The Wheel of Conflict

The wheel of conflict, when unchecked, can make bad situations worse.

Posted Apr 01, 2012

I am currently conducting research that is exploring the role of nonverbal communication and mediation. I have been working in conflicts through many roles including as a professional and volunteer mediator, law enforcement detective, conflict and communication trainer, and consultant for numerous years (read more about my research here).

When I am helping others who are involved in conflicts and disputes, I often refer to the Wheel of Conflict like I did at a recent mediation skills training at Robina Hospital on the Gold Coast, Australia.  Christopher Moore and Bernie Mayer developed the Wheel of Conflict and it describes various contributors to conflicts and disputes arising, persisting, and increasing.

The five elements of the wheel of conflict

The wheel of conflict includes structure, emotions, history, communication, and values.  Each is described below, and just like nonverbal communication cues and elements, the do not often exist in a vacuum but rather often work in a gestalt like manner.

Structure: Consider how the dynamics  of the participants(boss/employee) are creating or contributing to the conflict.  Additionally, other structure elements can include time (not enough) or unequal access or control of resources.

Emotions:  Do not ignore your emotions or others, however when out of control, emotions can easily create disputes and conflicts.

History:  The relationship and past experiences between two people involved in a conflict/dispute can lead to people making assumptions about the other developing a negative bias prior to even engaging the person.

Communication:  Consider the choice of words used, how they are said and the many nonverbal communication elements and cues.  Positive statements with incongruent body language often lead people to believing the nonverbal communication is more truthful (read more about this here).  For example, if you say you care about hearing their opinion while reclining in your chair and not making eye contact with your arms crossed over your chest will nonverbally show disinterest. 

Values:  Different people have different wants, needs, and goals (working late to make overtime compared to wanting to go home on time).  Assuming others, even from a perspective of thinking it is a positive offer or collaborative approach, could lead to a negative response if your values, ideology, or beliefs differ.

When you are aware of each element in the Wheel of Conflict, you can prepare for complicated and tense interactions with others.  Preparing yourself and observing each element in the Wheel allows you to properly prepare yourself while also anticipating the other persons position on the situation while also, and more importantly the reasons they feel a certain way.

Understanding the other person is a key element to any type of negotiation, and as I shared above, it often involves many nonverbal communication cues and elements.  Try applying the Wheel of Conflict need each time you know you will be in a situation where there is a conflict or one can potentially arise.

Follow Jeff Thompson on twitter for the latest news, research and fun on nonverbal communication and conflict resolution at @NonverbalPhD

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