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The Quest for Conflict Intelligence: How Questions Help Us Find Our Way Through Conflict

Noble_Cinnie_9405_8x10Conflict is a dynamic and unfolding process which can be rich with opportunities to explore and understand perspectives. Cinnie Noble, a pioneer of conflict management coaching created the CINERGY™ model in 1999. In her own discovery and journey, she coined the term “conflict intelligence” to mean the competence in our self-awareness, insight into others, and the knowledge and skills to manage interpersonal conflict effectively. In her most recent book, Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You, she will discuss how questions and the use of metaphors can be skillfully used to explore how one might think or feel differently about the conflict they are experiencing.


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Conflict is an Opportunity

Conflicts are comprised of three stages: before, during, and after. Before conflict you are deciding what to say, seething about what just happened, or maybe you are unaware there is a problem. The phrase “Ignorance is bliss” doesn’t apply here. Being blindsided by conflict is no picnic, but it happens.  I recently found myself in that uncomfortable scenario when an e-mail message was interpreted in a way that I did not attend. refectionThe person on the other end of the e-mail did not appreciate the tone of the e-mail that I had sent. I thought the message was friendly and warm, they perceived it to be aloof and cold. I had no time to think of an appropriate response when confronted about the e-mail. I was instantly defensive and annoyed they completely misunderstood what I thought was clear. My annoyance came out when I was asked why I was raising my voice. I had no idea I was raising my voice.

Self-awareness is the ability to be aware of one’s own personality and character in the moment. At that present moment, I was not aware I was raising my voice. When people are engaged in conflict, self-awareness is low. But after conflict, tempers and emotions have settled creating an opportunity to learn. With the right tools and strategies, you can turn conflict into a learning opportunity. Reflective practice involves learning from your own experiences. In 1988, Graham Gibbs, illustrated a reflective cycle in his book Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods that consisted of six stages:

1. Description – What happened during the conflict?

2. Feeling – What were you thinking and/or feeling during the conflict?

3. Evaluation – What was good and/or bad about the conflict interaction?

4. Analysis – What was your perception of the conflict?

5. Conclusions – What else could have been done?

6. Action – What would you do if it happened again?

Journaling and talking through the conflict interactions can be another way to learn from your conflict interaction. After your next conflict try this: Take a deep breath (consciously taking a breather can calm your nerves and keep you grounded), grab a journal, your laptop, or even a friend and go through Gibbs reflective cycle. You will be surprised at what you learn.

By Tracy Culbreath

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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