Illuminating interviews: Insights into the hearts and minds of conflict resolution practitioners

Published date01 June 2019
Date01 June 2019
Illuminating interviews: Insights into the hearts and
minds of conflict resolution practitioners
Neil H. Katz | Nekeisha G. Bascombe | Peter Tokar
Nova Southeastern University, Department of
Conflict Resolution Studies, Fort Lauderdale,
Neil H. Katz, Nova Southeastern University,
Department of Conflict Resolution Studies, 3301
College Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314.
This article shares insights gleaned from interviews with
nine experienced, successful conflict resolution practi-
tioners engaged in a variety of interventions from a variety
of organizations. The interviews were conducted first with
graduate students participating in a class on Reflective
Practice.Subsequently, the authors conducted a second
round of interviews to appeal to a wider audience. Ques-
tions and topics addressed by the respondents included
childhood disposition for this kind of work, critical mile-
stones along the way, helpful characteristics/attributes,
satisfaction they derive from their work, greatest chal-
lenges, lessons learned, and examples of reflecting-in-
The genesis and impetus for this report evolved from five deeply felt concerns of the primary author.
First, after 47 years working with graduate students in conflict resolution (CR), it became increas-
ingly apparent that due to changes in the job market most graduates were finding work in the field as
practitioners rather than as full-time college professors. Second, graduate degree curriculums in most
universities, especially at the Ph.D. level, continue to emphasize theory and research methods over
actual practice courses and supervised clinical opportunities and/or fieldwork. Third, current practice
courses and training workshops in the CR field may be communicating the misguided impression that
techniques, formulas, and conflict specialization (particularly with an over-emphasis on mediation,
which attracts so many students to the field) will adequately prepare one to have successful career in
the field. Fourth, hiring guidelines which mandate Ph.D.s and traditional academic publications for
faculty appointments in our graduate programs, limit the opportunity for student exposure to practi-
tioners that would provide a more realistic picture of both the art and science of professional work in
our field. Finally, more foundational emphasis on what Donald Schön (1983) pioneered as reflect-
ing-in-actionin his highly influential book, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professional Think in
Action, would better prepare aspiring CR practitioners to adroitly confront unanticipated client
responses and behaviors.
Received: 15 August 2018 Revised: 10 January 2019 Accepted: 13 February 2019
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21248
© 2019 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2019;36:345371. 345
These combined concerns influenced the primary author's decision to create a graduate course
elective titled The Reflective Practitioner:Consulting,Conflict,and Change in Organizational Set-
tings. One of the course creator's primary goals was to provide his students with exposure to real
world CR practice via personal interviews with seasoned, successful practitioners representing a vari-
ety of CR disciplines. In securing such an educational opportunity, the primary author/course creator
contacted practitioners who have developed reputations for effective CR practice and extended an
invitation for them to share their CR journeys with the students. The ultimate goal of the course was
to provide the graduate students with a more realistic understanding of some of the actual challenges
and requirements of practitioners in conducting diverse CR interventions, coupled with the abundant
rewards practitioners derived from their work.
To ensure a comprehensive view of what successful work in the CR field requires, the primary
author originally developed a set of 10 interview questions designed to highlight the roles and func-
tions of the nine interviewees. The questions solicited feedback about what led the interviewees into
the CR line of work, what they found to be most meaningful in their practice, what major challenges
they have faced, key lessons learned, and what particular CR skills, attributes or characteristics they
believed contributed to their success. Another key area of focus was how the practition ers utilized
Donald Schön's (1983) reflection-in-actionprinciples. After reviewing transcripts of the responses
to the questions and observing the profound impact of the interviews on the students, the primary
author was motivated to share some of the findings with a wider audience of people in different
stages of their CR careers. To accomplish this, he enlisted critical assistance from the two co-authors,
who contributed greatly with the logistics, research and writing of the report.
Following evaluation of the initial interview data and receiving advice from other experts in the
CR field, the authors elected to conduct a second round of interviews with the original interviewees
to probe deeper into their insights and experiences. They believed this would enhance the breadth of
the responses and appeal to a wider audience of CR practitioners.
It is the hope of the authors that this report will benefit individuals aspiring to work in the CR
field and also serve CR practitioners who ordinarily do not get to share insights, concerns and ana-
lyses with other CR professionals due to the solitary nature of the work. For the purpose of brevity,
the responses to all of the questions are not included in the following text.
Our report is unique in several ways. We consciously selected and interviewed a variety of CR
specialists who practice mediation, but who also conduct other types of CR interventions. Our contri-
bution also differs in that we did not focus on a particular aspect of our field, such as the transforming
effect on our specialists, or on one specific expertise. Our questions were wide-ranging to lend
insights to students and others about how CR practitioners view their work, what motivates them,
and what drives the choices they make. Above all, our hope was that this glimpse into the hearts
and mindsof professionals in our field would advance our understanding of some factors that influ-
ence success among CR practitioners.
When constructing the list of possible interviewees, the primary author wanted variety among domes-
tic and international workers; among those whose primary jobs were in government, higher education
or private consulting businesses; and among the types of conflict work practiced. He also sought
respondents who have worked in the field for at least 10 years and are viewed as highly successful in
their work. The final list comprised nine interviewees, including three professors who are also active
practitioners, three organizational ombudspersons (ombuds) at major state universities or within a

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