CONFLICT RESOLUTION & MEDIATION SKILLS

Conflict is the incompatiblily of two opinions which could escalate resulting in a destructive and negative outcome. Conflict can arguably be present within every relationship between people and human interaction, therefore it’s important to be able to manage it and control it before it reaches an uncontrollable stage. From a healthcare perspective, conflict can arise between professionals and patients due to differing interests, but perhaps more relevant to this reflection, conflict can be present amongst colleagues. In a health setting this could be very damaging to the function of a team as communication and cooperation with these people, or groups of people could be broken down. 

I attended this course as I think that possessing skills in mediation is something very valuable as these skills can be exercised in almost any setting whether in the community, within the family unit or school/working environment. The course was geared towards the effects of conflict and interaction to mediate this within the community, however, I think a lot of it can also be exercised as doctors and health professionals so I wanted to reflect on some of my thoughts on this topic. 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand what conflict actually is. Ultimately it’s a disagreement which results in a harmful outcome and it something that we as people try to avoid. Conflict is more than a simple disagreement as disagreements can be very common within our daily lives, such as having different opinions on a dress in a shop. A disagreement of the such is not harmful as it will not have any negative impacts. Conflict is a step further in which a disagreement begins to affect the personal relationship between people. The groups of people within the situation often regard it as a ‘contest’ where there is a winner and a loser. There will most likely be a breakdown in communication between them both as well.

The concept of inrapersonal conflict is something worth reflecting on as conflict is something that occurs naturally within human beings. Quite often when a person is not at peace within they may feel aggravated or frustrated resulting in them engaging in conflicts with other people. However, conflict isn’t always completely negative and it can sometimes result in a positive outcome. Conflict allows room for change and an opportunity to nurture improvement, but only if the disagreement is managed not allowed to escalate. Conflict is something that’s often regarded as personal, perhaps between two family members, neighbours, siblings, but it is also something that has an impact globally including issues such as politics, culture, religion, territory etc. I guess what I’m trying to emphasise is that there isn’t necessarily something inherently wrong with conflict,but what matters is how we deal with and respond to it.

Every person deals with situations of conflict differently and also differently depending on the situation and their environment, and that is something worth understanding. These are the different ways in which people can respond:

  • Compete – these people tend to take a firm stand, and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things like position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability. It can be useful in an emergency; when a decision needs to be made fast; when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. 
  • Collaborate – these people try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. It is useful as it brings together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution particularly when there have been previous conflicts in the group.
  • Compromise – within this style people will tend to try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something and the compromiser also expects to relinquish something. This is a useful approach when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and perhaps when there is a deadline looming.      
  • Accommodate – this style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party or when peace is more valuable than winning.
  • Avoid – people tending towards this style seek to ignore the conflict entirely. It usually involves accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. This approach would be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial, or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. However in many situations this is a weak and ineffective approach to take. 

Mediation on the other hand is a form of conflict resolution which would typically take a collaborative approach. It involves an impartial person helping to reach a solution that’s acceptable for everyone. It’s important to understand that mediation is different to arbitration. Arbitration involves arriving at a decision and resolving the conflict for the two parties, however, mediation is the facilitation to allow those in conflict to reach an agreement by providing services such as listening. Being a mediator when you see conflict in a healthcare setting would enable an open, honest and friendly environment to be maintained where people can feel free to voice their concerns.

5 principles of mediation:

  • The mediator must have sincere intentions of a positive outcome that will try to unify people.
  • You must remain impartial in the mediation and have no stake in the outcome.
  • Confidentiality is critical.
  • Must allow the individuals to independently reconcile.
  • You must be fair and allow equal representation.

As a mediator, as well as gathering the facts of a situation or conflict it’s very important to listen to and acknowledge the feelings of the people involved. This can also be useful as in a conflict sometimes people forget that the ‘enemy’ has emotions too and this could effect the opposing sides in a positive way. The mediator’s role is to differentiate between the spark and the smoke and find the real route of the problem through communication and allowing an open platform for both parties. There a certain qualities which are critical to being a successful mediator such as having an analytical ability, displaying empathy, being sincere, compassionate, demonstrating a reassuring personality, professionalism, being non-judgmental as well as possessing the ability to evaluate.

At the end of the course we took part in a mediation role play with a relatively simple scenario of two neighbours who were in conflict due to concerns of loud music. The character we spoke to first was the one complaining about the music and was concerned that it was affecting his young children’s ability to sleep as well as the wellbeing of his elderly parents. The actor expressed concerns that he has tried to reason with his neighbour, but he has completely disregarded any thought for him or his family. This was a really interesting and thought provoking exercise as it made me realise the challenges acting as a mediator may pose. First of all, I thought remaining impartial would be a very easy aspect to implement, however, after hearing the first person’s story it was very difficult to speak to the second person without having preconceived ideas about them…this is definitely something that should be avoided. It’s actually much more challenging in practise than I thought. Furthermore, after speaking to the second person he actually had just been through a divorce and not been allowed to see his children. He also suffered a severe accident which limited his mobility that explained the antisocial behaviour the neighbour was describing. However, there was some contradictions between the two presented stories, which would another obstacle to reconciling the relationship between the two people. The mediator must maintain confidentiality so it’ll be difficult to distinguish which story was the truth.

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