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Conflict resolution is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of conflict and retribution. 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. 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, perspectives, understandings and attitudes. Emotional resolution is in the way disputants feel about a conflict, the emotional energy. Behavioral resolution is reflective of how the disputants act, their behavior. Ultimately a wide range of methods and procedures for addressing conflict exist, including negotiation, mediation, mediation-arbitration, diplomacy, and creative peacebuilding.
The term conflict resolution may also be used interchangeably with dispute resolution, where arbitration and litigation processes are critically involved. 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. Conflict resolution as an academic field is relatively new. George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, was the first university to offer a PhD program.
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: concern for self (assertiveness) and concern for others (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 of these two dimensions ultimately leads individuals towards exhibiting different styles of conflict resolution. The dual model identifies five conflict resolution styles/strategies that individuals may use depending on their dispositions toward pro-self or pro-social goals.
Wars may occur between parties who contest an incompatibility. The nature of an incompatibility can be territorial or governmental, but a warring party must be a "government of a state or any opposition organization or alliance of organizations that uses armed force to promote its position in the incompatibility in an intrastate or an interstate armed conflict". Wars can conclude with a peace agreement, which is a "formal agreement... which addresses the disputed incompatibility, either by settling all or part of it, or by clearly outlining a process for how... to regulate the incompatibility." A ceasefire is another form of agreement made by warring parties; unlike a peace agreement, it only "regulates the conflict behaviour of warring parties", and does not resolve the issue that brought the parties to war in the first place.
Peacekeeping measures may be deployed to avoid violence in solving such incompatibilities. 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. The 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 major international non-governmental organizations have seen a growing need to hire practitioners trained in conflict analysis and resolution. Furthermore, this expansion 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, and educational institutions throughout the world.
Conflict resolution as both a professional practice and academic field is highly sensitive to cultural practices. 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 underlying needs. In these situations, conflict resolvers often talk about finding a mutually satisfying ("win-win") solution for everyone involved.
In many non-Western cultural contexts, such as Afghanistan, Vietnam, and China, it is also important to find "win-win" solutions; however, the routes taken to find them may 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. It can make sense to involve religious, tribal, or community leaders; communicate difficult truths through a third party; or make suggestions through stories. 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.
Conflict resolution has also been studied in non-humans, including dogs, cats, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and primates. Aggression is more common among relatives and within a group than between groups. Instead of creating distance between the individuals, primates tend to be more intimate in the period after an aggressive incident. These intimacies consist of grooming and various forms of body contact. Stress responses, including increased heart rates, usually decrease after these reconciliatory signals. Different types of primates, as well as many other species who live in groups, display different types of conciliatory behavior. Resolving conflicts that threaten the interaction between individuals in a group is necessary for survival, giving it a strong evolutionary value. These findings contradict 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 has consisted of anecdotal observations and very little quantitative data. Although peaceful post-conflict behavior had been documented going back to the 1960s, it was not until 1993 that Rowell made the first explicit mention of reconciliation in feral sheep. Reconciliation has since been documented in spotted hyenas, lions, bottlenose dolphins, dwarf mongoose, domestic goats, domestic dogs, and, recently, in red-necked wallabies.
Universities worldwide offer programs of study pertaining to conflict research, analysis, and practice. Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo has the oldest-running peace and conflict studies (PACS) program in Canada. PACS can be taken as an Honors, 4-year general, or 3-year general major, joint major, minor, and diploma. Grebel also offers an interdisciplinary Master of Peace and Conflict Studies professional program. The Cornell University ILR School houses the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, which offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional training on conflict resolution. It also offers dispute resolution concentrations for its MILR, JD/MILR, MPS, and MS/PhD graduate degree programs. At the graduate level, Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding offers a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation, a dual Master of Divinity/MA in Conflict Transformation degree, and several graduate certificates. EMU also offers an accelerated 5-year BA in Peacebuilding and Development/MA in Conflict Transformation. Additional graduate programs are offered at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Creighton University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Trinity College Dublin. George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution offers BA, BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, as well as an undergraduate minor, graduate certificates, and joint degree programs. Nova Southeastern University also offers a PhD in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, in both online and on-campus formats.
Many students completing a doctoral program enter the field as researchers, theorists, analysts, policy makers and professors in higher education.
Pax Ludens, a non-profit 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, allowing students to learn in a geographic region which is the subject of much research on international conflict resolution.
The Nelson Mandela Center for Peace & Conflict Resolution at Jamia Millia Islamia University, 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.
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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. 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 which explain why and how the conflict was expressed the way it was. Conflict is often connected to a previous issue. Resolution refers to resolving a dispute to the approval of one or both parties, whereas management is concerned with an ongoing process that may never have a resolution. Neither is considered the same as conflict transformation, which seeks to reframe the positions of the conflict parties.
The role of culture is not always fully appreciated and must be taken into account. In a piece on “the ocean model of civilization”, Prof Nayef Al-Rodhan argues that greater transcultural understanding is critical for global security because it diminishes ‘hierarchies’ and alienation, and avoids dehumanization of the ‘other’.
When personal conflict leads to frustration and loss of efficiency, counseling may prove helpful. Although few organizations can afford to have professional counselors on 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.
Sometimes simply being able to express one's feelings to a concerned and understanding listener is enough to relieve frustration and make it possible for an individual to advance to a problem-solving frame of mind. The nondirective approach is one effective way for managers to deal with frustrated subordinates and coworkers.
There are other, more direct and more diagnostic, methods that could be used in appropriate circumstances. However, the great strength of the nondirective approach[nb 2] lies in its simplicity, its effectiveness, and 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 cope with problems that interfere with their effectiveness in the workplace.
Step 1: Clarifying and focusing: problem ownership
Negative feelings such as annoyance, anger and discomfort can interfere with understanding exactly what is wrong in situations of confrontation and how to set things right again. Gaining a bit of distance from negative feelings is exactly what such moments call for, especially on the part of the person with (presumably) the greatest maturity. Problem ownership is defined as deciding who should take ownership of the behavior or conflict in the issue (Gordon, 2003). The main person who is bothered by the root problem is also the “owner” of the problem, and thus the owner of a problem needs to be the one who takes primary responsibility for solving the issue. Identifying ownership makes a difference in how behavior is dealt with, as well as how the problem is effectively solved. It is important to ask clarifying questions to really understand the root causes of the conflict.
Step 2: Active listening
Several strategies help with distinguishing who has a problem with a behavior and who takes ownership. One of those strategies is active listening. Active listening is attending carefully to all aspects of what a student says and attempting to understand or empathize as much as one can (Seifert & Sutton). Active listening consists of continually asking questions in order to test your understanding. It also requires giving encouragement to the student by letting them tell their story, and paraphrasing what the student says so you can form an unbiased conclusion. It is key not to move too quickly at solving the problem by just giving advice, instructions, or scolding. Responding too soon with solutions can shut down the student’s communication and leave you with inaccurate impressions of the source or nature of the problem (Seifert & Sutton).
Step 3: Assertive discipline and I-messages
Once you, as the teacher, have taken in the student’s point of view, form your comments around how the student’s behavior affects your role. Your comments should be assertive, emphasize I-messages, and encourage the student to think about the effects of his or her behavior. They should not be passive, apologetic, hostile or aggressive, but matter-of-fact, such as, “Charlie, you are talking while I am talking.” The comments should emphasize I-messages that focus on how the behavior is affecting the teacher’s teaching and the other students' learning (Seifert & Sutton). An example of this would be, “You are making it hard for me to focus on teaching this math lesson.” Lastly, you should ask the student more open-ended questions that make him or her think about the consequences of his or her behavior, such as, “How do the other kids feel when you yell in the middle of class?” (Seifert & Sutton).
Step 4: Negotiation
Seifert and Sutton state that the first three steps describe desirable ways of handling situations that are specific and last for only a short time. These steps by themselves could potentially not be enough when conflicts persist over extended periods of time. Often it is better to negotiate a solution in these situations. Negotiating is defined as methodically deliberating various options and deciding on one if possible (Seifert & Sutton). Even though negotiation demands time and energy, it often demands less time or effort ultimately than continuing to cope with the problem. The results of negotiation can be valuable to everyone involved in the situation. Various experts on conflict resolution have suggested different ways to negotiate with students about problems that are continual (Seifert & Sutton). The theories differ in specifics, but typically are generally similar to the steps we previously discussed:
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