Disputant Focus


Most Conflicts Are Not Professionally Mediated

Professional conflict intervention is expensive. Only a tiny percentage of conflict-related interactions can be mediated by conflict professionals. Most interactions are handled by either the parties themselves or informal intermediaries--people who are acting as mediators or arbitrators, but do not have formal training in those skills. For these people, confrontation and conflict resolution is a "do-it-yourself" activity. In the absence of effective training, these people are likely to employ common knowledge approaches which fail to benefit from either scientific studies of conflict processes or the practical experiences of those who have struggled with similar conflicts in the past.  If these "do-it-yourselfers" had easy access to answers to specific questions, we reasoned, they would be able to approach their problem in a more constructive and effective way.  This program is designed to offer those answers.

Quick Responses Are Needed

People in conflicts often have to make strategic choices relatively quickly.  Their opponent will make a demand or escalate the conflict--the immediate question becomes how to respond.  Disputants cannot then sign up for a conflict management training program that starts in six months.  They need help now!   If conflict training can be provided to these disputants during this critical time frame, they are likely to take them. They are also likely to return to this resource in the future as additional conflict problems arise. This, in turn, is likely to lead to long-term improvements in their overall conflict skills. If such information is not forthcoming, the parties can be expected to stick with often destructive, "business-as-usual" practices.  A major focus of the Consortium program has, therefore, been the creation of a dissemination program that works within these narrow time constraints.

Disputant Interests are Different

In addition, disputants interests are usually different from those of intermediaries.  Unlike intermediaries who want to resolve conflicts, adversaries often want victory more than they want resolution. They often distrust dispute resolution, because they think it will force them to compromise or give up what they want or need. Rather, they want to know how they can press their cause more effectively.   The only time they will turn to dispute resolution processes is when they think that these processes will get them more than they would get otherwise.  This is why a major focus of the Consortium's work has been the application of the field's insights from the first-party, disputant perspective, as well as the traditional, third-party, neutral perspective.

Disputants Can Do Things that Intermediaries Can Not

While many steps toward increasing the constructiveness of the confrontation process can best be taken by neutral intermediaries, there are other steps which can be better taken from an advocacy perspective. One example involves the empowerment of the disempowered. Although many intermediaries try to "level the playing field" by empowering the lower-power parties, they cannot do much empowerment without compromising their neutrality. For this reason, we believe that it is useful to create separate roles for conflict professionals--neutral intermediaries and partisan advocacy advisors or coaches. Here the later can freely pursue empowerment goals while the former can take advantage of opportunities available only to true neutrals. These advisors can show the parties how a more sophisticated understanding of conflict dynamics can help them better pursue their interests. This understanding can help the parties see alternative approaches as well as legal, political and other force-based strategies in a broader perspective.

Everyone Has a Role to Play in  Producing More Constructive Confrontations

Increasing the constructiveness of society's most difficult confrontations is not just the job of professional intermediaries or even the principal parties. Virtually everyone has an important role to play in this effort. The media, law enforcement officers, decision makers, religious leaders, politicians, business leaders, and the general public all influence the way intractable conflicts are played out. For this reason, better confrontation strategies are needed for implementation by all of these people.


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Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu