SOCY 4025: ASSIGNMENTS

Unit #1: THE CORE TECHNIQUE-INTEREST-BASED BARGAINING - 10%

You are first asked to select a real world conflict problem which is likely to be amenable to successful interest-based bargaining. You should feel free to use any case that you wish as the foundation for this assignment (except for the examples used in the text). Examples of the kinds of cases that you might wish to address include the following:

 

You are then asked to describe exactly how the principles of interest-based bargaining could be applied to the chosen case. You should imagine that you have been asked for advice by one of the parties who have then promised to circulate your recommendations to the other parties. It is important that you write clearly and succinctly producing a position paper of about 1800 words.

Submit your assignment for Unit 1.

 

Unit #2: DEALING WITH MORE DIFFICULT CONFLICTS-- 10%

You are again asked to first select a real world conflict problem. This time, however, you need to pick one which is likely to be amenable to Ury's strategy for dealing with difficult people. As with the last assignment, you should feel free to use any case that you want as the foundation for this assignment (except for the examples used in the text). Examples of the kinds of cases that you might wish to address include the following:

 

You are then asked to describe exactly how the Ury's approach could be applied to the your case. It is important that you write clearly and succinctly producing a position paper of about 1800 words.

Submit your assignment for Unit 2.

 

Unit #3: THE MANY DIFFERENT APPLICATIONS OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION TECHNIQUES - 10%

You are asked to prepare a 1800 word essay describing the many different types of dispute handling and conflict resolution services currently available. You should discuss the each approach and the situations in which it might be applicable. To get an "A" you also need to apply the basic concepts presented in the readings to conflicts other than those discussed. Your should also pay particular attention to describing the role that third parties such as mediators and arbitrators should play. Finally you should discuss how a dispute handling system can be used to channel disputes toward the most appropriate process.

Submit your assignment for Unit 3.

 

Unit #4: HARD QUESTIONS-DEALING WITH INTRACTABLE CONFLICTS - 10%

This assignment follows the same pattern that we used for Units #1, #2 and #3. You are again asked to first select a real world conflict problem. This time, however, you need to pick a difficult, intractable conflict which is unlikely to be amendable to agreement-based resolution. As with the last assignment, you should feel free to use any case that you want as the foundation for this assignment (except for the examples used in the readings). Examples of the kinds of cases that you might wish to address include the following:

You are then asked to describe exactly how the Ury's approach could be applied to the your case. It is important that you write clearly and succinctly producing a position paper of about 1800 words.

Submit your assignment for Unit 4.

 

Unit #5: BEYOND THEORY-REAL WORLD STORIES OF ACTUAL PRACTICE - 10%

Based upon the ideas presented in Talk That Works, you are asked to prepare a 2500 word essay highlighting those ideas presented in earlier units which play an important role in actual practice. You should be specific in describing stories illustrating the implementation of each idea. You should also highlight areas in which practitioners clearly violate one or more of the key ideas outlined above. Again you should plan on a 1800 word essay.

Submit your assignment for Unit 5.

 

Unit #6: PRACTICAL SKILL BUILDING - 10%

While it is impossible for a distance learning/correspondence class like this to make use of in-class exercises and role-plays, we have included a number of small-scale exercises to demonstrate a few key points. These exercises ask you to apply a few proven techniques to your day-to-day interactions and prepare brief reports summarizing the results. If you don't want to do this, an alternative assignment asks you to critique several stories describing how people have actually dealt with similar issues. These stories can come from personal observation or new reports. The assignment is to try three of the following five exercises.

Option #1: Active Listening

Essential to any effort to improve the conflict process is for the parties to accurately understand the interests, positions, and motivations of one another. Frequently, the parties exchange information in emotional and acrimonious settings where they focus their energies on arguing their positions rather than listening to their opponents. They tend to assume that they know what they know what their opponent believes and they tend to believe that anything their opponents says is meaningless posturing. What they need to do, they assume, is concentrate on planning their rebuttal so that they can score as many debating points as possible. The problem with this approach is that one's assumptions are often wrong, and their worst case images often incorrect. While a more accurate understanding of the parties' positions is unlikely to resolve the conflict, it can do much to make it more manageable.

Active listening is a technique designed to replace rebuttal planning with real communication. The basic concept is simple. It calls upon the parties to conflictual conversations to first carefully listen to their opponent's statements and then repeat those statements in their own words, emphasizing not only the content of the statement, but the emotions or feelings as well. (One might respond that the other seemed particularly frustrated (a "feeling" word) because he was faced with a difficult situation when... (the substance of the problem). By focusing both on substance and on feeling, the disputant can confirm that he or she correctly understands both aspects of the problem. If the listener's interpretation of the situation is wrong, the opponent has an opportunity to correct the misunderstanding, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. While this might, at first glance, seem like a waste of time, it is amazing how many misunderstanding are actually uncovered. It is also important to let people make corrections. Often people make statements which their opponents interpret as quite inflammatory, even though they were not meant in that way. People need to be able to say that they didn't mean it.

Roles are then reversed to give the other side a chance to make their views understood. The discussion is also slowed down a bit so that people have time to adequately plan their remarks. (This is because they are being asked to give up the "planning time" that they usually have when others are speaking.) Their opponents can then verify whether or not they have heard correctly. This then gives the opponent a chance to correct any misunderstanding before they unnecessarily complicate the conflict. This process greatly increases the accuracy of images that contending parties have of one another, while also forcing the parties to address each others concerns and not just exchange unfounded accusations.

The assignment is simply for you to use this technique in a discussion on a contentious issue and prepare a 750 word report on what you did and how things worked.

Option #2: Facilitation

A crucial element of successful problem-solving is an ability to conduct productive meetings which do not get bogged down in interpersonal attacks or sidetracked by lengthy discussions of tangential issues. Meeting facilitation techniques offer a very successful strategy for preventing such problems. It works best for small group sessions involving between five and fifteen participants. (Larger groups are usually split into a number of smaller groups.) For a complete discussion of this very useful approach you should consult Michael Doyle and David Straus, How to Make Meetings Work, Wyden Books, 1976.

For the purposes of this exercise, this simple description should be sufficient. The first of the two key elements of this approach is the setting of constructive "ground rules," which clearly establish standards of polite discourse which everyone is expected to follow. Also important is a clear agenda so that everyone knows the purpose of the meeting and how their comments will fit into the larger process. Examples of such ground rules are the following:

The second element involves some type of public recording procedure. The goal is to assure people that their ideas are being recorded and will be used in later stages of the decision process. This generally involves publicly recording each participant's comments on newsprint taped up around the meeting room. The resulting permanent record also makes it much easier for people involved in later stages of the decision process to accurately remember people's concerns and any agreements reached. In addition, it is much easier to persuade people to move on to other issues if they are sure that their comments will be remembered.

The assignment is to participate in a facilitated meeting (which may be organized by yourself or others) and prepare a 750 word report summarizing what was done and how well it worked. (If it did not go well, you might suggest ways the facilitation might have been changed to make it more effective.)

Option #3: Compromise Generation

The key to the successful interest-based bargaining is an ability to craft workable compromises or what Fisher, Ury, and Patton call "options for mutual gain." The assignment is to craft a compromise for some conflict that you are associated with and show how it serves the interests of all parties. If you can, present your ideas to the parties and see if they might wish to pursue it. Again, prepare a 750 word report summarizing your efforts and the results.

Option #4: Constructive Public Statements

Many people who are engaged in public policy conflicts make public statements advocating their position. Often, however, these statements do not have the intended results because the parties do not fully appreciate the destructive potential of conflict dynamics such as escalation. Your assignment is to collect 3-5 letters to the editor describing various citizen positions on a controversial public policy issue. Next prepare a 750 word critique of these letters suggesting ways in which they might be changed to more effectively advance the author's interests.

Option #5: "I" Versus "You" Statements

Conflicts typically arise when one party has a complaint against another. The way in which these complaints are voiced can do much to limit the risk of destructive escalation while increasing the probability that the person will respond positively to criticism and correct the problem. One very simple way of increasing the chances of a constructive response is to use "I messages" instead of "you messages." For example, instead of saying "you are being unfair" say "I feel like I'm being treated unfairly." This simple rephrasing gives opponents an opportunity to either explain why they are not being unfair or modify their behavior without losing face. It also reduces the risk of an escalating cycle of accusations and counter-accusations. The assignment is to try this technique in an appropriate situation and write a 750 word essay describing what you did and how well it worked.

Submit your assignment for Unit 6.

 

Unit #7: ONLINE SEMINAR - 10%

An on-line seminar will also be conducted in conjunction with the class. The seminar will focus upon a series of recent news stories describing current conflict problems. Our goal is a thoughtful on-line discussion in which you are asked to suggest the most constructive ways of dealing with these conflicts. You are also asked to critique and then help develop suggestions made by others. Specific topics will vary from time to time so that we can always focus upon issues which are prominent in the news and of widespread interest.

The complete text of the on-going seminar will be available from the course's home page, and you can submit your comments either directly from links embedded in the home page or, if those links are inconvenient or are not yet available, by e-mailing your comments to the course instructors who will then promptly post them.

Submit your assignment for Unit 7.

 

Unit #8: CLASS PROJECT- 30%

The final component of the course is a major class project that asks you to apply the general ideas that you have learned to a real world conflict. Here you have three choices. You can apply the ideas learned in the class to an actual conflict in which you are involved and then report the results. (How well did things work or not work? Why?) The second possibility is for you to systematically observe an ongoing conflict in your community, reporting how the conflict is being handled and the results of that approach. You should also make recommendations suggesting more constructive ways of handling the issue. Finally, you can do an in-depth case study based upon library research addressing the same basic questions.

Regardless of which option you choose, you need to begin your report with a conflict map identifying the issues, the stakeholders, and other important information. For more information on how to prepare these maps see the chapter from the Hocker and Wilmont book included in the readings.

As a further guide you should consider addressing the following questions. These questions are based upon the topics raised in the Burgess article on constructive confrontation which you read for Unit #4. You can refer to this article for a more complete discussion of the meaning of the terms. In considering these questions, please feel free to disregard those that are not applicable or, even, very important. Concentrate your efforts on those important aspects of the conflict that really seem to be making a difference.

 

Submit your assignment for Unit 8.