Resolving Conflict

Session Date & Time: 
May 5, 2012 - 1:30pm
Session Length: 
90 minutes
Skill Level: 

Liz Paul, Idaho Rivers United

Conflict is inherent in much of the work done to manage, protect and restore rivers and watersheds. The challenge of developing solutions that are acceptable to all stakeholders is usually daunting. Often it seems like parties are worlds apart from each other. Parties fight each other (usually with words) hoping to get the upper hand and prevail. At the end of day, there are winners and losers. But solutions that only meet the needs of the majority, or some, of the parties can be short-lived and can divide communities and hinder cooperation. They increase tension and often take an emotional toll on winners and losers alike.

Conflicts also arise in the workplace and in the boardroom. These conflicts can be disruptive and lead to deep rifts in the organization that decrease effectiveness and create feelings of unhappiness and regret.

Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are famous for their massive nonviolent citizen campaigns to confront injustice. Both leaders based their lives and their work on principles of nonviolence; they embraced the idea that the law of love rules humankind and that everyone has a piece of the truth.

Everyone can improve their conflict resolution skills by embracing the principles of Gandhi and King and practicing their application. In this workshop, participants will gain an understanding of these principles, identify conflicts they are engaged in with adversaries or allies and practice their skills of listening and compassion.

The main exercise entails dividing in groups of six and role-playing different parties in a conflict. For example: utility that wants to build hydropower dam, tribal member with ancestral rights, affected landowner, chamber of commerce member, river advocate and power boater. Everyone gets a chance to put themselves in the shoes of the other parties, to feel the feelings, intentions, motivations and needs of that person. And everyone gets to listen. This is a powerful exercise that allows people to discard stereotypes and prejudices, the first step to nonviolent conflict resolution. It's an exercise that participants can lead when they return home.

Board members, directors, staff members and campaign organizers will benefit from this workshop. No previous knowledge or experience is needed.

Presenter Bio(s): 

Liz Paul is a community organizer who has worked for Idaho Rivers United for over 15 years. Liz specializes in involving community members and river stakeholders in the formation of public policy, in federal, state and local decision making and in legislation. Liz has guided citizen campaigns to designate state protected rivers and federal Wild and Scenic rivers, to defeat new dams, to bird dog mining exploration, to protect endangered species and to influence numerous other decisions involving Idaho's rivers. Currently Liz works on the Boise River and that includes public forest management, urban floodplain encroachment, Clean Water Act compliance, water rights and supply and climate change. Liz earned a BA in Environmental Studies/Political Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. She is a practitioner of active nonviolence and has led many workshops and trainings in nonviolence.