The Issue:

There are multiple sources of conflict in organizational life:

People are confused or in disagreement regarding their role responsibilities. A person thinks he or she is supposed to do one thing and his or her boss, peers and/or subordinates think he or she is supposed to do something else
People have differing values: One believes in individuality; the other believes in the group.
People come from differing cultures: One believes that diversity is a good thing; another believes that homogeneity builds strong cultures
People have differing agendas: One person's strategy blocks another person's ambitions
People have directional disagreement: One person is convinced that the organization ought to pursue a course of action that another person is sure will result in disaster.
People have stylistic disagreements: One person's way of doing things reminds another person of what it feels like to hear fingernails scratching a blackboard.
People have pressures outside of work that impinge on their emotionality at work. People going through divorce are likely to be irritable and antagonistic. People in grief may not be very responsive to someone else's organizational priorities.

This list could go on.

In other words, interpersonal and inter-group conflict is a given in any organization. The way in which people respond to conflict can vary greatly, however. In the main, people polarize when they disagree; the greater the disagreement, the more acute the polarization.

The Programs

A Collaborative Approach to Conflict draws on a number of proven strategies that help people understand conflict and, therefore, provide them with the tools to respond more effectively and creatively when they are involved in a disagreement with others or when they are trying to help others work through their disagreements with one another. As with many of New Context's offerings, clients can draw upon a range of interventions from workshops to customized consulting services to develop these conflict resolution competencies.

One program, Working with Others?--created by New Context's affiliate, Dr. Grady McGonagill - uses tools such as:

the Myers Briggs Type Inventory to alert people to the fundamental personality distinctions that exist between them
the Belbin Role typology that legitimates the value of many different work styles and orientations to the successful completion of important projects
a range of listening exercises and interpersonal awareness concepts to help people become more effective in their work with others
video taped role plays that give people the opportunity to experiment with different strategies for managing conflict and, by doing so, to internalize their learnings from other aspects of the workshop

This program has been used extensively by one of the world's pre-eminent consulting firms and a range of other public and private sector organizations.

Another program, Learning and Using Model II, was co-designed by Dr. Michael Sales and Dr. Bill Joiner, a New Context affiliate, to introduce participants to an in-depth experience with the ideas of Professors Chris Argyris and Don Schon. Both Sales and Joiner are among the few people who were supervised directly by Argyris while pursuing their doctorates at Harvard.

Model II is a set of values, attitudes and behaviors that lead to a much more open approach to conflict. The focus of Model II training is to learn how to interact with others in conflict situations so that a much higher level of learning results than that which occurs when people polarize or listen to each other without a real willingness to change their own points of view.

Participants are exposure to Model II concepts, such as:

"The Ladder of Inference, i.e., learning to see how we all move from what actually transpired in a situation to the meaning and motivations that we assign to other peopleÕs behavior set of creative thinking methodologies that can be used to identify and prioritize important customer needs and to generate and prioritize creative solutions to these needs (e.g., product improvements and new product ideas).
The importance of Awareness Gaps and Actions Gaps, i.e., the ways in which we are unaware of the fact that we are acting in a defensive fashion and the ways in which we act defensively even though we sincerely intend to do otherwise.
The relationship of Model II and interpersonal effectiveness to the construction of "learning organizations," a term that was probably invented by Argyris and Schon to describe the dynamic that exists in a work system that values openness and knows how to tamp down defensive behavior and attitudes.

The core of the workshop involves the construction of personal learning cases and discussing them through with colleagues. The personal learning case is a particular tool that helps us become more aware of what we are thinking about and how we are feeling while we are interacting with others in some situation that is important, fairly typical and somewhat stressful. (This personal case method has been written about extensively both by Argyris and Schon and by others, such as Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline.) Many participants in this program have had profound insights into their way of dealing with others and the limits of their own personal effectiveness as a result of using the Personal Learning Case tool.

Members of the New Context network have had extensive experience teaching Model II to executives, consultants, and middle managers in many different organizations. A version of this program that was designed by Michael Sales was used for a number of years by Arthur D. Little, which was once one of the United States' most important consulting firms. Another was used by William M. Mercer, the actuarial company, and another was employed extensively by a software subsidiary of the Chase Manhattan Bank.

New Context's Middle Power and Facilitation for Results programs and its Executive Coaching services both draw upon the tools used in Learning and Using Model II and Working With Others .

On some occasions, New Context may offer clients mediation and arbitration services. New Context seeks to provide these remedies to intense conflict situations in a way that makes a collaborative approach to conflict more likely should there be a subsequent disagreement between the parties.