Category Archives: Conflict Resolution

Jumping to conclusions? Take the Cash Register Test to find out how much

Jumping to conclusions

For many years I have used the following exercise in trainings and workshops on conflict resolution, communication, and negotiation. Known as “The Cash Register Exercise”, it is adapted from “The Uncritical Inference Test” created by William V. Haney, Communication and Organizational Behavior: Text and Cases.

To complete the exercise, read the following story. Below it are 12 statements about the story. After you read the story, determine whether each of the 12 statements is

  • T – true;
  • F – false ; or
  • ? – you do not have enough information to determine whether the statement is true or false

Allow yourself no more than 5 minutes to complete the exercise. On Monday, October 13, I’ll reveal the correct answers. (In the meantime, please try to resist the temptation to google them ahead of time.)

Ready? Here goes:

The Cash Register Exercise

The Story

A businessman had just turned off the lights in the store when a man appeared and demanded money. The owner opened a cash register. The contents of the cash register were scooped up, and the man sped away. A member of the police force was notified promptly.

12 Statements about the Story

  1. A man appeared after the owner had turned off his store lights.
  2. The robber was a man.
  3. The man did not demand money.
  4. The man who opened the cash register was the owner.
  5. The store owner scooped up the contents of the cash register and ran away.
  6. Someone opened a cash register.
  7. After the man who demanded the money scooped up the contents of the cash register, he ran away.
  8. While the cash register contained money, the story does not state how much.
  9. The robber demanded money of the owner.
  10. It was broad daylight when the man appeared.
  11. The story concerns a series of events in which only three persons are referred to: the owner of the store, a man who demanded money, and a member of the police force.
  12. The following events in the story are true: someone demanded money, a cash register was opened, its contents were scooped up, and a man dashed out of the store.

To pique your interest further, I should warn you that in all the times I have used this exercise, only twice has anyone gotten all the answers right. If you’d like to print out a copy so that you can write your responses down, click here to download a PDF version.

Good luck, and click here for the answer when you’re ready.

All gardeners are optimists: what squirrels reminded me about conflict resolution

Feral pumpkin plant growing in my yard - photo take August 1 2008 in my front yardLate last fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving behind us and the long winter looming ahead, I left two large pumpkins at the foot of the old pine at the bend in the drive. They were a gift to the neighborhood squirrels, who go crazy for seeds from any kind of squash. Hunger makes them bold, and they have even crept right up on the front steps, glancing furtively over their shoulders, right under the nose of our dog, to steal the small pumpkins that sit by the door. I’ve discovered the evidence of the crime later in the backyard, the orange rinds in shreds and a few stray seeds scattered in the leaves.

The squirrels, and other creatures we hear only when twilight falls, made short work of the pumpkins. Soon there was nothing left but the stems, and even those disappeared the following night.

Despite the thoroughness of the squirrels and raccoons, a few seeds were evidently overlooked. A month ago, I noticed, poking out between the stone border edging the irises and the asphalt drive, what was clearly a pumpkin seedling. My first impulse was to pull it up, and I reached down to uproot it. But then something made me stop and leave it be.

Somehow it has taken root in the hard dirt between rock and asphalt, and against all odds, it grows, unfolding its blossoms and spreading out leaves to reach the sun.

Conflict is like that, I think. It is the hard places inside us, the rock wall laid down stone by stone, the asphalt paving that divides one house from the next.

Yet somehow, tenaciously, hope puts down roots, growing up between the cracks. Blossoms, stems, leaves, roots, it stretches from the shadows and reaches high to gain the light.

Crisis in dispute resolution: are we being excluded from the world's most important discussions?

Andrea Schneider at ADR Profs Blog is wondering whether there’s a “Crisis in Dispute Resolution?

This past weekend, the Graduate Program in Dispute Resolution here at Marquette hosted noted scholar Bernie Mayer. Bernie was mostly speaking about his book, Beyond Neutrality and, on Saturday, was invited in a point-counterpoint format to discuss his arguments with equally well-noted practitioner Howard Bellman. One point of the discussion was about Bernie’s argument, outlined in his book, that the dispute resolution field is marginalized in the most important disputes. In other words, in the biggest crises of the day and over the biggest problems (think war, state of the economy, etc.), the dispute resolution field does not generally have a seat at the table…

Andrea wants to know what the blogosphere makes of all of this:

Are we marginalized? Should dispute resolution professionals be called on more often in public policy and international disputes? Should we just get over ourselves–we are called on when we are needed? Let us know what you think!

Come join me in the discussion and tell Andrea what you think.

Bringing the world together through film: Pangea Day celebrated on May 10

Celebrate Pangea Day on May 10Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim had a wish that undoubtedly many others share: she wished for world peace. She said, “I think that the first step toward world peace is for people to meet each other”. She envisioned the use of film to create a kind of exchange program to help people around the world truly see and understand each other better.

Out of Noujaim’s wish came Pangea Day, a world-wide celebration of the things that people across the globe have in common:

Pangea Day taps the power of film to strengthen tolerance and compassion while uniting millions of people to build a better future.

In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that – to help people see themselves in others – through the power of film.

To learn more or to find out how you can take part, visit the Pangea Day web site.

Raising questions: time to revive a lost art

Most important question in the worldTwo years ago I introduced readers to the web site ChangeThis, which I described as

a web site born of a radical and hopeful idealism: to virally transmit ideas through a culture medium of community, respect, and dialogue.

Recognizing that “the best discussions in science, medicine, business and politics have always been the civil ones”, ChangeThis publishes what it calls manifestos — proposals for change which serve as “a reasoned, rational call to action, supported by logic and facts”. The goal is to provide a forum for “the rational and thoughtful arguments that help people change their minds to a more productive point of view.” In the egalitarian spirit with which ChangeThis was founded, anyone is welcome to submit ideas for a manifesto.

This online experiment in changing minds has thrived, amassing in the past two years a considerable inventory of innovative thinking, and consequently I continue to stop by in search of ideas to invigorate my work.

On a recent visit to the site I was struck by the premise of a newly published manifesto, “Questionating“, by business consultant Corinne Miller. Miller celebrates the power of the question and its role in creativity and fresh thinking:

Questions have been the enablers of innovation for centuries. As Albert Einstein said, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science”…

Questions use verbs and words that activate key areas of the brain that, in turn, increase the volume and variety of questions. The more questions, the more creativity and innovation. We like to say that questions open the innovation pipeline.

Despite the role of the question in stimulating discoveries and advancements, Miller observes that people seem to lose the willingness to ask questions as they grow older:

As we age, we disengage… from asking questions. Questions decrease as aging increases. Think about it. Why does the typical 5-year old ask about 65 questions a day, while the typical 40-something asks only about 6 questions a day? Why is it that the older we get, the fewer questions we ask? We’ve found that the most popular answers to this question have been: asking a question makes one look stupid; asking a question is a sign of weakness; and people think they know the answer so they don’t feel the need to ask.

What a sad state that we have created a business culture where asking questions is seen as a weakness. Shouldn’t it be the opposite, where not asking questions is a weakness?

How can we change this?

Indeed. How can we change this? What can any of us do to challenge the notion that asking questions displays weakness or even disrespect? What can we do to make it safe to ask questions of our institutions, of our leaders, of each other? Questions reflect, reveal, resolve; they shine light into the dark corners. Most importantly, questions give us the ability to see the world afresh. As Bertrand Russell once said, “In many affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

Faces of the dead in Iraq: an interactive graphic

Facing the dead in IraqIn poignant tribute to the U.S. service members who have lost their lives in the Iraq war, the New York Times has created a graphic that literally puts a face to the numbers who have perished.

Each face that appears is made up of many small squares, each representing another face. Click on any square to see another face appear, with information about that person displayed to the right. The squares are ordered by date of death, the most recent deaths appearing in the upper left corner of the image. You can also search by last name, home state, or home town.

(With thanks to ICT4Peace. Please read Sanjana Hattotuwa’s observations, including his thoughts on those who are missing from this moving depiction of the human cost of war.)

Settle paternity disputes with an at-home test

Paternity testing with at-home kit by INDENTIGENEThis may ultimately create more disputes than it resolves, but the DNA testing laboratory INDENTIGENE is selling at-home paternity tests.

For only $29.99 (and $119 for the lab fee), you can find out once and for all who’s your daddy.

(Hat tip to Boing Boing Gadgets.)

Recovering from a big mistake

Fixing mistakesIn my experience, one of the most persistent sources of interpersonal conflict is the inability to own up to and correct mistakes. Our first impulse may be to conceal an error, or to deny it exists. We may try to shift the fault and blame it on the negligence of others. We may be paralyzed by embarrassment, shame or a sense of personal failure. Or, perhaps, we just don’t know what to do.

Dumb Little Man presents a remarkable story of one lawyer‘s workplace error — missing a critical filing deadline, every attorney’s nightmare — and describes the courageous steps she took to make things right in “How to Recover from a (Big) Mistake at Work“. While avoiding mistakes in the first place is important, it’s a mark of character and rare ingenuity to fix one — making her the kind of lawyer I’d want to hire.

Failure to listen leads to racial harassment charge

Failure to listen leads to racial harassment chargeA Purdue University employee and student has been accused of racial harassment simply for reading a book. The book that got Keith Sampson into trouble was the critically acclaimed Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, which surveys Notre Dame and anti-Catholic bigotry during a troubled time in U.S. history.

According to the Freedom for Individual Rights in Education‘s (FIRE) The Torch,

First, a shop steward told Sampson that reading a book about the KKK was like bringing pornography to work (apparently this holds true in his eyes regardless of the context in which a book discusses the KKK, the position it takes, and so on). Likewise, a co-worker who happened to be sitting across the table from Sampson in the break room remarked that she found the KKK offensive. On both occasions, Sampson tried to explain what the book was really about. Both times, the other individual refused to listen.

A few weeks later, Sampson was notified by Marguerite Watkins of the school’s Affirmative Action Office (AAO) that a co-worker had filed a racial harassment complaint against him for reading the book in the break room. Once again, he attempted to explain the book’s content, but Watkins too had no interest in hearing it.

(Emphasis mine.)

Apart from the significant threat posed by “an over-aggressive application of employment discrimination laws poses for First Amendment rights in the public employment context”, in the words of Concurring Opinions blogger Paul Secunda put it, what is deeply disturbing to me as a dispute resolution professional is the utter failure of anyone to listen to Sampson. Had anyone bothered to do so, any concerns about the subject matter of the book would have been instantly allayed.

A little listening would have meant a very different outcome for everyone involved — including Sampson. Consider how many misunderstandings, the vast majority below the radar and unreported, arise out of the failure to communicate — and how many complaints, lawsuits, and conflicts might be avoided if people assumed less and listened more.

(Hat tip to Concurring Opinions.)

Resolve conflict, be healthier

Add conflict resolution training to your daily exercise routinePeople who get along well with others, including family, friends, and neighbors, may be healthier than those who don’t — so suggest the results of a recent study reported in Health Psychology.

Researchers from Portland State University School of Community Health (Oregon) conducted a two-year study of 666 older adults, aged 65 to 90, and found an association between higher levels of negative social exchanges and poorer health.

According to a recent article in HealthDay News,

The findings don’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between social life and health. Still, “the take-home message is that conflict in your life may have important impacts on your physical health,” said study lead author Jason T. Newsom…

Maybe it’s time to add a little conflict resolution training to your daily workout regimen.