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Dr Adelbert Scholtz
Counselling Psychologist

HPCSA Number: PS 58157
Practice Number: 8639663

Gender: Male

Languages: Afrikaans, English, German
& Dutch

Range of Fees: According to the tariff
structure of medical aid funds; 15%
discount for cash payments

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Consulting Rooms:

67 Brookside Village
Schapenberg Road
SOMERSET WEST
(Behind Vergelegen Medi-Clinic)

10 Eighth Ave
Boston
BELLVILLE
(Inside church hall of the NG Kerk
Bellville West)

Phone for appointments:
021 852 6978 / 083 583 1476

E-mail:
adelbertscholtz@hotmail.com


Certified BrainWorking Recursive Therapy Practitioner


BrainWorking Recursive Therapy Professionals Worldwide


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DEALING WITH CONFLICT

- Dr Adelbert Scholtz

Counselling psychologist

It may happen that you are required to solve conflict and to deal with bad feelings between people. It may also happen that find yourself in an explosive situation with difficult people where conflict may erupt. How must one go about in resolving the conflict or preventing the conflict from escalating?

1. Ineffective ways of dealing with conflict

The following ways to act in a conflict situation are unproductive and ineffective:

  • Placate: This approach boils down to keeping the peace at all costs and therefore the adversaries have to be placated and to surrender in the face of demands. Nobody has any respect for anybody who throws in the towel and no problems are being solved in this manner. The person who always placates others and surrenders easily also looses his self-respect. That really amounts to a condonation of the dishonest methods of the adversaries.
  • Competition: The feuding parties try to win at all costs and protect their interests, even if it means annihilating the other party. Of course, nobody succeeds in destroying the other side and the animosity between them endures.
  • Ignore: Differences and clashes have to be swept under the rug as if they never existed. That only means that the differences keep simmering under the surface and no solutions are ever reached.
  • Compromise: An effort is made to satisfy all the parties and create a so-called win-win situation. It is expected of everybody to relinquish certain demands and expectations - but this only leads to dissatisfaction and resentment.
  • Defend and counter-attack: If we are attacked or criticised we tend to fight back and defend ourselves. This only escalates the conflict.
  • Accusations: Any situation with conflict is the result of a complex series of causes. To keep only one party responsible for all the problems is unjust and leads to injustice.

All these methods are incompatible with the lesson Jesus wanted to teach his followers in Matt 5: 43 - 48 -

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

2. Identify the needs of the parties

If you succeed in getting the warring parties to sit around a table and to talk about their differences in order to find a solution, a set of rules for the conversation ought to be agreed upon by the parties. Examples of these types of rules are as follows:

  • Afford everybody a reasonable chance to say what he wants to say;
  • Do not interrupt a speaker;
  • The chair keeps order and allots apeaking turns;
  • Avoid insults and personal attacks; and
  • Every party has one spokesperson who speaks on behalf of the group - that is, if the party consists of more than one person.

It is important to know in a conflict situation what the needs and desires of the warring parties are - which may often differ from their explicit demands from their adversaries.

The following have to be determined:

  • Do they possibly only have the need to be heard with understanding?
  • Do they merely have a need for recognition or encouragement?
  • Do they need opportunities to realise their plans and ideals?
  • What are their interests and rights in the situation?
  • Do they have moral principles, plans and ideals, which cannot be realised?
  • Which emotions were stirred up by the emotion?

Use the technique of empathetic and constructive listening as explained in chapter 6 in order to uncover the parties' frustrations, expectations, hopes, disappointments, and needs and to get to the roots of the problem. Reflect remarks with an emotional content back to the speakers with the goal of helping them to talk more about their feelings and needs. If they get the feeling that the mediator understands how they feel they will be much more willing to listen to his suggestions and propositions later on.

That does not mean that the pastoral counsellor must necessarily agree with everything he hears. If he listens with empathy, though, the parties receive the message that their feelings are being understood by somebody, that the mediator acknowledges that they have the right to have certain feelings and that they are allowed to have rights, interests and needs. In this manner, bridges are being built between mediator and the parties.

It is necessary for the mediator to stay impartial at all times. He should not in any way create the impression that he favours one party and prejudices the other party. That means that he must avoid all forms of criticism or advice; at most, he may ask questions and make suggestions when he thinks that one party is acting unethically. He may, though, provide factual information, including what the law provides about a certain issue.

3. Identify the reasons for the conflict

After the needs, interests, wishes and rights of the antagonistic parties have been identified, it becomes easier to see why they have opposing needs, interests, wishes and rights. You have, subsequently, to pay attention to the following questions:

  • Do the parties want the same thing?
  • Does any of the parties wish for something, which may adversely impact on the interests and needs of the other party?
  • Will the demands and wishes of the one party harm the other party?

Where there is a direct clash of interests, rights and needs, destructive conflict may easily erupt. If one party is stronger than the other, then that party may enforce its interests, rights and needs at the expense of the other party. The aggrieved party may try to take revenge by means of sabotage, the withholding of information, the twisting of information, the spread of malicious rumours and insubordination.

A state of affairs such as this does never improve human relationships or the smooth functioning of any organisation.

4. Ask for possible solutions

Any mediator who tries to defuse a conflict situation will find that it is profitable to invite the parties to suggest solutions for the clash of interestes, rights and needs. This conveys the message that the opinion or point of view of each party is important. The referee, facilitator or mediator should ask the parties to suggest possible solutions for the resolution of the conflict after the needs, wishes, demands, rights and interests of everybody have been identified - instead of trying to determine who is right and who is wrong as a judge would do.

That means that the possible solutions receive more attention than the nature of the problem. If the problem or point in dispute receives too much attention, it may cause the perceptions of the parties regarding the problem to escalate and they fight harder to justify their point of view. It may help to focus more on the possible solutions and to give attention to the areas on which the parties may rather cooperate in order to reach a solution.

5. Discuss the proposed solutions

After the parties have tabled possible solutions, these plans have to be discussed. It must be determined how each proposal will affect all the parties and whether it is practically executable.

The facilitator should keep any criticism of proposals impersonal and factual. If criticism amounts to personal attacks, nothing is gained and the fight will simply continue, while at least one of the parties will loose trust in the facilitator's impartiality. If the issues are discussed and weighed in a rational manner, progress can be made.

Both parties have to be led to the insight that their adversaries have legitimate rights, interests, needs, demands, and wishes. The next step is to explore common ground:

  • On which issues do the parties have agreement?
  • Which goals, values, and principles do they share?

Use the common ground to try to reach consensus about progressively more issues. It may happen that both parties are willing to make concessions to broaden the common ground and to lessen the number of disputed points - and even possibly eliminate them in the end.

It is always a good thing to identify common goals and values of the parties. If they share a common vision and principles and feel loyal towards the same organisation (for instance, the church to which they belong, the firm where they work or the political party to which they belong), they may be encouraged to see each other as allies instead of opponents or adversaries. The mediator should create an atmosphere where the parties realise that they are part of a greater "we", instead of seeing themselves as "us" versus "them".

This cooperative style to deal with conflict, furthermore, uses one or more of the following techniques:

  • Let off steam: give the warring parties to state their cases fully and to vent their frustrations and anger to a full extent. If they get the impression that their worries are being heard it may lead to greater calm and rationality.
  • Negotiation: The contesting factions are encouraged to listen to each other and to understand the other side's point of view. This may lead to the abandonment of spurious claims.
  • Confrontation: The competing parties jointly launch an honest investigation into the reasons for the conflict and to find common ground. This must lead to -

    o Plans for the solution of clashes of interests;

    o A solution that is acceptable to both sides; and

    o A clear undertaking of the parties to cooperate in future.

6. Prevent conflict

It is always preferable to prevent destructive conflict as much as possible.

There are, naturally, cases where constructive conflict may occur and that must be managed with care to prevent it from deteriorating into destructive conflict. Many organisations mount planning sessions or think tanks to devise strategies for the future. The participants are encouraged to mention all their thoughts, worries, fears, complaints, needs, rights (as they see them), ideals and expectations in a safe atmosphere and thereby move in the direction of innovative solutions and plans. Although large differences of opinion often occur, the chair or facilitator must see to it that the participants do not make personal comments about each other and that they deal with their differing opinions in a reasonable way. It may be expected of the speakers to provide reasons for their opinions in order to prevent the occasion from wasting time with unmotivated and wild statements and to prevent the hurt feelings of other participants.

Destructive conflict must, however, be prevented as far as possible. That may happen by fostering a trusting relationship between individuals and groups within an organisation. This may occur where people are recognised and respected as individuals - each with an own personality, needs, and rights. Stable and sound relationships are in everybody's interest and that may be nurtured where the rights, interests, ideals, expectations, wishes, fears and worries of everybody is recognised and respected. Provision must be made for the social needs of the parties by providing in their needs for recognition, stimulation, and security.

It can be a very satisfying and enriching experience to help defuse conflict. Jesus said after all: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt 5: 9).