Q: There are several issues in my community that need to be resolved. How do I go about bringing you in to facilitate a consensus-building workshop? Who should sponsor the event?
A: First, identify the conflicting interests and positions. Next, contact us so that we can develop a plan to successfully confront, diagnose, and resolve the conflicts. Most importantly, just do it! Many people talk themselves out of seeking resolutions because of fears — of change, deepening conflict, or the possibility that no resolution is workable. Our workshops address these fears and lead to concrete, positive outcomes, even in the most challenging conflict situations. Finally, sponsors of our workshops are normally individuals or groups of individuals, already existing organizations, or organizations that are formed for the particular purpose of dealing with the conflict. We help you identify the optimal sponsor and guide you in setting up the workshop.
Q: I’m a middle manager and see a need for some intervention to put an end to an in-house conflict that is destroying our productivity. However, I am having a hard time convincing the boss that we would see a financial gain and a boost in productivity with a consensus-building workshop. Do you have any helpful information on these issues?
A: It is just as important to acknowledge the fears and concerns of the organization’s leadership, as it is to respond to the staff’s issues. A resolution of conflict is not genuine and has little chance of long term success if it does not honor the fears and concerns of ALL parties involved, including leadership, management, employees, and clients. Unresolved conflicts continue to fester and rob the organization of the vitality and energy it needs to achieve maximal productivity. This is why our work focuses on giving ALL sides a hearing and develops strategies that foster win/win solutions for all parties involved. Our methods promote high morale, open “clogged” channels of communication, identify and eliminate “sticking points”, produce higher productivity and enhancement the functioning of the organization.
Q: We have been fighting for years. We obviously cannot come to an agreement. Why shouldn’t we just tell our stories in court and let a judge decide what is best?
A: You can! Fortunately, that is a choice we all have. However, our experience has shown that resorting to the legal process usually produces results that meet each party’s LOWEST AND MINIMAL desired outcome rather than the HIGHEST AND MAXIMAL outcomes. Using the legal process to resolve conflict predictably leads to an overall sense of loss. Moreover, court resolution carries a much higher financial and emotional price tag. Our work is designed to achieve the BEST-desired outcomes at a fraction of the cost of legal arbitration.
Q: Do these workshops work for people of minority status and for foreign cultures?
A: Yes! We have worked with numerous ethnic and minority groups in the United States, and in cultures throughout the world. We have found that our methods, based on tested bio-psychological research, produce satisfying, long lasting results across cultures, languages, ethnicities, and minorities.
Q: Can you teach us what you do so that we can duplicate the process in our community?
A: Yes, our workshop skills are designed to be transferable. Our greatest desire is for participants to master these skills so that they can use them on their own and in settings that extend beyond the workshop. In fact, we define our success by the degree to which participants assimilate and transmit the conflict resolution protocols. We might compare the skills we teach to those needed to ride a bicycle: practice and repetition will give the participants a new set of tools for navigating the world. We achieve our BEST outcomes by facilitating a series of workshops alternating with periods of practice that enable the participants to master the techniques. We have found our greatest rewards to come from seeing the large numbers of individuals and organizations worldwide that have acquired, used, and transmitted the tools in which we provide training.
Q: We have a serious environmental issue that is creating a great deal of unhealthy conflict in our community and will probably never be resolved. How do we start a process that will mend the situation?
A: The first step is to bring the opposing parties together with the intention of confronting and successfully resolving the situation. We can do this effectively through a consensus-building workshop. Secondly, after we help you develop the best possible outcomes for this situation, we introduce a process that will achieve the desired ecologic, economic, and social outcomes.
Q: What exactly is Consensus Building?
A: Consensus Building is a philosophy and a process. As a philosophy, it is a vision of social harmony predicated on the assumption that all humans are endowed with the capacity to identify their needs, articulate their aspirations, and respond ethically, responsibly and respectfully to their social and biological world; and that conflict is an opportunity for growth waiting to happen. As a process, Consensus Building is a technique for bringing together conflicting parties, facilitating a mutually respectful atmosphere of responsible listening and speaking; and guiding ALL participants in the conflict to agreement in words and in actions.
The two chief components of effective consensus building are Verbal Agreement Plus Supporting Actions (VAPSA) and Act Right Together (ART). Specifically, consensus means, first, agreement in words AND behavior that supports those words (VAPSA); and second, a shared understanding that consensus is not necessarily getting 100 % of what each person wants, but 100% of all those involved agreeing to do the right thing (ART).
Q: Our workplace is going to practice consensus as a model for decision-making. The readings I’ve done mention that we should also develop a conflict management model. Is consensus not a way to manage conflict in and of itself? Is a separate tool necessary?
A: No, a separate tool is not necessary with my method. The conflict resolving process I use does both tasks: it manages conflict and uses consensus as a decision-making model. The question I pose to others is: "How can you have consensus if you haven’t resolved the conflicts?” Because the goal of my process is to attain 100% agreement among all parties to do the “right thing,” conflict “management” is a by-product of consensus.
I stress this point because there are many processes in the marketplace that operate under the guise of consensus, but fail to provide a mechanism for defusing conflict on an ongoing basis and implementing strategies to avert “negative” conflict. My process models behaviors that can be easily learned in the context of the workshop, and that are designed to be incorporated into the practices and interactions of the entire group to provide the basis for attaining positive outcomes on an ongoing basis.
Q: Isn’t it true that some conflicts can never be resolved?
A: There are two kinds of conflicts: the “negative” and the “positive.” Conflicts that are avoided are not resolved. These are what I call “negative” conflicts. People have a lot of fear and consequently have a powerful desire to avoid confronting conflicts based on their past experience.
However, desirable outcomes can occur from confronting conflicts, leading to successful results. Conflicts that are recognized and faced are resolvable. These are what I call “positive” conflicts. The extent and intensity of confronting a conflict depends on a number of variables that include such factors as social diversity, economic impact, environmental impact and complexity of issues. The process we use allows people to exchange information respectfully and effectively. The new information changes the beliefs, behaviors, and actions of the involved parties resulting in new outcomes, often beyond the best-imagined results the parties believe are possible.
Q: I noticed that your workshops seem to cover more than just consensus building. Are all of these concepts related somehow?
A: Yes, our workshops and consulting are tailored to the needs of our clients. Our experience has shown us that in consensus building, one size does not fit all. Our methods are based on research and experience with individuals, families, communities, and organizations. We have developed flexible modules that range from a single session setting to complex restructuring of organizations. The concepts are designed to be interactive and to be used to achieve the individual’s and organization’s desired outcomes.