Reach Out and Touch Someone to Find Collaborative Solutions

OK, so this may not be the most politically correct headline for a blog today, but I will stand by it. For over 20 years, before cell phones made the effort moot, Ma Bell and later AT&T used this slogan to get people to call long distance. It turns out to be more than just a catchy (albeit no longer usable) slogan that can help you to reach collaborative solutions.

Reach Out and Touch to Overcome Conflict

collaborative solutions

In the 1950’s, American psychologist Gordon W. Allport put forth the Contact Hypothesis to improve relationships in groups experiencing conflict (also referred to as to Intergroup Contact Theory).

Groups in conflict often engage in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination (sound familiar?). The Allport hypothesis states that interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce this prejudice between members of rival groups. His research revealed that when people have the opportunity to come together and communicate with others, they are able to understand and appreciate different points of views involving their way of life. As a result of this new appreciation and understanding, prejudice should diminish. You might even get to a few collaborative solutions. Well, duh.

Contact Hypothesis for Collaborative Solutions

Of course, this contact and communication needs to be genuine and not just an opportunity to fight with each other. The Contact Hypothesis includes five key criteria for this interaction:

  • Equal status. All parties must engage equally in the relationship. Differences in academic backgrounds, wealth, skill, or experiences should not define or limit participation.
  • Common goals. Participants must work on a problem/task and share this as a common goal.
  • Intergroup cooperation. Participants work together for their common goals without competition.
  • Support of authorities, law or customs. Participants acknowledge some authority that supports the contact and interactions. The process encourages friendly, helpful, egalitarian attitudes.
  • Personal interaction. Participants engage in informal, personal interaction with outgroup members. Participants need to mingle with one another. If not, they learn very little about each other and cross-group friendships do not occur.

More recently, research out of the University of California, Santa Cruz that looked at 550 different studies finds that the basic criteria for greater understanding between groups is contact, regardless of the quality. The research also supports that a larger positive effect occurs if the above criteria are in place, but that any contact is important. The reason contact works, this analysis finds, is not cognitive, but emotional. In essence, the more you like someone, the less conflict you perceive. You don’t have to agree with someone to like them. Just get to know them.

All public participation, conflict resolution, and good communication implicitly understands this. And ultimately, again,  it’s the start of collaborative solutions. So go ahead, reach out and touch someone (respectfully of course).

Doug Sarno