Compare & Contrast

Conflict Resolution: Strategies vs Trust

Drop Cap Letter QWhen connecting around needs and empathizing with feelings is going on, people don’t get hung up on strategies. Why not table discussion of strategies until there is universal agreement that all parties fully and deeply understand and appreciate each other’s feelings and needs? Then strategies need not be points of conflict—but points of creativity to find solutions that work for all.

Strategies vs trust

In the first sociocratic organization, Kees and Betty Boeke’s Children’s Community Workshop, developing love and trust was the expectation. The Boeke’s believed when everyone trusted that they themselves would be treated as equals, they would begin to care about the needs of others. They would naturally want everyone else’s needs to be respected too. It would become normal to make decisions by consensus.

Gerard Endenburg understood this from his experience as a student in the Workshop. But he was unable to use this style of consensus decision-making in business.

The limitations of depending on love and trust

Few businesses can wait until everyone, in Boeke’s words, “loves and trusts” each other before they start earning money to pay salaries. Few earn enough to stop production to resolve personal conflicts. Or only hire people who first pledged to “love and trust” their co-workers. The first hurdle would be changing expectations—workers normally don’t expect to make connections around needs or empathize with feelings at work. Tensions unrelated to achieving the purpose of their work usually need resolutions and strategies that are effective almost immediately.

In businesses, it might be necessary to focus on emotional reactions or personality conflicts when they are affecting productivity but not at the expense of production.

Work can rarely be set aside to resolve conflicts unrelated to the purpose of work. Think about train drivers. The train is on a schedule and filled with train workers, hundreds of passengers, and freight. The train can’t stop to resolve the issue of trust between the driver and the engineer over whether to do this or that. It has to arrive on time—and clear the tracks for the next train. To make an in–the–moment decision, the driver and engineer need to have a previously established order of command—who’s word rules? What is the best strategy?

Resolving personal conflicts is not properly the role of the circle or the operations leader in most organizations. Though a leader needs to have and encourage empathy and understanding, their job is related to their expertise in relation to the purpose of the work. There is also research showing that personal conflicts disappear when a team is successful. In the strategies vs trust debate, strategies produce more worker satisfaction.

Clear aims and conflict resolution

Large organizations and businesses hire hundreds of thousands of people. Expecting them to make connections at an emotional level would severely limit the available workforce. And it would limit diversity. There is less conflict in homogeneous groups. But having clear a clear and well-defined vision, mission, and aim prevents many conflicts from occurring in the first place.

Conflicts are not always the result of interpersonal misunderstandings. They often result from the lack of clarity in the expectations and needs of the workplace. Personal solutions are not effective in operational conflicts.

A difference in the purpose of the organization also affects the kind or level of conflict resolution necessary. In a neighborhood or religious group, the emotional comfort of members (except in the case of pathology) is essential to the “work,” the purpose of the community. Harmony is fundamental.  Integral to the work and governance of the community. Love and trust are always preferable to distrust and contempt. But dependence on love and trust is less effective in a business where production is what fulfills the purpose.

NVC compared to Sociocracy

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is one method, for example, of addressing misunderstanding or conflict in any context (at least between humans). Some cohousing professionals, for example, recommend that all members of a new community have training in NVC or another method of resolving conflicts. Even to identify a designated person, external or internal, who can provide support on an ongoing basis.

We’ve had a lot of discussion about NVC on the sociocracy@groups.io email discussion list. After meeting Marshall Rosenberg on a plane and explaining sociocracy to his a captive audience, John Buck became a consultant for the International NVC Board for a number of years. The national NVC organization became began encouraging local chapters to function sociocratically. And many NVC trainers studied to become sociocracy trainers.

The purposes of NVC and of sociocratic governance are so mutually supportive that over time many practitioners began to equate them. But while they are complimentary they are not in the same category of things. They are not interchangeable. They don’t have the same purpose.

Both are NVC and sociocracy are highly effective

Sociocracy is a highly effective method of designing and managing organizations—regardless of their purpose. NVC is a highly effective process or technique for examining feelings, sorting out needs, and identifying means of addressing them. They both use structured practices and they are complementary, but they have different purposes. One cannot do the job of the other.

The personal trust and empathy resulting from the practice of NVC won’t organize the work of many people, or even of one. And as long as a group of people has a common, clearly defined purpose, love and trust are not necessary for effective action. The strategy vs trust debate in organizations and businesses is relative to the purpose of the organization.

Originally published in 2014.  Updated 2019.