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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One of the first things a mediator usually does is to get each of the parties to explain to the other and to the mediator what the problem is, from their own point of view. This allows each side to see how the other side or sides describes or "frames" the conflict. When there is a big difference in the parties' views about what is going on, or what the key issues are, the mediator will often try to get the parties to redefine the nature of the problem together. If they can work together to develop a new definition of the problem, it is usually much easier to then go on to work together to develop a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.
This process of joint reframing can take place quickly, or it can develop slowly over time. Usually, at the beginning of a dispute, parties have a rather vague sense of the nature of the problem. They know they are angry, they know they have been (or may in the future) be treated in a way they do not like, but they may not have identified exactly what the problem is or why it is happening. As discussions between the parties go on, their understanding of the underlying causes of the situation usually becomes more apparent. Chris Moore, an internationally-known mediator and mediation trainer, points out that parties become receptive to reframing, just as they become receptive to the idea of negotiating at all. (We often refer to a conflict being "ripe" for resolutionMoore says conflicts become "ripe" for reframing as well.)
Although parties can engage in reframing on their own, it is often very helpful to have a third party (mediator or facilitator) assist in this process. One of the mediator's main jobs is to restate things the party has said in a way that causes less resistance or hostility. For example, while disputants often open their description of a problem in terms of blame, the mediator will restate the problem is less personal, and less accusatory terms. Rather than saying "YOU did not uphold the agreement" (thereby blaming the other party and making him or her likely to respond defensively), the mediator will restate the problem in more neutral terms: "HE was not paid on time, and he needs the money to be able to fulfill HIS other obligations." The underlying truth (that one side didn't pay the other) is the same, but the way the mediator frames the problem, sounds more acceptable to the other side.
Mediators also try to reframe situations that are described in win-lose terms, as possible win-win situations. Rather than assuming that it is impossible for both sides to get what they want or need, the mediator will probe underlying interests and needs to try to get the parties to reframe the problem in a way that each sides' needs can be met simultaneously.
Mediators vary in the degree of direction they give the parties in doing this: some will just ask probing questions, letting the parties work most of the issues out themselves; others will be much more directive, suggesting new ways of defining the problem that the parties themselves might not have recognized, and trying to divert attention away from issues that really do appear to be unresolvable. In his acclaimed textbook on mediation, Moore counsels mediators to reframe issues that cannot be negotiated (such as value conflicts) into interests that can be traded. Another approach, he says, is to identify larger, superordinate goals that will override the importance of the value differences. Or thirdly, Moore suggests, mediators can "avoid identifying or responding" to values issues directly. "Because it is difficult to mediate guilt or innocence, right or wrong, respect or lack of respect, and so on, the mediator may want to avoid these questions entirely and focus only on the dispute's components that can be turned toward interest-based bargaining. If enough issues can be resolved with interest-based bargaining, the importance of value differences may fade and will be dropped from a list of demands or topics for discussion." (Moore, 1996, 221-2)
Integrative (Or Win-win) Reframing
Failing to Identify All of the Relevant Issues/assuming that everyone else defines the problem the same way
Failing to Identify Strategic Options
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