Conflict Resolution in the Bird World
(or how to find a win/win solution with someone who seems to be a bully.)

I usually spend some of the Christmas period at my parental home in Surrey, South East England. Outside the kitchen window there is a bird feeder suspended from an apple tree. One year I was watching a Greenfinch perched on the ledge at the bottom of the feeder happily pecking away at the peanuts and seeds contained in it.

As time passed there were a range of other birds such as Blue Tits, Sparrows and other Finches that hovered close by hoping for a look-in but he refused to budge. At one time, 2 Chaffinches sat atop the feeder waiting for him to move but after one failed attempt to hustle him away, they left.

I watched, amazed at how assertive he was, and even started to have thoughts that he was a bit of a greedy bully.

But then a little Coal Tit flew in to the other side of the feeder and instead of trying to muscle the Greenfinch out of the way, he grabbed on to the wire that held in the seeds and nuts and began to happily feed away on them.

The Greenfinch was entirely unperturbed by this and within another minute or so he flew on his happy way, filled to contentment.

This struck me as quite a lesson in what we sometimes describe as 'getting our needs met'. In the human world, someone acting like the Greenfinch might be demonised as a bit of a bully or of being greedy and selfish or of wanting more than his fair share.

But the little Coal Tit taught me that by finding another way of approaching the situation, both he and the Greenfinch were both able to meet their needs without upsetting one another.

He found a win/win solution to the situation while all the other birds that approached the Greenfinch were trying for a win/lose outcome - and they kept losing. They only tried one approach and it was one that had to mean there was a winner and a loser.

The Coal tit didn't enter into a competition about it. He just found another angle of approach that didn't even need to involve the Greenfinch, and yet both ended up having their needs met. Better still, the Greenfinch didn't have to fight off any pesky interruptions to his mealtime.

I was left wondering who, in fact, was doing the bullying. The happy Greenfinch was just eating until he was full enough to meet his needs - albeit assertively. The other birds were, on afterthought, the ones who tried to use the power play and the conflict as competition approach.

Perhaps they were the bullies after all.

Can you remember a time when someone you know seemed to be hogging the goodies?

Did other people try to 'win' the goodies away from them by the use of force, or by shaming them for being greedy or chastising them for being a bully or some other competitive approach where the person with the goodies was expected to give them up rather than share them?

And as a result they didn't, and a struggle ensued, in whatever way that showed itself.

Was there anyone who had the insight to find a different angle of approach to the situation, just like the Coal Tit did?

The above article is taken from the January 2008 Newsletter of the Communication and Conflict website.

Author's Bio: 

Alan is Director of a Community Mediation Service based in West London UK, Hillingdon Community Mediation.

He provides training and consultancy in Communication Skills, Conflict Management, Mediation, Establishing Mediation Systems, Client/Helping Professional Relationship support and various other tailor made options for supporting effective communication and conflict resolution.

His Communication and Conflict website details insights into these areas drawn from his experience in the field of mediation during the past 14years.