Visual Problem Solving: Analyzing Conflict

By: Eris Weaver | Date: February 15, 2011 | Categories: Uncategorized

>My friend Kathy (names changed to protect privacy) asked for help in dealing with conflict in one of her project groups. As she told me more about it, I doodled a rough map of the relationships between each of the individuals as well as the different organizations involved in the project.

It has been my experience that often what appears to be a personal conflict between individuals often has components related to the social and organizational structures in which they operate; I had a hunch that this might be part of what was going on in Kathy’s group.

The conflict had to do with decision making, specifically around the mission and strategic goals of the project. Bob and Lucy had very different ideas about where the project should be going than did Kathy, who had been the project’s initiator.

My doodles started to resemble a flow chart. One big issue that remained unclear was the project’s affiliation  with two nonprofits, of which Kathy was the chief executive. If the new initiative was indeed a project of either of those nonprofits, Kathy as chief had the institutional power to override Bob and Lucy. If, however, it was to become its own entity, questions of governance needed to be negotiated anew.

Flow chart doodle

Kathy now realized that her challenge was NOT one of resolving personal conflict, but of clarifying organizational structures. Her next steps were now completely different! Rather than seeking mediation with Bob and Lucy, she needed to discuss the project with both nonprofit boards and get a decision as to whether either of them wanted to own it.

Doodle pretty-ed up for presentation purposes

Next time you are faced with a complicated conflict, instead of talking it out, try drawing it out!