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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Problems Involving Trading Power or Negotiation

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Kenneth Boulding argued that power had three "faces" or forms--threat, exchange, and what he called love. (We call the third form of power the power of the integrative system.)  Exchange power is the power you get through cooperation--by giving something to another person or group, they will give something back to you.   Negotiation is one way of implementing exchange, though exchange often happens in a much less formal way as well.  Many problems occur in conflict situations, however, that prevent cooperation or trade from taking place.  One of the biggest problems is the parties' unwillingness to negotiate.  Often the issues involved in intractable conflicts are considered non-negotiable.  They may involve people's identity, their fundamental rights, or their deep-rooted values or beliefs.  These are the kinds of things people will not trade, and they may not consider negotiating any other aspect of their conflict either. 

Another common problem is the presence of alternatives.  If one or more parties to an intractable conflict thinks they have a way of winning that does not require them giving up as much as they would have to give up in negotiation, they are likely to pursue that option instead.  In practical terms, this usually means that if one side thinks it can get its way through force, it is likely to attempt to do so, rather than negotiating.   Only after it becomes apparent that force will not work, or that the costs of using force are too high, is the situation ready (or as conflict theorists sometimes say, "ripe,") for negotiation.

Many other problems occur relating to trading power as well.  To see the full list of trading power problems, click here.

For a further discussion of trading power problems, see

Harold Saunders -- We Need a Larger Theory Of Negotiation:  the Importance of Pre-Negotiation Phases
This article describes a number of obstacles to negotiation and discusses how pre-negotiation can help surmount those obstacles.

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