How to find an emergency-exit for conflicts?

In our experience parties in a conflict often miss the opportunity to de-escalate and resolve the issue because they have a limited understanding of what is driving and defining their disagreement.

When we help clients to resolve their conflicts we follow a structured process:
1. We analyze concerned interests, the environment and evolution of the conflict
2. We identify all strategic options to resolve the conflict
3. We assess pro´s and con´s for all strategic options and their re-combinations
4. We let our clients select the best option to resolve conflict
5. We follow up on the successful resolution and make sure clients are satisfied

I strongly recommend that you follow the same procedure when you deal with conflicts. In this blog I want to highlihght the importance of the conflict assessment for you.

Why bother with analyzing concerned interests, environment and evolution of the conflict when you exactly see how you would like to have the issue resolved? 

Analyzing conflicts is the first step to a better understanding of your best options how a conflict can be resolved.

While the history of conflicts is important to know, the story involved parties are telling about the discourse is often incomplete. If you want to resolve conflicts you need to understand what actually drives the conflict.

Without that knowledge you might be inclined to go on your own route and miss the accord with partners that you need for a successful implementation of your solution. Then you walk all the way back to try another route – probably without success. Then you become frustrated because you tried so hard and do not see any improvement. So before you get too frustrated you may consider using a roadmap and utilizing the available information to find out of that jungle.

You also should know there are strong forces involved. That is one reason why conflicts never disappear without active work by the involved parties. They grow like an organism, although not always steady and sometimes rather seasonally.

If you can live with the specific conflict you may wait, but you better re-assess regularly whether the energy, trust and resources that are drawn by the conflict make a resolution effort appealing for you and the other parties.

Very often most of the complexity of conflicts is hidden underneath the easily visible surface. Very often it is not just `those people´ that can´t get along. It is more than them. In any kind of organizations you may find that structures or procedures sometimes do not fit to job or project descriptions.

The easily visible surface of the conflict is words, voices and body language. Underneath these elements you find relations between parties and their environment may be essential for the conflict, or their value systems and their interests.

We assess conflicts thoroughly and identify hidden drivers. With this knowledge we empower our clients to draw a roadmap to resolve the conflict. And that is what most people ask us for in the beginning.

What they get in addition is a better relationship between them and other parties. Experienced team leaders know that after the first storm that their ship has mastered teamwork is greatly improved and gets to the next level. A number of our clients made the same experience with conflicts.

So if you are in a conflict you may see a positive side: The conflict allows you to excel. Isn´t this a happy end?


Consensus is achievable! Kai Elmauer


Chances for a Grizzly Recovery in the North Cascades

On March 6th 2009, we facilitated the Grizzly Forum in Hope with more than 50 participants representing at least 30 organizations. They shared information about the future of the grizzly bear population in the North Cascades and determined whether support exists to follow through with grizzly recovery management and identified “basic rules” that need to be applied if grizzly re-introductions are to be done. The participants came from Washington State, US, and British Columbia, Canada.

Special interest groups, non-governmental organizations and experts of governmental agencies were present to talk in an open atmosphere as to whether there is a future for the North Cascades grizzly bear population.

The Grizzly Forum aimed to inform stakeholders of current government bear management activities in the United States and Canada and to also provide scientific information about the grizzly bear. The presentations indicated that grizzly populations were historically very healthy in the North Cascades, prior to European settlement of British Columbia and Washington State. The grizzly’s decline over the past 200 years has been driven by several factors — in particular, habitat loss and unregulated hunting and trapping. For example, fur company records show that in the year 1845 alone, 400 grizzly hides were taken from the North Cascades.

Today, the grizzly bear population of the North Cascades is estimated to be approximately 25 bears in both BC and Washington combined. Making matters worse, this small population is geographically isolated from adjacent populations, so the movement of new grizzlies into the North Cascades is negligible.

On the positive side, the habitat for grizzly bears in the North Cascades remains good according to scientific assessments. The largest area of suitable habitat exists in the state of Washington and about one third of North Cascades grizzly habitat is in British Columbia.

Two key points emerged from the scientific presentations. First, if no action is taken, the dwindling grizzly bear population of the North Cascades will disappear. Whether this happens in a few years or decades, there is little doubt about the final result. Second, the close cooperation of British Columbia and Washington State is essential if we are to save this population from extirpation.

As this area is unlikely to enjoy the benefits of natural ursine immigration, an ecosystem-based project for grizzly bear augmentation should be designed. In basic terms, the larger the area, the more likely success will be. A collaborative effort toward this ecosystem conservation could avoid piecemeal projects based on anthropogenic boundaries, focusing instead on potential wildlife boundaries (roads, large rivers, etc.).

Education in support of recovery could likewise be in collaboration between the countries, with the possibility of pooling resources and providing standardized information specific to the Cascades.

The Grizzly Forum also provided a safe environment for user groups to speak out about their concerns. In the afternoon the Roundtable discussion supported an open dialogue among governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and special interest groups. It became very clear that there is a positive attitude toward the grizzlies in the North Cascades and even substantial support for an augmentation project.

Participants recommended basic guidelines for the management if such a project proceeds:

  • Involve special interest groups and listen to their ideas and concerns before decisions are made. For example, in recent assessments about the North Cascades and scientific literature about release of bears an important case is made about the remoteness of release sites. Project management has to consider carefully whether restricting access to these sites is necessary and how public support can be achieved. Acceptance by special interest groups could be reinforced by cooperation when selecting appropriate sites.
  • Educate and provide easily-accessible information about bears and the augmentation project.
  • Address more than biological or ecological issues, as many social and economic benefits are expected.

The participants realized there is hope for a common future with grizzly bears in the North Cascades, and they are willing to act for this purpose.

Consensus is achievable | Kai Elmauer