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
Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA
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Although all people communicate all the time, most have difficulty communicating effectively in conflict situations. Practicing communication skills can have a very beneficial effect on conflict management and resolution processes.
Roger Fisher and William Ury list four skills that can be learned which will improve communication in conflict situations. The first is active listening. The goal of active listening, they say, is to understand you opponent as well as you understand yourself. Pay close attention to what the other side is saying. Ask the opponent to clarify or repeat anything that is unclear or seems unreasonable (maybe it isnt, but you are interpreting it wrong). Attempt to repeat their case, as they have presented it, back to them. This shows that you are listening (which suggests that you care what they have to say) and that you understand what they have said. It does not indicate that you agree with what they saidnor do you have to. You just need to indicate that you do understand them.
Fisher and Urys second rule is to speak directly to your opponent. This is not considered appropriate in some cultures, but when permitted, it helps to increase understanding. Avoid being distracted by outside parties or other things going on in the same room. Focus on what you have to say, and on saying it in a way that your opponent can understand.
Their third rule is to speak about yourself, not about your opponent. Describe your own feelings and perceptions, rather than focusing on your opponents motives, misdeeds, or failing. By saying, "I felt let down," rather than "You broke your promise," you will convey the same information. But you will do so in a way that does not provoke a defensive or hostile reaction from your opponent. (This is often referred to as using "I-statements" or "I-messages," rather than "you messages." You messages suggest blame, and encourage the recipient to deny wrong-doing or blame back. I messages simply state a problem, without blaming someone for it. This makes it easier for the other side to help solve the problem, without having to admit they were wrong.
Fisher and Urys fourth rule is "speak for a purpose." Too much communication can be counter-productive, they warn. Before you make a significant statement, pause and consider what you want to communicate, why you want to communicate that, and how you can do it in the clearest possible way.
A number of other rules might be added to these. One is to avoid inflammatory language as much as possible when dealing with people on the other side. Inflammatory language just increases hostility and defensivenessit seldom convinces people the speaker is right. (Actually, it usually does just the opposite.) Although inflammatory remarks can arouse peoples interest in a conflict and generate support for ones own side, that often comes with the cost of general conflict escalation. To the extent that one can make ones point effectively without inflammatory statements, the better.
Likewise, all opponents should be treated with respect. It doesnt help a conflict situation to treat people disrespectfullyit just makes them angry and less likely to do what you want. No matter what one thinks of another person, if they are treated with respect and dignityeven if you think they do not deserve itcommunication will be much more successful, and the conflict will be more easily managed or resolved. This means that personal attacks and insults should be avoided, as should verbal or nonverbal clues that one is disdainful of the other side.
Graphic Facilitation Focuses a Group's Thoughts, by Geoff Ball
Treating Communication Problems
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