Conflict 101

Conflict 101 — What EVERYONE Should Know about Conflict

An Online Course from Beyond Intractability and CRInfo — The Conflict Resolution Information Source 

What this Program Is:

This is a college-level course built on the Beyond Intractability and CRInfo (Conflict Resolution Information Source) websites. The course focuses on things everybody should know about conflict: why it occurs, how it can be beneficial, and how to manage it so that it is beneficial and not harmful. This is a college-level course built on the Beyond Intractability website. The course has never been offered for formal college credit, but it used to be available as a certificate class. Unfortunately, we no longer have the funding to grade students in the class, so it is now only available for self study. All of the materials are still accessible, however, as are the suggested assignments. While we cannot offer feedback to students on those assignments, some users may still find that writing the "required" papers will be an interesting and useful exercise. 

This course is a spin-off from the other self-study course we have listed here called "Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts." As the name implies, that course focuses on very long-lasting conflicts that are difficult to resolve — international conflicts such as Israeli/Palestinian relations, and domestic conflicts over highly contentious issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

However, a lot of the material in that course is also relevant to more "ordinary" conflicts — parents arguing with their kids about behavior problems, spousal disagreements, workplace tensions, and so on. This course is designed to focus more on conflicts of that kind than on the very difficult international ones, although we have not entirely cut out the intractable material, as family, workplace, and community conflicts can, indeed, be very intractable! In addition, the principles that apply to Israelis and Palestinians also apply to conflicts between identity groups in this country: between blacks and whites, fundamentalist Christians and gays — although, we hope, to a lesser degree! Therefore, rather than rewriting these essays to eliminate all the references to international conflicts, we have tried to supplement those illustrations with domestic illustrations, or show how the ideas apply in both the domestic and international contexts.

About half of the material is theoretical, covering topics such as:

  • The nature and causes of conflict
  • The costs and benefits of conflict
  • The dynamics of conflicts
  • How conflicts end

The other half of the material is more practical, covering such questions as:

  • Can conflict be avoided? If so, how?
  • How (and why) does one do a conflict assessment?
  • How does one deal with conflict in a constructive way?
  • How can communication escalate — and de-escalate — conflict?
  • How can one negotiate effectively?
  • What kinds of assistance and intervention are available for dealing with conflict (mediation, for example)?
  • How do these different types of intervention work?
  • How does one decide what approach to take?
  • How does one find assistance if one needs it?

Who is this Program For?

This program will be of interest to college students (both advanced undergraduates and graduate students), people who deal with conflict a lot in their jobs (teachers, managers, health care providers, etc.), parents who want to do a better job of dealing with their kids or spouses, or anyone who wants a better understanding of ways of dealing with conflict.

Course Requirements

This program consists of 10 units, averaging about 40 pages of online reading each. For those wanting more information, several thousand pages of supplemental material and about 100 hours of online audio are also accessible in the full Beyond Intractability and CRInfo systems. Students had been asked to answer a few questions at the end of each unit, generally requiring a written response of about 2-3 pages. Self-study users may still find it interesting to think (or even write) about these questions, even though grading and feedback is no longer availble. Most of these questions can be answered based on the readings and background knowledge alone, although a few may take additional online reading to investigate the current status of a particular conflict. Students may also participate in an optional online discussion, in which they are encouraged to relate what they are learning to ongoing current events.

How Long Does this Program Take?

This program is one course, about equivalent in workload to a three-semester-hour, upper-division college course. That means that we expect students to devote about 120 to 150 hours to the completion of the course. 

Course Units


Unit I: Understanding Conflict: The Basics

Unit Objectives: The objective of this unit is to teach you to distinguish between "conflicts" and "disputes," learn why the distinction matters, and examine the costs — and benefits — of conflicts and disputes on individuals, organizations, communities, and societies.

Unit Requirements:

  • Writing Assignment: For this unit ONLY, the writing assignment comes first — BEFORE you do the reading.
  • Reading and listening (all available online)

Writing Assignment:

Take out a piece of paper. (Does this sound like your worst nightmare from grade school? It won't be that bad.)

  • Part 1a: When you think of the word "conflict," what other words do you think of? Write them down — at least 10 of them, maybe even 20.
  • Part 1b: Then ask 3 other people to do the same thing — without showing them your (or anyone else's) list.
  • Part 2: Now go to your computer. Type all the words onto one big list and then sort it into two columns. One column will have words indicating good things; the other bad things — or at least not-so-good things. For example: "Sports" might be a good thing when you think of conflict, while "war" is a bad thing. How many of the words you and your compatriots came up with were "good" words? How many were "bad" words? (Put the sum of each at the bottom of your two lists.)
  • Part 3: Then answer the following questions and send all this in for your Unit I assignment. (Aim for 250-500 words for Part 3.)
    1. What does this tell you about how you — and your friends — view conflict? Was there a noticeable difference between people?
    2. What do you think this might mean?
    3. How does your view of conflict affect how you think about it and engage in it?

For this assignment (and all others), save your responses in a file — preferably Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect; if you use a different word processor, try saving as a .txt or .rtf file. Send the file as an attachment in an e-mail to Dr. Burgess.

Unit I Reading and Listening:

Okay, now it is time to start the readings. When you do the readings — all of the readings in this unit and the others — you will note that some of the essays have a box at the right that says "comments: listen/read." Be sure to click on this box and listen to the person or people talking and/or read the transcript for additional information on the essay topic. Sometimes there are just one or two audio comments; sometimes there are quite a few. If there are lots, you may not have time to listen to them all, but they tend to "bring life" to the readings, so we encourage you to listen to as many as you can. All of these folks are leaders in the field of conflict resolution from around the world, talking about their areas of expertise. Listening to their voices will really bring these ideas alive for you in ways that the reading alone cannot do.

Another note: While most of the required readings are either theoretical or practical (how-to) essays, some are what we call "personal reflections" and/or case studies written about real conflict situations. Since real situations are not nice and neat, they often won't track perfectly with the other readings. But again, they are meant to illustrate how values and conflict affect real people in real life, and, we hope, they also will help to bring this course to life.

A final note: There are LOTS and LOTS of links and additional readings in each of these essays. These are totally optional. Follow them as your interests and time allow.

So, onto the readings...

These essays introduce you to some of the most basic ideas and terms in the conflict resolution field. Please read these essays and listen to (or read) at least some of the audio comments associated with them as well.

Conflicts and Disputes

Conflict scholars make a critical distinction between short-term disputes and deep-rooted, long-term conflicts. Learn why conflicts and disputes are so common, and why conflicts are so much harder to resolve than disputes.

What Are Intractable Conflicts?

Although this course primarily addresses the sort of "regular conflicts" that we all deal with all of the time, it seems that we in America (and elsewhere) are also encountering difficult, seemingly intractable conflicts more and more (US/Iraq, abortion, gay marriage, the "red-blue divide," etc.) This essay discusses why some conflicts become intractable, and, very briefly, what's to be done about that.

Causes of Conflicts and Disputes

Disputes are generally caused by misunderstandings or conflicts of interests, while conflicts are caused by more deep-rooted differences — over values or fundamental human needs, for example. This essay reviews the common causes of both.

Costs of Conflicts and Disputes

Although the costs of some conflicts — the Iraq war, for example — are very evident (to those who pay attention, at least), the costs of other conflicts, such as family conflicts or workplace conflicts, are often hidden and overlooked. This essay discusses some of the psychological, sociological, and economic costs of interpersonal and organizational conflicts, as well as briefly touching on the costs of larger-scale conflicts such as the war in Iraq.

Benefits of Conflicts and Disputes

Conflict is change. Without it, attitudes, behaviors, and relationships stay the same, regardless of whether they are fair. Although conflict is often understood as something negative, this essay explores its many benefits.

Conflict Stages

Most conflicts go through a series of stages, which may or may not occur in order. They often start as latent conflict — problems brewing, but not yet erupted. They then emerge, escalate, de-escalate and are resolved — sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily until they emerge or escalate again. This essay describes the stages, and links to more detailed essays on each stage. (These detailed essays are optional.)

Conflict Assessment

Conflict assessment is the first stage in the process of conflict management and resolution. It begins by clarifying participants' interests, needs, positions, and issues, and then engages stakeholders to find solutions. Understanding what is involved in — and then doing — at least a simple conflict assessment is essential for anyone wanting to resolve any but the simplest dispute successfully.

Settlement, Resolution, Management, and Transformation: An Explanation of Terms

These refer to four different goals for approaching — and perhaps ending — a conflict or dispute. While these terms are frequently considered to be synonomous, they actually refer to very different philosophies and approaches to conflict, and result in a considerably different end state.

Back to Unit Listing

Unit II: The Psychology of Conflict

Psychology is deeply intertwined with conflict — both as a cause and an effect. When people are afraid or angry or distrustful, this tends to contribute to conflict escalation, and at the same time, conflicts can cause people to become afraid, angry, and/or distrustful. The same is true — though usually to a lesser degree — in disputes. The following essays investigate the interaction between psychological factors and conflicts/disputes.


Negotiation theory often assumes that people in conflict behave rationally, but emotional factors also play a large role in people's attitudes and behaviors. This essay examines the importance of these emotional factors in both conflict assessment and response.


Anger can be constructive, but is more often destructive. This essay examines the interplay between anger and conflict and discusses when and how anger should be managed.


Fear is both a cause and a consequence of both violent and nonviolent conflicts. It certainly makes conflict resolution more difficult.

Guilt and Shame

We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are. Both lead to and are caused by conflict.


"Face" refers to self-esteem. While it is of more importance in some cultures than others, no one, in any culture, likes to look "stupid," or to be made fun of. Like the other pyschological factors here, face — loss of or saving face — can effect conflict in both positive and negative ways.

Unit II Assignment:

Choose a dispute or conflict that has affected you deeply. It can be a personal one — a fight at work or in the family — or a more public one that you care about deeply — the war in Iraq, abortion, gay rights, whatever. In 3-4 pages, examine how emotions played a role in that conflict and what was done (or might have been done) to harness these emotions in a more positive way.

Back to Unit Listing

Unit III: Relationships in Conflict

Relationships — good and bad — are a key to disputes, conflicts, and their resolution. These essays examine relationship issues — the good and the bad.

Damaged or Destroyed Relationships

People on opposite sides of a long-running conflict tend to distrust or even hate each other. This takes an emotional toll on both parties and prevents them from working together in the future.

Managing Interpersonal Trust and Distrust

Trust has often been praised as the "glue" that holds relationships together and enables individuals to pool their resources with others. Unfortunately, when conflict escalates to a dysfunctional level, trust is often one of the first casualties.


Distrust can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, where every move another person makes is interpreted as evidence that he/she cannot be trusted. When the other person reciprocates this sentiment, there is mutual distrust that further fuels the escalation of conflict.

Trust and Trust Building

Trust comes from the understanding that humans are interdependent, that they need each other to survive. Third parties can attempt to use this insight to promote trust between disputing parties.


Treating people with respect is key to conflict transformation. When they are denied respect or are humiliated, people tend to react negatively, creating conflicts or escalating existing ones.

Conflict Transformation

Many people believe that conflict happens for a reason and that it brings much-needed change. Therefore, to eliminate conflict would also be to eliminate conflict's dynamic power. In transformation, a conflict is changed into something constructive, rather than being eliminated altogether.

Apology and Forgiveness

One powerful way to mend relationships after conflicts and disputes is through apology and forgiveness. These are two sides of the multi-faceted "diamond" of reconciliation. Though often skipped (for a variety of reasons), both are necessary for true reconciliation to take place.

Unit III Assignment:

Choose ANOTHER dispute or conflict that has affected you deeply. It can be a personal one — a fight at work or in the family — or a more public one that you care about deeply — the war in Iraq, abortion, gay rights, whatever. In 3-4 pages, look at the relationship issues involved in this conflict. What relationships have been damaged? How? What can be done to repair them?

Back to Unit Listing

Unit IV: Communication Issues

Communication is also key to conflicts and disputes, and like emotions and relationships, the interaction goes two ways. Communication problems tend to lead to or exacerbate conflict, while good communication is essential to its resolution. These essays explore both issues.

Interpersonal / Small-Scale Communication

Robert Quillen wrote, "Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of emotion." This essay explains why interpersonal communication often breaks down and how to make it more effective.

Channels of Communication

In escalated conflicts, parties often cease communicating altogether, or they ignore each other, assuming the other is biased or simply wrong. Opening channels of communication is an important first step in conflict management or resolution.


Normal conversations almost always involve miscommunication, but conflict seems to worsen the problem. Even if the misunderstandings do not cause a conflict or dispute, they can escalate one rapidly once it starts.

Empathic Listening

Richard Salem writes, "I spent long hours learning to read and write and even had classroom training in public speaking, but I never had a lesson in listening or thought of listening as a learnable skill until I entered the world of mediation as an adult." This essay tries to remedy that situation.

I-Messages and You-Messages

I-messages can be a useful tool for defusing interpersonal conflict. This essay describes how they can be used, their benefits, and their problems.


In the conflict-resolution sense, dialogue is a strategy used to explore deep differences that are not likely to be easily resolved or ignored. In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate but to inquire; not to argue but to explore; not to convince but to discover. This essay introduces the concept of dialogue, discusses why it is needed, and suggests ways to do it effectively.

Unit IV Assignment:

Try using empathic listening and I-messages in real discussions (two different discussions). Then write up a 1-2 page summary for each (two different summaries), explaining what you did and how it went. What did you learn?

Back to Unit Listing

Unit V: Power Issues

Power is another key factor in all conflicts and disputes, although it may not be evident or overtly utilized. It also is not as one-dimensional as many people think. Oftentimes we assume that the rich, strong, and well-connected people are the ones with power, while the rest of us are relatively powerless. If we understand the different sources and types of power, however, we learn that it is not nearly that simple. We all have power — if we know how to find it and use it effectively.


If power were one-dimensional, we could agree on who has more and who has less. However, we are often surprised when a seemingly less powerful party holds a more powerful party at bay. This essay discusses both potential and actual power, the forms power can take, and its role in causing and solving conflicts.

Coercive Power

When they think of "power," many people think of coercion — the ability to force people to do what you want by threatening them with overwhelming force. This is, indeed, one form of power, though there are others. This essay discusses the pros and cons of using coercive power and the forms that such power can take.

Revenge and the Backlash Effect

Most people hate to be forced to do things against their will. Using threats often produces such a large backlash that more problems are caused than solved, as this essay explains.

Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action

One form of coercive power that is less likely to spawn revenge is nonviolent direct action. This is action — such as strikes, boycotts, marches, or demonstrations — that is usually undertaken by a group of people in an effort to persuade someone else to change their behavior. Though sometimes considered "whimpy" or "cowardly," nonviolence can actually take a great deal of courage and be a very strong tool of persuasion.

Exchange Power

Simply, exchange power means that "I do something for you in order to get you to do something for me." However, this simple concept has formed the basis for very complex human interactions. It also forms the basis of all negotiation.

Integrative Power

Integrative power is the power that binds humans together. Kenneth Boulding calls it "love" or, "if that is too strong," he says, "call it respect." Though seldom studied or discussed, Boulding argues that it is the strongest form of power, especially because the other two forms (exchange and coercive power) cannot operate without integrative power too.


Persuasion is the ability to change people's attitudes largely through the skillful use of language. Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a classic example of persuasion.

Power Inequities

Plutarch wrote, "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics." This essay deals with the power inequities that have existed in almost all human societies.


Saul Alinsky wrote, "I tell people to hell with charity, the only thing you'll get is what you're strong enough to get." This essay discusses what empowerment is, how it can be accomplished, who should do it, when, and what the outcomes might be.


Those whose voices are most often silenced include women, children, minority groups, indigenous peoples, and the poor. This essay explains the importance of having a voice, whether it is through voting, holding office, or having a seat at the negotiating table.

Capacity Building

In order to negotiate effectively, parties sometimes need to build their own or others' capacity to respond to their situation effectively by building knowledge, providing resources, or both. This is one of several ways to build one's power.


This essay describes how networking can be used to build relationships and empower individuals and groups to confront difficult conflicts more effectively.

Coalition Building

Coalition building is the making of alliances or coalitions between individuals, groups, or countries who cooperatively work together to reach a common goal. It is yet another way to increase a person's or group's power.


This essay discusses ways that disputants can (and do) address conflicts in constructive ways through activism.

Social Movements

Social movements are groups of individuals who come together around an issue to bring about (or resist) change.

Unit V Assignment:

Go back to the dispute or conflict that you discussed in Unit II or III (or you can choose another one, but that will be more work because you'll have to explain it to me). In 3-4 pages, explain what sources of power the primary parties have and what power strategies (integrative, coercive, or exchange) were used by whom. Also, what other power options might be used in this circumstance? Would these be helpful or harmful?

Back to Unit Listing

Unit VI: Cultural Issues

Just like all the other broad topics discussed so far, culture is inexorably intertwined with conflict on all levels. If one defines "culture" broadly to not only mean ethnic differences, but worldview differences between (for example) men and women; children and adults; labor and management; lawyers and nonlawyers; nurses, doctors, and patients; fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists; it becomes clear that cultural differences are all around us. These essays discuss how these differences can lead to disputes and conflicts — and, as always, how these conflicts can be constructively addressed.

Culture and Conflict

People from different cultures often have such radically different worldviews that what seems like common sense to one side is anything but sensible to the other. Different cultures and worldviews can lead to completely different understandings (or "frames") of a conflict, making resolution a challenge.

Cultural and Worldview Frames

Conflict is inextricably bound up with who we see ourselves to be and what meaning we make of the world. Many conflicts occur when people feel their identities or worldviews are threatened.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. As Edward T. Hall writes, successful cross-cultural communication requires "reorganizing [our] thinking...and few people are willing to risk such a radical move."

Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Differences

A continuation and elaboration of the previous essay, this essay describes various things that are important to know and address if one is to be successful at cross-cultural communication.

Mediation and Multiculturalism

In this essay, the author discusses his experiences with multicultural mediation and suggests ways that mediators can avoid misunderstandings.

Unit VI Assignment:

Go to: This is a list of movies put together by our friends at CDR associates. Scroll down to the section on Gender/Class/Intercultural/Racial Differences and Conflict. Choose one of these movies, rent it, watch it, and write 2-4 pages about how culture affects the conflict(s) in the movie and how these issues are dealt with.

Back to Unit Listing

Unit VII: Escalation and De-Escalation Strategies

"Escalation," Guy Burgess says, "is the most powerful force in the universe." He means in the social universe of course — it can't beat gravity or nuclear forces which hold molecules together — but it can lead to the severing of nuclear bonds in the form of nuclear war! These essays discuss the danger — and also the possible benefits (in some circumstances) — of escalation and what can be done to ensure that it is only used safely and wisely under controlled conditions.

Destructive Escalation

This introductory essay discusses escalation, explaining what it is, why and how it occurs, and why it is so dangerous.


Polarization is closely linked to escalation. Often as escalation occurs, more and more people get involved, and they take strong positions on one side or the other. "Polarization" thus refers to the process in which people move toward extreme positions (the "poles"), leaving fewer and fewer people "in the middle."

Constructive Escalation

Despite the dangers of escalation, disputants often intentionally escalate conflicts. Parties generally do this when they feel their needs are being ignored. This essay examines the risks and benefits of tactical escalation and offers suggestions on how the risks can be minimized.

Limiting Escalation / De-escalation

This is the first of several "solution" essays. This introductory essay describes ways to prevent escalation in the first place, and strategies for de-escalating disputes and conflicts if prevention didn't work.

Cooling-Off Periods

Escalation can sometimes be slowed or stopped by calling for a short-term "cooling-off" period, during which time all the parties stop engaging and step back to look at the situation and consider how they might be able to proceed more constructively.

Escalation-Limiting Language

This is language which can avoid escalation in the first place, or diminish it once it has occurred.

Preventing Interpersonal Violence

This essay examines what can be done to prevent violence at the interpersonal, small group, and community level (as opposed to the international level). The prevention of family violence, gang violence, and violence in schools are examples of topics considered in this essay.

Unit VII Assignment

Choose either the dispute or conflict you discussed in Unit II or III, or the movie you discussed in Unit VI. How was escalation evident in this situation or movie? How was it dealt with? (If none of these situations exhibited escalation, choose another conflict that does and use that one for this 2-4 page assignment.)

Back to Unit Listing

Unit VIII: Negotiation

Negotiation might be considered the "core" or "baseline" dispute resolution strategy. Often done without much thought in day-to-day situations (such as when we discuss what to have for dinner or what movie to see), it can also become very complex and long-lasting, as unions negotiate labor contracts, or businesses negotiate permits with government agencies. These essays discuss the "nuts and bolts" of negotiation.


Negotiation is bargaining — it is the process of discussion and give-and-take between two or more disputants, who seek to find a solution to a common problem. This overview essay discusses basic strategies and tactics of negotiation.

Interests, Positions, Needs and Values

Understanding the differences between these four concepts is essential to effective negotiation.

Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

BATNA is a term invented by Roger Fisher and William Ury which stands for "best alternative to a negotiated agreement." Any negotiator should determine his or her BATNA before agreeing to any negotiated settlement.

Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA)

The ZOPA is the common ground between two disputing parties. The ZOPA is critical to the successful outcome of negotiation, but it may take some time to determine whether a ZOPA exists.

Win-Win / Win-Lose / Lose-Lose Situations

The terms, "Win-Win," "Win-Lose," and "Lose-Lose" are basic concepts in dispute resolution. They are game theory terms that refer to the possible outcomes of a game or dispute involving two sides, and more importantly, what the implications of those outcomes are.

Competitive and Cooperative Approaches to Conflict

This set of materials explores these two different approaches to conflict and the results of pursuing one or the other.


A compromise is a solution to a mutual problem that meets some, but not all, of each of the parties' interests. While compromise is good for repairing damaged relationships, it can also leave both parties unsatisfied, prolonging conflict.


A conflict is said to be ripe once both parties realize they cannot win, and the conflict is costing them too much to continue. This tends to be a good time to open negotiations.

Ripeness-promoting strategies

If a conflict is not yet ripe, that does not mean one should abandon efforts at management or resolution. Rather, steps can be taken to coax the parties to move toward de-escalation.

Most of the negotiation literature focuses on two strategies, although they are called by various names. One strategy is interest-based (or integrative or cooperative) bargaining, while the other is positional (or distributive or competitive) bargaining. Lax and Sebenius were among the first to argue that actually all negotiations are combinations of both approaches: First, negotiators try to "create value" by "enlarging the pie" as much as they can. (This is the approach advocated by interest-based negotiation.) But inevitably, the pie will then need to be divided up, which calls for distributive negotiation. So, they claim that all negotiation is a combination of creating and claiming value, not one or the other as other theorists suggest. The last two essays discuss the theory of "ripeness," explaining when it is and is not time to negotiate and what can be done to make an "unripe" dispute or conflict "ripe" for negotiation.

Integrative or Interest-Based Bargaining

In integrative bargaining, the parties attempt to "enlarge the pie" or allocate resources in such a way that everyone gets what they want.

Distributive Bargaining

In distributive bargaining, the parties assume that there is not enough to go around. Thus, the more one side gets, the less the other side gets.

Positional Bargaining

This type of bargaining negotiates from positions, rather than interests. It is more typical in situations where there is a "fixed pie" to be divided up, or where both sides cannot possibly win, and hence an integrative approach is not possible.

Creating and Claiming Value

In any negotiation, the parties decide whether to be competitive or cooperative. However, some theorists argue that this is a false dichotomy — that all negotiations involve both.

Unit VIII Assignment

Describe a negotiation. You can use one that you were actually involved in or know about, or you can use an instance from a television show or a movie. (The recently-released Thank You For Smoking is a good one, I am told, as are many of the ones on the aforementioned CDR list). You can even use the same movie you used before, but you might need to watch it again. In 2-4 pages, describe: What are the parties' positions? Interests? BATNAs? Negotiation strategies? Did they use interest-based or distributive bargaining? Did they negotiate effectively — or might they have done better? If so, how?

Back to Unit Listing

Unit IX: When Negotiation Alone Doesn't Work

Sometimes, negotiation alone is not enough to resolve a dispute. In such cases, assistance can be brought in — in the form of mediation, arbitration, or other third party intervention, or other techniques that seek goals other than resolution. This unit explores some of those options.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a term generally used to refer to informal dispute resolution processes in which the parties meet with a professional third party who helps them resolve their dispute.


Facilitation is a process in which a neutral person helps a group work together more effectively. Good facilitators can help groups stay on task and be more creative, efficient, and productive.


Mediation is a conflict resolution process in which a third party assists the disputants to communicate better, analyze their conflicts and their options, and develop a mutually satisfactory solution.

Frames, Framing, and Reframing

Frames are the way we see things and define what we see. Framing can be a significant impediment to conflict resolution, and reframing an important part of finding a solution. Bernard Mayer wrote, "The art of reframing is to maintain the conflict in all its richness but to help people look at it in a more open-minded and hopeful way." This essay explains how that can be done.


Arbitration is a method of resolving a dispute in which the disputants present their case to an impartial third party, who then makes a decision for them which resolves the conflict. This decision is usually binding. Arbitration differs from mediation, in which a third party simply helps the disputants develop a solution on their own.


Adjudication is a judicial procedure for resolving a dispute. In the context of ADR, it usually means the traditional court-based litigation process.

Hybrid Processes

A hybrid dispute resolution process combines elements of two or more traditionally separate processes into one. Hybrid processes are generally used when parties believe a dispute requires elements of multiple processes and when a practitioner is skillful enough to fill two roles.

Grievance Procedures

Grievance procedures are a standardized set of procedures to follow when someone has a complaint or a problem. These are frequently used in workplace conflicts. When used effectively, they can significantly reduce the outbreak of intractable conflict.

Consensus Building

Consensus building is used to settle conflicts that involve multiple parties and complicated issues. The approach seeks to transform adversarial confrontations into a cooperative search for information and solutions that meet all parties' interests and needs.

Unit IX Assignment

Find a conflict or dispute that is making a lot of news. Write a 2-3 page paper that discusses the following questions:

  1. How do the different sides frame the conflict?
  2. If you were a mediator, how might you try to get them to reframe it?
  3. Do you see a possible role for a third party in this conflict? What kind? What might he/she do?

Back to Unit Listing

Unit X: The Third Side

One of the best-known conflict professionals in the world, Bill Ury, has developed the concept of "the Third Side," which goes beyond typical third party roles of mediation and arbitration to point out that there are roles that EVERYONE can play in disputes and conflicts to help them be handled more constructively. This final unit explores Ury's 10 third side roles and tries to encourage you to consider how YOU can become active through one or more of these roles in the disputes and conflicts affecting your life.

Third Siders

Third siders act in a community threatened with destructive conflict as an immune system acts in a body threatened by disease. Average citizens such as teachers, journalists, artists and police officers can play key roles in preventing, de-escalating and resolving conflict. Bill Ury has labeled these people "third siders."

Bridge Builders

A relationship operates like savings in the bank; whenever an issue arises, the parties can dip into their account of goodwill to help deal with it. Bridge building, or the act of building relationships, takes place all around us, sometimes without us even perceiving it.


Mediators get involved in a dispute in order to help the parties resolve it. Unlike arbitrators or judges, mediators have no power to define or enforce an agreement, but they can help the parties to voluntarily reach agreement.


Arbitrators listen to the arguments of both sides in a dispute and issue a final and binding decision. Arbitration is used for cases that either cannot be negotiated, or where negotiation has failed.


Educators play a critical role in preventing or de-escalating conflict. Teaching tolerance and critical thinking and helping to break down stereotypes can help disputants manage their own conflicts more constructively.


In Bloomington, Indiana, a group called "Moms on Patrol" walks the streets with cell phones, looking out for dangerous gang activity, and reporting it to the police. By watching carefully, witnesses like Moms on Patrol can prevent escalation of conflict and even save lives. This essay describes what witnesses can do and how they can do it.


When violence breaks out, the community needs to employ measures to stop harmful conflict in its tracks. The police and UN peacekeepers can act as peacekeepers, but it is a community function too. Parents, teachers, and co-workers all can be peacekeepers in their own domains, as described in this essay.


Conflict often leaves deep wounds. Even if a conflict appears resolved, the wounds may remain and, with them, the danger that the conflict could recur. The role of the healer is to restore injured relationships.


Stronger parties often refuse to negotiate with weaker parties. This is where the equalizer comes in. Each of us is capable of empowering the weak and the unrepresented. This essay discusses the role of the equalizer in conflicts.


If and when people do fight, it is important to reduce the harm. Referees set limits on fighting.


Conflict usually arises in the first place from frustrated needs, like safety, identity, love and respect. Providers are those who help fulfill such needs.

Unit X Assignment

Third Side Exercise:

Find a conflict in your community — one that is in the newspaper or one that you know about. What third side role(s) might you be able to play in this conflict to make it more constructive? Briefly describe the problem and what you might be able to do to address it in a 2-3 page paper.