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Systemic Conflict Resolution in Families and the Workplace

Systemic Conflict Resolution in Families and the Workplace


In his article Nick Adlington from go dialogue investigates the hypothesis that “All conflict arises in a system or systems.” and the benefits of acknowledging this in mediation. Can there also be pitfalls to pointing participants towards the systemic aspects of a dispute?

Systemic Conflict Resolution in Families and the Workplace

All conflict arises in a system or systems. The focus of this article is to investigate this statement and the application of conflict resolution practices in light of it. It follows on from the previous article on the meaning of “conflict”.

I mediate conflicts on a weekly basis where the participants are two colleagues or two family members. I regularly support these two people as they negotiate conversations aimed at developing better work or family relationships. Within these discussions the participants are often able to reach a better understanding of the other and present a clearer articulation of their thoughts, feelings and needs. There can be a meeting, a softening, greater clarity, and plans for a way forward.

In mediation parlance, mediation is often framed as being “future focussed”; for example, encouraging participants to look towards the prize of a better relationship rather than sitting in the mud of pain, fears, recrimination, accusation and counteraccusation of what’s happened in the past. I believe this is an important framing. Yet at the same time, to move forward, there sometimes/regularly arises the need to understand something at a greater depth; for example, the motivations and thinking of the other person. And to understand this, there may arise the need to reference events that have taken place previously.

As this exploration progresses and as the understanding builds, the two people concerned will often reflect on different aspects that may, to their mind, be contributing to the conflict they are facing. For example, in a workplace context, this may include policies and procedures that are or are not in place; how a previous manager who has now left dealt with a particular situation; the physical layout of the office space; how a merger or restructure impacted on morale; things that have been said by another team member.

These other factors are the tip of the iceberg of what I am referring to when I say, “all conflict arises in a system or systems”. There will very likely be similar systemic aspects at play when relationships within a family are particularly turbulent, including generations that have gone before. Indeed, we are so interdependent as human beings that to fully track and frame the systemic nature of relationship in either work or family is beyond what can be achieved in this article. However, what I would like to do is recognise it.

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