New ways to resolve conflicts
Often the word "conflict" is used as a synonym for war. We read in the papers about "conflict in Serbia" or "violent conflict erupting in the wake of elections," implying that conflict is an unusual occurrence which is necessarily violent. But conflict is a fact of daily life, and its creative resolution is the challenge that faces us.
In designing its Conflict Resolution Workshop Series, Project Ploughshares Calgary wanted to meet this challenge. The series was designed to draw parallels between ways of resolving conflict in the schoolyard, the workplace, the family and the world. The first four sessions dealt with conflict resolution in groups, in a multicultural environment, in the home, and in the international arena. The final session was a day-long workshop featuring conflict resolution specialist Gordon Sloan. Sloan, a lawyer from Ganges, B.C., works primarily in mediation and dispute resolution training. His method of dispute resolution is based on the theory of interest-based negotiation. It departs from the traditional idea of position-based negotiation, or distributional negotiation, in which each party approaches the process with clearly defined, though often arbitrary, positions. Thereafter, each side compromises until an agreement is reached which both sides consider not too terrible, but also not ideal. Distributional negotiation ends up with one side winning at the expense of the other. either a valley will be clear-cut or it won't; either the workers will receive the wage they want or they won't.
Sloan's interest-based negotiation, on the other hand, involves developing a solution to the conflict which meets the needs of each party without Incurring a loss to either party. This type of negotiation requires each party to openly state their interests and to work together to find an agreement which will satisfy all sets of interests. These interests include the needs, desires, concerns, fears and hopes of each party to the conflict. The purpose of defining interests in this way is to strip away assumptions and entrenched arbitrary positions in order to reach an understanding of both sets of key interests. Rather than approaching the negotiation with fixed positions, each party seeks a solution to the problem that the conflict represents.
Effective conflict resolution requires effective communication. The first step is to define the issue, especially the specific interests of each party. Often, a resolution becomes clear as a result of the honest and complete definition of each set of interests.
Project Ploughshares Calgary intends to provide more workshops in conflict resolution this fall. Contact the office at 403/270-7366.
Dave Plummer is the staffperson for Project Ploughshares Calgary.
Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 13. Some rights reserved.
Search for other articles by Dave Plummer here