Day 2 Bounce and some elementary matters.

Birgitt Bolton birgitt at
Thu Dec 17 16:24:00 PST 1998

I smile when I think of Open Space and conflict resolution. I think Open
Space is probably used for conflict resolution far more than it is for
planning. Because you see, when one is called in to do Open Space for any
reason, whatever underlying conflicts and so on (the secrets) are in the
organization, they almost always surface during the Open Space, get dealt
with, and people move to solution mode and then action planning. One of the
reasons we started the Dead Moose Society is because truth surfaces, and it
is usually painful. "the good news is that Open Space works, the bad news is
that Open Space works". To do really good conflict resolution in Open Space,
it requires the 2 1/2 day version for long lasting sustainability of what
was worked through. Conflict resolution isn't any good if it is just good
for the few hours following a meeting. What I like most about using open
space for conflict resolution is that a group discovers that it can work
through conflict. They prove it to themselves and prove to themselves that
they don't need a facilitator to come and fix them. So...another time, they
just might remember that the wisdom is amongst them and they might repeat
the solution focus. And not be facilitator dependent. This does us out of
work for sure, but there is enough need out in the world that we will be
called elsewhere to watch another group prove to itself what it can do.

There is of course the story of the Breast Cancer Advocacy conference with
women representing groups from all over North America, representatives from
funding bodies, from the large Cancer companies, and representatives from
pharmaceuticals. Conflict was rampant by the end of day one, was worked
through on day two, and resolved itself on day three with a coalition for
action being formed. Harrison and I had responsibility for the space at the
event. The key was for us to stay out of getting involved with the conflict
and holding the space with love. and yes, OS is more than a tool---and love
is a term that should find its way into business more often. The story is a
grand one, much too long for the telling now. I will tell you the reaction
of the participants. Harrison and I were invited into the dinner
celebrations on the second evening. Actually, commanded rather than invited
and told to accept what was about to happen in the spirit in which it was
done.We were busily getting the report done but made our appearance. They
were doing an awards ceremony. We waited. They then announced that they had
two more awards for two special people. And Harrison and I were acknowledged
with great thanks for holding that space, not getting drawn into the
conflict. We had wonderful speeches made to each of us. And were told that
the participants could feel our love for them and our belief that they could
work their way through their conflict. Anyhow, they awarded Harrison with an
inflatable pair of pink feet and me with a cowboy hat. For any of you who
have met Harrison, you might see the significance in that. They felt I
needed a hat of my own too (they hadn't checked in my closet to see the
large collection there :-)) They were also very clear that it was our
combined energy that was needed, both the male and female energy--and said
with only one of us, it wouldn't likely have been so successful.


At 02:37 PM 12/17/1998 EST, you wrote:
>I was interested in your situation regarding the church and OS.  As a
>person and as director of a labor-management council, I wonder if what was
>needed as a first step might be a conflict resolution process rather than
>In my work with labor and management, we use the tool we feel is most
>effective for the situation.  OS is wonderful as a synergy producing
>process.  If, however, there is not common interest, or worse, hostility,
>conflict resolution may be more effective.  (We use the 7 Elements process
>developed by Roger Fisher of the Harvard Negotiation Project fame.)  Just a
conflict resolution approaches can be very valuable, but in a curious way,
Open Space seems to perform almost as well. I have had Zulu, Hausas and
Afrikaners all in the same room with no problems -- dealing with very tough
issues. Down the street, the same sort of folks were cutting each other in
small pieces. The key I think is the Law of Two Feet, which allows folks to
cool off when they need to. So any how, i don't think the issue was that
OST could not handle conflict, rather I think the problem may have been a
lack of clarity about the intention of the meeting, and the fact that it
occurred in two parts. If everybody had been there from the beginning, and
there was no part II, I am dead certain that the underlying conflict would
have surfaced, and I would be pretty certain that the folks could have
handled it well and productively. they would have had the time, and things
could have cooked. As it was, sounds to me like a flash fire sort of thing.
If Birgitt Bolton is looking in, she might be willing to tell the tale of
our adventures with the Breast Cancer Advocates. Lots of conflict for sure,
but I believe things turned out positively. but we had two days, and things
certainly did cook. Actually, Larry Peterson's wife was very much a part of
that whole thing, and if we could get her on-line, that would be wonderful
too. h.

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