Conflict resolution

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Conflict resolution, otherwise known as Reconciliation, is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of conflict and retribution. Often, committed group members attempt to resolve group conflicts by actively communicating information about their conflicting motives or ideologies to the rest of the group (e.g., intentions; reasons for holding certain beliefs), and by engaging in collective negotiation.[1] Dimensions of resolution, typically parallel the dimensions of conflict in the way the conflict is processed. Cognitive resolution is the way disputants understand and view the conflict, with beliefs and perspectives and understandings and attitudes. Emotional resolution is in the way disputants feel about a conflict, the emotional energy. Behavioral resolution is how one thinks the disputants act,their behavior. [2] Ultimately, a wide range of methods and procedures for addressing conflict exist, including but not limited to, negotiation, mediation, diplomacy, and creative peacebuilding.

The term conflict resolution may also be used interchangeably with dispute resolution, where arbitration and litigation processes are critically involved. Furthermore, the concept of conflict resolution can be thought to encompass the use of nonviolent resistance measures by conflicted parties in an attempt to promote effective resolution. For examples of large-scale civil resistance campaigns, see Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present.[3] Conflict resolution as an academic field is relatively new. George Mason University in Fairfax, VA was the first university to offer a PhD program.

Theories and models[edit]

Dual concern model[edit]

The dual concern model of conflict resolution is a conceptual perspective that assumes individuals’ preferred method of dealing with conflict is based on two underlying themes or dimensions:[1]

  1. A concern for self (i.e. assertiveness), and
  2. A concern for others (i.e. empathy).

According to the model, group members balance their concern for satisfying personal needs and interests with their concern for satisfying the needs and interests of others in different ways. The intersection point between these two dimensions ultimately lead individuals towards exhibiting different styles of conflict resolution (Goldfien & Robbennolt, 2007).[4] The dual model identifies five conflict resolution styles/strategies that individuals may use depending on their dispositions toward pro-self or pro-social goals.

1. Avoidance conflict style

Characterized by changing of or avoiding the topic, joking or even denying a problem exists. Conflict avoidance style is used when an individual has no interest in dealing with the other party, when one is uncomfortable with conflict and oftentimes because of cultural contexts. For example in Chinese culture reasons for avoidance would be to sustain a good mood, to protect the avoider and because of philosophical and spiritual reason (Feng and Wilson 2011). During conflict, these avoiders adopt a “wait and see” attitude, often allowing conflict to phase out on its own without any personal involvement (Bayazit & Mannix, 2003).[5] Unfortunately, by neglecting to address high-conflict situations, avoiders risk allowing problems to fester out of control.

2. Yielding conflict style

In contrast, yielding or “accommodating” conflict styles are characterized by a high concern for others while having a low concern for one’s own self. This passive pro-social approach emerges when individuals derive personal satisfaction from meeting the needs of others and have a general concern for maintaining stable, positive social relationships.[1] When faced with conflict, individuals with a yielding conflict style tend to give into others’ demands out of respect for the social relationship

3. Competitive conflict style

Competitive or “fighting” conflict style maximizes individual assertiveness (i.e., concern for self) and minimizes empathy (i.e., concern for others). Groups consisting of competitive members generally enjoy seeking domination over others, and typically see conflict as a “win or lose” predicament.[1] Fighters tend to force others to accept their personal views by employing competitive, power tactics (e.g., argue; insult; accuse; violence) that foster feelings of intimidation (Morrill, 1995).

4. Cooperation conflict style

Characterized by an active concern for both pro-social and pro-self behavior, cooperation conflict style is typically used when an individual has elevated interests in their own outcomes as well as in the outcomes of others. During conflict, cooperators collaborate with others in an effort to find an amicable solution that satisfies all parties involved in the conflict. Individuals with this type of conflict style tend to be highly assertive and highly empathetic at the same time.[4] By seeing conflict as a creative opportunity, collaborators willingly invest time and resources into finding a “win-win” solution.[1] According to the literature on conflict resolution, a cooperative conflict resolution style is recommended above all others (Sternberg & Dobson, 1987; Jarboe & Witteman, 1996)[6][7]

5. Conciliation conflict style

Conciliation or “compromising” conflict style is typical of individuals who possess an intermediate-level of concern for both personal and others’ outcomes. Compromisers value fairness and, in doing so, anticipate mutual give-and-take interactions.[4] By accepting some demands put forth by others, compromisers believe this agreeableness will encourage others to meet half-way, thus promoting conflict resolution (van de Vliert & Euwema, 1994).[8] This conflict style can be considered an extension of both “yielding” and “cooperative” strategies.[1]

Political conflict resolution in practice[edit]

Moshe Dayan and Abdullah el Tell reach a cease fire agreement during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jerusalem. 30 November 1948

Wars may occur between warring parties who contest an incompatibility. The nature of an incompatibility can either be territorial or governmental but a warring party must be a "government of a state or any opposition organisation or alliance of organisations that uses armed force to promote its position in the incompatibility in an intrastate or an interstate armed conflict."[9] Wars sometimes conclude with a peace agreement, defined as a "formal agreement between warring parties, which addresses the disputed incompatibility, either by settling all or part of it, or by clearly outlining a process for how the warring parties plan to regulate the incompatibility."[10] A Ceasefire is another form of agreement between waring parties but unlike a peace agreement it only "regulates the conflict behaviour of warring parties... [and] does not address the incompatibility."[11]

Peacekeeping measures may be deployed to avoid violence in solving such incompatibilities.[12] Beginning in the last century, political theorists have been developing the theory of a global peace system that relies upon broad social and political measures to avoid war in the interest of achieving world peace.[13] A Blue Peace Approach developed by Strategic Foresight Group facilitates cooperation between countries over shared water resources, thus reducing the risk of war and enabling sustainable development.

Conflict resolution is an expanding field of professional practice, both in the U.S. and around the world. The escalating costs of conflict have increased use of third parties who may serve as a conflict specialists to resolve conflicts. In fact relief and development organizations have added peace-building specialists to their teams. Many of the major international non-governmental organizations have seen a growing need to hire practitioners trained in conflict analysis and resolution. Furthermore, this expansion of the field has resulted in the need for conflict resolution practitioners to work in a variety of settings such as in businesses, court systems, government agencies nonprofit organizations, government agencies and educational institutions serving throughout the world.


Conflict resolution as both a professional practice and academic field is highly sensitive to culture. In Western cultural contexts, such as Canada and the United States, successful conflict resolution usually involves fostering communication among disputants, problem solving, and drafting agreements that meet their underlying needs. In these situations, conflict resolvers often talk about finding the win-win solution, or mutually satisfying scenario, for everyone involved (see Fisher and Ury (1981), Getting to Yes). In many non-Western cultural contexts, such as Afghanistan, Vietnam, and China, it is also important to find "win-win" solutions; however, getting there can be very different. In these contexts, direct communication between disputants that explicitly addresses the issues at stake in the conflict can be perceived as very rude, making the conflict worse and delaying resolution. Rather, it can make sense to involve religious, tribal or community leaders, communicate difficult truths indirectly through a third party, and make suggestions through stories (see Vinod Swami (1992), Conflict Mediation Across Cultures). Intercultural conflicts are often the most difficult to resolve because the expectations of the disputants can be very different, and there is much occasion for misunderstanding.[citation needed]

In animals[edit]

Conflict resolution has also been studied in non-humans, like dogs, cats, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and primates (see Frans de Waal, 2000). Aggression is more common among relatives and within a group than between groups. Instead of creating a distance between the individuals, however, the primates were more intimate in the period after the aggressive incident. These intimacies consisted of grooming and various forms of body contact. Stress responses, like an increased heart rate, usually decrease after these reconciliatory signals. Different types of primates, as well as many other species who are living in groups, show different types of conciliatory behaviour. Resolving conflicts that threaten the interaction between individuals in a group is necessary for survival and hence has a strong evolutionary value. These findings contradicted previous existing theories about the general function of aggression, i.e. creating space between individuals (first proposed by Konrad Lorenz), which seems to be more the case in conflicts between groups than it is within groups.

In addition to research in primates, biologists are beginning to explore reconciliation in other animals. Until recently, the literature dealing with reconciliation in non-primates have consisted of anecdotal observations and very little quantitative data. Although peaceful post-conflict behavior had been documented going back to the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1993 that Rowell made the first explicit mention of reconciliation in feral sheep. Reconciliation has since been documented in spotted hyenas,[14][15] lions, dolphins,[16] dwarf mongoose, domestic goats,[17] domestic dogs,[18] and, very recently, in red-necked wallabies.[19]


Universities worldwide offer programs of study pertaining to conflict research, analysis, and practice. The Cornell University ILR School houses the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, which offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional training on conflict resolution.[20] Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding offers a BA and MA with a focus on practical applications in conflict-affected communities and regions. Additional graduate programs are offered at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and Trinity College Dublin.[21] George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution offers undergraduate, certificate and masters programs in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a Ph.D. program in The Philosophy in Conflict and Conflict Resolution.[22] Nova Southeastern University offers a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution which trains students in the skills and techniques of practice, interdisciplinary research, policy and program development, historical critique, cultural analysis, and theoretical foundations of the field. It is offered in both online and on-campus formats.[23]

Many students completing a doctoral program enter the field as researchers, theorists, analysts, policy makers and professors in higher education.

Furthermore, the Pax Ludens Foundation based in the Netherlands is an organization that puts together conflict resolution simulations set in an International Relations scenario to help students learn about the intricacies of where conflict emerges in the world of international politics.

Conflict resolution is a growing area of interest in UK pedagogy, with teachers and students both encouraged to learn about mechanisms that lead to aggressive action, and those that lead to peaceful resolution.

Tel Aviv University offers two graduate degree programs in the field of conflict resolution, including the English-language International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, affording students to learn in a region which is the subject of much research on international conflict resolution. The Nelson Mandela Center for Peace & Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi is one of the first centers for peace and conflict resolution to be established at an Indian university. It offers a two-year full-time MA course in Conflict Analysis and Peace-Building, as well as a PhD in Conflict and Peace Studies.[24]

Conflict management[edit]

Conflict management refers to the long-term management of intractable conflicts. It is the label for the variety of ways by which people handle grievances—standing up for what they consider to be right and against what they consider to be wrong. Those ways include such diverse phenomena as gossip, ridicule, lynching, terrorism, warfare, feuding, genocide, law, mediation, and avoidance.[citation needed] Which forms of conflict management will be used in any given situation can be somewhat predicted and explained by the social structure—or social geometry—of the case.

Conflict management is often considered to be distinct from conflict resolution. In order for actual conflict to occur, there should be an expression of exclusive patterns, and tell why the conflict was expressed the way it was. Conflict is not just about simple inaptness, but is often connected to a previous issue. The latter refers to resolving the dispute to the approval of one or both parties, whereas the former concerns an ongoing process that may never have a resolution. Neither is it considered the same as conflict transformation, which seeks to reframe the positions of the conflict parties.


When personal conflict leads to frustration and loss of efficiency, counseling may prove to be a helpful antidote. Although few organizations can afford the luxury of having professional counselors on the staff, given some training, managers may be able to perform this function. Nondirective counseling, or "listening with understanding", is little more than being a good listener—something every manager should be.[25]

Sometimes the simple process of being able to vent one's feelings—that is, to express them to a concerned and understanding listener, is enough to relieve frustration and make it possible for the frustrated individual to advance to a problem-solving frame of mind, better able to cope with a personal difficulty that is affecting his work adversely. The nondirective approach is one effective way for managers to deal with frustrated subordinates and coworkers.[26]

There are other more direct and more diagnostic ways that might be used in appropriate circumstances. The great strength of the nondirective approach (nondirective counseling is based on the client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers), however, lies in its simplicity, its effectiveness, and the fact that it deliberately avoids the manager-counselor's diagnosing and interpreting emotional problems, which would call for special psychological training. Listening to staff with sympathy and understanding is unlikely to escalate the problem, and is a widely used approach for helping people to cope with problems that interfere with their effectiveness in their place of work.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Forsyth, D. R. (2009). Group dynamics (5th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  2. ^ The Dynamics of Conflict (2nd ed.) . San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.
  3. ^ Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Goldfien, J. H., & Robbennolt, J. K. (2007). What if the lawyers have their way? An empirical assessment of conflict strategies and attitudes toward mediation styles. Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, 22, 277-320.
  5. ^ Bayazit, M. & Mannix, E. A. (2003). Should I stay or should I go? Predicting team members intent to remain in the team. Small Group Research, 34(3), 290-321.
  6. ^ Sternberg, R. J., & Dobson, D. M. (1987). Resolving interpersonal conflicts: An analysis of stylistic consistency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 794-812.
  7. ^ Jarboe, S. C., & Witteman, H. R. (1996). Intragroup conflict management in task-oriented groups: The influence of problem sources and problem analysis. Small Group Research, 27, 316–338.
  8. ^ Van de Vliert, E., & Euwema, M. C. (1994). Agreeableness and activeness as components of conflict behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 674–687.
  9. ^ Uppsala Conflict Data Program Definitions, warring party,, accessed April, 2013
  10. ^ Uppsala Conflict Data Program Definitions, Peace agreement,, accessed April, 2013
  11. ^ Uppsala Conflict Data Program Definitions, Ceasefire agreements,, accessed April, 2013
  12. ^ Bellamy, Alex J.; Williams, Paul (29 March 2010). Understanding Peacekeeping. Polity. ISBN 978-0-7456-4186-7. 
  13. ^ McElwee, Timothy A. (2007). "The Role of UN Police in Nonviolently Countering Terrorism". In Senthil Ram and Ralph Summy. Nonviolence: An Alternative for Defeating Global Terror(ism). Nova Publishers. pp. 179–210. ISBN 978-1-60021-812-5. 
  14. ^ Wahaj, S. A., Guse, K. & Holekamp, K. E. 2001: Reconciliation in the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Ethology 107, 1057—1074
  15. ^ Smith, J.E., *Powning, K.S., *Dawes, S.E., *Estrada, J.R., *Hopper, A.L., *Piotrowski, S.L., and K.E. Holekamp. 2011. Greetings promote cooperation and reinforce social bonds among spotted hyaenas. Animal Behaviour 81:401-415.
  16. ^ Weaver, A. 2003: Conflict and reconciliation in captive bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus. Marine Mammal Science 19, 836—846.
  17. ^ Schino, G. 1998: Reconciliation in domestic goats. Behaviour 135, 343—356.
  18. ^ Cools, A. K. A., Van Hout, A. J.-M., Nelissen M. H. J. 2008: Canine Reconciliation and Third-Party-Initiated Postconflict Affiliation: Do Peacemaking Social Mechanisms in Dogs Rival Those of Higher Primates? Ethology 114, 53—63.
  19. ^ Cordoni, G., Norscia, I., 2014: Peace-Making in Marsupials: The First Study in the Red-Necked Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) PLoS ONE 9(1): e86859. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086859
  20. ^ "About Cornell ILR Scheinman Institute". Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Retrieved 23 August 2009. 
  21. ^ "Peace and Collaborative Development Network"."
  22. ^ "Academics and Centers: Website of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution"
  23. ^ "NSU - Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution."
  24. ^
  25. ^ Henry P Knowles; Börje O Saxberg (1971). Personality and leadership behavior. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. Chapter 8. OCLC 118832. 
  26. ^ a b Richard Arvid Johnson (1976). Management, systems, and society : an introduction. Pacific Palisades, Calif.: Goodyear Pub. Co. pp. 148–142. ISBN 978-0-87620-540-2. OCLC 2299496. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]