OTPIC Officially Retired
As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.
The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.
International Online Training Program On Intractable
Conflict Research Consortium, University
of Colorado, USA
Treatment List 2: Treating Core Conflict Problems
Strategies for dealing with the problems which when arise one
party forces another party to do something that they do not want to do.
For more information about any
of these topics, click on the title.
- Types of Power
Other Than Force
- Power is the ability of parties to protect and advance their interests. This
section provides links to types of power other than force.
- Inventory of
Available Force Types
- Critical to the development of sound force-based strategies is a systematic
inventory of available force-based options along with their advantages and disadvantages,
likely benefits, and costs. This section provides a broad overview of the types of force
which are commonly available.
of Violence Limiting Mechanisms
- Violence -limitation mechanisms based upon political and legal institutions
as well as the power of the police are often able to limit the use of violent, force-based
strategies. Absence of these institutions often requires the parties to develop
strategies capable of dealing with violent confrontations.
- Elections / Instituting
- Democratic electoral processes provide one of the most important mechanisms for
establishing broadly accepted political and legal institutions capable of limiting the use
- Empowerment strategies are designed to help disempowered groups strengthen their
base of forcing power so that they can participate fairly and effectively in dispute
resolution processes of all types.
- Abandonment of violent confrontation does not mean that the parties have to accept
defeat. Rather, they can use non-violent means of confrontation which can be equally or
more effective than violent struggle.
- Collective Security
- Collective security agreements call upon participating parties to jointly oppose
any aggressive (or illegitimate) actions taken against any of the parties participating in
- Peace Zones
- Peace Zones are proposed international zones which could be administered by the
United Nations for the benefit of all the people who live there and care about the region.
The establishment of an international Peace Zone had been suggested for Jerusalem, for
example, so that it could remain open to the three main religious groups which have roots
- Civilian Defense
- Civilian defense strategies attempt to deter violent aggression by promising a
nonviolent program of systematic non-cooperation with any conquering force. The goal is to
prevent aggressors from benefiting from their actions.
- In many conflict situations the parties do not have the forcing power needed to
advance their interests over the short-term. They may, however, be able to
successfully pursue a long-term strategy focused around the building up of forcing power.
- Strategic Retreat
- Sometimes the best approach to a threat is to comply and build strength for a
- Criminal prosecution is one strategy for dealing with war crimes and other
excessive violence related to protracted conflicts. When successfully used it makes people
responsible for what they did; it brings some sense of justice to a society; and it gives
a sense of finality, of ending to a violent confrontation.
- Apology and
- One strategy for dealing with the war criminal problem focuses upon the admission
of guilt, the paying of reparations, the asking of forgiveness, and the granting of
amnesty. Like criminal prosecution, this approach has its costs and benefits--both
practical and moral.
- Truth commissions are used following periods of human rights abuses and war crimes
to publicly and permanently document what actually happened. These efforts, which can be
combined with forgiveness and amnesty programs, provide some measure of justice and help
build support for programs designed to prevent such occurrences in the future. They
also are often a necessary step for meaningful reconciliation to take place.
and Civil Rights Organizations
- Human rights organizations provide a coalition-building mechanism through which the
disempowered victims of human rights abuses can receive support from outside (and, often,
- Understanding the
Nature of Threats
- Improved understanding of the nature of threat and force-based interactions can
help the parties better understand when the use of threats and/or force does and does not
The following seven items are listed both as problems and as treatments, as
they can be either, depending on the situation. The write-ups indicate how these
concepts can be seen both ways.
- In cases where people are subjected to overwhelming force which they do not have
the power to resist, it may be most appropriate to simply accept defeat and try (at least
over the short term) to make the best of a bad situation.
- Often, people who are being subjected to force pretend that they are submitting to
the demands of the forcing or threatening party, when in reality they are pursuing a
deceptive strategy which allows them to avoid complying with those demands.
- The cost of using force-based threats increases dramatically when the opponent
responds to a threat with defiance rather than submission. This forces the threatening
party to carry out the threat or admit that it was a bluff. Carrying out a threat is
likely to result in an expensive, destructive, and rapidly escalating confrontation, while
withdrawing the threat is likely to undermine a party's ability to use threat and
force-based strategies in the future.
- Defense is a strategy which allows people to prevent others from successfully using
force against them. Successful defense strategies do not, however, give the defending
party the ability to successfully use force against their opponents.
- Coalition Building
- People can build their power base and their ability to pursue (or resist)
force-based strategies by building coalitions with people with complementary interests.
Members of these coalitions promise to help each other advance their interests and defend
themselves from external force-based strategies.
Counter-Threats, and Arms Races
- Often disputants respond to force-based threats with counter-threats rather than
submission. Such threats and counter threats can result rapid escalation of a conflict.
In military situations, this is called an "arms race." Similar dynamics
can arise with legal, political, or other types of force as well.
- Flight (Refugees)
- Another possible response to overwhelming force is flight, in which the parties
simply flee the area. It is this strategy which is responsible for the large numbers of
refugees who flee the world's trouble spots.
- External intervention is the involvement of an external power (another country, for
example) in an internal struggle or conflict. This intervention can be military or
nonmilitary. Among the non-military options are positive or negative sanctions (rewards or
punishments for certain behaviors), mediation, and peacekeeping.
- Arbitration is a form of third-party intervention in which the parties voluntarily
submit their dispute to a trusted outsider who hears all sides of the story and then makes
a decision which the parties have promised to accept. (Although the parties enter
arbitration voluntarily, the binding outcome forces one side to do something it probably
wouldn't otherwise do--hence we put arbitration in the "force" category.)
- Counterforce strategies frequently lead to an arms race, in which parties acquire
huge military arsenals which are often kept on near-permanent alert so that a relatively
minor provocation can quickly escalate into an all-out military confrontation. Disarmament
and arms control efforts are key to reducing the dangers associated with this situation.
- Legitimizing the Use
- In the development and implementation of force-based strategies, there are a number
of steps which the parties can take to increase the legitimacy of their actions, and
reduce the risk of backlash. Most of these involve limiting the extent and type of force,
and linking force to other power options, especially integrative and exchange
- Peacekeeping involves putting neutral intermediaries between fighting factions to
physically keep them apart. This can cool down a conflict enough to allow for successful
peace making (the development of a settlement agreement) and long-term peacebuilding (the
re-establishment of normal relations).
- Forcing Power
- Forcing power shortcuts are designed to provide the parties with accurate and
low-cost forecasts of the likely outcome of pursuing forcing-power contests to their
ultimate conclusion. By using shortcuts, however, the terrible costs of protracted power
contests can be avoided. These forecasts can then be used as a basis for negotiation.
Examples of such shortcuts include: public opinion polls (in place of elections);
arbitration or mini-trials (in place of litigation); and relative military force
assessments (in place of military confrontations).
Application of Force With Negotiation Loop-Backs
- Force and loopback processes can be employed in a step-by-step fashion in which a
party begins with a modest demonstration of the force-based power and then attempts to
negotiate to see if some type of acceptable agreement on the immediate dispute might be
possible. If agreement is not possible, they can then step up the use of force and repeat
- Losing parties are much more likely to agree to end a struggle if they are given a
way out of the situation that is not terribly embarrassing, and does not force them to
admit they lost. If there is some way to frame the outcome of the dispute so all sides can
claim at least some success, it will make it much easier for the losing side to back down.
- Re-Integration of
- It also is important that losing parties be reintegrated into the society. People
do not just go away, but they must continue to live somewhere--most often where they have
been living before. For this reason, disputes must end with a plan that specifies how all
the parties will live together in the future.
Strengthening the bonds between people and groups, and using
these bonds to constructively confront problems
For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
- Identify Integrative Options
- The first step towards effective utilization of integrative power is identifying
ways it can be used to constructively transform conflicts.
- Another early step toward making almost any integrative strategy work is opening
the communication channels through which integration can take place. Persuasion and
conflict transformation are impossible if people are not listening.
- Crafting Persuasive
- Successful persuasion requires showing opponents how changing their position
advances the common interest that all parties have in a strong integrative system. The
best persuasive arguments are built around common values--things that almost everyone
would agree on.
- Apology and
- In many serious conflicts, one or more parties may have committed horrible crimes
or atrocities. In less serious cases, the parties are likely to have done things
which opponents find extremely hurtful. In these cases, an integrative approach which
focuses upon the acknowledgment of past guilt, the payment of appropriate compensation,
and the granting of forgiveness, can do much to help the parties strengthen their
relationship and the integrative system. Formalized structures to elicit
apologies and forgiveness, such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
can help communities torn apart by violent confrontations recover from the crimes and
atrocities which occurred. These commissions can provide a formal mechanism to publicly
account for what happened, apologize and forgive. This can be very helpful in the overall
peacebuilding process, allowing reconciliation between previously warring groups
- In cases where people act in violation of their cultural values and beliefs, direct
confrontation of their hypocrisy can serve as a basis for persuasive appeals. The key is
to construct a situation in which is it impossible for the parties to ignore the hypocrisy
of their own actions. Such actions might, for example, involve carefully-structured public
demonstrations such as those led by Gandhi and King.
- Finding Commonality
- In the rush to strengthen group identities, many minority (as well as some majority
groups) fail to recognize the importance of areas of commonality between groups,
especially cross-cultural principles of fairness which are capable of binding a diverse
society together. Developing such integrative principles can provide a basis for
transforming many cross-cultural conflicts into conflicts which strengthen societies
instead of tearing them apart.
- This is the reversal of dehumanization. With humanization, people try to
counter enemy images and negative stereotypes, emphasizing the humanity of all people and
the importance of treating others fairly based on their humanness.
- Coexistence and
- The principles of coexistence and tolerance are important as a basis for building
mutually acceptable relationships between highly diverse communities within a larger
society. As such, these principles can contribute significantly to the strengthening of
the integrative system.
- Trust Building
- In prolonged and escalated conflicts, distrust is inevitable, and it significantly
hampers the ability of the parties to negotiate even a partial solution to their problems.
A variety of trust-building measures are available to slowly build up trust so that more
cooperative problem-solving approaches can take place. In addition, implementation plans
can be developed that largely eliminate the need for trust, by being self-enforcing.
- Face Saving
- Face saving is a strategy for limiting the sacrifice trap by making it easier for a
party to change its behavior without overtly admitting that they made a mistake in the
- Reconciliation strategies are designed to resolve the underlying conflict, rather
than settle the immediate dispute episode. They require the parties to reconcile their
underlying differences and transform their relationship to that of "normalcy".
This is a long, slow process involving trust-building, apology, forgiveness, and a variety
of other peace-building measures.
- Moral High Ground
- A party's integrative power can often be strengthened by consistently adhering to
high moral principles and refusing to employ tempting, but immoral or escalating tactics
such as personal attacks, deceit, or gloating. By "playing fairly," parties can
do much to enhance their own legitimacy and hence their ability to persuade their more
reasonable opponents and transform the conflict into a more constructive one.
- Re-Establish or
Empower Traditional or New Conflict-Management Institutions
- Every society has its own, traditional ways of managing and resolving conflicts,
although these can become dysfunctional at times of protracted and severe conflict. By
re-establishing or empowering institutions such as the family, the clan, the church, or
the community to provide conflict management assistance, the integrative system can be
strengthened and some aspects of an intractable conflict can be transformed and/or
- Joint Projects
- One technique for peacebuilding and reconciliation is to engage in joint projects
with people on the other side of a conflict. If opponents can be brought together in some
cooperative endeavor, they tend to break down their negative stereotypes, begin to depend
on each other, and start building normal, positive relationships which can later be
extended to issues in conflict.
- Peacebuilding -
Official Efforts of UN and Regional Organizations
- Peacebuilding is the process of rebuilding normal relations between people who have
been at war with each other, either literally or figuratively. It involves rebuilding
trust, re-establishing cooperative relationships, apologizing for past violent deeds and
forgiving those deeds so that the former enemies can become friends and neighbors, who can
successfully live and work together in the future. Though peacebuilding is a process that
must involve all citizens, not just the elite, efforts to initiate peacebuilding
activities are often undertaken by UN peacekeeping teams and/or teams from regional
organizations such as the Organization of African States.
- NGO Peacebuilding
- Nongovernmental organizations can also play a major intermediary role encouraging
peacebuilding in war-torn societies. Unlike peacemaking (which is attaining a short-term
settlement) or peacekeeping (which just keeps the parties apart), peacebuilding works to
re-establish trust and a sense of community and normalcy between previously warring
- NGO Humanitarian Aid
- In addition to offering peacebuilding activities, NGOs often provide humanitarian
aid. While this is generally not considered a form of conflict management, it does provide
fundamental human needs and empowers people enough so that they can begin to undertake a
- Citizen Diplomacy
- In addition to traditional diplomacy of government officials, private citizens can
engage in discussions about their conflict situations. Such discussions can focus on
improving interpersonal understanding and trust between groups, or they can go so far as
to explore options for dispute settlement. Often citizens can say things and suggest ideas
that formal diplomats cannot, which can lead to the development of innovative approaches
to intractable problems.
- Church Involvement
- Religion is a very strong integrative factor for most people, although it can be
divisive as well when different religious groups oppose each other. A few religions--the
Quakers and the Mennonites, for example, have a strong tradition of peacebuilding around
the globe. Most other religions value human life and peace in some way as well. If these
teachings can be emphasized, churches can go a long way toward bringing people together.
- Finding Common Values
- Most intractable conflicts involve fundamental value disagreements of some kind.
However, there are usually additional values that both sides have in common--for instance
the value of peace, or the value of human life. Sometimes a third party can help
disputants identify such common values and reframe their disagreement in a way that can
help both groups work together to attain these values, rather than focusing on the areas
- Power Sharing
and Autonomy Strategies
- Many intractable disputes involve what we call "domination conflicts." In
this situation, one group dominates another, which does not want to be subordinate to the
first group. Conflict is likely to continue as long as either group pursues domination.
However, if the groups can agree on some principles of power sharing and/or autonomy,
domination conflicts can be mitigated and eventually resolved.
- Dialogue is a process in which parties engage in deep and meaningful conversations
with their opponents, not for the purpose of resolving a dispute (as is usually true with
negotiation or mediation), but rather for the purpose of developing a better understanding
of the people "on the other side." Through dialogue, disputants break down
negative stereotypes, focus on deep-rooted feelings, values, and needs, and come to
understand the complexity of the conflict and the issues on all sides.
- Groups which are interdependent are less able to sever ties in a severe conflict.
Thus the development of interdependence is an escalation-avoidance strategy. It is also an
approach to de-escalate a conflict, as interdependence encourages cooperation, which then
encourages peacebuilding efforts.
- Establish Personal
- Establishing personal relationships with people on the other side can go a long way
toward breaking down inaccurate and hostile stereotypes and increasing interpersonal and
intergroup understanding. While this alone does not bring about conflict resolution, it
can transform the character of the conflict, making it more constructive.
- Story Telling
- Story telling can be used to an advantage to express the intensity of ideas and
feelings and to establish a bond and level of understanding between disputants that is
hard to attain otherwise.
- Stereotype-Breaking Actions
- Unrealistic and overly hostile stereotypes can often be broken or at least limited
when a party unexpectedly takes some type of conciliatory action which would have been
unthinkable had the stereotype been true. Sometimes called "disarming" moves
(though they have nothing to do with military disarmament), these are actions that are
surprisingly reasonable. They help break down negative stereotypes as they prove that the
enemy is actually reasonable and likable.
- Prejudice Reduction
- A variety of approaches can be utilized to reduce prejudice, most involving
improved communication between people and groups, and more interpersonal contact and
positive interactions. Often this is done in workshop settings; other times in the course
of joint projects or peacebuilding programs.
- One way to encourage forgiveness and reconciliation is to offer compensation or
restitution for damage or violence done in the past.
- Establishment of
- The establishment and strengthening of non-governmental institutions for more
constructively dealing with conflict also plays an important role in conflict
Strategies for dealing with problems with the processes which the
parties use to negotiate voluntary agreements.
For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
- Negotiation can be considered the fundamental form of dispute resolution.
Essentially it involves two or more parties working together to examine their interests
and needs, and working out a solution that will give the best possible outcome to both
sides. This can be done cooperatively, as it is in principled negotiation, or it can
be done in a competitive way as is typical in distributive bargaining.
- Official (Track 1)
- Official diplomacy is one of the most obvious and common international conflict
management and conflict resolution processes. While official diplomacy faces many
obstacles in the case of intractable conflict, it is still essential. However, diplomats
should try to move away from positional bargaining as much as possible, and adopt more
integrative approaches to international problem solving.
- Identifying Ripe Times
- The possibility of successfully negotiating an agreement can be greatly increased
when the parties understand how to determine when the time is "ripe" for
negotiated settlement and how to encourage the "ripening" process.
- Identifying and
Pursuing Negotiable Sub-Issues
- One key to effective negotiation is for the parties to separately consider the
various sub-issues which characterize their relationship. This allows them to undertake
mutually beneficial agreements on some issues, even while they struggle with the serious
unresolved conflicts in other areas.
- Negotiation Loopbacks
- Often disputing parties will attempt negotiations to resolve a conflict, but one
(or more) parties will drop out of the negotiations because they think they can get a
better outcome using another approach (which usually involves some form of force).
However, the force-based strategy does not need to be pursued to the
"bitter-end." Rather, once the relative power of the parties is clear, the
disputants can return to negotiation to peacefully implement an agreement that reflects
the true power relationships of the parties at that time.
- Principled negotiation, described by Fisher and Ury in Getting to Yes,
is a four-step negotiation strategy based on interests. In cases where there are
reasonable prospects for an agreement which benefits all parties, and the parties have a
relationship which allows them to explore such opportunities, principled negotiation can
be an extremely effective conflict resolution approach.
- Soft Bargaining
- Soft bargaining is a negotiation strategy in which primary emphasis is on the
preservation of friendly relationships with the other parties. While this approach reduces
the level of conflict, it also increases the risk that one party will be exploited by
others who use hard bargaining techniques.
- Hard Bargaining
- Hard bargaining strategies emphasize results over relationships. Hard bargainers
will insist that their demands be completely agreed to and accepted before any agreement
is possible. While this approach avoids the need to make concessions, it also reduces the
likelihood of successfully negotiating an agreement, and usually harms the relationship
with the other party as well.
- Distributive bargaining is an alternative to principled negotiation in which the
parties assume that the conflict is structured in a win-lose way and the best strategy is
to bargain over who is going to get how much. Distributive bargaining tends to be much
more competitive and adversarial than principled negotiation, as each party tries to do
better than the others in the negotiation.
- Yesable propositions are suggested settlements that are likely to be agreed to
because they meet the other parties' interests and needs. This essay explains how
negotiation can be more effective if the negotiators try to develop "yesable
- In cases where the parties are unable to negotiate, or even communicate effectively
with one another, a trusted intermediary can play an important role in helping the parties
communicate more effectively. Third parties can also provide mediation or arbitration (see
below). Even when conflicts are being confronted, not resolved, third parties can help
both parties confront the issues more effectively than they could alone.
- Mediation is a form of third-party intervention in which the mediator helps the
parties negotiate an agreement which they then have the option of accepting or rejecting.
In some cases, mediators play a problem-solving role focused upon negotiating an agreement
to the immediate dispute. In other cases mediation focuses more upon improving
relationships, with the assumption that the improved relationship will lead to conflict
resolution or constructive confrontation.
- Consensus Building
- Consensus building is essentially multi-party mediation. While mediation typically
involves two disputants and a mediator, consensus building is an extension of the same
principles to disputes which involve ten, twenty, or even fifty or one hundred parties.
- Utilize a Skilled,
Credible Third Party
- Sometimes a third party is not credible or reliable. They may have a
conflict-of-interest and work for a solution that favors themselves and/or one side of the
conflict more than the other, or they may not have the skills necessary to intervene
successfully. By providing a third party who is skilled and credible, these problems can
be surmounted, and often significant progress can be made where none was made before.
- New Leader
- When new people enter a negotiation or become leaders of a group involved in an
ongoing conflict, it is essential that they be fully briefed about the history of the
conflict and conflict management processes. Although it is inevitable that the new people
will not see things exactly the same way as the people they replace, less disruption of
the conflict management process will occur if the new people at least enter the process
understanding what is going on and what has gone on before.
- Common Ground Projects
- Common ground projects do not attempt to resolve a conflict's core issues. Instead
they focus upon identifying points of common ground or areas in which the parties can
agree. This can then provide a basis for transforming relationships, which will eventually
allow the parties to more constructively address the more difficult core issues in
Compliance Guarantees, and Self-Enforcing Agreements
- The inclusion of deadlines (and penalties for a failure to meet these deadlines)
can help assure parties that the provisions of an agreement will be carried out. This can
reduce the risk that a lack of trust between the parties will block an agreement that
would otherwise benefit all the parties. Deadlines within the negotiation process
can also assure that a party who prefers maintaining the status quo cannot delay the
negotiations indefinitely. When the parties' distrust each other's willingness to keep
commitments, it is also possible to design a settlement that has agreements that are
dependent upon the other parties' performance, which also reduces the need for trust to
finalize any agreement.
- Brainstorming is a process in which the parties are asked to generate as many
options for approaching a problem as they can. People are encouraged to think creatively
and build off each others' ideas--without critically examining any of the ideas until
later. The goal is to come up with new ways of approaching problems from those which had
been identified before
of Process Issues
- Often it is necessary to negotiate about the structure or process of
negotiation before the "real" negotiations take place. In pre-negotiation,
disputants can decide who is going to be at the table, what the agenda is going to be, how
the negotiations will be structured, what the ground rules will be, etc. This can
help the negotiations get started more effectively than if all of these matters are also
in dispute when negotiations begin.
- UN Good Offices
- Because the United Nations is widely believed to be fair, impartial, and committed
to peace, it often has the prestige needed to successfully intervene in situations where
others would not be accepted.
- Peacemaking is essentially negotiation of an agreement formally ending a particular
dispute. This is then followed by peacebuilding which implements the agreement and brings
the parties back together in some sort of "normal" relationship.
- Getting People to The
- Negotiation cannot succeed unless the right people are at the negotiating table. A
number of strategies are available to 1) determine who should be at the table and to 2)
induce them to come. These strategies are discussed here.
- As a negotiation proceeds, constituent involvement strategies help negotiators
involve their constituents in the process. This is critical, since constituents are less
likely to accept an agreement that is obtained if they have not be involved in the process
enough to understand why the agreement was designed as it was (especially why certain
compromises were made) and why it is the best alternative available.
- Provide Forum
- If no negotiating forum is available, one must be established. While parties
can do this themselves, it is often more easily accomplished with the assistance of a
third party mediator or facilitator.
- Negotiate with
- Negotiation with illegitimate representatives seldom works. Parties involved in
negotiation need to make sure that the people they are negotiating with really do
represent the constituency they purport to represent. If they do not, it is essential to
find out who does legitimately represent that group and negotiate with them. If a group
has no legitimate leader, there is no point in negotiating until one can be established.
- Negotiation Skill
- Sometimes one or more parties is not very skilled in negotiation, and they can get
seriously overpowered by parties that are experienced and skilled. For this reason,
training in negotiation skills can be very helpful to equalizing the power differences,
therefore increasing the likelihood of a fair outcome from a negotiation process.
Approaches to conflict which combine two or more of the
categories or treatment strategies described above
For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
- When a conflict is too complex or deep-rooted to be resolved in its entirety,
there are usually incremental steps that can be taken to make the situation better.
- People or groups involved in intractable conflicts are almost always better off if
they carefully assess their sources of power and build up those sources of power as much
as possible before confronting their opponents. Empowerment also involves developing a
strategy for using power wisely-- employing a mix of constructive confrontation techniques
which are most likely to produce benefits with the lowest costs. (Keep in mind that
"power" is being used here in a broad sense, to include exchange and integrative
strategies as well as force). Empowerment is especially important to groups which start
out in a low-power position, which puts them at a disadvantage in almost all
confrontational situations. Negotiation, for example, often does not work well when the
parties negotiating have extremely unequal power. Often third parties will undertake
empowerment of the lower-power party in order to alleviate this situation.
- Advocacy Advisors
- While strategic planning can be done by disputing parties on their own, sometimes
it is useful to obtain advice from an outside consultant, who can provide insight into
different confrontation options. Advocacy advisors intervene in a conflict on behalf of
one of the parties and not as a neutral intermediary. Their goal is to apply their
knowledge of conflict processes to the party's effort to advance their own interests.
Differing types of advocacy advisors specialize in different approaches to conflict. For
example, lawyers specialize in litigation-based strategies, political advisors specialize
in elections, lobbyists specialize in influencing the legislative process, labor
organizers specialize in strikes and other job actions, and community organizers
specialize in non-violent direct action, while religious leaders specialize in moral
arguments and military advisors specialized in armed conflict. There can also be general
advocacy advisors who show the parties how all of these strategies might be used in
- Goal Clarification
- It is very difficult to succeed in a conflict if one is not clear from the outset
about one's goals. One of the earliest steps in constructive confrontation is therefore
the clarification of one's goals to determine exactly what the problem is and what
solution is sought.
- Although the North American model of mediation relies on an outsider, impartial
mediator, in other societies, people who are connected to the conflict, and even partial
to one side, are often more effective mediators, as they are trusted by the people to be
fair and to be committed to fair agreement which they will help implement and enforce.
- Identify Sources of
Power/Power Strategy Mix
- Usually, using several power strategies in combination is more effective than using
just one approach alone. Careful framing, the control of complicating problems, and the
use of forcing, integrative, and trading power are much more effective when used in
combination than when used separately.
- Analytical Problem Solving
- Analytical problem solving is an approach to difficult conflicts developed by
conflict scholars John Burton, Herbert Kelman, and others which focuses upon
systematically analyzing a conflict to determine the degree to which fundamental human
needs of the parties are being met. In cases where there are significant unmet needs,
analytical problem solving examines options for meeting those needs as a way of resolving
- Many scholars and practitioners are beginning to focus more on the goal of
transforming conflicts, rather than resolving them. Transformation refers to a change in
the nature of the relationship between the disputing parties, not just a settlement of
interest-based differences. The ultimate goal of conflict transformation is
reconciliation--a return to normal relations between disputing groups where each side
accepts the legitimacy of the other's identity and aspirations, apologizes for and
forgives the other for past aggressive or violent acts.
- Transformative mediation, a concept developed by Baruch Bush and Joe Folger in the
Promise of Mediation, focuses on helping parties to transform their
underlying relationship through empowerment and recognition. It is different from the more
common problem-solving approach to mediation which emphasizes short term dispute
settlement more than long-term relationships.
- Dispute Systems Design
- Dispute systems design is a concept developed in Getting Disputes Resolved
by William Ury , Jeanne Brett, and Stephen Goldberg. Dispute handling systems are
designed for organizations and communities that have to deal with a continuing series of
disputes over similar issues. The goal of dispute system design is to develop and
implement a system which directs each dispute to the appropriate dispute handling process.
While interest-based processes are best in most cases, Ury, Brett, and Goldberg recognize
that there are also disputes which must be resolved on the basis of rights, as well as
those which are resolved by determining who is more powerful.
- Reality Testing
- In deciding which conflict management strategy is most promising, parties must make
assumptions about their own power, their opponent's power, and the likely outcomes of
different options. It is easy to make inaccurate assessments of any of these factors,
however. Often an outside party can help review the accuracy of these assumptions and help
parties revise them appropriately when they are invalid.
- Preventative diplomacy or conflict prevention analyzes current problems and trends
to identify situations which seem likely to escalate if not effectively managed. Steps can
then be taken to remedy the situation before the conflict escalates so much that it
becomes difficult to deal with. If successful, this approach can eliminate the need for
dispute resolution activities by avoiding the conflict in the first place.
- Constructive confrontation is a strategy developed by Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess
which focuses upon helping the parties develop more constructive strategies for pursuing
inevitable confrontations. It is an incremental approach which involves diagnosing
particular conflict problems, and then designing remedies for those problems so that the
resulting conflict is more constructive.
- Conflict management training can also serve as an intervention strategy. By helping
people involved in conflicts better understand what is going on and what options they have
for dealing with their problems in constructive ways, it is possible to provide lasting
assistance which will have impact far beyond any outside conflict resolution
- Stable Peace
- Kenneth Boulding introduced the concept of "stable peace" which is the
situation when two parties do not even consider war to be an option, no matter what
conflict occurs between them. Examples would be the relationship between the United States
and Canada, or the countries of Western Europe. Boulding foresaw the region of stable
peace to be expanding, predicting that it would eventually cover much of the globe.
- Coercive Diplomacy
- Coercive diplomacy is an approach to international negotiations which relies
heavily on the use of threat as a means of convincing parties to accept an agreement.
- Click here to go to Treatment
List 1: Treating Complicating Factors
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