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
Conflict Research Consortium,
University of Colorado, USA
Treatment List 1: Treating Complicating
- For more information about any of these topics, click on the
Click here to go
to Treatment List 2: Treating Core Conflict Problems
Strategies for determining what the conflict is about
and how it is being addressed.
- Interest-based framing describes conflicts in terms of interests, rather
than positions. Often, interests are compatible, even when positions are not. Thus
interest-based framing enables the parties to identify win-win solutions to problems that
might not have been evident when the issues were described in terms of the parties'
- In fairness-based framing, the parties approach the conflict as an effort
to obtain what is rightfully theirs. In doing this, they base their arguments on
principles of fairness which are accepted by the larger society, including their more
- This approach frames a conflict as a collective effort to fulfill the
fundamental human needs of all parties. By eliminating the tensions that arise when these
needs go unmet, the approach can sharply reduce the level of conflict.
- When opponents in a conflict each define, or frame, the conflict in very
different terms it can make cooperative problem solving very difficult. An exercise in
joint reframing can help each side see the conflict as the other side sees it, which can
help both sides confront the situation in a more constructive way. It can even be helpful
to get an outside observer to help one side alone assess the conflict to be sure their
view is reasonably fair and accurate.
(or Win-Win) Reframing
- Conflicts can usually be defined in a variety of ways. When conflicts are
being approached as unavoidable win-lose situations, it is often useful to ask whether it
is possible to redefine the situation so that integrative (or win-win) solutions can be
obtained. This is especially important when the original problem definition leaves no
acceptable alternatives for the opponent. Although integrative reframing is not always
possible, often it is possible to reframe at least part of the conflict in this way.
- Mirror imaging is a strategy which parties can use to assess the
reasonableness of their behavior. It asks the parties to look at themselves the way others
see them and make appropriate changes if they do not like what they see. Often if
disputants will look at themselves honestly, they will sometimes notice that they are
doing the same kinds of things--name calling, deception, and rumor spreading, for
example--that they fault their opponents for doing. Once this is understood, parties can
change their behavior to appear more reasonable, without altering or undermining their
true interests at all.
Rather Than Challenging, the Situation
- All grievances and complaints do not have to be framed as conflicts.
Sometimes it is wiser for the parties to conclude that the issue is not important enough
to justify the cost of confrontation. In such cases, the issue can be resolved by simply
"agreeing to disagree" or accepting the situation as another disagreeable, but
unavoidable, fact of life.
- Power sharing is a strategy for resolving disputes over who should have
the most powerful position in the social hierarchy. Instead of fighting over who should
have power over whom, power sharing relies upon the joint exercise of power. If conflicts
can be reframed to focus on how such power sharing might take place, they can become much
- Being clear about one's goals before acting is essential for disputants
and third party intervenors. After identifying the nature of the problem, figuring out
what one wants and what a good end result would be is essential for determining how to
respond to any conflict situation.
and Borrowing Eloquent Statements of the Common Core Issues
- One way to clarify the core issues is for the parties to review eloquent
statements from prominent individuals who have struggled with similar problems and found a
compelling way to state the core issues. If one of these statements seems to reflect their
situation it could be adapted to the new context and used as an effective way to frame the
- Understanding the
Usefulness of Conflict
- Although many people and cultures assume conflict is bad, conflict is
actually necessary to the healthy functioning of social groups, as it provides a way for
interests to be balanced and mutual needs met. If the utility of conflict is understood,
then mechanisms can be developed for allowing conflict to occur in a controlled and
- Balanced Sociation
- Balanced sociation is a conscious effort by a society to make both cooperation and
conflict prominent in public consciousness, formal education, and public investment.
Strategies for determining who is involved, what they
think, and the context or the environment of the conflict.
- For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
- Conflict Mapping
- Conflict mapping is a technique which helps parties systematically
determine the scope of a conflict. It identifies parties, issues, and the larger context
of a dispute. It also identifies conflict processes and options for conflict management or
resolution. Overall, conflict mapping provides basic information which is essential to
planning a constructive response to a conflict.
- Strategic Option
Identification and Costing
- Part of conflict mapping is the identification of options for confronting
and/or settling the conflict and assessing the costs and benefits of each.
of Similar Conflicts
- Often a great deal can be learned about an ongoing dispute by analyzing
the history of a similar disputes. This can yield ideas about problems that are likely to
develop as well as possible approaches for conflict management or resolution.
and Involving All Potential Disputants
- A careful effort to identify all current and potential parties is
necessary for effective conflict resolution. While some parties to a conflict are obvious,
others remain hidden. Efforts should be made to figure out who might be affected by the
outcome to a particular conflict, as well as who is currently concerned about the
situation but has not yet become vocal.
- Disputes are often part of a long-running conflict. In order to handle a
dispute effectively, it is important to recognize the history of the underlying conflict.
This often explains why people feel the way they do, and can give hints about possible
effective remedies for the current situation.
- Disputes also get linked to other disputes that are going on at the same
time. In order to be able to effectively deal with one dispute, it is important to
recognize other disputes that are linked to it and that may effect the outcome of the
- Just as it is sometimes useful to have an outside party work with the
disputant(s) to help frame the conflict more objectively, the same is true to help them
understand the scope of the conflict. This can be done by one side seeking an
outside consultant to help them analyze the conflict; it can also be done with the other
parties present in the context of mediation or consensus building.
- Conflict Group Formation
- As the conflict becomes defined, allies and adversaries become more clear
and one's goals usually become more clear as well. This helps define the nature of
the conflict more clearly.
Although improving communication will seldom (perhaps
never) completely resolve an intractable conflict, communication improvements can often
make the situation better or more constructive. (On occasion, it should be noted, better
communication can make things worse, if people figure out that their opponents are worse
than they thought they were!) Each of the following steps to improve communication can be
used singly or in combination.
- For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
Lines of Communication
- Successful communication requires that the parties have a way of
contacting one another which they feel comfortable using. This means that they should know
what to do if they want to pass a message to other parties and that the other parties will
carefully attend to the messages that they receive.
- One of the most important communication techniques is also one of the
simplest. The parties need to recognize that the stereotypes (overly simplistic images)
that they have about their opponents (and allies) are likely to be inaccurate, and that a
failure to correct these inaccuracies can easily lead to bad decisions. This recognition
then provides the parties with the motivation that they need to correct misperceptions.
- 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.
- Many factors determine how accurate communication is. An
introduction to some of these factors is given here.
- Active listening is designed to overcome poor listening practices by
requiring parties to listen to and then restate their opponent's statements, emphasizing
the feelings expressed as well as the substance. The purpose is to confirm that the
listener accurately understands the message sent and acknowledges that message, although
the listener is not required to agree.
- Dialogic listening is similar to active listening, although it emphasizes
conversation as a shared activity and stresses an open-ended, playful attitude toward the
conversation. In addition, the parties focus on what is happening between them (rather
than each party focusing on what is going on within the mind of the other), and it focuses
on the present more than on the past or the future.
Diplomacy /Mediated Communication
- When hostility between parties reaches the point where they refuse to
talk to each other, communication can often be re-established by a mutually-trusted third
party who shuttles back and forth between opposing sides carrying messages. In some cases,
these third parties may go beyond simple communication and assume the role of a mediator.
- Dialogue is a structured form of communication which emphasizes
respectful and attentive listening about deep-rooted feelings, beliefs and
experiences. In many cases, the parties may be unwilling to participate in a
negotiation process because they don't want to compromise their deeply-held values.
Nevertheless, they may be willing to participate in a dialogue where the objective is for
the parties to better understand each other and establish a positive relationship with
each other without being pressured to change their own views.
Communication Channels / Citizen Diplomacy/ Multitrack Diplomacy
- In cases where official diplomats and formal representatives of the
parties are unwilling or unable to communicate effectively, unofficial contact between
informal representatives may provide a workable alternative. Originally formulated as
"track two diplomacy" to be differentiated from, but supportive of, official or
"track one" diplomacy, John McDonald and Louise Diamond suggested that there are
actually nine tracks that all mutually reinforce each other in a peacebuilding system.
- ** TOUR ** Cross-Cultural Communication
- Cross-cultural communication strategies are designed to help people with
different interaction styles communicate with one another more effectively in conflict
- Constituent communication techniques enable a group's negotiators to
convey information obtained through their small group negotiation or communication efforts
to the larger group of constituents.
- 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.
- Crisis communication mechanisms are designed to overcome crisis
communication problems by providing highly accurate and timely information beyond that
which is available through normal communication channels. While these mechanisms are
ideally established on a standby basis for implementation in times of crisis, there are
other approaches which can be implemented in the midst of a crisis.
- Often interactions between parties with opposing views on highly
contentious and emotional issues can be made less painful when the parties follow a series
of ground rules outlining the principles of civil communication and debate. While this
approach still permits the parties to address the difficult issues, it does so in a way
which focuses upon substantive arguments rather than personal attacks.
- In cases where communication problems arise from limitations in the
parties' public speaking or writing skills, editors, writers, and trainers can help
improve the situation. Also helpful are people who can help the parties make more
effective use of mass communication channels, and trainees who can teach conflict
management skills such as active listening or cross-cultural communication.
- Before the parties distribute public materials or make important
speeches, it is can be helpful to "pretest" these materials by showing them to
representatives of the intended audience to see if they are understood in the ways in
which they are intended. This provides the parties with an important opportunity to
eliminate likely sources of misunderstanding.
- Inaccurate images can often be corrected by rumor-control teams who
periodically consult with opposing parties to determine what they think of recent events.
In cases where unfounded and inaccurate rumors have arisen, the team can investigate the
rumor, then report the truth as they see it to the parties. Rumor control teams can
consist of third parties trusted by all sides to a conflict or representatives of
contending parties who have committed themselves to work with partners from the other side
in an effort to determine the truth.
- The information revolution has resulted in the widespread availability of
many telecommunications technologies. The ability of these technologies to dramatically
lower the cost of disseminating information enables them to play an important role in the
limitation of many communication problems.
- Public Information Strategy / Media Management
- Sometimes the media tends to sensationalize events and cover only those
stories that it considers "news-worthy." In other instances, it covers up or
"down plays" information which people need to know. Participants in a dispute
benefit from having a strategy to get the information they want covered in the media to be
covered fairly, while preventing media stories that unfairly damage their cause from being
- People who have personal relationships are more likely to be able to
communicate effectively and understand each other than those who do not. Again, though
this is not a panacea, it helps to try to establish personal relationships with people on
the other side of a conflict when such do not exist.
Strategies for obtaining information about facts and
- For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
Fact-Finding and Data Mediation
- Joint fact-finding can help the parties resolve factual disagreements in
ways which are acceptable to all parties. This technique requires the parties to
collaborate in the joint design and oversight of the fact-finding process. This usually
involves the hiring of experts who then work on behalf of and under the joint direction of
the parties. Another method of resolving disputed facts is data mediation, in which
experts from both sides sit down together to discuss the discrepancies or disagreements
and come to a joint conclusion about what is known, what is unknown, but determinable with
more fact-finding, and what is unavoidable uncertainty.
- This alternative to joint fact-finding applies in situations in which the
one of the parties is doing the fact-finding and the other parties have to decide whether
or not they believe the results. The oversight approach relies upon the parties to use
their own experts to independently review and assess the fact-finding efforts of others.
- Credibility demonstrations are used by those conducting fact-finding
projects to demonstrate the reliability of their work to potentially skeptical parties.
- One way to insure that dispute resolution efforts will be informed by
available fact is to require some type of impact study. Under this approach, careful
studies are made of a proposed action and possible alternatives to determine the likely
social, economic, and environmental results of each possibility. If appropriate
credibility guarantees are implemented, this approach can provide a basis for more
informed decision making by all parties.
- Dealing With
- Experts can also help the parties understand and implement strategies for
dealing with unavoidable uncertainties. One way of dealing with uncertainty is to
plan flexible approaches to problems that can be adjusted as the situation changes.
- In order to help the parties understand and then sensibly deal with
complex technical studies, trusted teams of technical experts and educators can prepare
simple and practical explanations of what the studies really mean and how the facts can be
used to help parties make more sensible decisions.
Methods For Presenting Data
- Sometimes it helps to present technical data in new ways, using graphs,
charts, or even demonstrations of ideas that are difficult to grasp in their standard
- One way to determine contested facts is to empanel a "truth
commission" such as those used in South Africa to deal with the crimes of the
Strategies for improving the formal (and informal)
processes which the parties use to interact with one another.
- For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
- In many cases efforts to increase the constructiveness of intractable
conflicts revolve around some type of meeting between contending parties. Both the process
and structure of the meeting must be well designed if they are to succeed in any conflict
management or conflict transformation effort.
- The person who facilitates or runs a meeting can have a very large effect
on the meeting process and outcome. Some facilitation techniques can help the
participants reach consensus and move forward with their agenda, while others are more
likely to stimulate controversy and escalate the conflict further.
- Several methods are available for organizing meetings and decision making
processes. One is the principle of majority rule, where issues are discussed, proposals
are made and then the electorate, legislative bodies, and/or decision making committees
vote on issues and the majority wins. This has the advantage of being generally accepted
as fair, and it can be a relatively quick decision making strategy. However, it does
little or nothing to satisfy the losers, who are likely to try to build power so that they
can overturn the decision at a later time.
- In consensus processes, action cannot be taken unless it is agreed to by
all parties. This makes it extremely difficult for any party to get what they want unless
they are simultaneously willing to grant others their wishes. This approach works better
than majority rule in satisfying all the parties, except in situations where opposing
parties have absolutely irreconcilable and contradictory interests. Another problem with
consensus processes is that they can be very slow--majority rule (voting) is usually much
- Many disputes are resolved by individuals who are empowered by their
organizations to be decision makers. Included are business executives and elected
officials (mayors, governors, and presidents, for example).
of Process Issues (Pre-Negotiation)
- When process issues are themselves an issue in dispute, it can be helpful
to negotiate the procedural questions before going into the other issues in conflict (this
is sometimes called "pre-negotiation"). This can resolve some issues
quickly, making the others less complicated, and giving the parties a
"success"--a feeling that progress can be made and solutions are possible.
Timing/Identifying Ripe Times For Negotiation
- Sometimes negotiation or de-escalation efforts do not work because the
timing is wrong. By understanding when conflicts are ready or "ripe" for
negotiation or other de-escalation processes, and undertaking such steps at that time,
more progress can often be made.
- When confidentiality is a problem, meetings and/or formal negotiations
can take place privately. This allows parties to say things that they could not say if
they were being watched by the public.
- To counteract problems associated with inappropriate publicity, the
parties need to have a public information strategy which keeps their constituents informed
about the progress of negotiations, and builds support for potential agreements, while
still maintaining the confidentiality necessary to negotiate effectively.
- Closely affiliated with public information program are rules of
confidentiality which clearly specify types of information which are not to be made
of Minority Rights
- One problem with majority rule processes is that minorities can be
exploited by the majority. To prevent this, democratic systems also need to grant
minorities basic rights which cannot be taken away by the majority.
- Action-forcing mechanisms counter-balance delaying tactics by using
deadlines or other strategies to require the parties to take specific actions by specific
dates. To be effective, these mechanisms must also impose meaningful penalties when the
parties fail to meet their obligations.
Rules and Procedural Expectations
- If people's expectations regarding fair procedures are not met, they
often will be upset, even if they agree with the end result. The problem of unfulfilled
expectations can be sharply reduced by carefully establishing and following a
clearly-defined decision-making process. It must be clear how this process will protect
the rights and interests of all parties. There should also be a fair and clearly-defined
mechanism for changing the rules, should that be appropriate.
- Minimum deliberation times prevent parties from gaining a tactical
advantage by rushing a decision. The goal is to establish procedures which assure that
each party has enough time to prepare and present its case.
of Interest Rules
- Conflict of interest problems can be addressed by requiring that
intermediaries and decision makers clearly and publicly disclose any personal interest
which they might have in the outcome of a dispute. In cases where clear
conflicts-of-interest exist, it may be appropriate for the intermediary or decision maker
to withdraw from the dispute so they can be replaced by those who do not have such
conflicts. Here, clear rules and enforcement strategies are needed to assure public
- In cases where large groups or entire communities are involved in a
dispute, public participation mechanisms can provide a means for large numbers of people
to play a significant role in addressing the issue. Such mechanisms include, for example,
public hearings, opinion polls, focus groups, and advisory committees.
- While approaches to conflict can be developed and imposed by outside
"experts," such strategies are more likely to inspire resentment and resistance
from the parties involved. An alternative approach gives the parties primary
responsibility for deciding how they will deal with a dispute. Such grassroots efforts
tend to work best when they are supported by innovative ideas suggested by outsiders. Here
the role of outsiders is to share insights from people who have dealt with similar
problems in the past, and not impose their own approach.
Strategies for reducing the intensity of a conflict.
- For more information about any of these
topics, click on the title.
- Parties often do not understand the threats posed by escalation, so they
fail to take simple steps which can significantly reduce this threat. They also escalate
conflicts intentionally, without recognizing the problems this can cause. By simply
understanding the costs--as well as the benefits--of escalation, disputants can make
better decisions about when and how to escalate a conflict, and when de-escalation is a
- In crisis situations angry people are often under great pressure to make
instantaneous decisions of great importance. Under such circumstances, people commonly act
in overly confrontational ways which they later regret. One strategy for limiting this
problem is for the parties to agree to a "cooling-off" period, during which
everyone can re-evaluate the situation and make more carefully reasoned decisions. A
related strategy involves the restructuring of forces (usually military) in ways which
make instantaneous responses impossible.
- It is helpful to be careful about the way one speaks to opponents and to
the public-at-large in a conflict situation. If care is taken to use conciliatory
and calming language, conflicts can be de-escalated more successfully than they can be
when inflammatory language is used.
with Destructive and Hateful Speech
- Although democracies usually support the concept of freedom of speech, an
argument can be made that hate speech should be censored to prevent conflict escalation
and limit dehumanization. An alternative to censorship is to respond to hate speech
with "good speech" that takes the moral "high ground" and tries to
defuse the situation.
- The media will often escalate a conflict by emphasizing the extreme
people and events. By educating the media about more responsible and constructive ways of
reporting about a conflict and particular events within that conflict, the media can play
a much more constructive role in constructive confrontation.
- De-escalation is much more difficult to implement than is escalation. One
strategy for starting a de-escalation spiral is what Charles Osgood called GRIT--graduated
reciprocal reductions in tension. This involves one side making a small conciliatory
gesture, which they hope is matched by a conciliatory response. If it is not, a second or
third small gesture can be made to indicate one's interest and willingness to de-escalate
the conflict. Once the opponent reciprocates, another slightly more important conciliatory
step can be taken, and if that is matched, the pattern can be continued, resulting in a
cycle of conciliation in place of the former cycle of escalation.
- Controlled Confrontation
- Conflict groups can develop ways of doing conflict that permit escalation while
controlling runaway processes.
- An interest group can often limit the distorting effects of extremists by
publicly and forcefully condemning their actions. In extreme cases involving criminal
behavior, this may even require the parties to cooperate with law enforcement officers.
Excluding extremists from meetings and negotiations can also be helpful at times, although
it can cause problems later if the extremists try to block an agreement because they were
not involved and/or it does not protect their interests.
- The personalization of a conflict can often lead a group's leaders to
view the conflict as a personal issue, rather than an effort to advance the group's
interests. In this situation they are likely to let their personal feelings interfere with
their ability to pursue the group's goals. More progress toward group goals can often be
made by appointing new leaders who are willing to take a fresh look at the situation.
Escalation the Enemy
- In many conflicts, the most horrible and destructive actions taken result
from escalation dynamics, rather that the inherent evilness of the parties. If the parties
can recognize the destructive effects of escalation, they may be able to redirect some of
their hostility away from each other and toward efforts to limit the escalation process.
- Ground Rules
- The constructiveness of interactions between conflicting parties can
often be increased if the parties can identify and agree to comply with a series of ground
rules governing their relationship. These rules limit escalation pressures by emphasizing
respectful discussion of the core issues.
- Crisis management mechanisms are designed help the parties deal
with conflict situations which are developing very rapidly and are pressuring the parties
to act before they have had a chance to fully consider their options.
- Interactions involving parties who are extremely angry with each other
often degenerate into emotional confrontations which increase, rather than decrease,
hostilities. Effective anger management strategies are needed to help people deal with
their anger without further escalating the conflict. Other strong emotions such as
distrust, fear, and suspicion must be dealt with as well if escalation is to be avoided or
- In situations involving the risk of direct physical confrontation, it can
be very useful to place peacekeepers between the parties so that violent confrontations
are impossible without placing the peacekeepers at risk. To be effective, peacekeepers
need to represent groups which neither side is willing to endanger. Since peacekeepers are
usually unarmed or only lightly armed, they are only effective when the disputants support
their presence and want to stop fighting.
- In hostile confrontations, disputants are often tempted to do things to
harm or terrorize an opponent that would be widely condemned by the larger society or the
world as a whole. In these situations, violence can often be limited when observers, who
are trusted by the larger community, constantly accompany vulnerable individuals. The
purpose of such "protective accompaniment" is to report aggressive behavior and
human rights violations to the larger community and the world as a whole, where
condemnation would be assured.
- The victorious party can reduce the intensity and likelihood of future
disputes by responding with conciliatory gestures rather than gloating behavior.
Statements not "You" Statements
- Simply changing the way in which complaints are phrased can limit
escalation pressures. For example accusatory phrases, "you did this," are often
more likely to contribute to escalation than less accusatory phrases such as "I am
having trouble because of this."
- Escalation can be limited by helping the parties focus on the future
relationship that they would like to build between each other, and not the assignment of
blame and punishment for past misdeeds.
- A key to blocking the de-humanization effect are programs which
systematically establish positive personal relationships between contending parties
- Click here to go to Treatment List
2: Treating Core Conflict Problems
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