Understand the Message as They Hear It
By Roger Fisher, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Kupfer Schneider
This Article Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Fisher, Roger, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Kupfer Schneider. "Understand the Message as They Hear it." Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping with Conflict. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 1994. Pp. 43-49.
Miscommunication in conflict can lead to serious consequences. It becomes very important to clearly define one's offers or demands in messages sent to the opponent. It also is useful to be aware of how the opponent would interpret the message.
An example of this is the messages sent by US government to the government in Hanoi with the threat of continuing the bombing of North Vietnamese positions unless they would stop supplying partisans in South Vietnam, during the Vietnam war. The message did not give the North Vietnamese a clear understanding of what they should do in order for the bombing to stop. They realized that if they stopped all the supplies, the US would stop the bombing. However, they also knew that "this was more than the situation required," but they did not know "how much more" (p. 47). The US, in an attempt to be reasonable, was asking for gradual reduction in supplies. However, the way the message was formulated, it made it sound to North Vietnamese that they would be bombed anyway.
The lack of success with the bombing message made US officials feel that the same fate would follow the cease-fire proposal. As a result, it was not offered and the war continued. Thus, it would have been beneficial for conflict de-escalation if the US has not based its decisions upon its own message, but upon the interpretation of it by the opponent.