November 30, 2014

Usefulness questions in conflict resolution

Usefulness questions belong to the most popular progress-focused techniques. Here are two ways in which you, as a progress-focused mediator, can make them extra helpful in conflict resolution. 

Progress-focused principles and techniques are quite useful in conflict resolution. Some previous articles in which I provided some examples are here and here. A question which is particularly helpful is the usefulness question. It can be asked in roughly two types of ways. The first way of asking focuses on the most useful way the time can be spent during the conversation. For example, it can be asked as follows: "How do you think we can use our time today as useful as possible?" The second way of asking focuses on the desired outcome of the conversation. It can be asked as follows: "After our conversation, how would you notice it had been helpful to you? These two forms of usefulness questions can be asked in combination with each other in a conversation. They complement each other well. Here are two ways to make the usefulness question extra helpful in conflict resolution.

A first way to do that is to add to it the aspect of mutualization with which I mean creating a perspective of mutuality. In conflict resolution it is often helpful for you, as a mediator, to ask for the mutual usefulness and the shared desired outcome of both conflict partners. By doing this the perception of mutuality and shared interest is strengthened due to which conversations are likely to proceed somewhat more smoothly. A second way to do that is to build into your usefulness question a future projection. With a future projection question you invite your conversation partners to imagine that they make a leap into the desired future. Then, you ask them to describe what that desired future looks like. By making use of a future projection in usefulness questions you subtly create an expectation that both conflict partners will have that shared positive future. This makes it easier for them to imagine that that positive future will indeed be possible. (Read more about creating positive expectations here).

Here are two examples of how usefulness question in which both mutualization and a future projection have been built in:
  • What would need to happen in this conversation so that the both of you could say to each other, looking back at this conversation, three months from now, "coming here helped us make progress"? 
  • Imagine, we are now three months further and both of you agree this conversation has been useful for you ... How would you notice that you two had made progress?

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