Resolving conflicts in a war zone

By Bill Staples

With the far eastern part of the country in a war zone, ICA Ukraine got interested in the Facilitating Conciliation course. The programme gets people working together and trains them to think through multi-party and multi-issue conflicts – and even on turning that energy into forward momentum.

Facilitating Conciliation is part of a Technology of Participation (ToP) curriculum that ICA Canada began developing in the late 1980s to make consultants, facilitators and facilitative leaders more effective in their community and organizational development work. It was exciting for us to take this course to Ukraine.

Alexey Svetlichny, the first certified ToP Facilitator in Europe, and Svitlana Salamatova, the executive director of ICA Ukraine, both agreed in February 2015 that this training could add a lot to the skills of ICA members and ToP graduates in Ukraine.

They broadcast the opportunity through Ukraine social media and 35 people came to the course on a hot weekend in June. Many were part of the Euromaidan movement behind the public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti ("Independence Square") in Kiev that led to the Ukrainian revolution in 2014. Others were a cross section of Kiev society. The venue was perfect - the high-ceilinged second floor of a classic Kiev building overlooking the National Botanical Garden on Tarasa Shevchenko Blvd.

From the outset, it was clear that something special was going on. The participants were primarily mediators, coaches, psychologists and trainers, well-educated and urbane. When the course began on Saturday morning, their analysis of the contradictions creating and sustaining conflicts in society was stunning. Their Soviet education gave them a sophisticated grasp of social contradictions that we North Americans don’t easily get, for instance, the tension between an aspiring democratic leadership and an entrenched corrupt bureaucracy.

They generated eight case studies on conflicts that several of them had resolved. These ranged from squabbles between co-workers, to company departments that were forced to merge, and problems between neighbourhoods and displaced immigrants moving in. When they examined the pattern of successful interventions in  the case studies, they recognised the seven phases of conciliation (see diagram), a core part of the course. They could easily ground each of them in examples from their experience. One was that squabbling co-workers cannot create a resolution until the real and substantial issue is brought out into the open. That will not occur until each person has had a chance to express his or her experience of the conflict. 

On Sunday, they practised using ToP tools of conciliation such as special conversation formats, workshops, historical scans, strategic plans and model building. A sharp question one of them asked was: “In a conflict situation, how can a resolving conversation be held when both parties are caught up in subjectivity and emotion?” Several people gave examples of conversations they had been involved in. It became clear that when a conflict makes people upset, one has to ask: "What,  specifically, are you concerned about?" or "What was said or done that triggered such a reaction in you?" Working through these together was a great learning experience for us all. 

In the afternoon, they picked a series of major conflicts some of them were involved in. They used the seven phases and tools to figure out paths toward conciliation. One group used an entrenched union-management problem in a large company. A second chose an organisation gripped by "founderitis," where its founder couldn't let go and allow new people to take over. A third group sought a solution for a small town near the Russian border where the military deployed to protect the town was creating tensions with the residents.

ICA Ukraine itself came under scrutiny for a conflict that had been simmering for some time between those who wanted direct social action and those who wanted to train others how to be effective social activists. 

I was touched that even on a Sunday afternoon at 5 pm no one had left and  many wanted to stay on and on for rounds of group and individual photographs.

The course was done with simultaneous translation. When those fluent in English gave reports, asked questions or made comments, they also spoke in Russian to make sure that no participant missed anything.

I’m looking forward to hearing reports from participants who said the course had provided them new tools for resolving conflict situations they were dealing with.

Bill Staples is the head of ICA Associates Inc, Toronto

Make a comment on this article (Please name article in your comment)