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
Menu Shortcut Page
Note: The terms that appear in blue are linked to longer
write-ups of these concepts.
- Active Listening
- Active listening is a way of listening that focuses entirely on what the other person is
saying and confirms understanding of both the content of the message and the emotions and
feelings underlying the message to ensure that understanding is accurate.
- Adversarial Approach
- The adversarial approach to a conflict sees the other party or parties as an enemy to be
defeated. It can be compared to the problem-solving approach which views the other party
or parties as people who have a common problem that needs to be jointly solved. The
adversarial approach typically leads to competitive confrontation strategies, while the
problem-solving approach leads to cooperative or integrative strategies for approaching
the conflict situation.
- Adversaries are people who oppose each other in a conflict. They are also called
opponents, parties, or disputants.
- Advocacy is the process of taking and working for a particular side=s interests in a conflict. Lawyers engage in
advocacy when they represent a client in a legal proceeding. Disputants can also engage in
advocacy themselves--arguing for their own position in negotiation, mediation, or a
political debate. Any attempt to persuade another side to agree to your demands is
- The granting of a pardon for past offenses--especially political offenses--including,
for example, human rights violations and war crimes.
- Analytical Problem Solving
- This is an approach to deep-rooted or intractable conflicts that brings disputants
together to analyze the underlying human needs that cause their conflict, and then helping
them work together to develop ways to provide the necessary needs to resolve the problem.
- Arbitration is a method of resolving a dispute in which the disputants present their
case to an impartial third party, who then makes a decision for them which resolves the
conflict. This decision is usually binding. Arbitration differs from mediation in which
third party simply helps the disputants develop a solution on their own.
- Arms Race
- An arms race occurs whenever two adversaries race each other to make sure that each has
at least as many armaments as the other. This typically leads to an escalation spiral with
each side building and/or acquiring more and more weapons in an effort to stay ahead of
- This is a variation of Fisher and Ury's concept of BATNA--which stands for best
alternative to a negotiated agreement. We use "ATNA" to refer to any
alternative to a negotiated agreement, not just the best one.
- Backlash is a negative response to an action. When someone or a group is forced to do
something against their will they will often resist or try to get back at the person or
group who forced them in the first place. This can result in a reversal of an apparently
resolved situation, and may even escalate the conflict further.
- BATNA is a term invented by Roger Fisher and William Ury which stands for "best
alternative to a negotiated agreement." Any negotiator should determine his or her
BATNA before agreeing to any negotiated settlement. If the settlement is as good as or
better than one's BATNA, the agreement should be accepted. If the alternative is better,
it should be pursued instead of the negotiated settlement. When one party's BATNA is good
(or even if they just think it is good), they are unlikely to be willing to enter into
negotiations, preferring instead to pursue their alternative option.
- Citizen Diplomacy
- Citizen diplomacy (sometimes called "track two diplomacy") refers to
unofficial contacts between people of different nations, as differentiated from official
contacts between governmental representatives. Citizen diplomacy includes exchanges of
people (such as student exchanges), international religious, scientific and cultural
activities, as well as unofficial dialogues, discussions, or negotiations between citizens
of opposing nations.
Co-existence means living together peacefully in the same geographical area.
- Common ground or commonalties refers to the things two people or groups share, or hold
in common. These may include living in the same place, having similar values, interests,
or needs, or even similar experiences or fears. Although disputants often assume they have
nothing in common with their opponents, they almost always have some common ground--even
if it is only a common desire to live in peace and security without having to fear the
- Communication Channels
- Communication channels are the means available to communicate with another person or
group. They may include direct face-to-face communication, telecommunications (telephone,
e-mail, written communications), or indirect communication--through third parties or the
media, for example.
- Community Organizing
Community organizing is a process through which an expert helps a group of
individuals engage in collective action to address a social problem. Community organizers
help people work together to get what they want or need: they may help people work
together to get more jobs in a community; they may help people fight an unfair government
law or ruling; or they may help people work together to force a polluter to clean up their
industrial process so it no longer pollutes the environment as badly.
- See adversarial approach
- Conflict complicating factors are dynamics such as communication problems or escalation
which, while common, are usually extraneous parts of the conflict which confuse the core
issues in the conflict and make them more difficult to understand and deal with.
- A solution to a mutual problem that meets some, but not all, of each of the parties'
- Concessions are things one side gives up to try to de-escalate or resolve a conflict.
They may simply be points in an argument, a reduction in demands, or a softening of one
- Conciliation involves efforts by a third party to improve the relationship between two
or more disputants. It may be done as a part of mediation, or independently. Generally,
the third party will work with the disputants to correct misunderstandings, reduce fear
and distrust, and generally improve communication between the parties in conflict.
Sometimes this alone will result in dispute settlement; at other times, it paves the way
for a later mediation process.
- Conflict Management
- This term refers to the long-term management of intractable conflicts and
the people involved in them so that they do not escalate out of control and become
- Conflict Resolution
- This term (along with dispute resolution) usually refers to the process of resolving a
dispute or a conflict permanently, by providing each sides' needs, and adequately
addressing their interests so that they are satisfied with the outcome.
- Conflict Transformation
This term is being used more and more to refer to a change
(usually an improvement) in the nature of a conflict--a de-escalation or a reconciliation
between people or groups. Unlike conflict resolution, which denies the long-term nature of
conflict, or conflict management, which assumes that people and relationships can be
managed as though they were physical objects, the concept of conflict transformation
reflects the notion that conflicts go on for long periods of time, changing the nature of
the relationships between the people involved, and themselves changing as people's
response to the situation develops over time.
- Conflicts of Interest
- This term refers to the situation in which a person has a vested interest in the outcome
of a decision, but tries to influence the decision making process as if they did not. In
other words, they stand to benefit from a decision if it goes a particular way, but they
participate in the decision making process as if they were neutral. An example would be an
expert from the tobacco industry testifying that tobacco is safe and does not cause
cancer. If he argued this on the basis of scientific merits, rather than his connection to
the tobacco industry, he could be charged with having a conflict of interest which altered
his position on tobacco research.
Consensus decision making requires that everyone agrees with a
decision; not just a majority as occurs in majority-rule processes. In consensus-based
processes, people must work together to develop an agreement that is good enough (though
not necessarily perfect) that all of the people at the table are willing to agree to it.
- Constituents or one's constituency refers to the people a decision maker represents. The
constituents of a governmental leader are the citizens he or she represents in Parliament
or other legislative body. The constituents of a negotiator are the people he or she is
negotiating for; members of a union, perhaps, or of an interest group or business.
- Constructive Conflict/Confrontation
- We use the term "constructive" to refer to a conflict which has more benefits
than costs--one that pulls people together, strengthens and/or improves their relationship
(by redefining it in a more appropriate or useful way) and one that leads to positive
change in all of the parties involved. It is contrasted with destructive conflict which
has largely negative results--pushing people apart, destroying relationships, and leading
to negative changes including an escalation of violence, fear, and distrust.
- Cooperation/Cooperative Approach
- In cooperation, disputants work together to solve a mutual problem. According to Morton
Deutsch, (Resolution of Conflict, 1973) a cooperative situation is one in which the goals
of the participants are so linked that any participant can attain his goal if, and only
if, the others with whom he is linked can attain their goals. It is contrasted with a
competitive approach in which it is assumed that it is impossible to win, unless the other
- Core Issues
- We distinguish between core issues in a conflict, which are the fundamental interests,
values, and needs which are in conflict with each other, and complicating factors, which
are dynamics such as communication problems or escalation which, while common, are usually
extraneous parts of the conflict which confuse the core issues and make them more
difficult to understand and deal with.
- Costing is the process of assessing the costs and benefits of a particular action; not
only in monetary terms, but in terms of time, resources, emotional energy, and other
intangible effects on people's lives.
Credibility refers to whether or not a person or a statement is
believed or trusted. Sometimes leaders or expert witnesses are not considered by the
public to be credible because they have a personal interest in the outcome of a situation
or a conflict which would likely influence their views and/or statements about that
situation or conflict.
Decision making process
- The decision making process is the process that is used to make a
decision. It can be an expert process, where the decision is made by one or more "experts" who look at the "facts" and make the
decision based on those facts; it can be a political process through which a political
representative or body makes the decision based on political considerations, or it might
be a judicial process where a judge or a jury makes a decision based on an examination of
legal evidence and the law.
- De-escalation is the opposite of escalation. It is the ratcheting down of the intensity
of a conflict which occurs as parties tire out, or begin to realize that the conflict is
doing them more harm than good. They then may begin to make concessions, or reduce the
intensity of their attacks, moving slowly toward an eventual negotiated resolution.
This is the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less
than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.
- Destructive Conflict/Confrontation
Destructive conflict and confrontation has largely negative
results--it pushes people apart, destroys relationships, and leads to a host of negative
personal and social changes including an escalation of violence, fear, and distrust. It is
contrasted with constructive conflict and confrontation which has more benefits than
costs--one that pulls people together, strengthens and/or improves their relationship (by
redefining it in a more appropriate or useful way) and one that leads to positive change
in all of the parties involved.
- Dialogue is a process for sharing and learning about another group's beliefs, feelings,
interests, and/or needs in a non-adversarial, open way, usually with the help of a third
party facilitator. Unlike mediation, in which the goal is usually reaching a resolution or
settlement of a dispute, the goal of dialogue is usually simply improving interpersonal
understanding and trust.
- Dictatorial Process *
This term refers to authoritarian decision making processes in which one person (or
a small group of people) make arbitrary decisions, supposedly on behalf of their people,
but without any meaningful input from the people, nor any institutionalized process for
reversing the decision if it is disliked by a majority of the people it affects. It is the
opposite of democratic decision making processes, in which duly elected or appointed
representatives or decision makers make decisions based on public input on behalf of their
Generally, diplomacy refers to the interaction between two or more nation-states.
Traditionally carried out by government officials, who negotiate treaties, trade policies,
and other international agreements, the term has been extended to include unofficial
exchanges of private citizens (such as cultural, scientific, and religious exchanges) as
well as unofficial (sometimes called "citizen" or "track-two")
diplomacy in which private citizens actually try to develop solutions to international
- Disarming Strategies
Disarming strategies are actions that are designed to break down or challenge
negative stereotypes. If one person or group is seen by another as extremely threatening
and hostile, a gesture of friendship and goodwill is a disarming move, which will alter
perceptions of the other and can significantly de-escalate the conflict.
Disputants are the people, groups, or organizations who are in conflict with each
other. They are often also called "parties."
(Third parties, however, are not disputants, but rather people who intercede to try to
help the disputants resolve the dispute.)
- Dispute Resolution
See Conflict Resolution
- Domination Conflicts
- These are conflicts over placement in the social hierarchy-who has more status and power
in a society, and who has less.
- This is a variation of Fisher and Ury's concept of BATNA--which stands for best
alternative to a negotiated agreement. We use "EATNA" to refer to one's estimated
alternative to a negotiated agreement,--meaning what you think you can get, which may be
different from what you really can get if you use a power strategy other than negotiation
to pursue your goals.
Emotions are psychological feelings
that people have that usually result from--and contribute to--a conflict. Examples are
anger, shame, fear, distrust, and a sense of powerlessness. If emotions are effectively
managed, they can become a resource for effective conflict resolution. If they are not
effectively managed, however, they can intensify a conflict, heightening tensions and
making the situation more difficult to resolve.
Empowerment means giving a person or group more power. This may be
done by the party alone, through education, coalition building, community organizing,
resource development, or advocacy assistance. It can also be done by a mediator, who can
work with the lower power person or group to help them represent themselves more
effectively. Although this approach causes ethical dilemmas (since helping one side more
than another compromises a mediator's
impartiality), it is quite commonly done in the problem-solving or "settlement- oriented" approach to
mediation, since this approach works best when the two parties are relatively equal in
power. Baruch Bush and Joe Folger, however, advocate the empowerment of both parties
simultaneously through transformative mediation, which seeks to restore disputants'
"sense of their own value and strength and their own capacity to handle life's
problems." This approach avoids the ethical dilemmas of one-sided empowerment, though
it sacrifices emphasis on achieving a settlement as primary.
Escalation is an increase in intensity of a conflict. According to
Dean Pruitt and Jeffery Rubin (1986, 7-8), as a conflict escalates, the disputants change
from relatively gentle opposition to heavier, more confrontational tactics. The number of
parties tends to increase, as do the number of issues, and the breadth of the issues (that
is, issues change from ones which are very specific to more global concerns). Lastly
disputants change from not only wanting to win themselves, but also wanting to hurt the
opponent. While conflicts escalate quickly and easily, de-escalation, a diminishing of
intensity, is often much harder to achieve.
- Extremists are people who take extreme views--those which are much
stronger, and often more fixed than other people's views of the same situation. In
escalated conflicts, extremists may advocate violent responses, while more moderate
disputants will advocate less extreme measures.
- Face Saving
"Face" refers to one's image, both to oneself and to
others. A face-saving approach is an approach that does not damage one's own or the
other side's image--it does not make oneself or the other side appear weak, inept, or
otherwise as a failure, but makes them look like they are wise and victorious, even when they are not. By allowing all disputants to save face, a negotiated settlement is much more
likely to be reached.
Facilitation is done by a third party who assists in running
consensus-building meetings. The facilitator typically helps the parties set ground rules
and agendas, enforces both, and helps the participants keep on track and working toward
their mutual goals. While similar to a mediator, a facilitator usually plays a less active
role in the deliberations, and often does not see "resolution" as a goal of his
or her work, as mediators usually do.
- Fact-based disputes
- Fact-based disputes are disputes about what has occurred or is occurring.
Such disputes can be generated from misunderstandings or inaccurate rumors (when someone
is accused of doing something they did not actually do). Facts-based disputes can also be
generated by differing perceptions or judgements about what has occurred or is now
occurring. For example, a dispute over the level of threat caused by the ozone hole or the
greenhouse effect is a "facts-based dispute," even
though all the scientific facts are not readily discernable or agreed to.
We use the term "force" to refer to any situation when one disputant is
made to do something against their will through threat. In Kenneth Boulding's terms, force
is used when people are told to "do something that I want, or else I will do
something that you don't want." Force does not need to be violent. It can simply be a
coercive statement that says that if you do not comply with my demand, I will fire you
from your job, or I will stage a hunger strike, or I will organize a work slow-down nor do
anything else that is likely to harm the opponent in some significant way.
- Forcing Power Shortcuts
Forcing Power Shortcuts are ways to measure relative power without having a
protracted (and destructive) power struggle. For example, polls can measure public opinion
without having to have a full vote on an issue. Shortened alternative dispute resolution
procedures such as arbitration or mini-trials can be used to replace costly litigation.
Even wars can be avoided by measuring relative military strength and then making an
assessment of which side would be likely to win. If both sides agree (at least
approximately) on the likely outcome, then a negotiated solution can be worked out which
is consistent with that outcome, avoiding the high costs of the protracted struggle.
- Frames are ways of defining a problem. Some people may define a problem in terms of
rights, while others may define it in terms of interests or relative power. These
different positions are sometimes referred to as different "frames."
Framing is the process of defining what a problem is about. Just
as a frame can be placed around a photograph, including some portions of the picture, but
cropping other portions out, people can define some aspects of a problem as important,
while they ignore (or are unaware of) other issues that do not concern them.
- GRIT (Gradual Reduction in Tension)
This is a term invented by Charles Osgood to refer to a gradual de-escalation
process, in which one side makes a unilateral, minor concession in the hopes that the
other side will then be encouraged to do the same. This is then followed by a second
concession, which hopefully is matched, and a de-escalation process then continues with
matched concessions and disarming moves.
- Hard bargaining
This is a term used to refer to adversarial, competitive bargaining that assumes
that the opponent is an enemy to be defeated, rather than a partner to be worked with
cooperatively. Fisher and Ury contrast hard bargaining with soft bargaining (which is
highly conciliatory to the point of giving in on important points). They contrast both
these approaches with a third approach, principled negotiation, which is neither hard, nor
soft, but rather integrative in its approach.
- Human needs
Human needs are things that all humans need for normal growth and development. First
identified by psychologist Abraham Maslow, human needs go beyond the obvious physical
needs of food and shelter to include psychological needs such as security, love, a sense
of identity, self-esteem, and the ability to achieve one=s goals. Some conflict theorists--referred to as "human
needs theorists" argue that the most difficult and intense conflicts, such as racial
and ethnic conflicts, are caused by the denial of one or both groups'
fundamental human needs: the need for identity, security, and/or recognition. In order to
resolve such conflicts, ways must be found to provide these needs for all individuals and
groups without compromise--as human needs "are not for trading."
Identity refers to the way people see themselves--the groups they feel a part of,
the significant aspects of themselves that they use to describe themselves to others. Some
theorists distinguish between collective identity, social identity, and personal identity.
However, all related in one way or another to a description of who one is, and how one
fits into his social groups and society over all.
- Identity Conflicts
- Identity conflicts are conflicts that develop when a person or group feels that
their sense of self--who one is--is threatened or denied legitimacy or respect. Religious,
ethnic, and racial conflicts are examples of identity conflicts.
- This refers to the attitude of the third party. An impartial third party will not
prefer one side or one side's position to another side's position, but will approach them
both as equally valid. In principle, this objective can be hard to achieve, although a
third party can make an active effort to treat each side the same, even if he or she tends
to prefer one party or one party's argument over the other.
- Incompatible interests
- Incompatible interests are things that people want that cannot be simultaneously
achieved. If a community has a limited budget to spend on public services, for example,
and each of four agencies (the police, the schools, the hospital, and the roads
department, for instance) all need a budget increase to even maintain current services,
these departments have incompatible interests--not all of their funding requests can be
- Integrative Power and the Integrative System
Integrative power is the power of social ties and the power of identity--the power
of the integrative system (the system of social bonds that hold people together in
groups.) Although seldom considered a source of power, Kenneth Boulding argued that
integrative power is the strongest form of power because all others depend on the
integrative system in order to work.
- Interest-Based Problem Solving
Interest-based problem solving defines problems in terms of interests (not
positions--see immediately below) and works to reconcile the interests to obtain a
- Interest groups
Interest groups are advocacy groups--groups of people who join together to work for
a common cause. Environmental groups, groups defending human rights, and groups working
for social causes are all interest groups.
Interests are the underlying desires
and concerns that motivate people to take a position. While their position is what they
say they want, such as "I want to build my house here!", their interests are the
reasons why they take that position (because I want a quiet lot with a good view of the
city). Often parties' interests are compatible, and hence negotiable, even when their
positions seem to be in complete opposition.
- Intolerance is the unwillingness to accept the
legitimacy of another person, group, or idea that differs from one's own. It may
result in an effort to get rid of the "objectionable" person or idea, or it may
simply result in treating them in a subservient way, as occurs when people of certain
racial or ethnic groups are discriminated against by the dominant group in a society.
We use this term to refer to conflicts that go on for a long time, resisting most
(if not all) attempts to resolve them. Typically they involve fundamental value
disagreements, high stakes distributional questions, domination issues, and/or denied
human needs--all of which are non-negotiable problems. They often involve unavoidable
win-lose situations as well.
I-Statements and You-Statements
"I statements" state the way someone feels
about a situation, while "you statements" are accusations that another person
did something wrong. By statement problems in terms of one's own feelings (using I
statements) instead of accusing the other person of causing the problem (as occurs with
you-statements) defensiveness and hostility can be minimized and the chances of resolution
Joint fact finding is a process in which two or more disputants work together to
clarify disputed facts in a conflict--for example, they might cooperate on a scientific
study of environmental impacts of a proposed project, or on an inquiry into the extent of
human rights abuses during or after a war.
Legitimacy refers to the perceived fairness of a dispute resolution process. For
example, fair elections or litigation based on socially-accepted laws are generally
considered legitimate, as are the decisions that result from such processes. On the other
hand, elections where voters are harassed or forced to vote a particular way are usually
considered illegitimate, as are court decisions handed down by biased courts. Legitimacy
of decision making procedures is important, because illegitimate procedures almost always
escalate conflicts, making their ultimate resolution more difficult.
Game theory makes a distinction between positive-sum situations (often called
"games,") which everyone can win (also referred to as "win-win"),
negative sum games in which all sides lose (also referred to as "lose-lose") and
zero-sum games in which one side wins only if another side loses.
Mediation is a method of conflict resolution that is carried out by an intermediary
who works with the disputing parties to help them improve their communication and their
analysis of the conflict situation, so that the parties can themselves identify and choose
an option for resolving the conflict that meets the interests or needs of all of the
disputants. Unlike arbitration, where the intermediary listens to the arguments of both
sides and makes a decision for the disputants, a mediator will help the disputants design
a solution themselves.
This term has been developed recently to reflect the idea that
international exchanges can take many forms beyond official negotiations between
diplomats. Examples of multi-track diplomacy include official and unofficial
conflict resolution efforts, citizen and scientific exchanges, international business
negotiations, international cultural and athletic activities and other international
contacts and cooperative efforts.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that all people are driven to
attain certain biological and psychological requirements, which he called fundamental
human "needs." Several conflict theorists, for instance John Burton and
Herbert Kelman, have applied this idea to conflict theory, suggesting that the needs for
security, identity, and recognition underlie most deep-rooted and protracted conflicts.
Most ethnic and racial conflicts, they argue, for instance, are not interest-based
conflicts (and hence cannot be negotiated), but are driven by the subordinate group's need
for these fundamental needs. Only by restructuring the society so that all groups'
fundamental needs are met can needs conflicts be resolved.
- Negative-Sum Situations or Games
- Game theory makes a distinction between positive-sum situations
(often called "games,") which everyone can win (also referred to as
"win-win"), negative sum games in which all sides lose (also referred to as
"lose-lose") and zero-sum games in which one side wins only if another side
- Negotiation is bargaining--it is the process of discussion and give-and-take between
two or more disputants who seek to find a solution to a common problem. Negotiation occurs
between people all the time--between parents and children, between husbands and wives,
between workers and employers, between nations. It can be relatively cooperative, as it is
when both sides seek a solution that is mutually beneficial (commonly called win-win or
cooperative bargaining), or it can be confrontational (commonly called win-lose or
adversarial) bargaining, when each side seeks to prevail over the other.
- This term refers to the return to negotiation after rights-based and power-based
processes are used to clarify respective rights and relative levels of power. These tests
of rights and power determine the parties best alternatives to a negotiated agreement
(their "BATNA"s). Once these are known, the parties can "loopback" to
negotiation to avoid a protracted and costly struggle, while usually obtaining the same
- This term means that a third party is not connected to or had a prior relationship
with any of the disputants.
- Non-governmental Organizations
- The term "non-governmental organizations" (NGOs) refers to international
organizations that are not associated with any government. Examples include many religions
that cross borders, international humanitarian aid organizations such as CARE or the
International Red Cross, sporting organizations such as the International Olympic
Committee, and many scientific, business, educational, and other professional
- Nonviolent direct action/nonviolent struggle
- Nonviolent direct action is action, usually undertaken by a group of people, to persuade
someone else to change their behavior. Examples include strikes, boycotts, marches, and
demonstrations--social, economic, or political acts that are intended to persuade an
opponent to change its policies. While not violent initially, nonviolent direct action can
provoke a violent response. Thus, forcing someone to do something at gunpoint would not be
nonviolent direct action, but if demonstrators are forced to retreat by police using or
threatening to use weapons, the initial action is still considered to be nonviolent.
- Overlay Problems
- In past writing, we have used the term "overlay problems" the same way we use
"complicating problems" in this material. Both terms refer to dynamics such as communication
problems or escalation which, while common, are usually extraneous parts of the conflict
which confuse the core issues and make them more difficult to understand and deal with.
- The parties are the people who are involved in the dispute. Most parties are
disputants--the people who are in conflict with each other. Other parties--often called
"third parties,"--are parties that intervene in the dispute to try to help the
disputants resolve it. Mediators and judges, for example, are third parties.
- Peace Building
- Peace building is the process of restoring normal relations between people. It requires
the reconciliation of differences, apology and forgiveness of past harm, and the
establishment of a cooperative relationship between groups, replacing the adversarial or
competitive relationship that used to exist.
- Peacekeeping is the prevention or ending of violence within or between nation-states
through the intervention of an outside third party that keeps the warring parties apart.
Unlike peacemaking, which involves negotiating a resolution to the issues in conflict, the
goal of peacekeeping is simply preventing further violence.
- Peacemaking is the term often used to refer to negotiating the resolution of a conflict
between people, groups, or nations. It goes beyond peacekeeping to actually deal with the
issues in dispute, but falls short of peace building, which aims toward reconciliation and
normalization of relations between ordinary people, not just the formal resolution which
is written on paper.
- Persuasion involves convincing another party to change their attitude and/or their
behavior. Although this can be done through coercion, we generally use the term
"persuasion" in a more positive sense--to refer to emotional or rational appeals
based on common values and understandings.
- Polarization of a conflict occurs as a conflict rises in intensity (that
is, escalates). Often as escalation occurs, more and more people get involved, and take
strong positions either on one side or the other. "Polarization" refers to this
process in which people move toward extreme positions ("poles"), leaving fewer
and fewer people "in the middle."
- Political context
Is the outcome of the conflict affected by the political system or decision making
structure of the community or nation in which the conflict occurs? Who holds the power in
the community or society? Are decisions made democratically, or by an authoritarian
- Positions are what people say they want--the superficial demands they make of their
opponent. According to Fisher and Ury, who first distinguished between interests and
positions, positions are what people have decided upon, while interests are what caused
them to decide. Often one side's position will be the opposite of their opponents',
although their interests may actually be compatible.
- Positive-Sum Situations (Positive-Sum Games)
Game theory makes a distinction between positive-sum situations (often called
"games,") which everyone can win (also referred to as "win-win"),
negative sum games (also referred to as "lose-lose") and zero-sum games in which
one side wins only if another side loses.
- Power is the ability to get what you want, or as conflict theorist Kenneth Boulding put
it, to "change the future." This can occur through force (sometimes referred to
as "power-over"), through cooperation (referred to as "power-with" or
exchange power) or through the power of the integrative system--the system of identity and
relationships that holds people together in groups.
- Power Strategy Mix
- This term refers to the mix of force, exchange, and integrative power that is used by a
disputant in an effort to prevail in any conflict situation.
- Practitioners are people who engage in conflict resolution as a profession--mediators,
arbitrators, facilitators, and diplomats, for example.
- Principled Negotiation
- This approach to negotiation was developed by Fisher and Ury and first presented in
their best-selling book, Getting to Yes, in 1981. Basically an
integrative negotiation strategy calls for "separating the people from the
problem," negotiating on the basis of interests rather than positions, identifying
options for mutual gain, and using objective criteria to judge fairness of any proposed
- Problem Solving
This term is sometimes used to refer to analytical problem solving workshops that
seek to analyze and resolve conflicts based on identifying and providing the underlying
human needs. In other situations, it refers to an approach to mediation that focuses
primarily on resolving the conflict (as opposed to transforming the relationships of the
- Problem Solving Approach
The problem solving approach to conflict involves working cooperatively with the
other disputants to solve a common problem. It can be contrasted with the adversarial
approach which views the other disputants as opponents or enemies to be defeated, not
- Procedural problems
- Procedural problems are problems with decision making procedures. Examples are decisions
that are made without considering relevant and important facts, decisions that are made
arbitrarily without considering the interests or needs of the affected people, or
decisions that are made without following the established and accepted process. Often,
procedural problems can intensify and complicate disputes which could be resolved
relatively easily if proper procedures were followed.
- Reconciliation is the normalization of relationships between people or groups. According
to John Paul Lederach, it involves four simultaneous processes--the search for truth,
justice, peace, and mercy. When all four of these factors are brought together,
reconciliation, Lederach says, is achieved.
- Reframing is the process of redefining a situation--seeing a conflict in a new way,
based on input from other people who define the situation differently than you do.
- Relationship Problems
Relationship problems are problems between two or more people that
involve, most importantly, the relationship between those two people. For example,
conflicts can be caused because two people don't trust each other, or because they are in
constant, hostile competition with each other.
See Conflict Resolution
- Resolution-Resistant Conflict
- We use this term to refer to conflicts that are highly difficult, but not impossible, to
resolve. The term "intractable conflict" means the same thing, but often
we use "resolution-resistant" instead because some people interpret
"intractable" to mean "impossible."
Restitution involves paying a person or group back for harm that
was done to them. Although lost lives can never be replaced, making a symbolic repayment
of money, social or economic assistance, or otherwise alleviating damage or harm that was
done as much as possible can go a long way toward resolving a conflict and moving toward
- Restorative justice is justice that is not designed to punish the wrong-doer, but rather
to restore the victim and the relationship to the way they were before the offence. Thus,
restorative justice requires an apology from the offender, restitution for the offense,
and forgiveness from the victim. Often this is accomplished through victim-offender
reconciliation programs which may operate at either the interpersonal or intergroup level.
- Retribution is retaliation--getting back at someone for something they did to hurt
- A conflict is said to be "ripe" for settlement or negotiation
when it has reached a stalemate, or when all of the parties have determined that their
alternatives to negotiation will not get them what they want or need. In this case, they
are likely to be ready to negotiate a settlement which will attain at least part of their interests--more
than they are getting otherwise or stand to get if they pursue their force-based options
- Scale-up Problem
Most negotiations and other conflict resolution processes occur among a small group
of people. In intergroup, inter-organizational, and international conflicts, these
negotiators represent a large number of other people, not just themselves. Getting those
people--the constituents--to agree to the settlement developed by the negotiators is often
a problem, as they have not gone through the same trust-building and
understanding-improving process that the negotiators have experienced. We refer to this as
the "scale-up problem," as the small group understandings and trust must be
"scaled up" to the larger population if peace building is to be effective.
- Scoping *
- Scoping is the process of determining who else is involved in a conflict and what their
interests, needs, and positions are. It also involves the determination of external
constraints that affect the situation and any other factors that define the conflict
situation beyond one's own view of the conflict.
- Social context
- The term "social context" refers
to the social relationships the exist in a community at the time the conflict occurs. For
instance, is one group socially and/or economically dominant, while other groups are less
successful or discriminated against?
- Soft Bargaining
- This is a term used to refer to very cooperative, conciliatory bargaining that focuses
primarily on reaching an agreement and not making the other side upset. Fisher and Ury
contrast it with adversarial, competitive bargaining that assumes that the opponent is an
enemy to be defeated, rather than a partner to be worked with cooperatively. They contrast
both these approaches with a third approach, principled negotiation, which is neither hard
nor soft, but rather integrative in its approach.
- Stable Peace
- Stable peace is the situation in which two countries do not even consider war to be an
acceptable or possible option for dispute resolution between them. It is contrasted with
unstable peace (in which countries are at peace but think that war is possible at a future
- Stakeholders are people who will be affected by a conflict or the resolution of that
conflict. It includes current disputants, and also people who are not currently involved
in the conflict but might become involved because they are likely to be affected by the
conflict or its outcome sometime in the future.
A stalemate is a standoff; a
situation in which neither side can prevail in a conflict, no matter how hard they try.
Often parties must reach a stalemate before they are willing to negotiate an end to their
- See stereotyping
Stereotyping is the process of assuming a person or group has
one or more characteristics because most members of that group have (or are thought to
have) the same characteristics. It is a simplification and generalization process that
helps people categorize and understand their world, but at the same time it often leads to
errors. Examples of stereotypes that are often wrong are that women are weak and
submissive, while men are powerful and domineering. This may be true for some women and
some men, but it is not true for all. When stereotypes are inaccurate and negative (as
they often are between groups in conflict) they lead to misunderstandings which make
resolving the conflict more difficult.
- Tactical Escalation
This is intentional escalation, when one (or multiple) parties
escalate a conflict on purpose to try to mobilize support for their own side.
This refers to all forms of electronic
communications--telephone, television, and computers, for example.
A "third party" is someone who is not involved in the conflict who gets
involved to try to help the disputants work out a solution (or at least improve the
situation by communicating better or increasing mutual understanding.) Examples of third
parties are mediators, arbitrators, conciliators, and facilitators.
Third Party Intervention
The term "third party" usually refers to a person who
gets involved in a dispute in an effort to help the disputing parties resolve the problem.
This third party can be a neutral outsider, or he or she may be a person already involved
in the conflict (an insider) who takes on the role of a mediator to help work out a
- A threat is any statement that takes the form "you do something I want, or I will
do something you do not want." According to Kenneth Boulding's theory of power,
threat is one of three forms of power, the other two being exchange and what he calls
"love," (which we refer to as the "integrative system").
Track Two Diplomacy
- Track two diplomacy involves unofficial dialogue, discussions, or even
negotiations between ordinary citizens about topics that are usually reserved for diplomats--for
instance about arms control agreements, or negotiations to end to long-standing
international conflict. It is differentiated from Track One diplomacy which involves
formal discussions between official diplomats.
- Triggering Events
A triggering event is an event that initiates a conflict. It can be minor--a simple
statement that is misinterpreted, or a careless mistake. Or it can be major--for instance,
the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand was supposedly the "triggering event"
that started World War I.
- Value Differences
Value differences are differences in people's fundamental beliefs about what is good
and bad, right and wrong. When people=s values differ significantly, the resulting conflict is often very hard to
resolve, as people are not willing to change or compromise their fundamental values and
- Values are the ideas we have about what is good and what is bad, and how things should
be. We have values about family relationships (regarding, for instance, the role of the
husband with respect to the wife), about work relationships (regarding, for instance, how
employers should treat employees) and about other personal and relationships issues
(regarding, for example, how children should behave towards adults, or how people should
follow particular religious beliefs).
- Win-Lose (Adversarial) Approach
- This is the approach to conflict taken by people who view the opponent as an adversary
to be defeated. It assumes that in order to win, the opponent must lose. This is opposite
to the win-win approach to conflict that assumes that if the disputants cooperate, a
solution which provides a victory for all sides can be found.
- Win-Win (Cooperative or Problem Solving) Approach
This is the approach to conflict taken by people who want to find a solution
that satisfies all the disputants. In "win-win" bargaining, the disputing
parties try to cooperate to solve a joint problem in a way that allows both parties to
"win." This is contrasted with the "win-lose" (adversarial) approach
to conflicts that assumes that all opponents are enemies and that in order to win a
dispute, the opponent must lose.
- Win-Win Situations
- Game theory makes a distinction between positive-sum situations (often called
"games") which everyone can win (also referred to as "win-win"),
negative sum games (also referred to as "lose-lose"), and zero-sum games in
which one side wins only if another side loses.
- World view
- A world view is a person's fundamental image of the world--one=s set of core beliefs about how their social
environment is put together. It involves one's fundamental values about
what is good and bad; it involves beliefs about who does what and why; it involves
assumptions about what causes events and what those events might later cause. World views
are closely linked with a person=s sense of
identity. People see themselves as part of some groups and not part of others, of having a
particular role to play in society, and particular relationships with others. One's image of who one is results from one's fundamental image of the world
and one's image of how one relates to other people in it.
- Zero-Sum Games or Situations
Zero-sum games or situations are situations in which the only
way one side can get ahead (or get more of something) is if the other side gets less. This
occurs when there is a finite amount of a resource to be distributed, and the together the
parties want more than is available. In this situation, no side can get what they want
unless the other side gets less than they want. This is also referred to as win-lose
Copyright ©1998 Conflict Research Consortium -- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org