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
Disputants' distrust of each other is almost always present in intractable conflicts. Although negotiations can occur, and settlements can be developed before trust is established, trust-building is very important for complete reconciliation, and it is certainly helpful in the negotiation process also.
Typically, disputants involved in an intractable conflict are very suspicious of each other, and may be suspicious of any proposed conflict resolution process as well. One of the first jobs undertaken by third party intermediaries (or even first-parties who want to try to resolve the conflict) will be to try to build up a certain level of trust between the parties and the process. Trust in the process can be developed by explaining the process very carefully, and allowing the parties to help design it so that it meets their own needs. If they help in the planning and process design, it reduces the likelihood that they will feel that the process was designed to work against them.
Trust in the opponent is built up slowly over time, as the parties work together, get to know each other better, and prove to each other that they are reasonable, predictable, and worthy of trust. Sometimes trust-building exercises are undertaken before formal negotiations or mediations begin. Disputants can be brought together to work on a joint project (independent of any joint problem solving they might do) or they might spend time together socially, or involved in special trust-building programs. In the United States, for example, groups are sometimes taken on multi-day outdoor adventure trips, where participants have to learn to depend on each other to provide food and shelter and find their way. These moderately stressful experiences can draw people together very quickly and can build a level of trust between former disputants that far surpasses any that they had before.
Mediators can help parties establish trust and work together effectively in a number of other ways during the mediation as well. Allowing all the parties to "tell their stories"--to explain how they feel and why--can generate a level of understanding and empathy that begins to break down barriers between people. Mediators can also help disputants to state their grievances in a nonaccusatory way, and can help them redefine or "reframe" the conflict in an integrative or "win-win" way, rather than a "win-lose" way. Although such a reframing is not always possible, when it is, it makes the opponent much less threatening, and can be very helpful in establishing greater levels of trust between the parties.
Negotiation expert Roger Fisher warns, however, that trust can be a trap. "Behaving in a way that makes oneself worthy of trust is highly useful and likely to be well rewarded. But the more one trusts the other side, the greater the incentive one provides for behavior that will prove such trust to have been misplaced. . . .Other things being equal, the less that an agreement depends on trust, the more likely it is to be implemented." (Roger Fisher, Beyond Yes, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard Program on Negotiation, 1991, p. 124) This means that there should be some external source of enforcement, or that the agreement should be written so that each side has to do something before it gets what it wants.
Trust is important, however, for the establishment of normal relationships. The greater the trust between parties, the more effectively they will be able to live together and cooperate in the future, which will diminish the chances that the old conflict will re-occur, or a new unmanageable one will develop.
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