Frequently Asked Questions
At Confluence Collaboration, we frequently receive questions about conflict resolution including mediation and facilitation. We’ve compiled a list of these questions to help you understand the conflict resolution strategies we use to help our clients make sustainable progress toward a common goal.
If you have a question about how we can help you manage conflict, contact us.
How do you help clients manage and resolve conflict?
As part of the services we offer, we conduct conflict assessments and create initial process designs. These assessments and process designs give all parties an idea of the nature of a conflict and create a plan that lays out a clear way forward. Once the nature of a conflict is better understood and a process design is made, we can provide conflict management and collaborative services to our clients, including mediation and facilitation.
Depending upon the number of parties involved and the basis of their conflict, we will use different types of conflict resolution methods, including public engagement and consensus-building. Public engagement involves “getting butts in seats” by strategically figuring out ways to reach people with interest in a matter of public concern and making meetings convenient for them to attend. In the post-COVID-19 era, this process might also involve polling and breakout rooms via Zoom rather than large public meeting spaces. Consensus-building is a particular type of facilitation that, as the name implies, has a goal of bringing about common agreement within a multi-party group.
Each type of conflict is different but has comment elements such as the subject area, number of parties involved, external constraints including timing, and the specific nature of the conflict itself.
The work we do is inherently messy because it involves groups of people working together on complex problems. Rather than applying a “one size fits all” approach, at Confluence Collaboration, we work to tailor our services to your specific situation and needs.
Do you specialize in a specific subject area of conflict management?
We practice in three main subject areas:
- Environment & Natural Resources – We have helped a variety of stakeholders progress toward common goals related to natural resources and the environment. These stakeholders include government agencies and staff, natural resource groups, forestry and ecological restoration experts.
- Land Use Planning & Transportation – We have mediated or facilitated a variety of transportation and land-use conflicts, including traffic congestion, mixed-use development, and setbacks and height limitations.
- Organizational Change Management – We have dealt with many issues that commonly arise within government agencies, small businesses, non-profits, and family-owned companies. These issues include group dynamics, legacy and resource planning, and leadership alignment.
Read more about how we’ve helped our clients in these fields.
Depending upon the circumstances, we also help clients outside of these core subject areas. Contact us to inquire as to whether Confluence Collaboration can help you.
How do I prepare for mediation or facilitation?
Mediation and facilitation are not formal legal proceedings, so the level of preparation involved will vary depending upon the complexity and emotional intensity of the situation. You can bring any documents or other materials that you feel would be helpful in expressing your issues and concerns. Some people choose to bring friends, supporters, family, or witnesses to their mediation, which we welcome. Typically, an interview or assessment meeting prior to beginning a mediation or facilitation is helpful to both you as a participant and us as a mediator or facilitator. This will give you the opportunity to share your perspective of and experience with the subject matter.
It is helpful when participants also bring a willingness to listen and learn, a sense of curiosity, and an openness to the process of discussing the issues at hand and a desire to find options and solutions.
How long will the conflict resolution process take?
The amount of time required to move from initial assessment to making progress to resolution (or as close to a resolution that parties can get) can vary quite a bit. Timing depends upon a number of factors, including the number of parties involved, the complexity of the situation, and the ability of everyone to work together.
There are two ways in which Confluence Collaboration helps clients get an idea of how long a process might take. First, we offer assessments designed to determine the scope of a conflict and gain a clear understanding of the parties and stakes involved. We can then create an initial process design based on that assessment that maps out a plan to find common ground.
Mediations typically involve fewer parties and tend to take less time than a facilitation involving multiple parties. In our experience, mediations can take between one and four meetings and facilitations can range from between one and twelve meetings spread over anywhere from several weeks or more than a year.
However, every situation is different. Once we’ve been able to meet and conduct an assessment and initial process design, we’ll be able to give an estimate as to timing.
How will I know if we’re making progress, meeting benchmarks, and staying on schedule?
Throughout the process of working together, the Confluence Collaboration team will provide a schedule and periodic updates to track the progress and results.
This progress mapping is different from a project manager working with a checklist or an engineer following a step-by-step order of operations. It’s also not a quick-fix process where a facilitator swoops in and suddenly everyone is magically in agreement.
Instead, our progress tracking is based on group dynamics, the stability of the original goals, and any movement toward those goals. Add in the context of scientific or technical uncertainties about difficult policy issues and progress tracking becomes even more nuanced, making progress more difficult to estimate with certainty.
As conflict managers, we can periodically check in to ask how things are going, what resources or information or field trips the group needs, and what policy issues need pursuing. We can also determine whether progress is happening by observing cues as the group learns more about the subject matter or the differing perspectives among the parties. These cues might include noticing that the parties are interacting more often, seeing improved relationships, and observing the parties moving toward group-defined goals or agreeing on newly defined goals. Progress can also be seen when a group begins to move toward objectives, certain themes or a sense of the meeting emerge about the direction to go in, and trust begins to grow.
Overall, we will observe how a group is moving over time from a divergent zone into “the groan zone” of confusion, learning, and frustration, and then ideally into a convergent zone where common ground and understanding become visible.
Every group comes together and starts functioning and accomplishing things at a different pace, and that functionality also depends on their goals and the complexity involved in the nature of the work. In a larger group, a steering committee can form to help chart next steps.
Do I have a say in what we discuss and what goes on meeting agendas?
Yes. Whether the process takes place within one organization or across many, participant input and insights are welcome and valuable.
A client’s input is necessary to shape the agendas and reach the objectives they seek. The Confluence Collaboration team works with a client or a steering committee, if indicated, to discuss what happened in the last meeting and determine what needs to happen in the next meeting, and what steps should occur in between.
If we’re able to come to an agreement, how will we carry it forward after this process is done?
Because conflict resolution and conflict management are not legal proceedings, there isn’t a judge ordering people to do anything, and there is no legally binding agreement requiring that the parties take specific actions. However, by the time the parties have had the opportunity to share their issues and concerns and listen to other viewpoints, their attitude toward the initial conflict often tends to shift toward greater understanding of the whole situation. Along with this greater understanding comes an an interest in finding common ground. The more effort you put into tackling the problem and understanding it from multiple perspectives, the more invested you tend to become in owning the outcome and wanting to see it work. Operating from this new place of mutual understanding–a broadening of their Venn diagram, so to speak–tends to result in a willingness among the parties to come to and remain in agreement, and to re-open dialogue if necessary to make adjustments down the road.
In a multi-stakeholder process, the Confluence Collaboration team will work with the parties to create a “deliverable”, be it a memo, report, road map, or graphic with a timetable that explains who is responsible for what. What that plan looks like depends on what the parties involved would like to see happen going forward.
Can we keep this process confidential? What will people be allowed to talk about outside of our meetings?
Usually, confidentiality depends on the nature of the process. For example, does it involve public resources, multiple parties, time sensitive material, or elected officials? These factors can determine the level of confidentiality parties will desire. Sometimes people want to keep things confidential until they want to make public statements as a group about their agreements or projects. Sometimes they want the entire process to be made public to let people know what’s going on.
From the outset, we work with stakeholders to set up a charter with guidelines or ground rules that the group discusses and agrees to follow. The purpose of a charter is to help all parties feel comfortable about how the process is designed to work and what may be expected of them and others. When developing a charter, we might ask the parties what rules they’d like to include that would help them feel comfortable about participating in the process and speaking freely.
A charter may include a guideline about confidentiality and what information parties can disclose under what circumstances. The parties agree that if anyone goes against these agreed-upon rules or understandings, they risk experiencing anger, frustration, and the loss of trust from the rest of the group. These ground rules aren’t legally binding; they are more about agreeing upon guidelines to manage group behavior.
To learn more about how confidentiality would work, contact us.