Process considerations for resolving differences


The first objective is to figure out what really caused the breakdown, and what is impeding further progress: Is it substantive? Is it about relationships? Is it about process? Is it the sense of being dishonored and disrespected? Is it a difference in worldview? Once the facilitator understands what the problem is (or problems are), the second objective is to organize the protagonists in a way that allows them to discuss and resolve their differences.

The decisions being made by the facilitator and process design team involve how to go about reaching the above objectives: Who should the facilitator talk to? How often? In what order? Is it time to bring the key parties together? Is it better to let things cool for a while? The facilitator and process design team are the decision-makers for all of these questions.

Ultimately, it is up to the protagonists to accept the process that is being proposed to them by the facilitator. More important, the protagonists are the ones who decide whether their substantive dispute has been adequately resolved—at least enough to warrant the resumption of the whole-group meetings. Each contending party has to figure out for itself who is authorized to make decisions. The protagonist may be a single person who is also the decision-maker, or he/she may need to obtain a decision from a broader constituency. In some cases, the protagonists may be a group of people, or elders might be seen as the key decision-makers. Whatever the situation at hand, a judgment must be made about who has the authority to make the decision on behalf of that position.

If protagonists have to go back to their community, the facilitator and process designers can offer assistance in a number of ways:

  • Have the facilitator (company executive) share information at a meeting with the larger-constituency group
  • Advocate with the larger-constituency group to find a solution
  • Assist the larger-constituency group with their own deliberations, if they need and want help with their own internal process. (If this stage can be kept short in duration, the rest of the group probably does not need to receive any updates. If, however, this stage takes a considerable period of time or is unsuccessful, the facilitator will need to provide some report to the rest of the group.)

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