When conflict develops, seek to understand. The people, their purpose and the system you operate in.

Moty Cristal, speaker at the 2014 National Mediation Conference, offered this approach in his keynote address. A high level negotiator in crisis and complex conflicts at an international level, he spoke of how linear analytical thinking doesn’t work in the situations he works with. Since hearing his inspiring talk, I have been lead to consider whether conflict is ever simple.

conflict complexity

Most conflict situations I assist with are rife with complexity! Does linear thinking not lead to blame – one side or the other at fault? It’s important to help people to look at how the systems they operate in affect both themselves and the other side. This way they can understand all the influencing factors more clearly. Both workplace and family ‘systems’ have many facets.

At work, the potential for and contributors to conflict are many. Team dynamics, role clarity and territory, leaders/managers and our confidence in them, culture of the organisation, nature of the industry, our wage levels and job security, training (or lack of), expertise and confidence in our ability, personality, mental health issues, personal & family stressors… Just to get started!

Families are not any simpler. Consider the extended family influences (siblings, parents, grandparents…), employment issues, financial security,history and inheritance,  health/mental health, addiction and lifestyle factors. If children are involved add to the above, the age, stage, development, education and health of the kids.

So as a mediator I am thinking that using Moty Cristal’s ‘system’ approach to the more small range conflicts that we encounter in everyday life is definitely relevant. While fortunately our conflicts do not impact at the level of the Israeli/Palestinian situation, not resolving them can make our lives stressful and less fulfilling. If you are experiencing conflict or dealing with others in conflict, consider how you can apply these key points from Cristal:

  • Relax – stay calm, breathe, don’t react
  • Zoom out – look at all the influences that may be impacting
  • Seek to influence, not control – (my note – can we really change anyone but ourselves?)
  • Focus on demonstrating positive behaviour change – one side’s more positive behaviour will influence the other and the whole dynamic.
  • Educate people on how to deal with change.

This last point resonates with me. I often wonder if some of my clients will be able to stick to their mediation agreement. Or will they lapse back into their old negative patterns of relating? I have found that conflict coaching or counselling following or preceding a mediation can support people to think differently and  make the genuine changes that will help to solve their problems.

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