Planners regularly need to balance competing interests when making development decisions (such as determining a development application or assessing a planning proposal). This makes conflict an inevitability in the planning system.
Sometimes this conflict can be overlooked or go unresolved when a decision is made. This can result in dissatisfaction with the outcome or process – for example, a disgruntled resident maybe feel the issues raised in their submission have not been properly addressed or an applicant may feel that the development consent unfairly restricts the development potential of the land.
In this article, we explain how you can develop a conflict resolution mindset to help address and resolve conflicts when making planning decisions. In turn, this will improve the robustness of your decisions and outcomes for your communities.
What is a mindset?
Put simply, a mindset is a belief that orientates the way we handle situations – the way we sort out what is going on and what we should do. The psychologist, Carol Dweck, has made the term famous in the education world with the identification of the “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” concepts.
When you have a fixed mindset you believe that your brains and talents are a given. When you have a growth mindset you believe that your brains and talents can be developed through hard work and effort. That is shifting from the “I can’t do this”, to the “I can’t do this yet” frame of mind.
What is a conflict resolution mindset?
In the context of disputes and conflicts, a mindset has a similar meaning – it is our approach to handling conflict and solving problems. The reality is that we can all learn to adopt a conflict resolution mindset – which is similar to the philosophy behind the growth mindset. This is a mindset that gears us up for success in solving problems that come our way. We can believe that there is a solution to the problem, which just hasn’t been found yet!
How to foster a conflict resolution mindset?
As well as the belief that the solution to the problem hasn’t been found yet, there are a few other key things you can do to foster a conflict resolution mindset:
1. Pay attention
First, pay attention! Humans have a tendency to avoid or bury conflict – this happens in our personal lives and in our work. So the first step is to be aware that there may be a conflict or dispute brewing or underlying the issue that you are dealing with. Once you are aware, you can take steps to address it.
2. Figure out the problem
Second, take some time to figure out what the problem actually is. Think about what the source or reason for the conflict or dispute may be – sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it takes time to delve a little deeper into people’s interests and motivations. This steps includes time to explore the past – but it is important to not to get stuck there! It may also involve having difficult conversations and talking about the ‘elephant in the room’.
3. Focus on the future
Third, you must become future focused. If you get stuck in the past, this can lead to dead ends and circular conversations. As Tammy Lenski says – this is like being stuck on a hamster wheel! To get off the hamster wheel, you need to not only know the problem that you are dealing with, you also need to shift your focus to the future.
4. Practice empathy and shift your perspective
Fourth, to find solutions that are going to stick and actually solve the issue at hand, you need to take time to understand the interests and motivations of each person involved in the conflict, so that these are addressed in the solution. This requires you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You should also go one step further – put yourself in the shoes of an innocent bystander or a third party to see what they might think. You don’t need to necessarily agree with the view of the person in those shoes, but it certainly helps to understand their perspective and this may even shift yours.
5. Stay open minded
Fifth, you need to keep an open mind. When your mind becomes fixed on a solution, this is when conflict becomes entrenched and positions become immovable. Having an open mind means being willing to consider all options to resolve the problem. It means being flexible and agile in your response to new ideas, even when these are not your own. A planner doesn’t need to have the “right” answer first thing, every time.
Many planners would benefit from adopting a conflict resolution mindset rather than getting bogged down in positional disputes. When you are under pressure to produce results and determine development applications within key performance indicators, this may be the last thing on your mind. This is an undeniable problem with the current system, but truth be told, taking time to address and resolve conflict early on in the process may well will save you time and potential headaches down the track.
If the conflict or dispute is too hot to handle, then you can always call upon an independent mediator to step in and guide you through the process. Contact our Director, Emma Broomfield, who is a nationally accredited mediator: