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Beyond conflict workshop write up

Notes from Transition Conference 2011 workshop Beyond Conflict,

led by Laurie Michaelis


(Notes by Isabel Carlisle who acted as clerk) 

Workshop was framed as “Our experiences of tension and conflict: what happened? Why did it happen? What can we learn?”. The group voted to experience the Quaker Meeting process for resolving conflict. 

Laurie gave us some guidelines:

1.     Come with an open mind ready to hear and unite with the sense of the meeting.

2.     Stand when you have something to say. Wait to be called. Don’t speak otherwise.

3.    It’s much more about listening than putting your bit forward

4.     Listen for the truth in others’ words

5.     The minutes are agreed word for word in the meeting and a clerk is appointed to take notes of what people are saying and synthesise them into a minute.

The question we were addressing was “What can we say arising from our experience of conflict?”

Isabel: “It does not help either side if we back down”

Kath: “Conflict arises from personal differences that may not be related to the issues in question. It arises from past relationships, private lives, anger in some people, passion in others and through getting blinkered. We may have frustration with others not hearing what we say. People are reluctant to let go of their viewpoint. Ideas get stuck at the point of putting them into action. People get disaffected. Maybe success comes from resolving different views? Conflict may also come from customs that are not honoured (like being vegan) or choices that are imposed on others or arguing about meaning. Maybe we need ground rules?”

Ben: “Strong feelings are expressed as a result of unmet needs that are both conscious and unconscious. The clash comes from not acknowledging the needs and you reach an impasse. Lack of awareness about balance between the feminine and masculine sides of ourselves and others, between going with the flow and moving to action.”

Clionha: “I have experience of mediation in Northern Ireland between ex Republican paramilitaries and men from the Loyal Orders, also in a co-housing group. My main learning was around needs and I found that when people were invited to express a view in which they filled in the story of why and what place they were coming from it made a big difference. Questions like ‘How long have you felt it’ were helpful in making needs clear. It helped us to see each other as human beings and moved the group towards thinking ‘how we can help meet the needs of others?’”

Laurie: “There is no substitute for taking time to get to know one another and really listen. If we don’t understand the question we can’t really answer: the way we use words and understand will differs. Looking at personality differences can be transformative”

Kath: “We should spend more time acknowledging our feelings. Maybe people are all on the same page but don’t realise it. Conflict leads to anger. How can we talk about that?”

Andy: “Conflict arises for me when there is a sense of denial of my truth, turning into conflict about the conflict: I feel I am being denied.”

Debbie: “The key is to see each other and create space between each other. This process that we are in now creates space to breathe and reflect.”

Chris: “It’s really important to make time for this, it should be put into the guide for Transition initiatives.”

Dai: “Resolution is the natural progression from conflict. We may have to go through the messy process to get there. We could see conflict as gates that we move through. Egos often play a part. “Speaking my truth” is another way of saying “opinions”. Truth is in everything in small amounts. We can’t own the truth.”


Isabel then had a go at writing the minute. She came up with: “Conflict arises when needs are not met. Our inability to understand our own needs and the needs of others, to express them clearly, fuels conflict. There is always a back story that needs to be honoured with spaciousness and willingness to listen.”

 She read this out twice to the meeting. She was asked to add in something about: Seeing one another clearly


Strong positioning in opinions makes us stuck

 She amended the minute to:

“Conflict arises when unmet needs lead to people taking up strong positions. Our inability to understand our own needs and those of others, to see one another clearly and speak what we see, fuels conflict. There is always a back story that needs to be honoured with time, spaciousness and willingness to listen.”

This was accepted by the meeting: people were asked if this was a true minute and said “I hope so”.


 Reflecting on this process the group agreed that it was really valuable to spend time in clearing relationships in meetings, to develop a process that is a shared culture.



With head, heart and hand: Dimensions of community building by Anthony Kelly (Paperback – 1988 currently unavailable)     book for co-housing groups.

“Advices and Queries” book for Quakers


Doly Garcia's picture

The minute of the meeting is

The minute of the meeting is probably correct but hardly useful to deal with real-life conflicts. Almost by definition, conflicts happen when one or both sides are unwilling or unable to listen.

I read once that wars happen because countries don't understand what other countries are capable of doing. If they did, they would negotiate a change in frontiers and other resources equal to the result at the end of the war, and they'd get to the same point without bloodshed. Now, if you look at any before-and-after maps for any war (pick WWII or WWI, for example), it's immediately obvious that the losers couldn't possibly be convinced of accepting peacefully the final result.

The same happens with smaller scale conflict. Often, there are people that wouldn't have accepted the final agreement if there wasn't a lot of pain before that, and it's pretty obvious why it's like that.

Yes, it's great if you can have a win-win situation, but usually no conflict develops when that's achievable. Instead, a realistic aspiration is not-too-bad on both sides. And a certain amount of pain can be necessary to appreciate that not-too-bad is really not bad.

In a way, resolving conflict is the same as what Transition is about: it's accepting that things aren't the way you'd like them to be. But I've found way too many Transitioners use the movement as a second line of denial: "Maybe I won't get my dreams, but now I've found a second set of dreams." And because they're already on the second line of defense, they can fight rather fiercely to defend it.

Ideally, everybody would move on from there to simply trying to make the best of what they got, and accept that even the very best may be only not-too-bad. But many people have to take a lot of pain before they arrive there.


Alex Loh's picture

I agree with what Doly says,

I agree with what Doly says, and would add that in many fields I've been involved in before Transition - ranging from commercial business to music event management, most conflict resolution only occurs because those "resolving" it are negotiating from a position of power, and the person in conflict has only a limited amount of choices because of this and perhaps doesn't want to be ousted from a group which they want to be part of.

Modern day police officers and private security operatives (stewards, bouncers) are taught conflict resolution, but in many cases they are simply giving someone an option to either obey the rules or walk away, lest they get roughed up or arrested - the majority of other people don't get into conflict as they simply accept whatever the demands of the authority figures might be (which might of course be perfectly justified if they are defusing a fight or preventing hard drugs being brought into and sold in a venue and thus risking the owners license and livelihood).

And of course the majority usually want to get into the night time venues and party with their friends and to stay out of the cells during the weekend, as these options are much more fun!

Now Transition meetings don't usually need cops and stewards and bouncers like a big legal rave, and folk attending them are usually not the kind to turn to fisticuffs if they disagree - but I feel we should remember this..

In reality apart from those really dedicated to the cause Transition isn't as yet that compelling a lifestyle choice, as is compared to partying for younger people or concentrating on business as usual life or involvement in more established campaign groups - especially those which have been around for many years and/or may be linked to a persons faith group.

And as people always have the option to walk away - in my Transition group (and I guess others as well) there is a strong emphasis no one is forced to do anything as its voluntary - when conflict is unresolved people don't always make a big fuss - they simply withdraw their support and resources they could have been put in, especially if they haven't got a big stake or commitment in the group!


Doly Garcia's picture

 Alex, I agree with all you

 Alex, I agree with all you say above and I'd like to add the following observation: In my experience, the kind of people that will want to remain in a Transition initiative in spite of problems fall in two categories (not mutually exclusive):

1. People who identify strongly with the aims of the Transition movement, as they understand them. (I emphasize "as they understand them" because their understanding may be different from other people's understanding).

2. People who desperately want the recognition given to somebody in some kind of official position within an organization that is part of a relatively well-known national network.

Because the Transition Network is quite new, it's a rather safe bet that many of the people that fall in the second category have probably tried to achieve the same recognition within other organizations, and failed, and probably with good reason. This means that new Transition initiatives are a magnet for the kind of people who believe they can be a leader or role model for other people but in actual fact, are lacking in essential skills or personality traits to be one. In other words, the kind of people most likely to cause conflicts.

This is a problem that I'm sure happens in all sorts of budding organizations, and the only way I know of dealing with it is sticking to strictly democratic procedures, that as far as I can tell are the best way of preventing abuses of power. The problem with Transition initiatives is that deviating from the traditional democratic procedures is quite common, in favour of things like consensus decision-making. In my experience, even though consensus decision-making is "sold" as something more likely to prevent abuses of power, in actual fact, it seems to make it far more likely that the strongest personalities maintain control of the situation. This isn't just my observation, I have found this is a common problem with consensus decision-making, and it can be even found in the Wikipedia article about it: