We began an exploration of impasses last time by focusing on the perspective of opinion minorities. In our scenario, we postulated that the group did have consensus on some issues, which we called the C-Issues. But there was disagreement on other issues — the D-Issues. In this Part II, we explore two tactics that tend to strengthen the impasse, preventing agreement.
- Hostage tactics
- Some group members believe that by taking hostages, they can compel the rest of the group to adopt a position more to their liking. The hostage of choice is often one or more of the C-Issues. In the view of the hostage takers, refusing to agree to the C-Issues exerts pressure on the rest of the group to comply with the hostage-takers' wishes. This tactic can become corrosive if members of the rest of the group press the hostage-takers to justify their opposition to the hostage C-Issues. The hostage-takers then devise arguments to justify their opposition to the C-Issues, which, often, they themselves don't believe. What little agreement there was with respect to C-Issues might then vanish. Even worse, others in the group might become intransigent, if they feel that acceding to the hostage-takers' demands will only invite further demands and further hostages, either by the hostage-takers or by others who witness the success of the hostage-takers.
- Acceding to hostage-takers' demands might seem appealing, but it does usually lead to more widespread hostage taking. Because questioning the hostage-takers about C-Issues risks converting C-Issues to D-Issues, approaches to forging agreement must always focus on D-Issues. Make the concerns of the objectors visible, and deal with them substantively.
- Abuse of the concept of precedent
- Some group members might fear that after they agree to the C-Issues, they won't be able to influence subsequent decisions sufficiently with respect to the D-Issues. They see partial agreement as the first step on a slippery slope, fearing that others will use their partial agreement as inappropriate leverage for later decisions. In effect, they fear they might be confronted with, "I don't see what your problem is with D-Issue #3, because you agreed to C-Issue #2." That tactic can indeed be an abuse of the concept of precedent, if it relies solely on the fact of agreeing to C-Issue #2, rather than on the substance of C-Issue #2, the substance of D-Issue #3, and their connection.
- If abuse of precedent Acceding to hostage-takers' demands
might seem appealing, but it does
usually lead to more
widespread hostage-takinghas occurred in the past, then certainly the concern is real, and the group must deal with it. To address the concern, the group can agree that such content-free appeals to precedents are unacceptable.
Hostage-taking by dissenters, or precedent abuse by those pressuring dissenters, are indirect attempts to gain adherents. To avoid strengthening impasses, deal directly with objections to agreement. First in this series | Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than
the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict.
It can be an expensive practice.
- Masked Messages
- Sometimes what we say to each other isn't what we really mean. We mask the messages, or we form them
into what are usually positive structures, to make them appear to be something less malicious than they
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- How to Misunderstand Somebody Else
- Misunderstandings are commonplace at work, as in most of the rest of Life. At work, they might be even
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Here's a handy guide for those who want to get better at misunderstanding others.
- Rapid-Fire Attacks
- Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question,
or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being
attacked. What can you do?
- Strategic Waiting
- Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight
places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option.
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