Thursday, February 29, 2024

We must find a better way to resolve conflicts


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THERE was once a lonely old man who lived in a very poor section of town. Every afternoon a group of youngsters went to that section to play, beat cans and drums and make a lot of noise. The old man hated the noise and soon came up with a plan to deal with the young men.

One afternoon he went to meet them and told them how much he enjoyed the racket and looked forward to their visits. He then said, “Each time you come here to entertain me I will give you$20. Here is today’s payment.”

The young men took the money and thought it was a good deal.  The next day they returned and played with great gusto. The old man then went to them and said, “I only have $15 today but I will give you $25 tomorrow.”

Next day he told them that he didn’t have time to go to the bank and could only give them $5 but promised to make up the deficit on the following day. Angered by what they suspected to be a broken promise, the players refused the money and told him they would not entertain him anymore for just $5. They left immediately and never went back, not realising that the old man had outsmarted.

Does this story have any relevance to the current conflict in West Indies cricket?

Dr Edward deBono, a world authority on lateral thinking stresses that a better way to resolve conflicts must be found. He feels that there is no more important matter for the future of the world than conflict resolution.

In the last three weeks opposing sides have been involved in bitter arguments about who is right and who is wrong not realising that adversarial thinking intensifies conflict. It does not defuse it. As one side attacks the other side defends or counterattacks and tempers rise.  Positions then become more rigid and the parties stop listening to each other.

The drive to attack and defend precludes any creative or constructive thinking. Each side spends so much time attacking the other side that the credibility of both sides is damaged. To use this method of thinking as the first and only method for conflict resolution is a prescription for disaster. It is very difficult to solve a conflict with conflict thinking.

Negotiating or bargaining is preferable to adversarial thinking but it too has weaknesses. Negotiation is about compromise in which each side gives up something and finishes up somewhere between two existing positions. In this type of thinking we restrict ourselves to what already exists; we work within boundaries that exist rather than designing new ones.

Problem solving is better than adversarial thinking and compromise but it also has its limitations. In problem solving we analyse the problem, find the cause and put it right. But in complex human interactions there might be more than one cause. Identifying Wavell Hinds as the cause of the problem and removing him from his position might not solve the problem because there may be multiple causes, not just one. What happens if we can’t find a cause or if we find the cause but can’t remove it? What do we do then?

According to Dr deBono, design thinking is the preferred method in conflict resolution. Design thinking is not about compromise or removing a problem. Argument, compromise and analysis are about the past, what is already there, while design thinking is about the future, what is to be created.

In design thinking opposing parties articulate a clear purpose, goal or outcome and then tailor their skills and resources to fit that purpose. The exercise is all about purpose and fit and usually results in win/win outcomes.

In resolving conflict we should start with the best, design thinking, because it is more productive. Problem solving should be next followed by negotiation which usually results in a fallback position. If these three approaches fail we might then have to go back to the fight method as a last resort. This is very different from starting the process in the fight mode.

I wonder what course this conflict will now take and what impact WICB’s decision to cancel the remainder of the tour of India will have on West Indies cricket, the relationship between the cricket boards of India and West Indies, the relationship between the IPL and its West Indies players, the relationship with sponsors, and the relationship with TV broadcasters who stand to lose at least 15 days of Test match cricket. It will also be interesting to find out if the board’s decision was in fact unanimous and how much money will be lost as a result of that decision.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that sanity and commonsense somehow find their way into the resolution of this conflict.

• Rudi V. Webster is a noted sports psychologist and was manager of the West Indies team in the Kerry Packer days. 



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