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Christopher Mitchell’ Approach to Problem Solving

Problem-solving takes place in discussion groups generally referred to as workshops. These “workshops” are aimed at enabling the parties to conflict to see the conflict and their opponents in a different light and also it opens channels to new possibilities and even better options to be pursued. What comes out very clearly from the very onset is the philosophy that conflicts can best be approached as problems to solve and not battles to be won. The real world of conflict is messy and as such it needs a mixture of techniques to address conflicts and to search for lasting solutions. Problem-solving is one such a technique which can be employed in conflict resolution. It is by its nature a process and as Mitchell has argued it has contrasts with other techniques such as coercion, law enforcement and power based bargaining.

Mitchell has identified certain principles of problem-solving. There is need to change the view of conflict by the parties to conflict by providing the adversaries with an opportunity to re-conceptualize their situation. This has been termed, problem redefining; it gives parties to the conflict an opportunity to look at the conflict from different perspectives through suggestions of different win-win possibilities in conflict resolution. Another principle is that of negative misperception which is mainly anchored on blame games, whereby the other is always blamed for the conflict and for the wrongs done. Issues such as negative stereo-typing and dehumanizing lead to what Mitchell has referred to as causal complexity which must be avoided in problem-solving. Another principle closely related to this is that of viewing protracted conflicts as nobody’s fault. Furthermore, there is the principle of unrecognized entrapment whereby decision makers may be locked in situations which might exacerbate the situation. It means that the policy-makers themselves must be very careful not to be entangled in such a terrible situation so that they may remain focused in achieving the desired end.

The no-fault principle is extremely important it must be adopted to avoid the situation of continuous reference to the other as the cause of the problem. The no-fault principle must be employed right from the beginning of the process of problem-solving. Analytical principle dictates the need for adopting an analytical as opposed to adversarial posture. Analytical posture calls for logical and valid argumentations based on practical, cogent and sound inferences. It also focuses on the “why” of the underlying events. The last two principles are evaluative dynamism and that of unrecognized options.  The principle of evaluative dynamism seeks to take advantage of the changing goals, interests and positions with changed circumstances. The policy-makers should endeavor to use any possible opportunities to change for the better as opposed to the worse. For example, different people can evaluate the same situation differently but also the same people can evaluate the same situation differently under different circumstances. This must be keenly observed to ensure conflict de-escalation as opposed to escalation. Also the last one on unrecognized options is equally important because it is through employment of such a principle that alternatives are suggested. Some of the suggested alternatives could be good and acceptable to both parties, sometimes people are locked in conflicts because they do not know best alternatives, therefore the facilitators must try hard to make parties to conflict see different alternatives and open up a bank of options for them.

The second part which has been explored by Mitchell is the strategies employed in problem-solving. This is on how best to apply the aforementioned principles to ensure the best outcome out of a conflict situation. At both strategic and tactical levels, there should be carefully laid down a process of bringing about joint conceptualization of the problem and on the detailed nature of the whole process; that is how to conduct the problem-solving session. One strategy is to avoid settings that will lead to defensive negotiations, power bargaining or coercive behavior. Instead create situations that facilitate flexible and creative thinking. The chances for success of problem-solving greatly depend on good and appropriate settings and preparations. It is not something to jump into, there must be necessary and prior arrangements including good study of the case in point. The problem-solving strategy should put into perspective the idea of putting key individuals into a frame of mind where alternatives to coercion are presented as a viable and sustainable possibility even with greater reap of benefit to all parties. Conditions necessary for common exploration of alternatives between parties and other participants should be enhanced to open windows of opportunities. The strategy has the following procedure as suggested by Mitchell: making adversaries aware of gain-gain possibilities, persuading them to stop coercion and violence, persuading key leaders of the adversaries to send representatives, provide a safe and insulated setting to facilitate fruitful problem-solving session for example by making parties aware that the problem is not exclusively to them alone, give opportunities for possible exploration of underlying issues and enabling the exploration of the obstacles that confront both sides and hinder them from reaching acceptable solutions and lastly helping to initiate more formal process for removing obstacles and facilitating less conflictual interaction between parties to conflict.

Lastly Mitchell has tackled the tactics employed to problem-solving. The tactics must be non- directive, flexible and creative. A small number is always desirable in the set-up of problem-solving “workshop” because this necessitates things such as informal exchange of views and development of trusting personal relations. The agenda should be simple and flexible because there is always room for new insights and for improvement. The tactics therefore are; provision of the role model for behavior that is non-judgmental, analytical, questioning but supportive, provision of sympathetic audience, employment of neutral, non-accusatory and non-offensive language, provision of analytic insights, relevant theoretical explanations and new ideas and finally adoption of the function of being an agent of reality in the “workshop” participants.

In general, problem-solving is therefore a situation where there is an interested third party who comes in to help the parties to conflict see their problem differently and to facilitate the forum for them to discover new possibilities and unlock new opportunities for conflict resolution. It takes place in short “workshops” with facilitators and consultants being brought on board to bring in their input in the efforts to resolve intractable conflicts. 
Christopher Mitchell’ Approach to Problem Solving Christopher Mitchell’ Approach to Problem Solving Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on May 19, 2016 Rating: 5

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