Summary of "Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping With Conflict"

Summary of

Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping With Conflict

By Roger Fisher, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Kupfer Schneider

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping With Conflict, 2nd ed. Roger Fisher, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Kupfer Schneider. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. <>.

This book seeks to teach the general public how to effectively handle conflict. The authors introduce general conceptual frameworks and specific techniques, which aid individuals in transcending conflict.

Beyond Machiavelli argues that individuals can make important contributions to complex conflicts. It offers tools and guidelines to help individuals respond effectively to conflict.

Beyond Machiavelli will be of interest to those who seek ways to contribute to the resolution of complex conflicts, and to influence decision-makers. This work is divided into six chapters, with an introduction and conclusion. In their Preface the authors explain that this text arose from their experience teaching a Harvard University course entitled Coping with International Conflict. While the course focused on international conflict, the students reported that the coping mechanisms studied in class were also helpful in handling disputes in their daily lives. The title of this book refers to the 16th century political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli, whose classic treatise, The Prince, advised monarchs on how to most effectively rule their subjects. The authors hope that their text will both advise the reader, and enable the reader to advise others on how to best handle conflict.

Chapter One advises the reader, when faced with a conflict, to think in terms of creating "a process for handling a flow of problems, rather than to think about 'solving' a particular problem once and for all."[4] Conflicts should be approached in a purposive, forward-looking manner, rather than merely reactively; one should respond to situations in light of greater interests and goals. This chapter concludes with a brief discussion of how to formulate forward-looking purposes.

Chapter Two discusses the importance of understanding your opponents interests, motivations and positions. The authors suggest techniques both to help the individual understand the opponent's perceptions, and to view the issues from a more neutral perspective. Chapter Three stresses the need to analyze past interactions in order to better understand the present conflict. Two approaches are suggested. "The first is to analyze past events in terms of the message we have been sending, as it has been received by the other side. The second is to analyze the resulting choice that the other decision-makers have seen themselves as facing."[43] An important step in resolving conflict is to focus on changing the other side's perception of the choice they face, making that choice more palatable. The authors offer techniques for identifying and modifying an opponent's perceived choice.

Chapter four suggests methods for generating fresh ideas and new approaches to existing conflicts. The authors describe the Four-Quadrant Analysis approach to systematic problem-solving. This approach divides thought into four categories: identifying the problem, making general diagnoses, describing general approaches, and identifying immediately helpful actions. This sort of problem-solving analysis may then be applied to each of the seven elements of a conflict situation: interests, options, legitimacy, relationship, communication, commitment, and alternatives. This approach can be used to structure group or individual brainstorming sessions. The goal of such problem-solving analysis is to help individuals formulate good advise, and Chapter Five describes how to formulate productive proposals. Proposals should present a specific option which could realistically be accepted, and which if accepted would result in some concrete action being taken. The authors discuss how to identify and reach decision-makers. This chapter also examines the ethical issues raised by attempts to persuade others, and suggests some ethical criteria by which to evaluate a proposal.

Chapter Six calls for taking a process oriented view not just toward particular conflicts, but to the mechanisms for conflict resolution itself. They discuss the need to "change the game," to change the way in which international (and other) conflicts are currently handled. They apply the approach and analysis outlined above to current mechanisms for handling international conflict. The authors conclude that while conflicts are inevitable, better coping methods can make conflicts more productive. One key to better coping is asking better questions.

Beyond Machiavelli describes specific yet versatile techniques for understanding and managing conflicts. This text is extremely clear and readable, and its points are copiously illustrated with charts and case studies.