Notes from Transition Conference 2011 workshop Beyond Conflict,
led by Laurie Michaelis
(Notes by Isabel Carlisle who acted as clerk)
Workshop was framed as “Our experiences of tension and conflict: what happened? Why did it happen? What can we learn?”. The group voted to experience the Quaker Meeting process for resolving conflict.
Laurie gave us some guidelines:
1. Come with an open mind ready to hear and unite with the sense of the meeting.
2. Stand when you have something to say. Wait to be called. Don’t speak otherwise.
3. It’s much more about listening than putting your bit forward
4. Listen for the truth in others’ words
5. The minutes are agreed word for word in the meeting and a clerk is appointed to take notes of what people are saying and synthesise them into a minute.
The question we were addressing was “What can we say arising from our experience of conflict?”
Isabel: “It does not help either side if we back down”
Kath: “Conflict arises from personal differences that may not be related to the issues in question. It arises from past relationships, private lives, anger in some people, passion in others and through getting blinkered. We may have frustration with others not hearing what we say. People are reluctant to let go of their viewpoint. Ideas get stuck at the point of putting them into action. People get disaffected. Maybe success comes from resolving different views? Conflict may also come from customs that are not honoured (like being vegan) or choices that are imposed on others or arguing about meaning. Maybe we need ground rules?”
Ben: “Strong feelings are expressed as a result of unmet needs that are both conscious and unconscious. The clash comes from not acknowledging the needs and you reach an impasse. Lack of awareness about balance between the feminine and masculine sides of ourselves and others, between going with the flow and moving to action.”
Clionha: “I have experience of mediation in Northern Ireland between ex Republican paramilitaries and men from the Loyal Orders, also in a co-housing group. My main learning was around needs and I found that when people were invited to express a view in which they filled in the story of why and what place they were coming from it made a big difference. Questions like ‘How long have you felt it’ were helpful in making needs clear. It helped us to see each other as human beings and moved the group towards thinking ‘how we can help meet the needs of others?’”
Laurie: “There is no substitute for taking time to get to know one another and really listen. If we don’t understand the question we can’t really answer: the way we use words and understand will differs. Looking at personality differences can be transformative”
Kath: “We should spend more time acknowledging our feelings. Maybe people are all on the same page but don’t realise it. Conflict leads to anger. How can we talk about that?”
Andy: “Conflict arises for me when there is a sense of denial of my truth, turning into conflict about the conflict: I feel I am being denied.”
Debbie: “The key is to see each other and create space between each other. This process that we are in now creates space to breathe and reflect.”
Chris: “It’s really important to make time for this, it should be put into the guide for Transition initiatives.”
Dai: “Resolution is the natural progression from conflict. We may have to go through the messy process to get there. We could see conflict as gates that we move through. Egos often play a part. “Speaking my truth” is another way of saying “opinions”. Truth is in everything in small amounts. We can’t own the truth.”
Isabel then had a go at writing the minute. She came up with: “Conflict arises when needs are not met. Our inability to understand our own needs and the needs of others, to express them clearly, fuels conflict. There is always a back story that needs to be honoured with spaciousness and willingness to listen.”
v She read this out twice to the meeting. She was asked to add in something about: Seeing one another clearly
v Strong positioning in opinions makes us stuck
She amended the minute to:
“Conflict arises when unmet needs lead to people taking up strong positions. Our inability to understand our own needs and those of others, to see one another clearly and speak what we see, fuels conflict. There is always a back story that needs to be honoured with time, spaciousness and willingness to listen.”
This was accepted by the meeting: people were asked if this was a true minute and said “I hope so”.
Reflecting on this process the group agreed that it was really valuable to spend time in clearing relationships in meetings, to develop a process that is a shared culture.
With head, heart and hand: Dimensions of community building by Anthony Kelly (Paperback – 1988 currently unavailable) book for co-housing groups.
“Advices and Queries” book for Quakers