The process of defusing antagonism and reaching agreement between conflicting parties, especially through some form of negotiation. Also, the study and practice of solving interpersonal and intergroup conflict.
"Conflict" from the Latin root "to strike together" can be defined as any situation where incompatible activities, feelings, or intentions occur together. Conflict may take place within one person, between two or more people who know each other, or between large groups of people who do not know each other. It may involve actual confrontation between persons, or merely symbolic confrontation through words and deeds. The conflict may be expressed through verbal denigration, accusations, threats, or through physical violence to persons or property. Or the conflict may remain unexpressed, as in avoidance and denial.
A given conflict may be defined in terms of the issues that caused it, the strategies used to address it, or the outcomes or consequences that follow from it. Preschool and early elementary school-aged children tend to have conflict over property issues, and they tend to use physical strategies to resolve them, like taking a toy they want from another child. As children grow older the causes of conflict are more frequently about social order, and they are more likely to use verbal strategies as solutions.
Strategies for resolving or preventing the development of conflict can be classified as avoidance, diffusion, or confrontation. Turning on the TV rather than discussing an argument is a form of avoidance. Two teen athletes talking to their peers or counselors after a dispute on the football field is an example of diffusion. Insulting another student's girlfriend or arranging to meet after school to fight are examples of confrontation. Courtroom litigation, like the trial and indictment of a juvenile who has violated the law, also represents a form of confrontation.
The phrase conflict resolution refers specifically to strategies of diffusion developed during the second half of the 20th century as alternatives to traditional litigation models of settling disputes. Based on the idea that it is better to expose and resolve conflict before it damages
Most conflict resolution programs employ some form of negotiation as the primary method of communication between parties. In the negotiation process, parties with opposing interests hold conversations to settle a dispute. Negotiation can be distributive, where each party attempts to win as many concessions to his or her own self-interest as possible (win-lose), or integrative, where parties attempt to discover solutions that embody mutual self-interest (win-win). Research on games theory and the decision-making process suggest that the face-to-face conversation involved in direct negotiation may actually influence people to act in the interest of the group (including the opposing party), or some other interest beyond immediate self-interest. Certainly the simple act of talking with the opposition sends a message that the parties are committed to positive resolution, and face-to-face negotiation inherently tends to be integrative in its consequences.
The success of a given instance of conflict resolution depends on the attitudes and skills of the disputants and of the mediator or arbitrator. The elementary skills that have been identified as promoting conflict resolution overlap to a high degree with those that reflect social competence in children and adolescents. They include:
- Awareness of others
- Awareness of the (not necessarily obvious) distinctions between self and others
- Listening skills
- Awareness of one's own feelings and thoughts, and the ability to express them
- Ability to respond to the feelings and thoughts of others
A child or adolescent will employ the basic skills of conflict resolution to varying degrees in responding to a conflict. Responses can be graded according to the level of cooperativeness they reflect, i.e., the level of integration the child experiences between his own self-interest and the interest of the opposing party. Thus, threatening the other party reflects a slightly more integrated, constructive response to conflict than an immediately aggressive response such as hitting. Examples of progressively more cooperative responses to conflict are: withdrawing from a conflict; demanding or requesting the opposing party to concede; providing reasons the opposing party should concede (appealing to norms); proposing alternatives to the opposing party; and proposing "if statements, suggesting willingness to negotiate. Perspective taking, or articulating and validating the feelings and thoughts of the other party ("I see that you want...."), reflects the higher orders of conflict resolution skills. Integration of interests ("We both want...") reflects the highest level, leading to a consensual settlement of negotiations.
Conflict resolution in education
Conflict resolution in education includes any strategy that promotes handling disputes peacefully and cooperatively outside of, or in addition to, traditional disciplinary procedures. The rise of violence and disciplinary problems, along with an increasing awareness of need for behavioral as well as cognitive instruction, spurred the development of conflict resolution programs in schools during the 1980s. These programs received national attention in 1984 with the formation of the National Association for Mediation in Education (NAME). By the late 1990s most major cities had instituted some form of large-scale conflict resolution program. According to a 1994 National School Boards study, 61% of schools had some form of conflict resolution program.
Conflict resolution programs differ widely in terms of who participates, the quantity of time and energy they require, and levels of funding they receive. Funding is usually provided by an outside source such as the state, a university program, or a local non-profit organization. Programs can be classroom-wide, school-wide, or district-wide, and can include any of the following components:
- Curriculum and classroom instruction
- Training workshops for faculty, staff, students, and/or parents in conflict management skills, negotiation, and mediation
- Peer education and counseling programs where students either train each other in conflict resolution skills and/or actually carry out dispute resolution
- Mediation programs in which students, staff, or teachers carry out dispute resolution
Some conflict resolution programs provide a venue for actual dispute resolution, while others only provide only training and instruction. For example, after attending an in-service training on conflict resolution a teacher may decide to include the principles as curriculum for the students or to implement a new classroom policy that actually employs the principles of conflict resolution in maintaining discipline. School-wide or district-wide peer counseling and peer mediation programs carry out actual dispute resolution on a larger scale. Peer mediation, where students are trained in a step-by-step mediation
Deutsch, M. The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
Girard, K., and S. Koch. Conflict Resolution in the Schools; A Manual for Educators. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1996.
Kreidler, W.J. Creative Conflict Resolution: More Than 200 Activities for Keeping Peace in the Classroom —K—6. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1984.
Lam, J.A. The Impact of Conflict Resolution Programs on Schools; A Review and Synthesis of the Evidence. 2nd edition. Amherst, MA: National Association for Mediation in Education, 1989.
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National Institute for Dispute Resolution
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