When people are involved in a conflict, they will often use others to validate their perception. So, it’s common to hear phrases like, ‘Everybody knows that’s what he’s like’, ‘I’m not the only one who thinks so’, ‘She’s managed to alienate everybody’ and ‘Ask anyone, they’ll tell you’.
Both parties feel this way because both usually have their views reflected back to them by their cheer squad. A cheer squad seems to coalesce around a party and encourages them in their conflict with the other. Members of the cheer squad have witnessed, or maybe have also been a ‘victim’ of the behaviour their party is upset about, although they haven’t taken action themselves. They rally around their party and, through their support, keep the conflict on the boil.
Often parties then take on the role of the ‘champion’ for their cheer squad: they’re not only fighting to right the wrong they’ve experienced, they’re fighting for everyone in their squad, especially those too frightened to take a stand. With a crowd behind them who agree that the other party ‘must be stopped’, they move into mediation full of righteous anger and a determination that the other will be brought to see the error of their ways.
However, in the mediation, they may come to realise that their foe has concerns about theirbehaviour, that there have been misunderstandings, there has been a lack of communication, that someone else has set them against each other. They may also realise that the other person has also been wounded by what has happened, and they may be moved when they see how hurt the other person has been. They may come to see that their dispute was caused by misconceptions about the other’s motives. Now they really want to fix things when they arise so they don’t end up in another mediation. In short, they resolve their issues and start looking forward to a future without this level of conflict.
But what of the cheer squads? How do the ‘champions’ go back and explain that the person who they’ve done nothing but denigrate is really not so bad after all? This can often present a challenge because, after taking on the mantle of the champion, it’s often hard to put it down. Indeed, it may even stand in the way of the parties getting to an agreement if one of them is afraid of being seen as ‘selling out’.
How champions inform their cheer squads that the matter has been settled takes some skill. There will be some in the cheer squad who are pleased to know things are resolved because, frankly, they were getting a bit over it. Those who were more invested may take a little longer to settle. However, when they see that the heat has gone out of the conflict, they generally accept that there is nothing more to see here and move along.
Helen Collins works in a variety of dispute resolution modes including mediation, coaching, facilitation and training. She assists businesses to increase productivity by managing workplace conflict.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www. profitableresolutions.com