first edition brought to practitioners everywhere, retaining and refining the models that have been recognized as powerful and useful approaches in resolving conflict between people. The new technologies we all use to communicate are very different than they were 15 years ago, but human nature and the experience of conflict are still very much with us.
Imagine for a moment that you are faced with a conflict. Imagine, for example, that your new neighbor is in the habit of having guests over many nights of the week until the early hours of the morning, keeping you up with the noise. When you talk to your neighbor about the issue, he laughs and tells you, “Loosen up, have some fun. Come and join us if you want! You need to enjoy life more!” You go home after the conversation and get increasingly angry. You think about how insensitive he is, how little he cares for other people. You begin to think that he may actually be retaliating for the fact that your dog barks every now and then, which he complained about once. Given how you see the problem, you vow to call the police the next time he has a party during the week. This conflict is headed for a significant escalation.
We are all faced with conflict situations in many aspects of our lives, whether in the workplace, in our personal life, or with just about anyone we meet. Given how common conflict situations are and how frequently we deal with conflict, you might think that we'd all be pretty good at handling it and building, or rebuilding, relationships.
The reality is a bit different, in that most people report little confidence in addressing or handling conflict. Why?
Managing conflict effectively is a simple two-step process that starts with how we assess the conflict we're facing, followed by what action (or inaction) we decide to take to address it.
Whenever we are faced with a dispute, the first thing we do is try to make sense of it—try to determine what the conflict is about. In other words, the first step we take is to understand the problem. Once we've decided on (or guessed at) the cause, the second step is to take some type of action based directly on what we think that cause is.
In the previous example, the homeowner has assessed the cause of the conflict as the neighbor being insensitive, uncaring, maybe even vengeful. Based on this diagnosis, the homeowner decided the reasonable and appropriate way to address this conflict was to call the police to curtail the neighbor's uncaring, insensitive, and possibly vengeful behavior. The conflict was assessed, and an action that seemed to make sense was taken based on that assessment. But how accurate was this assessment?
In every conflict, we employ these two steps, either consciously or unconsciously. In fact, how good we are at managing conflict will be based, fundamentally, on how skilled we are at diagnosing what is causing a conflict and how effective we are at taking action based on that diagnosis to resolve the conflict.
In many cases, the barrier to effectively managing a conflict is that we diagnose the conflict unconsciously, react emotionally, make choices and apply tools based on a poor diagnosis, and end up escalating the situation.


This is a handbook for conflict resolution practitioners aimed at helping them understand and analyze conflict more effectively in their work. Practitioners, typically, are people who regularly manage conflict as part of their work. The list of practitioners, therefore, is long and includes people who work as mediators, negotiators, managers and supervisors, lawyers, union representatives, social workers, human resource and labor relations specialists, insurance adjusters, and many more. For these people, this handbook introduces a number of conflict analysis models that are useful and applicable to the two steps discussed: diagnosing conflict and offering direction and ideas on resolving that specific conflict.
If this book is useful to conflict resolution practitioners for the simple reason that they regularly manage conflict, what about the rest of us? In other words, who else manages conflict regularly and might benefit from using and applying some of these models? Because relationships are a universal human experience, conflict is something that every single one of us works with and addresses in our lives far beyond the workplace. In that sense, we are all “practitioners” when it comes to working with conflict effectively, and the tools and models in this book will be useful to everyone who wishes to improve his or her ability to manage conflict, solve problems, or simply to build strong relationships. For the sake of simplicity, then, this handbook will use “mediators” and “practitioners” interchangeably to mean “people who deal with and manage conflict.”
This book is focused on models and tools that help with the two key steps in managing and responding to conflict:
  • Step One: Effectively diagnosing a conflict
  • Step Two: Taking action to manage the conflict based on the diagnosis
The term “models” is used frequently. This is not a call to introduce more theory or more academic understanding into the conflict resolution process. Although theory and academic knowledge are vital, they are often of little help when faced with a specific situation. If theoretical knowledge serves as the general foundation for the field, then models are the specific tools or heuristics that guide the application of that theoretical knowledge in practice. This handbook is not focused on theory, but rather on tools that can be applied directly to the practice of managing each and every conflict.
To understand this relationship between theory and practice, it is helpful to understand the nature and characteristics of what can be called “practice professions.”


A practice profession, quite simply, is a profession aimed at helping individual people solve specific functional problems. It is distinguished here from professions that focus more generally on research and the discovery of theoretical knowledge. There are numerous professions that have a significant practice component to them, professions as diverse as medicine and law, as well as technical professions such as civil engineering and auto repair. The nature of every practice profession is that the first critical skill the practice professional must have is the ability to diagnose, to determine the root cause of a specific problem.
For example, when a patient sees a doctor, the first thing that the doctor must arrive at is a diagnosis of the problem; indeed, everything flows from the diagnosis, and little is done until a diagnosis is reached. During the diagnostic process, if there is any doubt about either the diagnosis or the recommended course of action (i.e. treatment) that flows from the diagnosis, a second opinion is often sought before any treatment is considered. Similarly, in law, engineering, or even car repair, little action can be taken until the professional understands (or believes she understands) what the problem is and, based on that understanding, recommends or conducts an intervention. Few of us would accept a dentist saying, “Well, I'm not sure which tooth is causing your pain, so I'm going to try pulling a few of them out to see if that helps.” Few of us would return to an auto repair shop that randomly replaced part after part, hoping that this would eventually solve the problem.
If diagnosis is the first key ability for a practice professional, it's important to understand how the diagnostic process works and where it fits for the practitioner. In general, most diagnosis has its roots in the theoretical background knowledge of the field. For example, once a mechanic understands from automotive theory that the transmission of a car is responsible for sending power to the wheels, if a car won't move while the engine is running the mechanic begins by looking at the transmission as the source of the problem. Once a doctor understands the digestive tract and what functions it performs, when a patient presents with abdominal pain immediately after eating the doctor will start investigating the digestive system first. Some theoretical knowledge is therefore necessary for good diagnostic skills.
In complex fields, however, theory alone is inadequate for good diagnosis. In addition to a grounding in general theory, practitioners need effective models and tools to achieve an accurate and useful diagnosis. For example, heart disease is one of the most common diseases in the world. There is extensive theory and knowledge about how high levels of certain kinds of cholesterol contribute to heart disease, including complex mechanisms by which cholesterol in the blood contributes to fat slowly building up on the arterial walls, narrowing them and making the heart work too hard, eventually leading to a heart attack. The theories about these mechanisms, however, are not overly helpful in diagnosing any given individual patient. To diagnose effectively, doctors have devised tests that measure cholesterol levels in the patient along with a simple model that states if cholesterol is over a certain limit, specific actions and steps should be put in place to help correct the problem. The doctor, using a simple tool (a blood test) follows a specific model for diagnosing and intervening (if the cholesterol level is above a certain limit, diet c...

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