The Moving Beyond model has been developed by the author based on the seminal work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.1 This version has been modified to focus on conflict settings as opposed to situations of terminal illness, which was the focus of Kübler-Ross's work. In addition, the model has been reinforced and influenced by the work of William Bridges2 and his approach to helping people work through significant change.
As the Dynamics of Trust model (see Chapter 7) and attribution theory show, it is human nature for each party to a conflict to become hurt and blame the other side, erroneously attribute bad intentions to the other parties, and build up or exaggerate the “wrong” done to them. This can create an enormous barrier to resolution—the inability of a party or parties to let go and move beyond the conflict. It is this “letting go” process that the Moving Beyond model addresses. We ask a great deal of the parties when we practice conflict resolution. We ask parties to take the pain and anger that they have lived with for a long time and to “get over it” in a very short period of time. In some cases, the main reason a conflict doesn't settle or resolve, even when it appears that the resolution meets everyone's substantive interests, is that one or more parties are unable to let the conflict go, to emotionally allow it to be resolved, to reach closure.
Essentially, letting go and moving beyond is a form of grieving. The source and meaning of the word “grieve” is “to carry a heavy burden,” and the process of moving beyond, of reaching an end to the grieving, is to let go of that burden and put it to rest. In conflict situations it is often critical to help the parties explore what letting go of the conflict means, what accepting a resolution looks like. For this reason, Kübler-Ross's process of grieving along with Bridges’s work around transitions are used as the basis for this model.
In Kübler-Ross's view, the grieving process has five steps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Because depression is a clinical diagnosis, it wasn't useful in this model. Bargaining in Kübler-Ross's model is, arguably, just a form of denial revisited, and in the moving beyond model bargaining is, therefore, wrapped into both the denial and anger stages.
Complementary work done by Bridges looked at the process of change and transition and identified three stages:
In Bridges’s view, people can get stuck in either of the first two steps, which will prevent them from finding the new beginning and moving forward.
For the purposes of the Moving Beyond model, Kübler-Ross's and Bridges’s views of reaching closure and moving on overlap enough to fit into the following three steps:
Based on this discussion, then, the Moving Beyond model argues that in relation to conflict, these three steps are the three broad stages that people pass through when resolving difficult issues, as shown in Figure 12.1:
Denial in the field of conflict resolution typically relates to a party denying and/or refusing to accept the problem, the situation, or their role and contribution to the conflict. This links well to Bridges’s idea of an ending: a relationship has ended, a business deal has gone sour, a person is injured in a car accident and their lifestyle is forever changed, a worker is fired.3 In these situations, refusal to accept the situation causes each party to engage in one or more of the following:
From a diagnostic point of view, a party is in denial whenever they are demonstrating some or all of these behaviors.
Although anger is a familiar part of conflict, what isn't obvious is that anger arrives only once a party begins taking the conflict seriously. When in denial, we live in a world where the conflict really isn't our problem, where the reality of the situation has not sunk in. When it dawns on us that, yes, this is my problem to deal with, that it isn't going away and that it is going to change my life, anger quickly follows. As Kübler-Ross notes:
If our first reaction to catastrophic news is, “No, it's not true, no, it cannot involve me,” this has to give way to a new reaction, when it finally dawns on us: “Oh, yes, it is me, it was not a mistake.”4
When it finally dawns on us that we are a part of the conflict, anger sets in. This phase blends nicely with Bridges’s description of a phase involving “confusion and distress.” The uncertainty and confusion cause fear, and when this is combined with seeing the other party as being at fault for the whole situation, anger is the result.
Anger, of course, can be very difficult to deal with as a practitioner, mainly because anger is a wide-angle scattershot weapon, one that gets applied in many directions indiscriminately. In lawsuits it's common for each party to be angry with the other side, angry with the other side's lawyer, angry with the court system itself, angry with their own lawyer, angry with innocent third parties for not taking sides, and on and on.
Sometimes, a party will begin bargaining with the other side while still in the anger phase, but the offers are frequently what can be colorfully termed “Up yours!” offers. In other words, they are offers intended to insult and demean the other party, not genuine attempts at reaching a resolution. Their goal is to vent their anger on the other party in any way they can.
From a diagnostic point of view, a party is in the anger phase when they are venting, attacking, insulting, or demeaning the other party, or, conversely, refusing to communicate or engage with them in any way. In addition, a significant feature of the anger phase is a party's inability to hear any new information or any information they don't like. In the anger phase, the flow of emotion is one-directional, from within the party out to anyone and anything that is perceived to be part of the problem. Although little responsibility for the conflict has yet to be accepted by a party in anger, the fact that they're angry at all indicates they are taking the issues seriously. When a party moves to the anger phase and out of denial, significant progress is being made.
The third and final stage and the stage practitioners need to help parties move toward is acceptance. Acceptance can mean a variety of things in different situations, including a party:
In Bridges’s account, the acceptance phase is called “A New Beginning,” which, again, links nicely to the idea of acceptance. When a party finally accepts that a resolution can be reached, that it's time to move on, they often shift their focus away from the conflict and begin exploring what their life might be like when this conflict is over and done with. They focus on a new beginning, a fresh start, and see themselves finally letting the issue go and getting on with their life.
From a diagnostic point of view, a party is in the acceptance stage when they begin to negotiate in a way that actually tries to solve the problem rather than punish the other side. When a party is willing to acknowledge that their behavior was not perfect and is willing to say this to the other side, it indicates that the party is in an acceptance mode. When blame and fault become less important than getting a resolution, when arguing about “the principles” of a conflict is less important than moving on, this typically indicates the movement toward acceptance.
One of the critical learnings from this model is to understand how parties actually move toward acceptance and new beginnings. Most people tend to avoid confrontation and conflict, and because of this when they hit the anger phase, they are likely to panic and retreat from anger back into denial. Anger, confusion, and distress are difficult for most of us to experience for very long. Denial, on the other hand, is relatively comfortable. “Problem? What problem?” is perhaps the theme for denial. Consequently, when a problem arises and we finally get past denial only to run headlong into anger, a common response is to retreat back to denial. This creates a cycle of denial to anger then back to denial again, a cycle that can keep people frozen in a conflict for a long, long time.
Using the Moving Beyond model, it should be clear to the practitioner that when one or more parties become angry, confused, and distressed, this is actually a good thing5, as it means that the parties are moving in the right direction. Rather than retreat to denial, parties need to be encouraged to continue working through the anger until acceptance is reached.
In the case study, Bob and Sally both start in the denial phase and move through various phases through the process. Diane starts in the anger stage, where she has been stuck for a while. For each of the parties we'll identify and diagnose the phases they were in and the behavior that each phase leads to.
|Denial:||Once the competition took place and the conflict started, Bob entered the denial phase immediately, denying any possibility that Diane was actually more qualified than he was. He dealt with the issue in a rights-based way until this was no longer possible, and when he exhausted all appeals, became even more entrenched in denial. Some of the issues Bob remained in denial about were the following:
|Anger:||Bob moved back and forth between denial and anger. Some of the areas where Bob moved into anger included:
|Acceptance:||This will be left for the strategic part of the model.|
|Denial:||Sally had a difficult mandate—to make changes to long-standing workplace structures with a strong union presence and a long set of traditions. In going about this, Sally was in denial about a few key points:
|Anger:||Sally displayed little anger overtly, although she talked a lot about her “frustration” with Bob, and this frustration was evident in her behavior.
|Acceptance:||This will be left for the strategic part of the model.|
|Denial:||Diane was in very little denial in this case and had moved directly to anger. In general, she saw how angry Bob was and was equally frustrated with Sally, whom she saw as giving her an impossible task—to give Bob direction when Bob simply refused to work with her as his supervisor.|
|Anger:||Diane was deeply stuck in the anger stage. She was:
|Acceptance:||This will be left for the strategic part of the model.|
As we can see, the three parties were stuck at various places in the first two stages of the Moving Beyond model. There had been some negotiating between Sally and Bob during the process, but it was false bargaining. The offers from each were so one sided that they inflamed the situation rather than resolved it. For example, Bob suggested that Sally treat him as if he actually were an AS-1 and keep everything else the same, and they'd worry about the actual classification later. This offer by Bob was completely unacceptable in that it missed the whole point of the changes. In other words, it wasn't a legitimate attempt to resolve the situation; it was a form of Denial on Bob's part. For Sally's part, she suggested that Bob give in and accept everything, and she would promise that no discipline would occur. This offer was nothing short of demanding capitulation, something completely unacceptable to Bob and indicating that Sally was still negotiating from a position of denial or anger. This kind of bargaining or negotiation will typically further entrench the parties rather than move them toward resolution.
Let's take a look at how the Moving Beyond model guides the practitioner toward strategic choices based on the diagnosis.
Strategically, the Moving Beyond model gives very broad direction that relies heavily on basic conflict resolution “micro-skills.” The value of the strategic direction the model offers is that it helps practitioners use the appropriate skills at the right time. In terms of strategy, there are two key points.
The first step is to help get the party out of denial.6 The practitioner needs to focus on the following skills and interventions to accomplish this:
Note that in a very few situations agreements can be reached with people in denial, but only if the desire to remain in denial is strong enough to bring some concessions. The net effect, though, is to allow the party to remain in denial about the main issues, which may mean that the resolution will not last. For example, suppose that in a family business setting the father (and CEO) is in denial that his daughter is not interested in running the family business and wants to leave. The father, in denial about what his daughter really wants in her life, may offer a large raise to keep her in the company. This strategy may work in the short term in that the daughter may agree to stay, but if she stays out of guilt or just to save money for what she really wants to do, all they've done is delay finding a real solution. Both the father and the daughter have retreated to denial and will soon find that the problem is still there.
The goal in dealing with denial, essentially, is to help the party move past and out of denial. The next stop will be anger.
When a party is in the anger stage, the process must be handled carefully. Anger is not a problem to be solved, nor something to be ignored or suppressed. Simply focusing on facts and data will do little to help a party move forward. Anger is an emotion that needs to be worked through and processed as respectfully as possible. The practitioner should focus on the following:
One of the worst steps to take in the anger phase is to attempt reality testing or problem solving. No matter how effectively done, it will almost always inflame the anger even more. Anger must be processed and moved through; acceptance is the stage where most resolutions will take place.
When a party hits the acceptance stage, they not only are ready to let the conflict go and move on, they are often eager to. This doesn't mean the party won't negotiate hard or hold out until their important interests are met, but it does mean that they are ready to negotiate in good faith, listen to what the other party wants without as much anger, and stay focused on reaching a resolution. In the acceptance stage, all the skills surrounding effective problem solving apply, including:
When a party arrives at the acceptance stage, it doesn't mean they will stay there forever. Many things can happen that may throw them back into anger or even denial, and the practitioner must use the skills listed to work with each party at whatever stage they move into. By applying the appropriate skills in each of the stages, the practitioner can keep the parties moving through the model in the overall direction of acceptance.
Strategically, the Moving Beyond model can be very helpful in understanding how parties move from being stuck in denial or anger to reaching some level of acceptance and, ultimately, resolution. In our case study, for example, arguing with Bob and forcing him to change his perspective while he remained in denial, as Sally had been doing, simply didn't work. Instead, it reinforced and strengthened the level of denial. Similarly, addressing Bob or Sally's anger through argument and accusation only caused defensiveness and kept them stuck in a denial-to-anger cycle that never reached or approached acceptance.
Some possible approaches a practitioner could use in applying the Moving Beyond model strategies to our case study follow.
Bob, when asked a number of these questions, will have a hard time remaining in denial as he reflects on the issues these questions raise. At some point the nature and focus of the questions will get Bob out of denial, likely opening up the feelings and emotions he's been going through in this situation.
Working through the anger stage can take a few minutes, a few hours, or even days, depending on a number of factors, including the depth of the relationships the conflict relates to, their importance to the parties, the attributions being made, and many more. Bob needed help to work through his emotions without being asked for a solution.
By applying different approaches at each stage, the practitioner can help Bob get out of denial, process the anger, and move toward constructive solutions and acceptance.
With these reality-testing questions, Sally might start to see that at the end of the day, she needs to make this work. This will likely bring out the frustration she's been feeling.
By applying different approaches at each stage, the practitioner can help Sally recognize some of the issues she had been ignoring (denial), process the anger, and move toward constructive solutions and acceptance.
Diane, you will recall, is not in a lot of denial—she's stuck in the anger stage, feeling helpless and unable to solve the problem. We'll move right to the anger stage with Diane.
By helping Diane work through her anger, and by focusing her forward to the acceptance stage, there is a good chance the past can be left behind in favor of a better future.
From a diagnostic point of view, the Moving Beyond model is fairly high level, identifying a broad pattern people go through in trying to move past a conflict and let it go. It allows practitioners to identify and see exactly where people get stuck in a conflict, becoming unable to let it go or resolve it. By helping practitioners assess this, it rates high on the diagnostic scale.
From a strategic point of view the model is more general, relying on well-tested and well-established communication skills to help parties move through the stages. That said, the stages themselves serve as an invaluable road map for the practitioner to identify the barriers to settlement, and to then apply the appropriate skills in the right stage to help the parties let go of the conflict and move beyond it. For this reason it rates medium-high on the strategic scale.
|What are the parties in denial about? Where are they stuck?
||Reality-Testing Questions for Party A:|
|What are the parties' key interests?
||Reality-Testing Questions for Party B: |
Anger to Acceptance:
An employee, Sheila, worked at a senior citizens home for about two years and was terminated for an incident involving another employee, Helen. Sheila and Helen had taken an immediate dislike to each other and coped with it by simply ignoring each other. A new supervisor had taken over the area, and the supervisor and Helen became close friends. Over the year that followed, Helen and Sheila started to have frequent clashes in the workplace. The supervisor simply told both of them to behave.
One day, Sheila came in late to work. The supervisor listened to Sheila's explanation of problems in her personal life (her husband had moved out on the weekend, leaving her alone with their child) but still gave her a written warning about being late. This upset Sheila. Later that day in the staff room Helen apparently taunted Sheila about the discipline and the problems she was having at home. Sheila became enraged and attacked Helen, squeezing her throat until she couldn't breathe. Coworkers pulled Sheila off Helen. Sheila was sent home and terminated the next day. No discipline was given to Helen. Sheila sued the employer for wrongful dismissal.
At mediation, Sheila downplayed the attack and claimed that the three witnesses were Helen's friends and talked a great deal about Helen receiving no discipline for instigating the fight. The employer ignored the lack of progressive discipline in the case and downplayed the supervisor's not having addressed past incidents between Sheila and Helen, focusing on the company's written policy that any aggressive acts of a physical nature would result in immediate termination.
In caucus, Sheila was demanding $50,000 even though her own lawyer kept telling her that the most she could get was three months' salary, a total of $9,000—and that this would happen only if they won, which was not likely. Sheila would not listen.
In caucus, the employer was refusing to pay anything, stating that their policy absolved them of any liability. Their lawyer told them they definitely had risk, but the employer refused to pay any money to an employee who had engaged in physical violence.
Anger to Acceptance:
Based on the diagnosis and identification of the areas of denial and anger, the practitioner focused on moving them out of denial using some of the following reality-testing questions:
After reality testing to get them out of denial, the practitioner used listening, acknowledging, and further questioning to help them process their anger. Once both parties were heading for acceptance, good problem-solving skills helped them come to a resolution.
Initially, Sheila's only offer to settle was $50,000, and the employer countered with zero.
After the mediator caucused and reality tested along the lines of the analysis, Sheila finally began to move out of denial and understand that even though she was provoked, she shouldn't have attacked Helen. She also got past her anger at the company and focused on her immediate need for money, and to get any help that the employer would offer in assisting her in finding a new job. She revised her offer to three months' salary, about $9,000.
The mediator reality tested the employer, and after working through the denial that they owed Sheila anything, and the anger that this incident took place at all, the employer accepted that if Helen had provoked the fight, they needed to address that. Because they hadn't investigated the incident properly, their dismissal might not be upheld in court. They refused to consider reinstatement but revised their offer from zero to $4,500 (1.5 months' salary), plus a letter of reference, which they offered to write because Sheila, with the exception of this incident, had been an excellent worker. Sheila asked for two months’, ($6,000) and the letter, and they settled on $5,500, plus the letter. Both parties left feeling that this was a very unfortunate incident, but were prepared to move on.