Bureau of Reclamation Banner
This information is intended to convey the underlying concepts for Reclamation's decision processes. It is not mandatory.
See the Reclamation Manual for official Reclamation-wide requirements.

Reclamation's Decision Process Guide


go through page Advantages / Disadvantages / Managing Conflict / Solving Conflict / Go On

pretty border

Conflict*definition can occur any time two people whose views differ get together. This means that conflict is a natural part of human relations.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Advantages of Conflict:

Manage conflict, don't eliminate it.

You can learn more about the problem and needs, develop more comprehensive solutions, and create more options.
You may work with people you would otherwise never meet.
Participants can be more motivated to find creative solutions and think outside of the box of limitations.
Conflict can force a process to expand a solution to cover new problems and changes.
You can get more support for a workable solution by working out difficulties now.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Disadvantages of Conflict

People may not care to work with the other perspectives, preferring to bow out.
People may tend to give up on a process if they feel it can't be solved.
Differing opinons about data and analysis may cloud issues and comparisons between alternatives.
Stress and frustration
Confrontations may get personal or escalate. It is never fun to be the object of someone else's dislike.

Feelings are just as real as facts.

Conflict will happen--and you want it to happen. People will do many things that subvert a process and ultimate solution just to avoid conflict:

Poor solutions
People may go along with a poorly thought out idea
Lack of support
People may not participate
Limited perspectives
People may not suggest ideas, raise issues or concerns, or discuss evaluation techniques
Multiply myth-truths *definition

Make pleasing statements to smooth over any issues--thus digging traps for decisionmakers and participants that create more issues.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Managing Conflict

Ignoring conflict isn't very realistic. Problems will not go away by themselves. Rather:

Open communication lines
Make sure everyone has a voice in the process.
Establish ground rules
These rules establish guidelines for communicating and addressing the problem. Create objective criteria that applies to and is independant from both sides. Ensure the process is on the lines of "one cuts and the other chooses" to avoid future misunderstandings. Ground rules help manage the situation--you can point to a ground rule rather than a person when someone gets off track.
Understand, acknowledge, and respond to messages being sent. Verify assumptions to avoid mythconceptions*definition.
Diffuse tension and emotions
Monitor and control emotions--they won't help solve the problem. Too quick or emotional statements will escalate tensions and feed the conflict. Experiment with methods to calm your own emotions (breathing control, re-living a calming moment, rubbing the webbing between thumb and forefinger, etc.) Practice in front of a mirror so your methods are unobtrusive.
Set the stage

Physical arrangements can send subliminal messages (e.g., a row of chairs facing a speaker creates a lecture atmosphere--with one source of right answers, a round table creates a relatively equal status. Smaller spaces can escalate conflicts--consider moving out of doors or into a larger area.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Solving Conflict

Managing conflict so it doesn't escalate creates a space to resolve the conflicts. This will help participants focus on solving the original problem. To resolve conflicts:

Diagnose the disagreements
Determine what the root of the conflict is, the positions each participant has taken, and the personalities and values of the various participants. This will help see the conflict objectively. Ask:
  • How did the conflict develop?
  • Who is involved? Why?
  • What policies*definition , values*definition , and objectives*definition are challenged?
  • What rights to participants claim?
  • Who wants what? What are participants' perspectives on the original problem?
Collect information
This will verify the initial analysis. Analyzng and interpreting the information as a group can help participants see other perspectives and find some common ground. Ask neutral questions to forestall interruptions, posturing, and to find the real information.
Reinforce existing agreements
If people have agreed on ground rules and made other prior commitments, revirew and reinforce those. This calls attention to all the positive work so far and provides a context for solving points of contention.
Negotiate disagreements
Often, people want to begin with negotiation. However, everyone needs to understand the facts and feelings that prompted the conflict in the first place. Review what has happened so far to focus on the actual agreements and disagreements. List issues and important disagreements for all to see. Have each person rank these in order of importance--then rank them as a group. Address the smallest first and work toward the greatest so that you can build on previous successes.

For each disagreement:

Address issues and need
Separate the people from the problem. Determine what the needs are to reach mutually beneficial solutions.
Invent options
Creatively come up with options that will address as many of the identified needs and satisfy as many of the interests as possible.
Solidify agreements
Confirm and document the agreed on solutions and identify who will do what when. Review the list of disagreements and confirm the agreed-upon solution. Ensure all participants get a copy of the document. Review proposed actions carefully to check the accuracy of perceptions and to ferret out unwarranted assumptions. Give people time to think and suggest additional changes--it is better to discuss a small misunderstanding now rather than a large one later.

pretty border

navigate in the page--Go On


PreviousHidden Agendas

NextHip Pocket Concepts



Please contact Deena Larsen 303-445-2584 with questions or comments on this material.