Summary of "Collaborative Approaches to Resolving Conflict"

Summary of

Collaborative Approaches to Resolving Conflict

By  Myra Warren Isenhart and Michael Spangle

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Isenhart, Myra Warren and Spangle, Michael. Collaborative Approaches to Resolving Conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000, 242 pp.

Collaborative Approaches to Resolving Conflict provides an introduction to a variety of conflict management techniques, incorporating a combination of theory and practice, and geared toward a broad audience. The authors intended their readership to include college and university students, human resources professionals, as well as organizations that incorporate conflict management skills training.

Chapters One and Two develop a conceptual framework for "understanding the dynamics and challenges of conflict" (xiv). Chapter One summarizes a number of theoretical perspectives on how people define and view conflict such as attribution theory, equity theory, phase theory, psychodynamic theory, systems theory, and transformational theory. Chapter Two, "Conflict in Action", discusses some common sources of conflict and essential concepts such as conflict spirals, face saving, intergroup conflicts, frozen conflicts, collaboration, and conflict style.

Negotiation is the focus of Chapter Three, and is introduced as the process that "creates and fuels collaboration" (45). The differences between integrative negotiation and bargaining are covered as well as reasons why negotiation is a desirable option for resolving conflicts. The rest of this chapter looks at the negotiation process itself and discusses strategies for success and factors that may inhibit successful negotiation.

Chapter Four introduces readers to the process of mediation-what it is and the core values and principles guiding mediation practice. Some of these values include impartiality, empathy, valued reputation, and confidentiality. The balance of this chapter specifically addresses how the process of mediation works.

Facilitation is the subject of Chapter Five, offering definitions of the process and examples of when it may be used. The core values guiding facilitators are discussed, as are their responsibilities, and the various dimensions of the facilitation process. Some techniques of facilitation are explained, as are some of the traps to watch out for, and some brief advice on closing a facilitation session.

Chapter Six shifts away from purely collaborative methods of conflict resolution to discuss arbitration, which employs elements of both collaborative and adversarial processes. Although cooperative discussions are encouraged first, arbitrators are invested with the power to make a binding decision. This chapter explains the arbitration process, its advantages and disadvantages, the difference between voluntary and mandatory arbitration, and the process of med-arb.

Chapter Seven further covers hybrid processes spawned out of the court system. Such judicial processes blend public and private formats, legal and nonlegal procedures, and socially sanctioned norms with case law and legal statutes, in order to resolve conflicts. Some of these processes are fact-finding, early neutral evaluation, dispute resolution boards, mini-trial, and summary jury trial.

Chapter Eight addresses the issue of designing systems for conflict management within organizations. Dispute systems design is defined as "an institutional, programmatic attempt to create collaborative processes through which individuals can address complaints or receive help in managing disputes" (161). Understanding of systems theory is noted as essential, while the chapter goes on to describe some of the principles of design, factors that lead to success, and some design models.

The need for conflict management skills training in companies and organizations is discussed in Chapter Nine. The authors look at organizational conflict and what the costs can be. Moreover, the differences between education and training are illuminated, while a range of suggestions for developing training programs are offered.

This work is a thorough introduction to the basic processes of collaborative problem solving available to the public. Each chapter is laid out similarly so that processes may be compared and contrasted by readers exploring the field. Furthermore, there are practitioner profiles included at the end of each chapter, which helps build a bridge between the theoretical aspects discussed in the book and the actual practice of collaborative conflict resolution.