Walt Reilly

Integrity & the Conflict Resolution Process

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Change, Culture, Ethics, Leadership

The author at a 2010 event.

The author at a 2010 event.

The “essentials” to conflict resolution listed by Dr. Carolyn Maraist, in her wonderful presentation, are consistent with the attributes associated with positive outcomes in my practice of labor and employee dispute resolution and collective bargaining negotiations. Amazing results were possible, in my experience, when such “essentials” to conflict resolution as “empathy,” “integrity,” and “hard work” were persistently present. Yes, “learned skills” were required, including “clarity of communication” and “listening,” but absent the essential ingredients, identified by Dr. Mariast in her interviews, sustainable success was largely unattainable.

Of the three (empathy, integrity and hard work), the greatest, and most essential, is integrity. Without integrity, empathy is not possible and hard work will prove futile. Trust is the product of integrity. One cannot come to appreciate another’s feelings or viewpoint without an emotional and intellectual openness possible only where there is trust. Trust, and thus integrity, is essential to successful, lasting, resolution of any dispute of substantive consequence. When trust is a precondition, it is a predictor of successful outcomes in dispute resolutions. Indeed, experience has taught me that even when empathy is not achieved, or when there is insufficient or misplaced work effort, successful outcomes are still possible when there is trust!

Dr. Maraist noted the importance of “working on yourself.” Implicit in that point must be the importance of knowing yourself. Understanding, and holding with deep conviction, your fundamental beliefs and values is essential to lasting positive outcomes in negotiations, consensus building, problem resolution ….. and to sustainable leadership. One cannot, with meaningful results, “work on yourself” without first coming to know who you are!  (The saying “empty suit” jumps quickly to mind!)

There is another factor essential to successful conflict resolution that Dr. Maraist’s brief video does not mention: humility. As I reflect upon many years of “going through the door,” as she portrays the role of peace-maker and conciliator, I immediately call to mind the critical importance of personal humility …. acting not out of personal interest, but rather in the service of others. A threshold, fundamental, question for anyone who chooses to take on the mantel of negotiator or conciliator (or leader) is: “Who do I chose to serve?”

In my experience, one additional “essential” ingredient is creativity. As others before me have noted, we cannot hope to solve complex problems by using the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. An essential quality of a problem-solver is to be creative and to have the ability to stir the minds and creatively in others … to engender a wonderful elixir of profoundly new and unique thought and solutions where none existed; that is, to make 2 x 2 = 6, or 8 or 10!

The human mind is capable of marvelous things when challenged, and when skillfully stirred together with other active minds, in harmony and trust, miracles often result! I know, I have seen them happen many times.  The negotiator, conciliator, problem solver, peacemaker, at his or her best, must be creative and must be a catalyst for, and persistent provocateur of, creative thinking in the people she or he serves.

Let me share with you a quote from Lance Morrow’s “The Dance of Negotiation,” which hung on my office wall during all those challenging years during which I worked at my craft: 

To make something out of nothing, 
to fashion possibilities out of dead ends, 
is to be literally creative.
Negotiations is one of the serious arts 
of the imagination. 
The deeper resources of wisdom must
collaborate with the nimblest reflexes:
the gamblers touch, 
the athlete’s timing,
the magician’s tricks, 
the gentleman’s equilibrium.


Walter Reilly is a retired human resources professional and labor negotiator.

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