Responding To Conflict Effectively

January 5, 2018

This chapter offers information about a topic most people try to avoid. So, if you want:
  • to improve conversations in your public and private lives, I include tips on conflict competence
  • to work through frustrating situations, this chapter describes tried and true skills
  • to enhance how you and your municipality respond to conflict, I explain several procedures, how they work, and why they improve certain situations and not others.
Conflict is normal in all vibrant relationships. It is so common in public decisions that opposition to proposed zoning or infrastructure changes is almost a given. Within any work team, community group, or commission at least one bully and a victim interrupt work and chew up time. But you ignore conflict at your own peril. Unlike fine wine or cheese, conflict does not improve with age.

Conflict operates like a smoke signal, indicating perceptions of incompatibility. Conflicted people sense:
  • blocked access to valued resources (e.g., revenue streams for a budget, land, drinkable water, preferred office space or equipment, etc.)
  • obstructed progress (e.g., building bike lanes or changing street design), or
  • an abuse of values (e.g., safe religious expression, equal treatment, etc.). 
Figure 1 shows the two sides of conflict. Most people focus on the negative and never experience the positive side. Negative ideas harden over the years with consistently bad experiences. We are creatures of habit who don’t like to change. Picture a cat or dog hanging out in a favorite sun spot; they too hate to move.

Conflict frustrates almost everyone; it even offends. But conflict rarely involves pathology or evil. If you tune in early warning signals and cultivate effective reactions, chances of realizing the opportunities increase exponentially.  
Conflict happens in all relationships because each of us is a unique bundle of needs and quirks.  Even on our best days, our ability to communicate those needs and quirks is poor. We think we say what we mean when in truth we rely on incomplete snippets of what we are thinking and what we want to happen. Cell phones and other technology further undermine accurate communication by removing visual cues and vocal intonation so critical to conveying meaning clearly. See Figure 2: Thoughts on Communication for a quick sense of why we struggle with communication.

As a political leader, you depend on good communication, coupled with conflict competence (see Figure 3: Conflict Competence), to accomplish virtually everything. But odds are stacked against you. So many common situations reinforce less than optimal reactions:
  • You spend long hours with other officials and your public in tense meetings.
  • Elected officials run perpetual campaigns designed to create name recognition and supportive donors. But political narratives depict opponents in unflattering sound bites, and those sound bites bite, leaving a bitter aftertaste.
  • Complex issues, often stretching across jurisdictions and time, defy comprehension and easy solutions.  


A New Compass

All conflict disrupts “the normal way” of doing things. That disruption releases energy to refresh how things are done. As a public official, you can harness that energy to create better ways of fulfilling obligations inherent to public service: working smarter; retaining and nurturing effective employees; creating public trust; working more effectively with other political leaders; and finding better solutions to complex problems.

This chapter asks you to reset your conflict compass so your north star flips from fear to acceptance to informed reactions that build your community. Conflict competence makes the idea of emotional intelligence relevant to conflict reactions, starting with responses to conflict. Emotional intelligence offers ideas about not flying off the handle, attending to your own emotions and confirming those of others. You, your constituents, and other leaders benefit when conflict competence is incorporated into your leadership style. 

Responses to Conflict
Figure 4 depicts common responses to conflict. Responding effectively is tricky for all of us, as noted as far back as Aristotle (in The Nicomachean Ethics) who said something like: “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.” The following describes the benefits and limitations of several responses.

Flight is the most common reaction to conflict. Figure 4 shows two forms: avoidance and triangulation. Neither is intrinsically bad, just overused. We run more often than necessary because most people don’t stop long enough to think about their intent (i.e., why run versus confronting an uncomfortable situation? Consider what you gain by running or staying). Without understanding your intent, it is hard to know when to walk away, wait, and when to act. You strategize football or poker, why not a fight?

Avoidance is an excellent reaction when strangers irritate you, and their services are neither critical nor unique. For example, I walk into a retail store that carries merchandise you see everywhere. You run into a clerk who can’t bother to get off a call with a friend. Instead of complaining loudly, walk away. Since the store and clerk don’t provide irreplaceable service, why initiate a conflict? Consider all your relationships in your personal and political life. How many fit this description above? Not many? Most of us depend on friends and colleagues to get things done. My only reservation about avoidance is that people use it too often, including when a confrontation might improve their life. 

Waiting, as a short-term tool, works well if it allows you to breathe, think, strategize, and gather information. Plus, waiting a reasonable amount of time before acting allows fights to mature. Acting prematurely typically falls on deaf ears because people don’t perceive a crisis, or they are so angry they can’t hear your concerns. Until they do, the fight is simply not ripe for productive discussions and analysis, or anything else.

Protracted avoidance tactics like denial, suppression, capitulation, or “management” are similarly overused. I hear denial in platitudes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Political leaders also sidestep confrontations when they hand off deliberations to committees, and “managing” conflict suppresses creative engagement while encouraging stodgy, inflexible, uncaring organizations. 

Triangulation, another common flight tactic, feeds grapevines. Triangulation occurs when someone is uncomfortable talking directly to the person or people involved in a fight. So instead of confronting, they talk to friends or friends of friends. Triangulation helps if you talk to people who maintain confidentiality (e.g., hermetically sealed silence), and your confidants urge you to talk directly to the offending person when the time is right. Triangulation allows you to tell and explore your story (i.e., your narrative) safely. It also allows you to talk out possible solutions. However, substituting triangulation for confrontation carries the same disadvantages as avoidance. 

Fight reactions, the other set of typical responses, assume some form of confrontation. Like avoidance, confrontation is not intrinsically bad, especially if confronting validates a relationship. Confronting tells others you want to solve a problem. Certain events call for in-your-face confrontation. Examples of when standing up and speaking out (non-violently) is justified include structural dangers to people (e.g., the Flint, MI water crisis), danger to citizens when unwritten policies discriminate (e.g., in a workplace or a neighborhood), or to stop violence. But even non-violent confrontation uses up vast amounts of money, personnel, and time while also damaging relationships. Anyone considering litigation or military control tactics should assess intent alongside long-term consequences. Both alienate and burn bridges. Consider if the chance is worth the risk or if you have sufficient public as well as personal resources to persevere to the end. Especially in the heat of a really upsetting public dispute, give yourself permission to slow your reactions down long enough to understand the pros and cons.

Basic Skills
No two conflicts are alike, so no single skill like listening or a procedure like mediation transforms every conflict. Conflict competence means you know when and how to invoke several skills and procedures. Skills listed earlier in Figure 3 probably don’t appear earth-shattering. But they go against what most people have been taught since childhood. So, to become conflict competent you probably need to unlearn as you learn. That’s not easy. Mastering conflict competence requires perseverance, practice, patience with yourself, patience with failure, and reassurance. The brilliant cellist Pablo Casals, in his eighties or nineties, was asked why he continued intense, daily practice. He is reputed to have said, “I think I’m making progress.”

Figure 5 helps you visualize a normal learning curve. Whenever we learn something new, there are roadblocks, a step of progress, plateaus, steps backward, and even moments of discovery. I have been doing conflict work for about 50 years. I practice every day; I continually have internal conversations about the right word to use and the best timing, and I can report I’m still learning. Moral of the story? Try it and stay with it, and these skills will become your internal map for working with conflict. You will be a more effective leader.


Skill Set 1: Communication

Do you ever wonder why we have two ears, a brain, and then a mouth? Good conflict work actively engages our ears and brain first. Note Figure 6: good conflict work starts with self-reflection. I mentioned intent several times. Drilling down on your personal needs, hot buttons, assumptions about a person or situation or on desired outcomes, frees you to make good, personal decisions about a fight. I’m smiling as I offer this example. I look at my sweet hubby and think “I really want a good marriage.” Now, decisions at home might be a bit different from a situation where I look at some over-the-top advocate and think: “I really don’t care.” See how self-awareness might shape conflict reactions? 

Ears gather both factual and emotional information. Your brain processes both, although memories of salient events, especially painful ones, shape what you perceive and how you act.  Hearing and validating both is central to effective conflict work. Next, your mouth allows you to gently elicit even more, clarifying information. Only later in a fight, talk about what’s important to you. Both gathering and providing information contribute to success, but effective communicators listen before talking. 

Listening is your best, secret tool for analyzing a conflict. Listening is a challenge for most of us, especially when it calls us to stop talking. Use passive and active listening skills to gather information. Passive skills include attending and passive prompts. Attending involves positioning your body, including your eyes, to convey respect and interest in what someone is saying. Passive prompts include little utterances like: “I see”, “right”, “um-hum”, or “sure.” Passive prompts signal a non-judgmental presence. If someone hesitates to talk, switch to passive prompts like: “I’m interested. Tell me.” Use silence strategically; as a general rule, people are uncomfortable with silence and will fill gaps in a conversation. This form of listening produces a great deal of information crucial to any analysis and decisions about next steps. Skilled listeners project genuine curiosity, patience, and open acceptance (no matter what they hear). Finally, talkers benefit from hearing their own narrative. Hearing often spurs edits and embellishments, creating more detailed accounts of events. All this information is pure gold.

Beware communication pitfalls that shut people down. Don’t project an attitude of “knowing” what’s going on. About 95% of the time our assumptions are wrong or incomplete. Avoid interjecting opinions about events. Ask direct questions. Don’t talk over someone or interrupt, or offer solutions. These are ingrained habits, but avoiding them results in better information and trust.

There are several forms of active listening. One is especially helpful after the forms of passive listening noted above. The other works well later in conversations. For the first form, once passive prompts unlock the flood gates, people seek affirmations that you heard and understood what they said. A form of active listening summarizes narratives, either as literal restatements or quick paraphrases. They should confirm factual as well as emotional content. If you say you are paraphrasing and ask for feedback, your inquiry affirms while also giving permission for your conversational partner to correct and embellish. It is hard to mess up when you validate that it is OK for someone to talk.

As conversations conclude, active communication tools, like closed-end questions, confirm and clarify intentions to act. Examples might include: “So how does that work day-to-day?” “What kind of memo works best?” “What time should that happen?” “What is your deadline?” “How do you want funds transferred?” Closed-end questions shape good outcomes by making next steps explicit, even if that next step is to meet again.

Closed-end questions also help you redirect conversations. Perhaps someone wanders off topic. Use closed questions to bring people back to the original topic. Perhaps someone evades a difficult topic, or lies, or spirals out of control emotionally. Closed-end questions stop these conversational patterns nicely.

Talking is the flip side of listening. It seems silly to say, but talking lets you assert what you need and want. As you might expect, several assertion techniques help you state your needs in ways that invite others to listen. The goal of an effective assertion is not to drive your nemesis cowering into a corner, but to invite him and her to work with you to solve a mutual problem. 

Good assertions are clear, concise, specific, and include invitations to the other person to engage in a conversation. Well-worded, well-placed, well-timed assertions move conversations in productive directions. You control that, just as you would great tennis shots or golf drives. Here are a few examples of things to say and do:
  • Project your intent. Say something like: “I’m anxious for us to reach an agreement so we can move to other lines in the budget.”
  • Talk about emotions. So, say something like: “Sorry, frustration is getting the better of me.”
  • Talk about facts. You deal with concrete problems, so talk concretely, as in: “Exactly how much does the fee increase over five years?”
  • Use statements that affirm a working relationship: “I care that we have worked together smoothly. I’m afraid for our party if our working relationship falls apart.”  
Try to avoid the following (and know these are just the tip of the iceberg):
  • Accusations: “You are lying.”
  • Embellishments: “This legislation/policy is the worst piece of political pandering I have ever seen!”
  • Vague descriptions of changes you want: “We need to pass laws that people want.” “We need to work together better.”
  • Talking over someone or interrupting.   
The Power of Narrative
I use the word narrative a lot, because narratives are important to what you do. The term refers to how you think about your life and communicate those ideas to yourself and others. Whether consciously or not, people think and talk in stories. As a public official, narratives impact your work in at least three ways.

First, government budgets express the collective values of government officials. Narratives shape government spending and budget priorities (e.g., otherwise why hold campaigns for SPLOST funds?). More broadly, narratives like “we have to do away with deficit spending” or any tax-and-spend story, or “we live in a crime-ridden city vs. this is a great place to live”, or “terrorist plots destroy our way of life vs. lone wolf story”, shape public perceptions, formations of coalitions, as well as perceptions of facts, accuracy, and emotional hot buttons among officials and citizens.

Second, what candidates (and their surrogates) say during campaigns determines success or failure, and the impact is intentional. To illustrate that power, go back to Max Cleland’s defeat in 2003. Anyone remember the media narrative about his patriotism? That narrative destroyed a record of extraordinary service to this country while high-jacking the campaign, leaving him powerless to change the narrative or avoid election defeat.

Finally, media of all types highlight and manipulate narratives to sell while informing. All political “spin” manipulates narrative. Research affirms the power of a narrative, but when you know the effect, you can use active listening prompts to change or counter a narrative. This is a great tool in debates or interviews. But you leave yourself defenseless to challenge and turn a narrative when you lack awareness coupled with poor communication skills. What political narrative do you support: growth or no growth, public transportation or no public transportation, support for after-school programs or no expansion in education, etc.? What narrative would you support in the middle of a political fight (because that’s when your core narrative pops up)?

Skill Set 2: Conflict Analysis

When someone tells you about a conflict, the story is a conflict narrative. If possible, conduct confidential interviews with anyone directly involved or capable of blocking productive outcomes. Interviews uncover a conflict’s history, the issues, coalitions, and associated emotions. With all this information, begin to assess intervention options. This thoughtful approach greatly improves your potential for good results.

Conflict Components
Figure 8 displays what I listen for. Even initial conversations tell me if a conflict is realistic or unrealistic. Most conflicts are realistic: issues are negotiable, and people are not determined to crush each other. Data, structural, and interest conflicts involve negotiable issues. Unrealistic conflicts spring from strong emotions, sometimes spiraling into an intent to hurt someone. Identity-level values and highly emotional relational conflicts, two more sectors seen in Figure 8, are prone to be unrealistic. Unrealistic conflicts challenge all of us because highly emotional fights obscure resolvable issues embedded in the conflict. Gang fights and protracted wars between the religious sectors and cultures in the Middle East lean toward being unrealistic, violent and poorly focused on resolution from within. Emotional intensity escalates when people procrastinate, potentially shifting what might be a realistic conflict into an unrealistic fight. Only a few fights between political leaders in Georgia come close to unrealistic proportions.

Next, look inside the globe. While the partitions make description easier, conflicts rarely encompass just one dimension. For example, data conflicts may damage relationships while also involving administrative policies or local regulations. In fact, conflicts encompassing several dimensions are easier to resolve, offering negotiable options resulting in fewer impasses.

Of the dimensions indicated in Figure 8, data conflicts are common, realistic, and the easiest to resolve. Data conflicts pertain to glitches in how information moves (e.g., who talks to whom; access to and proficiency using information tools like computers or cell phones; the accuracy of information produced in reports or for budgets; interpretations of terms/narratives like “best practices,” “assets,” “needs,” “historic,” etc.). People wield power when they control information. Personnel fights and conflicts involving constituents or local businesses may begin as struggles over data (e.g., challenges to property assessments and taxes). Data fights also surface during financial transfers between departments or between governmental units. Intra- or intergovernmental conflicts may involve poor information sharing or deliberate distortions of information. Since data conflicts trigger lower levels of emotion, they leave few residual scars, while good resolution strategies create new data management or personnel systems that benefit future generations.

Structural conflicts are more difficult to convert to good outcomes because structures by nature (e.g., codes, policies, laws, charters, etc.) change at glacial speed, and more people must buy into change. I once mediated a personnel dispute involving people with different needs for social contact versus solitude in order to work effectively. Their desired outcome called for shutting a door between two offices. But that solution required modifying the fire code. Think of the work required to renegotiate interagency or intergovernmental agreements, and the paperwork required to amend codes, legislation, or policies. Changing governmental structures takes time and a great deal of good will.

Interest conflicts are the stock and trade of political life. These conflicts cover the substance of your decisions (e.g., negotiations over water rights and transportation corridors; prioritizing projects funded by special taxes, tax districts, or legal settlements like the state’s portion of the tobacco settlement or HOPE, etc.), procedures used (e.g., procedural maneuvers when meetings rely on Robert’s Rules of Order), and psychological advantages (e.g., pitching policy proposals to your “political base” to outsmart the opposition). Interest conflicts sometimes also trickle down to employees who think their jobs will be more secure, more lucrative, or that they may be promoted if they play “the game” skillfully. Most interest conflicts are realistic, but exhibit unrealistic characteristics when local elections or votes on local policies become a way of obliterating political rivals. The pivotal role and increasing toxicity of interest conflicts is illustrated by candidates who experience profound depression after losing an election.

Relational conflicts surface in government settings as personnel fights, fights between elected and appointed managers (sometimes involving department heads), and when elected leaders go after each other. Relational conflicts might start as realistic data, structural, or interest fights. They can escalate to relational conflict when “spin” morphs into acerbic assaults. Media as well as opponents love to promulgate nasty campaigns. Unrealistic conflicts fester and erupt as accusations of discrimination, environmental or not-in-my-backyard disputes, and staff versus volunteer disputes in non-profits that advocate for social services. Good outcomes are possible, but calculated vitriol leaves residual scars.

Political leaders are human. Even though everyone expects spin, cutting narratives hurt when leaders don’t make the effort to discuss and listen respectfully in an environment offering little privacy to heal personal wounds. Decades ago, leaders spent quality time away from cameras and microphones socializing. In past decades politicians took great pride in going on fishing or hunting trips together, being members of the same clubs or churches, or visiting each other’s homes for private socials.

When values conflict erupt, listen so you distinguish between day-to-day values (e.g., whether someone is a rabid Braves or White Sox fan) versus values that define someone’s personal identity (e.g., whether someone is a conservative Christian or a devout Muslim). Working with day-to-day values is relatively easy, provided you approach the situation knowing that any value is important and not to be scorned. You can negotiate around day-to-day values, but identity values are non-negotiable. Anyone trying to “resolve” conflicts involving identity values adds fuel to the fire. Rely on procedures like a structured dialog and skills that create safe environments where people listen respectfully, talk candidly, and hopefully walk away with a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the issues. Houses of worship grapple with identity conflicts, but political arenas also face them as accusations of discrimination from cultural or economic minorities, or as environmental fights that destroy long-held family farms, or zoning fights over property with religious significance such as burial grounds.

Skill Set 3: Problem-Solving

Employees are fighting (over data, relations, structures, etc.). Two department heads dig their heels in over procedures (structural fights) or money (resources). Neighborhood organizations protest garbage fees and changes in collection sites (structure and resources). Members of a governing authority snipe at each other during meetings covered by the press (hopefully reflecting realistic conflicts over negotiable issues). Your service delivery strategy, comprehensive plan, or local option sales tax negotiations hardly get off the ground. Affected governments do not see eye-to-eye, and representatives avoid meetings. What do you do?  What procedures might help or inflame a situation? Here are some tips to help you match procedures to a conflict. A payoff for being conflict-competent comes when you are able to connect what your conflict analysis indicates to the right procedures.

Major Procedures
Figure 9 highlights procedures used to work with conflict. Each procedure labeled in Figure 9 covers a set of procedures that change somewhat in different contexts (i.e., facilitation used to explore technical problems would be different from facilitation to accomplish strategic planning). 

Reactive Versus Proactive Responses
Before exploring intent along with pros and cons of various procedures, look at the arrow at the bottom of Figure 9. Right off the bat, some procedures work in some situations and not others. Procedures shaped by law - litigation, arbitration, and mediation, conducted in a litigation context - respond narrowly to certain fact patterns from the past. Where law restricts a procedure, emotions and non-legal events are not relevant. It is ironic that almost all conflicts spilling beyond law are propelled by emotion. Where law restricts a procedure, blame, retribution, a liability rule, and monetary awards result, not much else.

Mediation, conducted in contexts other than litigation, conflict coaching, dialog, and facilitation draw energy from narratives of past events to personalize and create commitment to future actions. Flexible solutions rule. Forward-thinking personnel directors initiate problem-solving among employees prior to developing a new classification system, a departmental merger, or a city/county merger. Planning directors orchestrate facilitation procedures that accommodate community-wide discussions of future development and creation of planning maps. Dialogues work nicely to prevent polarization over impending shake-ups in school district maps, especially where demographic shifts pit parents of different ethnic origins against each other. By advantaging proactive responses, leaders and citizens have adequate time to research, discuss, and recommend.

Figure 9 shows a heart surrounded by arrows marked negotiation. Skills lie at the heart of all conflict work. Negotiation encompasses those skills and drives every procedure noted here. Negotiation relies on good communication between people as they go about solving problems. Figures 10 through 13 provide visuals for a few of the variations in procedures as different as co-workers working on issues or hundreds of people discussing highly technical problems affecting multiple states or a region of a state.

Litigation and arbitration
No municipal official wants to learn about problems when they are notified of pending litigation. Litigation signals that a major affront occurred and was generally not handled well. In some jurisdictions, the standard operating procedure for offices of legal affairs and human resource departments is to stonewall when employees allege discrimination or someone is badly hurt at work. A few commercial enterprises have broken this mold and have produced happier customers, better public reputations, and lower litigation costs. But examples of such forward, compassionate, and cost- effective thinking are few and far between.

As noted above, procedures related to law narrow the scope of a conflict. Each requires demonstrations of legal transgressions, while other conflict characteristics remain moot. Lawyers, judges, and arbitrators (who serve in a slightly less formal capacity) decide outcomes - almost always monetary settlements - based on case precedent. Emotional scars are left to heal on their own.

I classify litigation and arbitration as forms of violent confrontation because both procedures punish people even if they win. Litigants turn their lives over to their attorneys for years. The bureaucracy is impenetrable and unresponsive to individual needs. Litigants rarely talk to each other, and opposing counsels strongly discourage communication unless all attorneys are present. Even given the punishment involved, I still recommend both procedures when legal issues are on the table or where people need protection from violent attacks.

Mediation adds disinterested third parties to a negotiation. Mediators encourage and manage conversations about a conflict. Unlike judges and arbitrators, they never offer legal advice or decide outcomes of a conflict. Their job is to help participants create and select best outcomes. Figures 10-12 show various configurations. The procedure adapts well to relational, data, structural, and interest-based disputes, including those focusing on a legal dispute. So, employee fights or regional water disputes are both fair game. I locate mediation in the middle of Figure 9 because mediators rely on numerous styles that reflect the reason for the mediation and a mediator’s preferences. Resolution is the clear intent, so I refrain from using this procedure for value or identity conflicts.

Conflict coaching applies when people won’t or can’t negotiate face-to-face (see Figure 10). Coaching blends business coaching with conflict skills to guide problem solving. Coaches meet individual clients eight or more times for about an hour. The extended time frame allows for a great deal of learning. Clients explore the narrative of a bad situation and then explore alternative ways forward. They explore their emotions and learn new ways to solve problems. Coaches prepare clients for third-party assistance when the client is comfortable confronting other people involved in the conflict. Coaching is appropriate for highly emotional conflicts based in relational, interest, and value conflicts as well as those grounded in structures.

Dialog works beautifully when conflicts relate to intense value disputes. I always anticipate suspicion, raw nerves, and high anxiety when dialogs begin. All this is overcome when groups are relatively small (approximately 5 to 15 people, see Figure 13), and a structured format creates emotional safety. A structured format supports focused listening, heart-felt statements about feelings and worldviews, and perceptive questions about those worldviews. Escalated cycles of anger and suspicion stop when people hear others speak passionately about core values. If nothing more than listening and talking happens, you have a great outcome. I have watched former enemies cry and hug leaving a dialog. That is progress.

When a conflict is over structural change, and tension is low, facilitation is a perfect procedure to use. Like mediation, facilitation adapts easily to small and larger group settings (see Figures 11 and 12), accommodating a small number of people or several teams and hundreds of participants. For example, small work teams within a department might learn facilitation and then use their skills to check on their progress meeting departmental goals. Working with an external facilitator, departments can update strategic plans.

Figure 11 shows how I use a facilitation or mediation (depending on levels of polarization) to address zoning and planning disputes. Figure 12 maps out a multi-team approach that accommodates multiple government units, hundreds of participants, the press, the public and legal professionals. This larger model is great for discussions of complex issues such as service delivery plans, environmental disputes, divisions of sales tax revenues, and comprehensive land-use plans.

Must You Choose?  
No. The interviews help you (alone or with a consultant) decide whether one procedure would suffice or if multiple procedures would better address the situation. You do not have to limit your choices.

Leading an Intervention
You are involved in conflicts when mayors and councils deliberate; in oversight of the city administrator or manager's work; in dealings with elected or appointed leaders of other cities, counties, or authorities; and even in dealings with your local legislative delegation. This chapter describes skills that help you work with conflict. But should you step into the role of intervener? The following questions might help you decide:
  • Do you have enough clout to make meetings happen?
  • Do you have “thick skin”?
  • Will your position allow you to be impartial?
  • Can you legally and emotionally delegate solutions to others?
  • Do you have time to focus on the people and the conflict?
  • Is the conflict “bigger” than your capacity to manage a problem-solving process?
In Summary
Every issue, skill, or procedure discussed in this chapter applies to conflicts within and between governmental bodies. If a mayor and council are experiencing difficulties, effective conflict work may happen with coaching, one-on-one mediation, or a series of smaller mediations. Difficulties between elected bodies might rely on team mediation or facilitation. Statewide or regional disputes, such as over water rights, might benefit from facilitation or mediation procedures. The choice is yours. Begin working with each of these skill sets and then decide how you want to get involved. There are no limits to how a mayor and council, the city manager or administrator, or city employees can address conflict. 

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