Physical tools for conflict resolution

Resolving conflicts is part of everyday life. We do it all the time. Many small conflicts are not particularly difficult to resolve ("Do I get up now or do I sleep half an hour longer?"), but others require a little more thought ("Should I choose the job with more money or more free time?"). And then some conflicts are very difficult to resolve, in the non-technical area (“How can we ensure the retention of all our employees without jeopardizing the financial stability of our company?” ) or in the technical area ("How do we manage to significantly increase the capacity of a car's battery without making it heavier and more expensive?"). The more difficult and complex the conflicts become, the more likely it is that we will need help with conflict resolution.

In general, there are two types of solution approaches: optimization solutions and breakthrough solutions. Obviously, the more challenging type is the second one.

While optimization focuses on finding the best compromise between conflicting requirements, breakthrough solutions search for overcoming the conflict. 

Based on this differentiation we have developed our approach to Conflict Thinking. We understand it as an approach to finding breakthrough solutions: don’t look for compromises but identify the key conflict, and then search for radical ideas on eliminating it.

Physical tools that make us think

This works especially well when we use physical tools. When they are supposed to help us solve problems they fulfill one key requirement: they have to trigger us to think. Such tools do not solve the conflict by themselves, they just inspire us to think differently, to see other perspectives, and to get unstuck. 

Some possible approaches are:

  • Stimulus word methods
    Take a book like an encyclopedia and randomly select one word. Or bring a sack filled with the most different things and randomly pick one. Use this word or thing as a trigger for thinking about solutions.
  • Generative AI
    Use generative AI tools to initiate brainstorming for conflict-solving ideas. Print these ideas on Post-its, put them on a whiteboard, and use them as a basis for thinking about further solutions.
  • Gamification
    Use playful ways to make people think intensively about the problem itself and promising ways for finding solutions.

Game of Conflicts as a physical tool for solving challenging problems

Our Game of Conflicts can be used in this way. It is an excellent resource for exploring complex discussions about which problem to solve during an innovation challenge. And it makes use of gamification. 

It is a card game with 50 cards representing 50 parameters of a system (be it a technical or a non-technical system) that might conflict with each other (e.g. “Weight of a moving object” conflicting with “Power”, see above, or “Negative intangible factors” conflicting with “Loss of substance”). The playful way in which the players select the best-fitting parameters already provides access to intensive thinking about the conflict. Using the TRIZ-based contradiction matrix then leads to promising directions for finding solutions. Our set of laminated sheets of 46 solution principles is another useful physical tool to support the next step of a conflict-thinking approach: Brainstorming, finding, and evaluating conflict solutions.

Of course, we also offer online facilitation (or moderation) of conflict resolution approaches. But in an increasingly digitized world, using a physical tool that you can touch and feel is a special feature that should not be underestimated, an experience that remains in your sense's memory. It appeals to a side of us that purely virtual tools cannot reach.

We shouldn't lose sight of that.