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Reader’s Review, June – July 2011

By John Baker

Conflict 101: A Manager’s Guide to Resolving Problems So Everyone Can Get Back to Work

By Susan H. Shearouse
264 pp. New York: AMACOM Books, 2011
Paperback (USA) $ 17.95

Susan H. Shearouse holds a Master of Science degree in Conflict Resolution from George Mason University and brings to this work over twenty years of experience in coaching, training, dispute resolution and consulting. She is certified by the General District Court of the State of Virginia in Dispute Resolution and has mediated over 100 dispute resolutions. This work, therefore, is the product of the practitioner’s lengthy and broad experience in real conflict situations.

Ms. Shearouse’s book begins with an examination of the sources of conflict, moves through its effects on those whom it touches and concludes with an overview of the possible approaches for its resolution. It focuses upon avoiding the negative forces of conflict as well a work based on conflict resolution should be expected to do, but touches only briefly upon the suite of inherent positive drivers present in the mix that can be harnessed to create collaborative negotiating environments for win-win solutions. Usually, this latter work is left to the general negotiator.

Let us sample briefly some of the areas that readers will find in this work. Early in the book, the author provides a review of “stumbling blocks” that often generate conflict. Among these motivators is a wide range of fears. Principal actors within this group include fears of the impact of change, the consequences of making mistakes, the possibility of losing face, and the creation of a personal image of weakness. It is a thorny mental thicket.

The author then proceeds to select and explain a wide variety of cultural considerations which further complicate human interaction such as biases about direct or indirect communication, tolerance for uncertainty, time orientation and individualist vs. collectivist identification. It is clear that each of the ingredients alone is volatile and the mix of them stirred into a brew may produce unexpected and unwanted reactions.

If conflict is the product of the combination of forces, the author presents an array of approaches to deal with its effects. We can avoid it, accommodate to it, direct it, compromise with it, or collaborate due to it and build upon it. What we must do, however, is to recognize it and realize that it will impact our relationships and our plans.

Ms. Shearouse’s goal of providing her reader with an understanding of conflict is clear and it is essential that every negotiator has this knowledge. This book will provide you with that vital basic information about conflict and prepare a foundation on the subject for you to build upon.

Lastly and importantly, let me note a greatly needed and often ignored prescription for the use of electronic communication that the author uses to close her work. In order to produce strengthened relationships and accomplish positive results, the author presents her reader with a series of situations in which electronic communication should be avoided and other communication methods used.

Ms. Shearouse’s advice on this point is reminiscent of the Canadian educator and scholar Marshall McLuhan’s assertion in his 1964 work entitled Understanding Media that “the medium is the message.” Ms. Shearouse echoes that finding in 2011. In essence, both authors state the proposition that the technologies and the media used in the transmission of a message changes the message itself and therefore alters the personal and social consequences of it.

Ms. Shearouse illustrates her views on this matter with examples of communications which should be channeled through face-to-face meetings or at least telephone calls rather than by e-mail. Her list of non-electronic communication candidates begins with efforts to build positive relationships and includes messages intended to treat differences and disagreements between parties, deliver bad news, or engage another party after sending three or more unanswered e-mails to them.

The book includes a brief bibliography and an index.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine June-July(Summer)2011 Copyright © 2011 The Negotiator Magazine