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
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Dispersed Teams and Latent Communications
- When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them"
becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why
does this happen and what can we do about it?
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- Anecdotes and Refutations
- In debate and argumentation, anecdotes are useful. They illustrate. They make things concrete. But they
aren't proof of anything. Using anecdotes as proofs leads to much trouble and wasted time.
- Dealing with Deniable Intimidation
- Some people use intimidation so stealthily that only their targets recognize the behavior as abusive
or intimidating. Targets are often so frustrated, angered, and confused that they cannot find suitable
- When You Feel Attacked
- Verbal attacks might be upsetting, but in creative conflicts they're usually permissible if related
to substantive matters. When verbal attacks are personal, they can be unfair and illegitimate. The ability
to recenter yourself quickly is invaluable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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