Essay On Mediation And Conflict Resolution

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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Mediation is one of several approaches to conflict resolution that uses a "third party" intermediary to help the disputing parties resolve their conflict. Unlike arbitration, where the third party actually makes the decision about how the conflict should be resolved, mediators only assist the parties in their efforts to formulate a solution of their own. Thus, mediators bring the parties together (or sometimes shuttle between them), help them describe the problem in terms of negotiable interests and needs rather than non-negotiable positions, and develop a set of ideas for how the interests and needs of both sides can be met simultaneously. The mediator will then help the parties assess the relative merits of the different options and draft an agreement that works best to satisfy everyone’s interests. It is up to the parties, however, to decide whether to accept the final agreement or not. While there may be considerable social pressure to agree to the settlement, if it does not meet the needs of a party as well as an alternative approach might, that party is still free to reject the settlement and try an alternative conflict resolution technique, be it litigation, direct action, an election, or war.

Mediation has been used successfully in many different kinds of conflicts. It is widely utilized (and very successful) in the United States and elsewhere for handling divorce and child custody cases. It is also commonly used for other kinds of interpersonal disputes (such as disputes between neighbors, roommates, or co-workers) labor-management disputes, community disputes, environmental disputes, and international disputes.

Although it is common in international conflicts, mediation has been less successful in that context than in most of the others. In a study of 78 international conflicts which occurred between 1945 and 1986, Jacob Bercovitch (1991) found that 56 were mediated, but that most of those efforts were unsuccessful. He attributed this lack of success to a number of factors. One, international conflicts tend to be very complex and highly escalated, and involving high stakes. This makes negotiation (or by extension, mediation) very difficult. In addition, mediation tends to work best before conflicts become very heated. At the same time, however, they have to become heated enough for the parties to feel a need to resolve them. Thus, there is a very small space of time in which the conflict is ready or "ripe" for negotiation or mediation. If mediation is tried either before this time, or afterwards, it is unlikely to succeed.

Other factors that determine the success of international mediation are the nature of the parties, the issues, and the mediator. The mediator must be highly skilled and respected. It often also helps if the mediator represents a powerful party who can reward cooperation and punish obstinance. When he mediated the Camp David Accords, Jimmy Carter was able to promise U.S. assistance as a reward for cooperation, while he could threaten a reduction of U.S. support if Egypt or Israel remained resistant to settlement.

Mediation styles vary greatly according to the needs of the parties and the mediator. In North America, the tendency is for the mediator to be neutral and impartial. That means he or she is not connected to the disputing parties in any way and does not stand to benefit by any particular outcome. Therefore, typical mediators supposedly have no bias toward one party or one solution over another. Other cultures, however, use mediators who are insiders. They are people who are connected to one side or the other, but who are highly respected by both sides, nevertheless. They also might have an interest in the final agreement as they tend to be members of the negotiating communities. Thus, it is in their personal interest that the conflict be decided in a way that is lasting and fair to all sides. (Oscar Arias Sanchez’s negotiation of the Esquipulas agreement ending the Nicaraguan war is an excellent example of "insider-partial" mediation.)

Another difference in style relates to the role of the mediators and the relative importance placed on settlement as opposed to the importance placed on the relationship. In the United States, the most common approach to mediation is what is called "problem solving" or "settlement oriented" mediation. Here the mediator’s primary goal is obtaining a settlement, and he or she may be highly directive and manipulative in an effort to bring the parties to a resolution. A less common approach which is growing in popularity is transformative or relationship-centered mediation. Here the mediator’s primary goals are empowering both parties to act effectively on their own behalf, while recognizing the legitimate interests and needs of the other side. Often, by fostering such empowerment and recognition, the parties are able to develop a mutually-acceptable solution on their own. However, they are not pushed in the direction nearly as much as they might be in settlement-oriented mediation.


Links to More Information about and Examples of Mediation

Christopher Moore - The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict
This is a summary of one of the leading mediation texts currently available.
Thomas Princen--Quaker Mediation in Sri Lanka
This is a summary of the Quaker's unobtrusive approach to mediation.
Mediating the Oslo Accords on the Middle East
This article discusses the observations of one of the Norwegian mediators regarding Norway's role in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.
Jacob Bercovitch -- Understanding Mediation's Role in Preventive Diplomacy
This article examines how mediation can be used to prevent serious conflicts as well (or even better than) ending them.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post- Cold War Era
This article examines the use of international mediation in the post-Cold War era, examining what factors contribute to and detract from success.
Mohamed Sahnoun -- Managing Conflicts in the Post-Cold War Era
This article examines a variety of ways of managing conflicts.  The author argues that mediation and conciliation should be broadened to include spiritual, economic, traditional, and social elements, and should be undertaken as a longer-term process.
A Conversation On Peacemaking With Jimmy Carter  
This article reviews a talk given by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who reflects on his many mediation efforts.
Ron Kraybill -- Directors' Circle
Kraybill identifies four characteristics that make international mediation by a religious person often preferable to peacemaking undertaken by political representatives.
Dave Brubaker -- Northern Ireland: Projects of Hope in the Midst of Violence
This article discusses how teaching mediation has been used successfully as a conflict management technique in Northern Ireland
Robert Baruch Bush -- Expectations for International Mediation
This short commentary observes that most international mediation takes a directive, problem-solving approach.  Bush argues that a transformative approach, which seeks empowerment and recognition of the parties would likely be superior in many cases.
Joseph Folger and Robert Baruch Bush -- Alternate Views of Conflict and Mediation
This article supplements the earlier one, further explaining the transformative approach to mediation.
Moorad Mooradian -- Mediation Efforts in the Karabakh Conflict
This article examines efforts to mediate conflict in Karabakh between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. The author concluded in this case that the third parties were more interested in pursuing their self-interests than in resolving the conflict.
Tom Sebok - Lessons from Mediation: An Examination of disputant Behaviors During Mediation and Their Possible Application to Seemingly Intractable Conflicts
In this paper Sebok reflects on years of mediating interpersonal disputes. He lists a variety of things disputants do and say that tend to block agreement, and things that they do or say that contributes to an agreement. While he acknowledges that intractable conflicts are more challenging that the typical kinds of disputes he deals with in the ombuds office, he suggests that similar kinds of problems can make intractable conflicts worse, and similar solutions might make them more constructive.
Ved Nanda - Dealing with the Shift from Interstate to Intrastate Confrontation-
This paper illustrates how mediation can be used to negotiate deep-rooted, value-based intrastate conflicts.
Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy--Guidelines for Making the Program Work
These authors, longtime mediators, give guidelines for making public policy mediation work effectively.

Links to Outside Sources of Information

Victim Offender Mediation Association - Articles and Publications 
This site has several very useful full text articles on victim-offender mediation and an alternative--family group conferences--that has been widely used in New Zealand and Australia.
ADR and Mediation Resources- Essays and Mediation Guidelines
The ADR & Mediation Resources site contains substantial on-line materials for alternative dispute resolution and mediation including an extensive set of essays on mediation.
Multi-Party Public Policy Mediation A Separate Breed - Lawrence Susskind Fall 1997 - Dispute Resolution Magazine - Section of Dispute Resolution - American Bar Association
This article is written by one of the leading public policy mediators in the U.S. It gives a good overview of the "do's" and "don'ts" of public policy dispute resolution processes.
The ABCs of ADR A Dispute Resolution Glossary
This has a good comparison of a variety of ADR techniques including mediation, arbitration, and all varieties of each.

U.S. Institute of Peace -- "Negotiation and International Mediation" in Sudan: Ending the War, Moving Talks Forward

Tom Milburn--What Can We Learn From Comparing Mediation Across Levels

American Arbitration Association Home Page 
This page has considerable full-text information about mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution processes in the U.S.


Links to Related Approaches

Third Party Intervention

Insider-partial mediation

Transformative Mediation

Common Ground Projects

Dialogue Projects


Links to Related Problems

Mediation is potentially useful for most of the problems covered in this program.  

Copyright �1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact:

be differences in opinions which inevitably lead to disagreements. Conflict exists in families, in the workplace, in churches and schools, in sports, between neighbors and between countries. Conflict is defined as “an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals”. (Wilmot and Hocker, 2001, p. 11). When there are differences in individual values, motivations, ideas and perceptions, conflicts arise. How individuals deal with conflict depends on personal history, family background and other influences over one’s lifetime. Gender as well as culture influence behavior and perceptions and play an important role in conflict resolution. Traditionally, conflict has been viewed as a destructive force which was best handled by avoiding, ignoring, or silencing it. There is a growing body of literature on the benefits of effective conflict management.

Healthy conflict is now viewed as a necessary ingredient in organizational success. The ability to deal effectively with conflict is critical to creating productive relationships. Although most people continue to view conflict negatively, it is a necessary ingredient to creativity and results in healthier relationships. There are two kinds of conflict, constructive and destructive. Constructive conflict should be encouraged because it leads to creative thinking and growth. It results in high performing organizations and to enhanced relationships. Destructive conflict should be eliminated or dealt with immediately. It is costly and does not promote positive personal or organizational development. Communication is a key ingredient in conflict resolution. There are various tools available to resolve conflict. They include legal remedies, arbitration as well as mediation. Conflict resolution skills are learned and when applied, result in improved relationships. Defining Conflict

There is an element of conflict in almost all relationships. Conflict has also been defined as “a social problem in which two or more persons, families, parties, communities, or districts are in disagreement with each other” ( Dzurgba, 2006). It occurs on an intrapersonal as well as an interpersonal level. If left unmanaged, conflict can lead to hostility, anger, alienation, war, inefficiency, expensive mistakes, legal battles as well as physical violence. There are five main conflict resolution styles that individuals use depending on the situation. They are:

Avoiding the Conflict – By avoiding the conflict, one or more parties pretend there is no problem. Some examples of avoiding include pretending nothing is wrong, shutting down or stonewalling. Accommodating – One party agrees to accommodate the other’s request usually for the sake of keeping the peace. This can lead to resentment. Competitive – One party stands his/her ground and competes to secure a win. In the short run, one party wins, but can lead to serious issues long term. Compromising – Both parties willingly enter into a negotiation where each gets something out of the other, but neither gets everything they want. Usually the parties negotiate on the larger issues where they have common ground and let go of minor issues. Collaboration – Both parties enter into meaningful negotiations towards a win-win solution. This style takes the most courage and involves listening to the other party and thinking creatively to resolve the problem without compromising. This is the most successful and admired and respected style.

Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution and mediation leads to the reduction of the conflict. Effectively addressing conflict leads to an improvement of relationships and to greater organizational and personal effectiveness. Conflict resolution entails managing stress, managing anger and managing face. When managed well, conflict can be a catalyst for innovation and creativity, leading to organizational learning. Conflict provides an opportunity for the best ideas to be shared to improve a situation or a process. Left unmanaged, conflict can have expensive legal consequences as others seek litigation to resolve the conflict. In organizations, it can lead to employee dissatisfaction, expensive turnover, decreased productivity and expensive errors. In families, unmanaged conflict can lead to violence, family dysfunction and divorce.

Types of Conflict
There are five types of conflicts, namely relationship, data, interest, structural and value. Relationship Conflicts
Relationship conflicts are personal and result from misperceptions, miscommunication, stereotypes, negative behavior and rumors. It affects the relationship between two people, but can impact others within the team. Work environments consist of employees from diverse backgrounds with very different value systems. There are cultural, gender and generational differences which contribute to relationship conflicts. As a result, miscommunication occurs because of differences in meaning, norms of communication and behavioral expectations. What is perceived as an ordinary conversation in one culture may be considered rude and intrusive by another culture. Spouses often have relationship conflicts that lead to divorce if unresolved.

Data Conflicts
Data conflicts often occur when two or more individuals are interpreting data differently. This can lead to wrong decisions, but can also lead to major disagreements. The budget conflicts which have let to the sequestration are an example of data conflicts. The Republicans and the Democrats are interpreting the budget numbers differently and coming to very different conclusions regarding what the numbers mean. As a result, they cannot agree on a budget.

Interest Conflicts
Interest conflicts occur when one person is trying to take advantage of another person. This may happen if an employee starts a company that provides the same services as his/her employer. Interest conflicts occur when the boss is dating an employee because that may introduce favoritism and may negatively impact other employees.

Structural Conflicts
A structural conflict is created by the organization. It is not subjective and is not created by people’s viewpoints or perceptions, but rather by limited resources or changes that the people involved have very little control over. An example of a structural conflict is a company that has customers across the world, but only has a customer service center in Ohio. The sales force would like to have all customers served promptly regardless of location, but the service center has regular hours. The company either has to create 24 hour shifts to accommodate its customers or open centers in other countries.

Value Conflicts
Value conflicts are differences in personal beliefs, preferences or priorities. This occurs between two people or within groups of people. Cultural differences usual result in different value systems which can lead to conflict. Examples of value conflicts in interpersonal relations can be a person who likes meat verses someone who is vegetarian, or, a liberal Democrat verses a conservative Republican. Each individual develops a value system based on culture, personality and the society they grow up in. There is no right or wrong in value systems, just a difference in opinion. Value conflicts are subjective because they are based on how people “feel” about each other or the situation. They are very difficult to effectively resolve.

Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Power
Power plays a critical role in interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts and disputes. There are many forms of power. The role of power in a conflict intensifies as the balance of power shifts. In the work environment, the power imbalance often exacerbates a conflict and often leads to resentment or anger. Power imbalance changes the communication styles used by the parties in a conflict. In conflict or dispute, one or more types of power may be used by the parties in the attempt to resolve the conflict. People in a high power position may not use their power to influence a decision out of guilt. In a conflict, one party usually possesses more power than the other. Real or perceived power imbalances make it difficult to resolve a conflict to everyone’s satisfaction. Power can be structural or personal. The extent to which one party can impose their will on another affects how the dispute is resolved. Power currency depends on the value placed on particular resources by the other party in the relationship. If one has what others need, they are in a powerful position and have more power currency. As needs change, the power currency may be more of less valuable. Just like actual currency, the value of the currency fluctuates and is situational. Interpersonal power currencies are:

1. Resource control: Often associated with a position within an organization and can include financial, information, equipment and rules and regulations. When a citizen visits the social security office to get disability benefits, the government holds the power for the decision to approve or not approve the benefits. The citizen has very little power and the government has the resources. 2. Interpersonal linkages: This is associated with someone’s position in the larger system. This is highly dependent on “who you know” and the relationships one has to make things happen. The Secretary of State is in a position to resolve the Mid-east conflict based on the interpersonal linkages he/she has with both Israel and Egypt. 3. Communication skills: Listening skills, leadership skills and the ability to effectively communicate is a power currency. Preachers have the ability to communicate a message to their congregation and get them to rally around a particular issue.

They are often called upon to mediate disputes because of their ability to listen, be empathetic to both parties and effectively communicate both viewpoints and negotiate a resolution. 4. Expertise skills: When one has a special skill or knowledge that others find valuable, he is in a position of influence. A pilot, a surgeon or a car mechanic all possess special skills that put them in power positions during certain disputes. Power imbalances disproportionally benefit the powerful party. Power generally falls into three categories, designated power, distributive power and integrative power. Designated power is often referred to as positional power and is as a result of a position or office held. A parent, manager, teacher or policeman has power that comes from their position. Distributive power is the “power over or against the other party” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2001, p. 103). Integrative or “both/and” power comes from two parties working together to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. This power differential has a significant impact on the substance and the process to resolve the conflict. When applied appropriately “constructive use of power solves problems, enhances relationships, and balances power” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2011, p. 103).

Forgiveness and Reconciliation
There is a growing body of literature on forgiveness and reconciliation. Disparate fields such as social and developmental psychology, anthropology, political sciences, religion and legal studies have all been conducting research on forgiveness and reconciliation. There are many definitions of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation often follow other efforts to resolve a conflict and heal the relationship. As such, forgiveness is highly personal and emotional. Kornfield defined it as follows: “Forgiveness is the heart’s capacity to release its grasp on the pains of the past and free itself to go on” (Kornfield, 2001, p.236). As shown in Figure 1, there is a flow of events that lead to reconciliation.

The Forgiveness & Reconciliation Cycle for Effective Conflict Resolution

Figure 1

Forgiveness is a key ingredient essential for reconciliation and conflict resolution. It is recognized in religion and social science literature as an important element in healing conflicts. For healing to occur and normal trusting relationships to be formed, both sides need to stop blaming each other and move past the conflict. An apology is a catalyst and a key ingredient leading to forgiveness and reconciliation, and ultimately to conflict resolution. While conflict resolution is focused on resolving substantive issues in a dispute, reconciliation focuses on addressing personal and relational issues and restoring relationships. William Faulkner was quoted by journalist Bill Moyers as saying “Forgiveness is giving up the idea of a better past” (Wilmot and Hocker, 2011, p. 297). Forgiveness is concerned with healing the hurt, disappointments and sins of the past, and improving relationships in the future.

Mediation and Organizational Conflict Resolution
A mediator is defined as “a neutral third party who has no decision-making power regarding the outcome of the mediation” (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. 197). The advantages of mediation are: 1. Cost – Mediation is much less expensive than the alternative of either having the situation go unresolved or resolve legally 2. Flexibility – Mediation can be conducted anywhere as long as it is neutral ground. 3. Informal – It can be adapted to accommodate cultural, personal, structural and other differences. 4. Effectiveness – Mediated solutions tend to last because the parties come to a mutually agreed solution. 5. Preserves Relationships – Parties tend to have stronger long term relationships because they feel they were heard and have the other’s commitment. Effective organizations have mediation as part of the conflict resolution process. This is an effective way to resolve conflicts while both parties maintain control and ownership of the issues.

Effective conflict resolution is important to building productive relationships. The importance of conflict resolution has been reinforced by the disparate fields focused on studying the subject. Organizations must provide the right structure for effective conflict resolution to be effective. Effective conflict resolution requires a health balance of power and promotes a health organizational culture. When all stakeholders have a voice, decision making is enhanced, engagement improves, and innovation increases. Maintaining a balance of power should be a high priority for any organization to be competitive and reach maximum productivity. Diversity is a consideration when creating conflict resolution processes. Gender, ethnicity and culture have to be considered to create an effective process. Although power is complex and maintaining a balance of power is fraught with difficulty, process design, effective communication, and a culture that encourages open dialogue will ensure that all parties effectively negotiate in their own interest to bring about fair outcomes.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) said that “there can be no future without forgiveness”. Forgiveness is an intrapersonal as well as an interpersonal activity. Forgiving someone can be done with or without the other person’s consent, making it a relatively easy process intrapersonal. It is much more complicated interpersonally since it requires another party to either apologize, or accept an apology and forgive. As research is finding, “Apology and forgiveness have the potential to foster reconciliation and encourage peaceful coexistence among groups and nations” (Asby et al, 2010, p. 25). Conflict should be treated as an essential ingredient for healthy relationships both at home and at work. In health care organizations such as MaineGeneral Health, empowering employees with skills to handle conflict was critical to creating a culture where employees felt comfortable speaking up (Bullock, 2011, p. 82). By speaking up, the hospital was able to avoid medical errors.

Abigail, R. A.., & Cahn, D. D. (2011). Managing conflict through communication. 4th Ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN: 9780205685561 Ashy, M., Mercurio, A. E., & Malley-Morrison, K. (2010, March). Apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation: An ecological world view. Individual Differences Research 8 (1), 17-26 Bullock, S. (2011, July/August). Empowering staff with communication. Healthcare Executive 26 (4), 80-82 Chetkow-Yanoov, B. (1997). Social work approaches to conflict resolution: Making fighting obsolete. Binghampton, NY: Haworth. Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P. T. (Eds). (2006). Handbook of conflict resolution (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Dingwall, R., & Miller, G. (2002). Lessons from brief therapy? Some interactional suggestions for family mediators. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 19, 269-287. Dubler, N. N., & Liebman, C. B. (2004). Bioethics mediation: A guide to shaping shared solutions. New York: United Hospital Fund. Eddy, W. A. (2003). High conflict personalities: Understanding and resolving their costly disputes. San Diego, CA: William A. Eddy. Eller, J. (2004). Effective group facilitation in education: How to energize meetings and manage difficult groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Lee, J. (2010, July). Perceived power imbalance and customer dissatisfaction. Service Industries Journal doi:10.1080/02642060802298384 30 (7), 1113-1137 Maroney, T. A. (2009). Unlearning fear of out-group others. Law and Contemporary Problems Journal. 72(2), 83-88. Sloan, W. M. (2011, March). What did you say? Curtail conflict with effective communication. Education Update 53 (3), 3-5 Wilmot, W., & Hocker, J.


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