Principles of Conflict Resolution.
- Define the conflict.
If defined objectively, rather than subjectively,
which is how most of us do it, conflict
means only this: We need a new way
of doing things, the old way has
If two sides can define what they
are fighting about, the chances increase that misperceptions will he
- It is not you against me; it is you
and me against the problem. The
problem is the problem.
In a battle, even if one side does
win, the first reaction of the loser is, I
want a rematch: I will come back with
meaner words, harder fists and bigger
bombs. Then the enemy will learn,
then they will be good and then we
will have peace forever.
This is an illusion, hut few can give
it up. By focusing on the problem, and
not the person with the problem, a climate of cooperation, not competition,
- List the relationship's many shared
concerns and needs, as against one
shared separation. In Ernest Hemingway's novel, "A farewell to Arms," a
character is described in a hauntingly
beautiful phrase, "He was strong in the
broken places." All of us have been,
are being or will be broken by life. If
we are strong in the broken places,
chances for mending increase. They
will increase if the strengths of the
relationship -- the shared concerns and
needs -- are given morc attention than
the lone unshared separation.
- When peop1e have fought, do not
ask what happened. This is an irrelevant question. They will answer with
their version of what happened, almost
always self-justifying. The better question is, "What did you do?" This elicits
facts, not opinions. Misperceptions are
clarified, not prolonged.
- Work on active listening, not passive hearing. Conflicts escalate when
partners try to talk more than listen and
then only listen as a time-out for verbal
rearming. Listening well is an act of
caring. If you are a good listener, you
have many friends. If you are a poor
listener, you have many acquaintances.
- Choose a place to resolve the conflict, not the battleground itself.
Armies tend to sign peace treaties far
from war zones. Too many emotions
are there. In some schools around the
country, peace rooms are in place.
Anyone who was fighting -- in the
schoolyard, the halls, the bus -- automatically knows to go to the peace
room at the time set. Who will be
there? Mediators: classmates who have
been trained in nonviolent conflict resolution. Principals and psychologists in
schools that have peace rooms see the
results in lower rates of violence.
- Start with what's doable. Restoration of peace cannot bc done quickly. If
it took a long time for the dispute to
begin, it will take time to end it. Work,
on one small doable rather than many
large undoables. Almost always, it is a
laughably small wound that causes the
fist hurt in a relationship. But then,
ignoring the smallness takes on a size of
its own. Ignoring the problem becomes
larger than the original problem.
- Develop forgiveness skills. Many
people of large minds are willing to
say after the conflict, "I'm going to
bury the hatchet." To themselves, they -
add: "But I'm going to mark exactly
where I bury it, just in case I need to
dig it up for the next fight."
Forgiveness looks forward, vengeance looks backward. Again, it's
anatomy: we have eyes in the front of
our heads, not the back.
- Purify our hearts. This is merely
an elegant way of telling ourselves, "I
need to get my own messy life in
order before I can instruct others how
Do these nine steps of nonviolent
conllict resolution always work? No.
Sometimes the conflict partners are so
emotionally wounded or ideologically
hidebound, that nothing con stop the
violence. But large numbers of conflicts can be resolved without killing or
wounding the other side, provided the
strategies for peacemaking are known.
- bstracted from Colman McCarthy, "Nonvoilent Conflict Resolution is Teachable" in Daily Yomiuri, 18 March, 1998.