Many of those writing about the Ferguson conflict have proposed ways to improve or resolve it, from orders for more sophisticated police equipment to calls for “racial conversation.” Save a few pieces, most articles reflexively point fingers or broadly call institutions into question without providing any helpful action steps that the parties involved—or interested observers like the media or average Jane citizen—can take to improve the situation. Even more, the “situation” is rarely defined. What are we hoping to fix? Race relations in America? Community-police interactions? Our criminal justice system? The decline of young people’s respect for authority? Perhaps all of the above, but general platitudes or accusations linking Ferguson to any or all of these causes do not help us actually work to better them.
If we want to address conflicts that bubbled to the surface because of Ferguson, first we need to disentangle the issues. Thankfully, in the seminal negotiation book Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton described a tool—the Circle Chart—to use in diagnosing conflict and generating options for resolution. The Chart outlines four steps for inventing options: noting the symptoms; diagnosing the problem/cause; brainstorming general approaches about “what might be done”; and identifying specific action steps and who will take them.1 In keeping with this approach, examining conflicts in Ferguson through the lens of the circle chart might help us begin addressing them more systematically.
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