Applicants need graciousness, benevolence and love Mediation, as defined by Wikipedia, is a dynamic, structured, interactive process where a neutral third party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques. A theoretical, dry … Continue reading
Conflict Theory applied to the White House
Having returned from New York last week after the Inauguration and the Women’s Marches, I have digested some of the conversations we had over there and wanted to note a couple of observations from a cultural and conflict resolution point of view.
It’s not him
The incongruence between DJT’s place in the White House and his level of communication (enthusiastic schoolboy) proves that he did not get there by merit of his ideas or solutions alone. Let us remember he is result of a large group of Americans who have lost a lot in reality and even more in their imagined mythical version of 1950’s America. Their frustration at the inability of any political party to do anything for them, to listen to them or to understand them is why they voted against politics and why we are here today.
The most frequent diagnosis of DJT I heard whilst in New York was “Psychopath”. A couple of Facebook posts have supplied compelling arguments for a label of Narcissistic Personality Disorder – Upgraded this week to Malignant Narcissist by one leading psychiatrist.
My issues with labels are that they excuse behaviours. They dissociate the conscious person and the decisions they make from accountability. To take the cultural community view of helping someone with difficulties is not a promising start for the next 4 years – as that person has the nuclear codes.
The author of the Prince – the ultimate cynical leader’s handbook would have advised sweeping away the old guard and launching a Blitzkrieg of radical policies that will have everyone reeling in their seats. Job done. The acting Attorney General is on her way and the Ambassadors around the world are packing up too and the intellectuals are failing to process the torrent of proposals leaving the White House.
Niccolò Macchiavelli – The Cynic’s Guide to Leadership
Let us side step the shock and awe phase, get over our feelings of outrage and insult and attempt to be consequent.
Meeting and talking with the Marchers was the highlight of the trip – The atmosphere was one of an optimistic and loving community validating and celebrating the existence of a vast collection of people with healthy values and a positive spirit. Values based more on love and less on fear.
More on the problem with protest in a moment (1.7 million people in the UK signed a petition this week to reverse the Queen of England’s invitation to DJT for a State visit to the UK with golden carriages, full military honours and the rolling out of the great and the good of Blighty to put in a show for the new leader of the free world.)
DJT’s bizarre Black History Month breakfast was an historical denial on a grand scale as well as being a denial of DJT’s own baggage. His spinning of the contribution of African Americans – that their hard work laid down the foundations of modern America missed the point by many a mile. They were enslaved.
The point here is that there is no dialogue to be had. No numbers, facts, logic or reason will work against someone with zero interest in empowering the oppressed or curbing the dominance of the dominant. No argument will succeed. This is beyond debate, dialogue and exchange.
From the perspective of Conflict Theory, we have moved passed dialogue and beyond cold conflict and are heading towards bipolar antipathy where exchanges are no longer listened to, reason has been thrown out of the window by both parties and negative emotions are triggered by simply seeing the other side or hearing their voice.
There is only one advantage to the HOT conflict phase – it gets dealt with – passive aggression can rumble on for years but when the furniture begins to fly then action is not far behind.
What is to be done?
Classical work on conflict suggests a starting point where energy is spent and attention is focused on the most leveraged areas where change is achievable and victories can be attained.
The post-election wounds are now healing and some brave commentators have uttered the bitter and necessary truth. The educated group who waged intellectual battle have missed the key point – it is not the content of the campaign, it is not the content of new policy – it is the cultural cause of our current situation that must be addressed.
We must give up the right to be right. We must come down from the hill of moral superiority – nothing will be heard from that altitude. It is about acting locally and moving beyond the facts (in Post-Truth America, facts are soooo last year.)
It is about new norms – America gets it political opinions from Netflix, Amazon Prime and Fox News. It is about creating stories, of creating characters with values that mean something. It is about starting an exciting narrative through the medium of drama / faction / story telling. That is the way, over time to tackle the fear that is driving the current political agenda and to move the majority toward a position of hope again.
A tragic example of this fear is the travel ban – with no statistics to back it up an overnight moratorium came in banning Muslims travelling to the US from the 7 Middle Eastern countries – The point is this – The move has the approval of the majority of Americans. They have swallowed it whole. They have heard the messages of fear and most currently choose to believe them. It is not true, but for them in this instance, action beats inaction – This myth provides a little comfort for them in dark times where their own personal reality seems so bleak and unending.
(The ban has been reversed by the courts and is being appealed now by DJT.)
Comment form Milton J. Bennett – Hello Mathew. Writing from the US, where I’ve been since Jan. 20., I’d like to comment on the purpose of the “psychopath” label regarding President Trump. People I have spoken with post shock are seriously considering two things: 1) how to keep the embers of a progressive agenda glowing during what will be a concerted move to the right (beyond the mandate of that slim electoral college win), and 2) how to mitigate the diplomatic credibility damage that is already being done by impetuous executive action. For instance, Khamanei has just said that Trump shows the “true face” of the US. The allegation of mental instability is an attempt to separate Trump from the US image. Some people I’ve talked to who supported Trump (either actively or by inaction), hoping that he would change or that that he would be restrained by “the system,” are now joining in the labeling. The move to the right will continue, but I guess there will be increasingly serious attempts to isolate or remove Trump
According to the latest report published by the government this week, the gender ratio of FTSE 100 boards has reached a milestone, with 25% of board members now being women, an achievement credited to the voluntary efforts made by such organisations to actively recruit board members to balance the gender gap. Whilst this number represents a significant increase over the last few years (from 12.5% in 2011), we shouldn’t be rushing to extol the virtues of gender quotas, tick the diversity box as a fait accompli and sit down to a celebratory cup of tea just yet.
Whilst Lord Davies’ report calls for an extension of these voluntary quotas, playing the numbers game can only hope to answer part of the problem. There seem to be two big issues that it is currently failing to address:
- The Cult of Board Culture– The latest US Republican debate provided a perfect example of what can happen when a homogenous (on the face of it at least) group of powerful men (and one woman) come together to argue their opinion and establish their superiority as potential future leaders of the free world. The irony of it was that the more they tried to compete for the airtime to demonstrate their leadership prowess, the more I feared that any of them would ever find themselves in the ultimate position of power. One of the most common complaints we hear from women in senior and executive leadership roles is not so much the homogeneity of gender but the absolute homogeneity of leadership, negotiating and conflict styles that permeate the environment within the walls of the boardroom and govern the unspoken code of conduct at that most exclusive of tables. The all-powerful nature of such a culture means that many feel the need to ‘assimilate to survive’. This competitive, fist banging, who-can-shout-louder way of operating can mean some women find it very challenging to find an authentic way to integrate without losing themselves or their voice and we often hear of women who upon achieving the most senior positions come under fire for becoming too ‘Alpha’. I’ve even heard it said that this uncomfortable paradox is putting some women off aspiring to Board-level positions – a sad fact which no amount of quotas can fix! Many claim that more women on the board will be the automatic panacea to transform this culture into something much more inclusive and effective… I’m not so confident.
- Culture of Difference– It seems rightly uncontested that organisational diversity has a direct, transformative impact on the effectiveness and success of teams and leaders by encouraging and facilitating difference and embracing the creative conflict that this difference can generate resulting in the generation new ideas and the improvement of established ways of working. This is more than just a nice to have. Without this diversity we expose ourselves to homogenised ‘group think’ and significantly a higher risk of corporate scandal and even crime due to an inability of an organisation to effectively criticise, hold itself accountable or even see the issues as they arise. I wonder if the latest Volkswagen emissions scandal would have been allowed to happen if this culture of difference had existed amongst its senior leaders? Whilst it might have helped, I’m not sure a gender quota of 25% women would have been quite enough alone to prevent a global organisation turning a blind eye to its own decisions and actions. Gender is a crucial area to consider, but its only one aspect of human difference; an easy visible line to draw and make tangible through measurements and quotas. If we genuinely want to see organisational diversity that reflects the diversity of British society then we need to look beyond the obvious to embrace all aspects of difference, something which quotas are unlikely to achieve.
In summary, quotas are proving to be an important tool on the road to achieving organisational diversity but they are not the magic bullet people might be looking for or even the token activity they might be hoping to hide behind. If we want real, positive diversity in our executive teams, we also need to empower those in leadership roles at every level to embrace and encourage a culture of constructively challenging the norms, actively listening to those singing a different tune rather than shouting to be the loudest, and to shed the unshakeable habit of seeing conflict as something to be feared and avoided at all costs.
These are my thoughts…I’d love to hear yours.
Kathryn Bradley is a Programme and Project Manager at CEDR – the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. CEDR is the UK’s largest provider of mediation training and services. www.cedr.com
The word COMPROMISE seems to produce a range of emotions, reactions and comments depending on who is listening.
“No one ever remembers a great compromise.”
My starting point for understanding compromise occurred in the white heat of alpha capitalism where it was legitimate for the winner to take all. This casino like attitude of winning and losing deflated the winner’s sensitivity for the consequences suffered by the loser. Freed, the protagonist treated the episode as a mere transaction and quickly moved on.
Within an intercultural setting we move from isolated transactions to societies and a timeline of connected events. Repetition may lead to escalating pain and negative beliefs for the loser. Over time, this produces a reaction – passive aggression, non-cooperation, resistance and accumulated feelings of resentment.
From a cultural perspective compromise can foster pragmatism, diplomacy and an emphasis on fostering long-term relationships. This creates a different social dynamic and energy. Here the outcome of “not quite to win / not quite win” may have the benefit of preserving a bond that will undoubtedly yield greater value over subsequent weeks, months and years.
In the Cartesian exchange of logic and rational questioning, the outcome of a compromise can be seen as an optimal solution that achieves the least worst outcome for both parties. In such a way we can ascribe a positive quality to this sometimes dirty word.
Mediator Paul Rathbone talks of the “amygdala hijack” a triggering of our primitive brain that produces the fight, flight or freeze response. This explains your neighbour’s angry outburst over a 10 cm boundary infringement in the garden or when you play Black Sabbath songs too late and too loud in the evening.
Here the starting position is a war cry – “revenge.”
Often it is the job of the mediator to bring competing parties to the table and with hard work, illustrate the costs of their competitive strategy in order to lay the groundwork for a mediated solution. The mediator’s magic works when the parties are ready to consider a deal that is “good enough” or accept something that both parties can “live with.”
It is when empathic listening skills encompass the consequence for the other party’s of one’s actions that the shift occurs.
The benefits of compromise
It preserves “face” and honour. It can save time, reduce the risk of retribution and it can preserve one of our most important and undervalued commodities – a give and take alliance.
It is the reputation – saving quality of a decent compromise that is frequently missed. Many cultures and communities value the status of their figureheads and require them to fight and win against foreign bodies.
It is in this spirit that the Golden Bridge of a dignified retreat is critical to reaching a longer-term mutually agreed settlement that yields the positive result of peace and prosperity.
It is a good General who knows when to fight. It is a great one who knows when to beat a hasty or even an undignified retreat.
So, what is the lesson here?
Can we build our self-awareness to a level where we know when our primitive brain is running the show? Can we interrupt our full pursuit of primitive revenge? Can we intervene and shout “STOP”, sidestep the caveman within us and re-engage our intellect to pursue a better path? Can we learn the reasonable allocation of assets through the pursuit of a dignified dialogue?
Will we now seek out optimum benefit for all parties with minimum damage to the status quo?
Homework – Test yourself tomorrow…
When you next receive a slight, challenge or provocation what will you do? Will your first thought be to avenge a wrong? And will your second be to calm your inner caveman? Hopefully your third thought will focus on creating mechanisms to preserve your relationship and to not inflict quite so much damage as you initially wished? Good luck with the struggle…
Matthew Hill is a culture and diversity facilitator working with international corporate executives.