Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job
By Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith. Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, 252 pp.
Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job is meant to assist all people that work in dealing effectively with workplace conflict. The principal philosophy that guides the work is that making conflicts go away cheats those involved out of learning from them. Thus, this book is grounded in the idea of exploring the underlying truths that spur conflict and working toward personal and/or organizational transformation. The authors provide a number of potential tools and alternative paths to help readers find their way to the center of conflicts and then determine ways to transform them into productive, enriching experiences. The basic message throughout is to "follow your intuition, be guided by your heart, expand your empathy, and be willing to risk deep and compassionate honesty about whatever you see" (xiii).
The structure of the work is based on the eight paths from impasse to personal and organizational transformation identified by the authors, with each chapter describing a different path. The Introduction provides a brief overview of all eight paths, and then Cloke and Goldsmith proceed to thoroughly explain each path individually. The term "path" is used because the authors are striving to get away from linear conflict resolution techniques, as they have found that reaching transformation stems more from a frame of mind than following any step-by-step process.
Chapter One deals with understanding the culture and context of the conflict in which one is involved. The primary message of this path is that one must be aware of the norms of how conflict is handled in particular situations. Moreover, the authors encourage people to work on transforming how that context affects one's own approach to conflict, which in turn may influence others to do the same. This chapter also discusses how to go about finding opportunities in conflict.
Path Two focuses on the improvement of communication skills, especially listening techniques. This chapter includes a glossary of concepts and strategies to keep in mind when engaged in conflict such as empathizing, reframing, and validating.
In Chapter Three, the authors advocate the embracing and acknowledgement of emotions. They state that when intense emotions are communicated openly and honestly to the person to whom they are connected, barriers to resolution will be lifted and transformed. This chapter looks at the dynamics of emotion and then dangers of hiding them, as well as including a discussion of anger and anger management.
The path offered in Chapter Four focuses on searching below the surface of the dispute for hidden meaning. The authors discuss this process in terms of an iceberg analogy, there being several layers to the iceberg or conflict. They then provide multiple strategies for probing the iceberg and revealing the meanings hidden within the "iceberg of conflict".
Chapter Five advises readers to separate what is important from what is preventing the resolution of the conflict. The chapter covers several of the types of separations that may be necessary in a dispute situation. For example, they describe how disputants must not only separate positions from interests, and people from problems (two concepts fundamental to most conflict resolution books,) but to this list they add separating future from past, emotion from negotiation, options from choices, and criteria from selections.
Path Six promotes learning from difficult behaviors that one encounters in conflicts. The authors see these challenges as ways to improve one's resolution skills by developing a greater capacity for empathy, patience, and perseverance. This chapter provides practical advice on how to cope with difficult behaviors of both individuals and organizations.
Creative problem solving and collaborative negotiation are the foci of Path Seven. This chapter provides information on methods for conceptual preparation, elements of these processes, and practical guidance for how to go about creatively and collaboratively resolving disputes.
The final path, explained in Chapter Eight, advises people to explore resistance to resolution as it usually indicates an unmet need for one of the parties involved. Revealing such issues may break the impasse. If exploration is not successful, the authors encourage mediating before jumping into litigation, as mediation fosters the dialogue and collaboration they speak of throughout the book.
This is an excellent book that can help readers not only resolve conflicts in the workplace, but also learn from the process and improve the work environment over the long term. While drawing on fundamental and well-tested knowledge, the authors also provide new approaches and ideas that make this book a valuable addition to any conflict resolution bookshelf.