Conciliatory Policy. What is a Conciliatory Approach?

More businesses, schools, and governments have begun to adopt a conciliatory policy when evaluating and creating their conflict resolution processes.  Yet many people that follow and interact with these processes do not fully understand the term conciliatory and how it affects the dispute resolution process.  For some people, a conciliatory process may feel fresh and welcome over a policy that encourages adversarial or silent approaches to conflict.  However, some other people may feel that the process is too focused on resolution and less focused on the direct impact that the resolution has on them and other team members.  Still, others may feel restrained in their conflict resolution by the policy.  Understanding a conciliatory policy involves understanding the definition of conciliatory and how a conciliatory process can benefit or disadvantage an organization.  This article will define conciliatory and provide examples of conciliatory behaviors and gestures.  Then will briefly overview the formal conciliation process and how this may benefit organizations.  

Defining Conciliatory:

A literal definition of conciliatory is something that is done to conciliate.  To conciliate means to encourage resolution or appease another person.  To be conciliatory can mean to act in a way that shows that you are open to resolution and would like to pursue such resolution.  It can also mean to act in a way that placates or wins over another.  A conciliatory tone exemplifies these descriptions and encourages the other party to approach a resolution.  Taken together, these definitions give us a broader definition of conciliatory which is something that is done or created to encourage resolution, appease or appeal to another party, or reconcile.  Conciliation has a resolution as its highest goal but includes a variety of ways to achieve that end.  

Examples of Conciliatory Behavior: 

Another way to define conciliation is to provide examples of conciliatory behavior.  Almost any action that takes place with the intent to resolve a dispute with another person could be considered conciliatory, but some examples will often be conciliatory, regardless of intent.  These are also actions to consider if you are in the middle of a dispute and would like to approach the dispute in a conciliatory manner.  Some of these actions include: 

  • Apologizing: When a dispute involves wrongdoing on the part of one of the parties, an apology for this wrongdoing may help encourage the parties toward a resolution.  This will often ease tensions between the parties, and they may be able to talk through the issues and resolve them.  This should only be done if the apology is sincere, or it may cause further problems.  
  • Active Listening: Another conciliatory action that may be used to ease tensions is active listening.  This includes fully listening and absorbing what the other party is saying, engaging with them while listening, and often repeating back or paraphrasing issues to ensure that you are understanding the other party fully and correctly.  This shows that you are engaged in what the other party is saying and may even reveal information that you did not hear or understand previously.  
  • Common Ground: Identifying common ground with the other party may help gain trust between the parties and find a resolution.  A disagreement is often rooted in the differences that the parties have.  Finding commonality between the parties helps create a space where people can see areas that may help heal the relationship and resolve the conflict.  It helps the parties focus on where they are similar, not just where they are different.  
  • Compromise: Another possible conciliatory gesture is to offer a compromise.  The best way to do this is to offer the other party a reasonable win when faced with a smaller aspect of the conflict.  Find an area that does not matter as much to the overall goal and agree with the other party.  This will often open the door for them to agree with you in further discussions.  This works best when the other party needed that win or feels as if you gave a lot to let them have it.  
  • Surprise: Another way to help show that you are open to conciliation is to surprise the other party by doing what they do not expect.  For example, if the other party is expecting you to be aggressive and resistant, be friendly and approachable.  This shifts how the other party views you and allows them to see that you are willing to work with them.  
  • Non-Threatening Behavior: Everyone will be threatened by different behavior when participating in a discussion about a conflict.  Another key to conciliation is to find what is threatening to the other party and avoid those behaviors.  The less threatening you are, the more approachable you are.  

There are a variety of other behaviors that can be used to deescalate a situation and encourage conciliation; however, these examples provide a basic structure to return to when conciliation is needed.  Find ways to show that you are willing to work with and encourage the other party, and do those things.  The important underlying note is that the action must be reasonable and should not jeopardize your position or ethical boundaries.  The best way to encourage resolution is to show the other party that you have come to the conversation with the intent to create a resolution.  

Conciliatory Approach and the Conciliation Process: 

Another important distinction to make is that between a conciliatory approach or policy and the conciliation process that exists within the alternative dispute resolution world.  While both are valuable tools in conflict resolution, the processes and applications will be different.  Understanding the difference will be helpful when discussing a conciliatory approach.  

Conciliatory Approach:

A conciliatory approach is a general intention to be conciliatory in a negotiation or other dispute resolution process.  It seeks to overcome any distrust between the parties and downplay or forgive any animosity the parties may have with one another.  This includes using the strategies and behaviors described above and finding a way to a resolution.  A conciliatory approach seeks to find a resolution amicably and cooperatively, but it also seeks to uphold one’s own goals and morals within the conversation.  This approach can be applied to a variety of instances and will help encourage resolution in many of them.  

Conciliation Process:

The conciliation process is a formal dispute recognition process where the parties meet with a third-party neutral and attempt to resolve their dispute.  It is run similar to a mediation, where the third party discusses the conflict with the parties and helps the parties find a solution that may settle the dispute.  Unlike most mediation, the conciliator can suggest different options to the parties and helps them come up with a solution.  This process is most often used when the parties need guidance and direction but are open to finding a resolution.  Unlike a conciliatory approach, this is a formal and specific process that the parties will use.  A party could apply a conciliatory approach in conciliation, but it is not required.  

Advantages of Disadvantages of Conciliation:

As may be evident throughout this article, there are many benefits to using a conciliatory approach or policy when attempting to resolve conflicts, but there are also some disadvantages that may accompany a conciliatory approach.  It is important to understand both sides of the approach to use it in the best opportunities and when to hold off and use a different approach. 

The advantages to using a conciliatory approach are: 

  • Resolution: The biggest advantage of a conciliatory approach is that the parties are more likely to find a resolution when they are working in a cooperative, non-threatening environment.  When they trust each other, they are more likely to find a solution that works for everyone involved.  
  • Relationship: Another benefit of using a conciliatory approach is that the parties will likely have a better relationship when the conflict is over than they would if they approached the conflict in an adversarial way.  Conciliatory gestures will increase trust and encourage resolution.  
  • Compliance: When the parties strengthen their relationship and rely on trust to find a resolution, they are more likely to follow through with the agreement and comply with the resolution.  Disappointing someone that you do not care for is one thing, but disappointing someone whose trust you earned is difficult and far less likely.  

The disadvantages to using a conciliatory approach are: 

  • Power Imbalance: Conciliatory approaches will not work well when there is a c=power imbalance in the relationship between the parties and the person without much power is attempting to be conciliatory.  This will often result in the power imbalance widening and the party with less power may end up being taken advantage of.  
  • Failure to Disarm: Conciliatory actions may help to disarm a particularly combative opponent, but in some cases, the opponent may seize the opportunity to gain power and run with it.  In those cases, it is often better to abandon a conciliatory approach and focus on finding new tactics.  

Conclusion:

A conciliatory policy or approach is often a great way to encourage resolution within a company, school, government, or other organization.  Understanding what it means to be conciliatory will help a person thrive within the environment and resolve disputes effectively.  It can encourage the parties to use conciliatory gestures and creates a space for the parties to find common ground and heal from the tension between them.  It provides an opportunity for resolution and compliance and is often a worthy option to solve a disagreement.  However, it may not always be the best option, so it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the approach.  Doing so will help you use a conciliatory approach to your advantage and find the best resolution no matter the conflict.  

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