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Dealing with Conflict When Crisis Strikes – Thoughts from the Baltimore City Riots

emergencyprepchecklistI am writing this week’s blog post with a heavy heart. I was born and raised in Maryland, and I have been a resident of Baltimore City for the past four years. The events that occurred over the course of these past couple of weeks; starting with the arrest and then the death of Freddie Grey, is nothing short of tragic. As a student graduating in less than two weeks, with my Masters in Negotiation and Conflict Management from the University of Baltimore, these events have been eye opening to the deep-seated conflicts that exists not only in Baltimore City, but also throughout the United States. As a society, my hope is that we will do better, see the error in our ways, and make the necessary changes needed to progress forward.

Conflict will likely occur when multiple actors are involved in dealing with crisis incidents. In Baltimore, a number of businesses, large and small, were casualties of the riots. Companies must be organized so that owners and employees know what to do, where to go, who to report to, and what they are permitted to do to ensure safety, during times of crisis. If not, escalating conflict will occur causing confusion, possible injury, lack of timely response, and finger pointing when things don’t go well. Christine Pearson suggests in her article “A Blueprint for Crisis Management”, “The best firms … recognize that taking deliberate steps to prepare for the unforeseen can pay off handsomely.”

If a business does not formulate an approach to managing a crisis smoothly, conflict could arise between owners, employees, and external influences and the consequences could be potentially damaging.

So what can business owners and employees do to ensure these damaging consequences do not occur in the midst of a crisis?

Diana Pisciotta a contributor to Inc.com suggests, “One of the best outcomes of thinking about a crisis before it happens is the chance to consider your company’s strategy without the pressure of news choppers hovering over your facility.” Before a crisis occurs it is important to have an emergency plan in place so that all parties involved know what could be the worst outcomes, who to report to and receive directives from, and what is the plan moving forward. Effective communication of a crisis plan could clear up misunderstandings of authority and the tasks for which each person is responsible.

Clark Communications a virtual public relations agency recommends, “Communicate quickly and accurately – Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in an adverse environment or with an antagonistic news media.” In a crisis, especially now in the digital era, information whether accurate or not, is streamed to a global audience in an instant. Those in leadership roles need to communicate to their employees the facts they have received in a timely fashion, or they risk inaccurate information being received or heard. In a crisis, this could be detrimental.

Christine Pearson warns, “Once notified that a crisis has broken out, the best an organization can hope for is effective assistance from those within and outside the organization.” If a business does not have positive relationships formed both internally and externally, when a crisis occurs an owner cannot assume their employees and stakeholders will be there is assist once the dust settles. A business owner must build these relationships up to ensure assistance once a calamity occurs.

Finally, personality conflicts occur when a mix of different cultures, race, beliefs, attitudes, and work styles come together in one place. Royale Scuderi from Lifehack emphasizes, “Personality conflicts can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. Conflicts can usually be diffused by acceptance, understanding, appropriate action, and professionalism.” In times of crisis, it’s imperative that business owners and employees, put their differences assign and focus on the task at hand. It is important to recognize that they are all working towards the same goal.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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How to Address the Fear of the Big Bad Wolf

Mia BroomsIn the story of the three little pigs, we encounter the character of the big bad wolf; he is portrayed as big and bad. The same can be said when we think of the “big bad wolf” in our daily experience. However, fear tends to be the driving force behind this concept of the big bad wolf. Our thoughts, fears and emotions make conflict ugly and uncomfortable and hard to deal with. Fear makes us build walls in order to protect ourselves from this “the big bad wolf.” This is often the same way we deal with race, because we don’t know the person, group or culture we become afraid and we build walls to protect ourselves.

Once someone comes into our personal space we become afraid and this creates a fear that may make us act in ways that are inappropriate. Fear is a basic survival mechanism which occurs in response to a specific stimulus such as pain or the threat of danger. Once recognized it can lead to an urge to confront or flee (also known as the fight or flight response).

The fear of something or someone unknown and the lack of understanding is the basis for placing people and groups into categories. By creating these categories, it places that unknown at a safe enough distance so we don’t have to talk about or deal with the issues.

However, in order to break this cycle and deal with the perception of the big bad wolf, we have to be willing to get to know someone or a group that is different than us. Break down those walls, be curious and ask questions in order to understand the other, and start building different kinds of relationships.

If you would like to know more listen to Who is The Big Bad Wolf and Why are We Afraid of Him/Her? How race relations create, nurture and perpetuate the existence of this fictional character with Marvin E. Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of the Center alternative Dispute Resolution and Lou Gieszel, Deputy Executive Director of the Maryland Judiciary’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO)

Mia Brooms, Graduate Student Intern

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Race and Conflict in American Society: A Conversation

 Join in as Lou Gieszl and Cheryl Jamison examine conflict dynamics when race is an issue. Racism is less overt and yet more complex than at any other time in our history. Because racism tends to be implicit, it often gets overlooked or mislabeled. How can we recognize when race is an issue? Are there landmines that can be avoided? The presenters dispute the notion of a post-racial society and argue that effective conflict management often depends on acknowledging race as a divisive issue. Focusing especially on Black-White relations, the show includes tips for identifying racial issues underlying interpersonal conflicts as well as ideas for building positive connections across racial lines.

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