In his speech in the House of Commons on June 5, 1946 Sir Winston Churchill said at the time of II World War, “It is better to have a world united, than a world divided; but it is better to have a world divided, than a world destroyed.”(p.150)He was making an important statement of conflict resolution at the highest level, when the struggle between powerful forces that were highly antagonistic to each other was going on unabated. Those forces were Capitalism, Communism and Nazism, each trying to gain supremacy over to rule the world. Just as every argument has a counter argument, every conflict has a solution. Two or more parties are involved in a conflict. This world runs on dualities-pair of opposites as it is known from the philosophical point of view. In the parlance of modern management techniques, issues can be resolved by negotiations, across the table. The destructive element, the negative thinking that gives rise to conflicts can be dealt with constructively. The day to day life is full of conflicts. Some of the striking conflicts that have the bearing on the social and economic aspect of the life of individuals are trade union issues, protest of farmers against the forced acquisition of their agricultural lands for construction of shopping centers, nations engaged in disputes related to boundaries etc. The enlightened ones rely on an appropriate mechanism to deal with such conflicts constructively with an open mind, without further aggravating the contentious points involved in the conflict. The popular saying goes, ‘Where there is a will, there is a say.’ A dynamic approach to solve the conflict averts destructive situations.
Purpose of the paper
The purpose of this paper is to understand the root cause of the conflicts and how conflict resolution is possible with a constructive approach and arrive at creative solutions, without leaving the trace of bitterness. This paper outlines theoretical and practical approaches of conflict resolution. The specific objective of this paper is to give comment on one current example in the field of conflict management, to draw some practical conceptual conclusions relating to this conflict with particular reference to capacity building initiatives, integration of responses to contemporary conflict, the links between civil society building and conflict management, importance of non-official agencies in conflict resolution, post-conflict reconstruction, sharing of concern by parties that are not directly related to the conflict, and democratization of conflict management.
How information is gathered
Information is gathered from newspapers, text books on the subject of conflict resolution, and articles. The writer of this paper has some practical experience of conflict resolution and one such case has been elaborated elsewhere in this paper.
About conflict resolution
The tools to conflict resolution are multi-dimensional. Their growth of conflict movement is like that of an octopus. According to James A. Schellenberg, focus is on five main ways of such resolutions. They are adjudications, meditation, arbitration, negotiation and coercion. (13) The main theories of conflict, both classic and contemporary are: individual characteristics theories, social process theories, social structural theories, and formal theories. (13) With no cut and dry formula to resolve a conflict with a particular theory, the players in conflict resolution have to grapple with an overwhelmingly large field of inquiry. Schellenberg in his book “Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, and Practice” further writes, “The field of conflict studies has a long history, but also a very rapid recent development. The question of whether it now constitutes a discipline in its own right is still a subject of debate. In any event, the field includes a great variety of subjects and approaches.”(15)Social and cultural events bolster camaraderie in a big way. They bring back and renew and kindle the positive aspects of the human spirit. It is comparable to a reunion of different age groups and each one finds the topics of one’s wavelength to discuss and argue in a healthy style. It releases lots of pent-up feelings. One gets to see many people not seen/visited for a long time. It is just fun and education! Happy recollections of the past rejuvenate the spirit of the gathering.
Analysis of Conflict
At present something that looks insignificant has begun to rock Portland’s City Hall-the parking meters. The issue, that has taken the shape of a tough multi-dimensional conflict, came to light in July 2008, questioned city parking official’s plan to sell the big chunk of city’s SmartMeters to a Canadian firm for $9.4 million, then lease them back for $12 million over 5 years. The authority faced independent questioning from city auditors and an independent consultant.
This transaction is suspected for two dealings that cannot be considered as straightforward or businesslike on two counts. “(1) McCoy intended to become a partner in a parking business, while pursuing a contract that would have resulted highly beneficial for the firm. The option was to privatize part of the operation of Portland’s automated SmartMeter parking stations. (2) Ellis tried to get a job in one of the companies making efforts to get the contract. The contract was promised to the company.” (Victoria Taft)
The allegation sprung forth from a responsible source, “…the owner of the parking firm, Bruce Feathers, also a member of city’s advisory committee on small business. As the Portland Tribune reported in October, Feathers sent the city a legal notice, called a tort claim, earlier this year, alleging that McCoy acted improperly to get his firm, FeatherLite, kicked off a city contract after FeatherLite declined McCoy’s overtures to hire him.”(Victoria Taft) Allegations of a personal nature were tendered against McCoy accepting Feathers’ gifts of free meals andPortland Trail Blazers game. “He also alleges that another firm bidding for the parking meter contract Precise Parklink of Toronto took care about entertaining in Toronto Feathers and McCoy for meals, golfing and fishing.”(Victoria Taft) McCoy filed his own tort claim against the City and accused it of racial bias. McCoy’s letter claims that in 2001, another manager in the Office of Transortation made a comment about McCoy’s skin color. The issue of financial irregularity and favoritism took an ugly turn of racial bias which has latent capacity to turn into a volatile problem. The important questions are, corruption if it is there in the transactions, from where does it start and who the end-beneficiary. Are major players involved in it? Is it the play of McCoy only or higher-ups are involved in sharing the booty? At present the matter is being investigated by the U. S. Attorney and Federal Bureau of Investigation, and at their request further comments on the issue by the concerned parties is put on hold. Ellis McCoy is being paid on administrative leave immediately. Adams announced last month he would decline to seek re-election in 2012.
Resolution of Conflict
Resolution of conflict precedes proper understanding and analysis of the various facets of conflicts. The popular method of analysis is SPITCEROW, composed with a series of key words in questions that one needs to address oneself to understand the nature of the conflict and the application of possible methods to resolve it. The words are Sources, Parties, Issues, Tactics, Changes, Enlarge, Roles, Outcome and Winners. Now, let us examine this Portland Parking Meter issue by analyzing it as per SPITCEROW.
1. What are the sources of this conflict? Examine both sides of the conflict, just like one observes a scale, whose both arms are equally important to strike at the correct balance.
Avoid bias sieve the essence from the hearsay of the people. Emotions around the conflict need to be carefully evaluated.
The sources of the conflict are suspected underhand dealings. When more than one party is involved in bidding for a money-spinning contract, businessmen are known to adopt un-businesslike approaches with the motivated desire of profit. With the accusation of the racial bias, the issue has taken a new turn.
2. Identify who are the parties to the conflict. Who are the primary and secondary parties? Know the position of the primary party. Secondary parties normally have the capacity to prolong the conflict.
The primary party is the one accused of corruption, Ellis McCoy and the secondary parties are the contractors that alleged to have indulged in corrupt practices, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
3. Identify the issues. What are the contentions of the parties? Know if there is more than one issue, and try to segregate the issues. Is there a hidden agenda other than what one thought to be the main issue?
The issues are, is there any illegal gratification paid to influence the granting of the contact? Is there racial bias? The issue of racial bias, though raised later, is more powerful than the original issue of alleged bribes.
4. Is the approach of the parties straightforward, or any tactics are seen? Do they actually mean what they say? Do not encourage the approach of using tactics, as it sows the seeds of distrust. On rare occasions, tactics may be useful.
As the matter is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it is too early to say something definite about the alleged kickbacks. But if the card of racial bias has been used by Ellis McCoy as the diversionary tactic suppresses the main issue that is unfair. As Winslade and Monk (2001) state: “People are not that simple” (p. 57). So this racial element to the conflict might have been deliberately introduced by McCoy. The issue takes an entirely different turn by introducing elements that are self-serving, and if not properly handled by the authorities, may end up in national level unrest and violence. Pruitt, D. & Kim, S. H. (2003) in the book, “Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement,” write, “This self-serving evaluation contributes to escalation by creating frustration and impairing problem-solving ability.”(157)
5. Time is a great healer. Identify what has changed in the basic nature of the conflict. Are the causes of the conflict, when it first surfaced, still relevant? Whether new elements have been introduced into the conflict? This sort or re-examination will help the cause of resolution.
The issue of financial irregularity, alleged bribes and other favors is to be decided on the basis of evidence. This has nothing to do with the alleged racial bias that has been introduced as a new element. An irregularity is an irregularity whether committed by a white or a black.
Robert Bolton in his book, “People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts” writes, “To be able to use sound methods in stressful conflict situations requires skill development. Further conflict management skills should be taught as part of a training program that includes listening, assertion, and collaborative problem-solving skills.”(215)
6. How did the conflict enlarge? What the contributing factors that made the conflict more serious and enlarged its scope? How it can be controlled? What talks and discussions amongst the people fuelled the conflict? How to neutralize such unhealthy discussions?
The scope of conflict, alleged bribes, is a matter under investigation. Detailed investigation is needed whether it involves just one individual, or whether the kick back amount is shared by the higher-ups. In democratic set-up discussions, allegations and counter-allegations cannot be avoided, and to an extent such healthy discussion are necessary. However, the matter is being investigated by a competent agency, so one should exercise restraint while commenting.
7. What roles have other parties played and what is their contribution to enhance the conflict? What have been the roles of the secondary parties? The influence of their role as for every aspect of the conflict needs to be examined. If they are playing the negative role whatneeds to be done to check it? What is their interest in continuation of the conflict? Are there other parties who render assistance to you to douse the flames of conflict?
Once the investigation is over, the indicted parties, if such an indictment occurs, will naturally seek relief from the legal authority. At this stage, I doubt if anyone will take the risk of
trying to fluence the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Moore (2003, pp. 53-54) discusses the importance of impartiality and neutrality as critical characteristics in problem solving mediation. “Impartiality refers to the absence of bias or preference in favor of one or more negotiators, their interests, or the specific solutions that they are advancing… Neutrality, on the other hand, refers to the relationship or behavior between intervener and disputant”.
8. What is the outcome of the conflict at present? Where do the parties involved in the conflict stand at present? Make an objective evaluation. Is the conflict still raging, difficult to control, and if so how it should according to your calculations or more specifically your desire? Can it end to the satisfaction of everybody? Will the final outcome leave all happy?
The party against whom allegations have been made, Ellis McCoy is being sent on paid administrative leave. Even though it may hurt his ego, no other option exists for the investigating agency, as his presence in the office during the course of investigation may influence/interfere in the proceedings. If found guilty of malpractices, would McCoy play the racial card? Will he develop the vindictive attitude and find other avenues to settle scores? As S. P. Huntington points out, “The resolution of one conflict and the disappearance of one enemy generate personal, social and political forces that give rise to new ones. (130)
9. Who are the winners in the conflict till now? Is there a victor now? If the conflict continues, what are the reasons? If the weaker party has won, the conflict may not be over in the real sense. Some conflicts may lie dormant and may ignite quickly with the slightest provocation. Ensure the correct position.
There is no winner or loser in the conflict. The ultimate winner should be justice. Careers of individuals and the business reputation of the contracts is of no consequence while the investigating agency makes efforts to uphold the laws of good governance as this issue concerns the public of Portland.
Schellenberg writes, “The field of conflict studies is an extremely rich area for study.”(p.16)Conflict is a crisis. Wise people say, ‘Every crisis is an opportunity.’ The object of this article has been to discuss and give suggestions about the complex area of conflict management. How to reach the level of sustained capacity building for solution sustains for a long time to come. . The process of conflict resolution is a collaborative effort-professionals have a vital role to play. It is not the responsibility of politicians alone-the issue of governance is a colossal responsibility and the various wings of the civil society should take active part in conflict management. Partnering, dialogue, conciliation-all these not only tender immediateresults for conflict resolution, they leave a permanent impression on the social psyche about the public capacity to resolve conflicts. When the non-state actors, non-governmental organizations and unofficial mediators take the centre stage for conflict resolution, it is a healthy development. The resource-strapped government agencies will welcome such a healthy development, and the people in general will have the satisfaction of participation in a vital area that concerns the entire society-conflict resolution. Recurring conflicts in any area are bad for the individual and the society. Satisfactory conflict resolution is thrice blessed. It blesses the two parties directly involved in the conflict and the individual/agency that initiated the process of reconciliation. The negotiating parties should not think they are out to engage in permanent war and only one party is going to win, as it happens in real war situations. When conflicts are resolved, both the parties win with the call of the cause triumphs.
Bolton, Robert. (1986)People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve
Conflicts. New York: Simon & Schuster, Touchstone.
Huntington, S. P. (1998). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Moore, C. W. (2003). The mediation process: practical strategies for resolving conflict. San
Pruitt, D. & Kim, S. H. (2003) Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement. New York:
Schellenberg, James A (1996). Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, and Practice. State
University of New York Press.
Winslade, J., & Monk, G. (2001). Narrative mediation: a new approach to conflict resolution. San
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1950). Speech by Sir Winston Churchill.
11 Aug 2011, VICTORIA TAFT: @ScAnDAl aT PdX CitY hALl: What Did They …Portland Tribune.
http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=>Retrieved on August 20, 2011