The Conflict Dynamics Profile and Mediation

Mediation For Business UK takes place at London’s Nuffield Hall, Regents Park on the 24th June. At the conference we will be demonstrating how the Conflict Dynamics Profile can be used as an effective, if not essential tool in workplace Mediation.

The Conflict Dynamics Profile -Individual (CDP-I) is a self-reporting psychometric assessment tool, which examines how a person responds to conflict. It measures ‘hot buttons’ i.e. the behaviours of others that trigger us into conflict, and when we are triggered, the frequency with which we respond both constructively and destructively. It measures 7 constructive responses and 8 destructive with a further distinction between active and passive responses within each category.

The results across all responses are compared against ‘the norm’ which indicates whether the person is responding more or less than average and thus how an under reliance or over reliance on certain behaviours may be resulting in negative outcomes for them. The ultimate aim of the CDP-I is to facilitate a Development Plan with the user that will enhance their conflict competence and result in positive outcomes to conflict for them in their workplace.

The best way to illustrate the benefits of using the Conflict Dynamics Profile in mediation is to give an account of a mediation in which I used it. The Individuals in this are presented as composite characters and the specific details are altered to protect the identity of those involved:

Tim and Jane were colleagues working in a large manufacturing company. They had worked together for five years. During that time their relationship had its ups and downs. Jane was Financial Controller with the company for two years before Tim joined, as Operations Manager. They knew each other socially outside of work and they got on well. Throughout the five years however some tensions emerged in their relationship becoming more pronounced in the last 12 months.

Tim was given responsibility for an important project which Jane had input into. In Tim’s eyes Jane now had a reporting relationship to him, while Jane didn’t see it that way. For Jane, as Financial Controller, she reported to the CEO and had longer service than Tim. In Jane’s view, Tim was answerable to her for that part of her job. Because there was no formal reporting relationship in place between them, this difference in interpretation was allowed to continue and was having a seriously negative impact on their relationship.

Jane felt that Tim was purposely slow to take on Jane’s contribution to the project. He wasn’t very supportive of her at team meetings and even made light of some of the serious concerns she voiced at a recent meeting. When Jane tried to talk to Tim in the corridor after the meeting, he laughed again and said he’d get back to her next week. Jane got very annoyed and told him ‘not to bother’, that she would talk to the CEO herself about it. Tim just walked away and as he did Jane raised her voiced at him and said ‘I’m not taking this from you anymore’.

Tim believed that Jane wasn’t a team player. He worked hard to develop a team approach, believing it was very necessary to get the job done. There was a lot of scrutiny surrounding this project and it was important that the team had each other’s backs on it. He felt Jane was always too negative and critical at meetings and got too aggressive at times. He was always trying to lighten things at meetings to keep morale high.

Jane went to the HR Director and raised a formal complaint about Tim. She complained that he was obstructive to her in her work and that it was now resulting in her becoming isolated in the team and this amounted to Bullying. The HR Director had a chat with both parties, and recommended mediation, to which both agreed.

It was pointed out to me by the HR Director that both parties were valued members of the company and that it was very important that they be provided every opportunity to resolve their differences and find a way of working together to complete the project. It was a critical project for the company and this was the worst timing for a problem such as this to arise.

I arranged a separate pre-mediation meeting with Tim and Jane. In talking to both parties it was clear that each one was fully convinced of the wrong doing of the other. Both were quick to point out how they were wronged by the other and had lots of ‘evidence’ to defend their position. I asked them both to complete the online CDP assessment. I then met them a second time and provided them with their confidential CDP Feedback Report.

The Feedback Report provided each of them with detailed information on their own ‘Hot Buttons’ i.e. those behaviours of others that provoke or ‘trigger’ us into conflict. It also showed them, the frequency of their responses measured across 15 behaviours, 8 Destructive and 7 Constructive. The focus of the discussion now changed from one of blame or victimisation to one of behaviours, triggers and responses. Both Tim and Jane were both able to clearly identify the behaviours of the other that triggered them into conflict and when they were triggered, how they responded. They could see the destructive nature of their responses and also how they could respond constructively for the future resulting in a more positive outcome.

By understanding their own CDP profile, each one could then also understand that the other person can equally be triggered and respond in ways that are defensive and destructive. Knowing this helped them develop a sense of tolerance for the bad (destructive) behaviour of the other and to see it in context. This is not to say that each one didn’t still have a lot of annoyance and upset in relation to what had happened, but it did reduce the emotional reaction of both and help them to depersonalise what had happened. It also created a sense of curiosity in them about the profile of the other person. This curiosity is invaluable for a mediator. Although each profile is confidential, it does make it easier to encourage parties to listen to each other and provides a framework within which a shared understanding can develop.

In Tim’s case, most of his constructive responses were within average, with the exception of his ‘Reflective Thinking’. His Passive destructive responses to conflict were also higher than average ie. Avoiding, Yielding, Hiding Emotions and Self Criticising. His hottest ‘Hot Buttons’ were Aloofness and Hostility.

For Jane, her ‘Expressing Emotions’ was low and her Active Destructive Behaviours of ‘Winning at All Costs’ and Displaying Anger’ were higher than average. Her hottest ‘Hot Buttons’ were Untrustworthy and Unreliable.

This information independently prompted both parties to rethink and reframe their own role in how the current situation had developed. It had the effect of helping each party to shift their perspective from one of self-interest to situational interest which is a key task for mediators. Rather than looking at their individual personal experience, they began to understand the dynamic that existed between them and to examine their own role in the current dispute.

Both parties voiced their belief that completing the Conflict Dynamics Profile changed the way they approached mediation. They entered into it with a more open and curious mind about what was happening for both parties. They were more tolerant of the defensive behaviour of the other in view of their own destructive responses, and had a greater shared knowledge of the behaviours needed that would help them resolve this dispute, but more importantly, minimise the harmful fall out of future conflict between them.

Once they were able to talk in terms of behaviours, both parties were able to focus on what was required for the future. We were relatively quickly able to identify key issues and look at options for how to address them. They quickly came to an agreed position which included engaging other areas of management to address what now became mutually agreed concerns and needs.

More importantly, both parties were able to re-engage in a positive way with each other and build on the clear collegiality that had existed previously between them. Within the mediation Tim apologised to Jane for not being more supportive of her efforts at meetings. He genuinely felt he had let her down but didn’t see it before. Jane was able to see how her black and white approach to the finances was counterproductive and had she expressed her upset earlier to Tim about his reaction at meetings, rather than getting angry, they could have sorted things out sooner.

They started the mediation process with a list of demands and views on how the other person needed to change. They concluded mediation with a greater focus on what they personally needed to do differently to achieve a more positive outcome.

In summary, the Conflict Dynamics Profile (Individual) is an effective mediation tool in the resolution of workplace disputes. The benefits it brings to the mediation are that it:

  • provides a common language and framework within which to understand the conflict
  • changes the language and focus of discussion from one of blame and victimisation to one of ‘hot buttons’, ‘triggers’ and behaviours
  • provides parties with a range of options on how to respond constructively to conflict within mediation and beyond it
  • creates a sense of tolerance of the difference of others
  • depersonalises conflict and helps party obtain emotional distance
  • reframes the conflict which can transform the relationship between the parties

The Conflict Dynamics Profile is a product of the Centre for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College, Florida:

Mary Lou

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