Individual Reflective Practices
Reflection on our work is something that all community development workers do (or should do). A critical self-reflection allows us to question our practices, our principles and what roles we have taken in any aspect of our work- not just conflict. We can question our own assumptions in our work and what we carry into our practices.
A reflective space needs to be linked to any aspect of conflict. All human beings experience conflict- even though we may not define it as such. We have differences of opinions, values or agendas. We disagree, we argue, we scheme, we react. For each aspect of making sense of conflict, it is essential to do some thinking to see how your analysis and assumptions are being challenged- and what you have learned. Some of the learning about the impact triggers can have comes not only from reading, but from taking time to think of how we all emotionally respond- and on that basis, we learn and can pass on insights to others.
Coupled with all of these exercises in reflection is the need to keep a conflict journal.
Thinking about how we respond to conflict: taking a Third Side approach to your own conflicts
Self-reflection on conflict is putting into practice the third side. In this instance, you are attempting to step back from your own side of conflict, and analyse through the lens of a conflict practitioner. It isn’t easy to do and requires time, patience and honesty. When most of us think back to a disagreement, we can easily remember how we felt, with some work we can think about what triggered an emotional response. It takes considerable work to step back and take a “balcony” approach- and view your own conflict through the lens of the third side: what was at stake for the other side, what were the environmental pressures, what was going on for the other person, how we may (even without intent) triggered something in them.
Before beginning to think about creating a reflective space, remember, this needs to be planned for- it is part of work, it needs to be worked on and it needs time and a suitable space. Re-read the third side page again- and use the links to expand you knowledge on third side approaches.
Remember, analysing your own conflicts, especially ones that caused hurt, is complicated and also can be difficult- not least as it could draw you back into unresolved conflict. Keep yourself safe by reading all the resource material and only use reflection at the start with less serious conflicts or disputes you have been involved in that have had some resolution.
Using a third side approach means you are going to try and make sense of something you have been directly involved in (Dancefloor) from a perspective of trying to understand both sides of the conflict (balcony) (link back to third side approaches). Whilst this seems counterintuitive, you can develop a huge level of insight by trying to asses what someone else’s motives, their needs, what they have reacted to, what they wanted from a situation. People who are very highly skilled in third side approaches can use this when involved directly in conflict themselves to switch from their “own” side to the third side to try and defuse and deescalate situations, which is a conflict management strategy that many of us should try to aim towards.
Third side analysis of your own conflicts
Take some time to remember a conflict you were involved in:
Document what had happened as if you were recording this were you taking a third side role as provider, and are attentively listening to what has happened
Now do the same, and to the best of your ability, step back from your own side, and try to assess the conflict as a third side observer: what has happened for them? Try not to take the easy option and immediately take your own side again, in a slightly different voice. A third side role needs you to really push yourself to try and see the other person’s perspective. If you were a real time impartial observer of this conflict, what would you see? Change your perspective: what can you see from the balcony when you approach your conflict in this way?
Record what you have learned. What worked for you?
Have you managed to move from “your side” to the third side view? What did you learn? If you were to be in a similar situation, what could you do to avoid escalating the situation? How could you play a third side role in that specific situation to ensure that you could promote a situation that was mindful of the other person’s needs, without compromising your own? Was there a chance for a win/win for everyone? Could you bring that learning into your own life/work to try and communicate better in conflict situations, bring about change and reduce anger/tensions?
Don’t be disillusioned if you find this difficult- it is. We all have our internal voice that continuously interprets the world from our perspective- working to listen to another voice, to bring another perspective is a challenge. We can feel that we are somehow admitting our own faults or suggesting that we have had some role in conflict- which of course, we have- but we often don’t want to admit that. Our own narratives for conflict almost always have us as 100% right, and someone as 100% wrong!
Don’t give up the 1st time- keep trying. The more you practice this technique, the easier it becomes. You may even find immediately after a dispute that you are already using third side approaches to think: “They were under a lot of pressure, and my questioning their approach in that way triggered them to think I was attacking their professionalism, which is an important part of how they view themselves”…
Why do this?
If part of our work is to get people thinking about conflict differently and how they react, interact and build stronger relationships, the third side approach is one that gets people to think about what they do, how it impacts on others and how we can build sustainable communities. If we as practitioners cannot do this with our own conflicts, it means we will never be really able to take third side roles in our work as community development workers dealing with conflict.
Remember, that if conflict is natural (and in the case of challenging the status quo or anti-Traveller racism) and at times welcome, we need to remember that our goal is not to end or eliminate conflict- that is impossible.
Our goal is to transform how conflict is expressed from destructive forms such as violence, abuse, and intolerance into constructive forms such as debate, dialogue, negotiation, and democracy. Conflict is inevitable; violence is not.
Learning third side roles as transformative for our own conflict and how we view it is vital- for without that learning we cannot teach anyone else.
Specific more in-depth reflective exercises:
Reflect on each aspect of the “making sense of conflict” part of the website
Break down each topic into pieces to actively and honestly reflect on them. Again, in order to become someone who can teach about conflict, we need to know about conflict- and the best place to learn, is by examining how we react, think, feel. Know thyself. If we want to empathise with someone who tells you “I felt humiliated, it was suggested I was no longer a good worker/family member/ friend” you need to be able to think not only what that hurt feels like, but also what is at stake for the person, and move them away from the hurt and pain and thinking about looking at the conflict from other perspectives, towards a wider third eye view of what this conflict is about for both sides- which will lead to a vision of life that they can work towards.
For example –
• What are your triggers?
• What really matters to you?
• If you have a disagreement and were triggered, what was at stake for you?
• Having looked at your own triggers, are you now confident that you understand enough to bring this topic to your colleagues?
• If someone talked to you about a conflict situation they were in, would you be confident enough to talk to them about triggers?
• What would hold you back from bringing this analysis to a dispute in your life, the organisation, or the community?
- Have you ever had a situation whereby someone changed roles with you abruptly? Moving from friend to manager?
- From a friend to teacher?
- From a sibling to elder role?
- What happens to you when this switch happens? How did it effect you? Why does unannounced changes in roles effect us so much? What do we need to be clear about as practitioners when we become aware about the multiple roles we have and carry out?
- How have you felt if someone has accused them of hurting them (physically/emotionally/psychologically)?
- How did you respond?
- What was at stake for you when you were accused of this?
- What triggers people if they are accused of something?
- How can you avoid responding in a way to escalating if you have been accused of something you had no intention of doing?
- Is there a way of doing this without “losing face”?
Read through the “making sense of conflict” section, and think about each of the pieces of information that break conflict down. Are there aspects you can now identify in conflict you have been involved directly in or seen? Can you apply a third side approach to viewing this- and what can that teach you about yourself and your own conflict style; and, how will that influence how you try to think and teach others about conflict.
Remember, if our aim is to use third side practices to be confident to play a number of roles, we need to be able to have put those skills into practice in advance of using them in real world/real time situations. The only way to do this, is to use our own experiences of conflict to advance our own knowledge.