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Stage Three is what makes The Exchange different from other forms of conflict resolution. It is the heart of The Exchange process. If Stage Three is conducted well, it gives the participants an opportunity to deal with the issues in conflict in a holistic way, not just superficially by declaring a truce, but by truly getting to the bottom of what caused the problem in the first place so it won't resurface again under different circumstances. Stage Three is also an opportunity for the parties to practice a new, open, and respectful way to communicate with each other.

Having the plan developed in Stage Two, based on the private meetings with each of the parties, is a crucial tool to:

  • Help a facilitator keep the conversation focused.

  • Make efficient progress through all the issues.

  • Achieve productive problem solving.

Without an agenda it would be easy for the meeting to become sidetracked and dominated by the complaining and misunderstanding that caused the original conflict in the first place.


The goal of Stage Three is to build a foundation of at least minimum trust among all the participants and create an opportunity for constructive communication so that wise decisions will be made in Stage Four. To do this, the participants need to see each other as human beings rather than as enemies. One of the first topics for discussion, the icebreaker, is designed to serve this purpose. Only when the parties can talk civilly can they open up about how their lives and work have been affected by the conflict.

Before introducing the icebreaker, the manager must first lay the groundwork with an opening statement. If Kim Brown, the manager in our example, opens the conversation with the icebreaker ("What made you want to get into the nursing field?") with nothing said beforehand, the employees will react in a negative way, because the question seems to be out of place, given the fact that the stated purpose of the meeting is to find solutions to the specific issues confronting the employees. The manager needs to take the time to set the tone and reinforce the purpose of the meeting, and in some cases, even set forth the ground rules for the dialogue. It is not unlike any meeting that a manager initiates; the responsibility is on the manager to set forth the meeting parameters at the beginning. In this way, the employees get a sense of the greater context of the meeting, rather than being asked to dive into the agenda immediately. Sometimes, after setting forth the meeting goals, the manager will clarify the topics to be discussed in the meeting in summary form to let the employees know that their issues will be addressed.

After that initial opening statement, the manager poses ...

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