“So… What do you do?”
“Oh, so you just got your doctorate, congratulations! Which subject is it in?”
“Conflict Analysis and Resolution”
*blank expression* “Oh, interesting… So are you a mediator? What do you do exactly?”
I am a recent doctoral graduate in conflict analysis and resolution, and the conversation above happens to me on a semi-regular basis, from family gatherings to networking events and job interviews. It dawned on me that the subject of conflict resolution is an unfamiliar concept to many. Therefore, in this article, I am going to explain the concept of conflict resolution, why it is an essential expertise in the 21st century, and what one can expect with a conflict resolution specialist such as myself.
Why is Conflict Resolution essential in the 21st Century?
Conflict is an inevitable part of our world. From global confrontations to flamewars over social media, conflict is an integral part of an ever-shrinking world where we are increasingly connected by technology.
However, before anyone assume that all conflicts are disasters, let me clarify that conflicts are not always destructive. In fact, conflict is one of the forces that drive society forward, and a world without conflict would be one without innovation, without progress, and without evolution. Yet, when conflicts spin out of control, they often descend into the dark void of violence and destruction.
As scholars of conflict resolution, my goal is not to eliminate conflicts altogether, but to understand their fundamental causes, and resolve conflicts with as little negative consequences as possible.
How does Conflict Resolution work in Practice?
Conflict resolution specialists such as myself can be called upon to deal with conflict in a couple of different ways such as Alternative Dispute Resolution or Conflict Management Consultation. In both ways, we seek to resolve the conflict through interpersonal interaction instead of legal solutions. They can be determined by a variety of factors including existing arrangement, court ordered diversion, and mutual agreement.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):
One of the most common forms of conflict resolution is the use of alternative dispute resolution tools such as mediation, facilitation and arbitration. These tools are generally used to settle the immediate dispute on hand without resorting to the courtroom. Examples include the practice of mediation during divorce proceedings, restorative justice sessions where victims and the perpetrator speak face-to-face with the help of a neutral counsellor, or arbitration between a business and a customer who seek restitution or refund. In all these cases, alternative dispute resolution’s ultimate aim is the creation of a legally binding settlement that would conclusively resolve the immediate issue at hand. While this is an efficient way to resolve ad hoc disputes without resorting to long and expensive legal processes, the practice of ADR does not always resolve any underlying issues that causes the conflict in the first place.
Conflict Analysis and Management Consultation:
Conflict resolution specialists such as myself can also approach conflicts in a more holistic manner by immersing ourselves into the place where conflict occurs. Instead of resolving conflicts as it arises, we examine the environment where conflicts develop and recommend changes that would minimize conflict occurrence and prevent new conflicts from spiraling out of control and poisoning the environment. For example, if the client is a small organization, I would want to observe the day to day work of the organization, noting how team members communicate with each other, and note where conflict arises. Next, I will interview each member of the organization in a secure and confidential environment where they can express their opinions without fear of retaliation. After gathering enough information, I will examine the collected data as a whole to determine the causes of conflict and recommend solutions based on facts.
Conflict prevention solutions can be wide ranging, from improving lines of communication within the organization, to individualized training for team members on how to work with others. I might also recommend structural changes to organizations (such as deployment of technology) that would simplify interpersonal interaction and help prevent misunderstanding and future conflict. While there is absolutely no guarantee that these methods would eliminate conflict, the goal is to minimize their occurrence and severity.
“So… really, what do you do?”
So, what is conflict resolution? It is a comprehensive study of conflicts and how to resolve them. Those who are trained in conflict resolution understand that while conflicts maybe an inevitable part of our lives, it is important to prevent conflicts from spiraling out of control, spreading negativity and hurting those around us. Therefore, scholars of conflict resolution engage in the comprehensive study of both theory and practice of conflict analysis and resolution. We study the various causes of conflict based on sociological, political and humanist theories, and we learn the mechanics of conflicts, from international disputes to interpersonal arguments. To resolve these conflicts, we are trained to practice different practical methods of conflict resolution, which includes different forms of mediation, facilitation and negotiation. Finally, we are tasked to develop methods of conflict prevention, understanding the circumstances where conflicts might occur and how to prevent conflicts from escalating.
Conflict resolution doctorates comes from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, from anthropology students to lawyers who wish to study the practice of alternative dispute resolution and conflict resolution. We are versatile with our skills and able to apply them to a wide variety of situations. In our increasingly connected world, where conflicts online can spill over to real life, it is up to those who practice this discipline to bring solutions to students, organizations and corporations who wish for a less conflict-ridden future.