I was angry with my friend :
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
- William Blake (A Poison Tree)
All different types of conflict, from the interpersonal to the international, have some elements in common – but there are also major differences between them. Many writers have pointed out that it is neither necessary nor desirable to attempt to encompass various types of conflict under one general theory. They argue that because different types of conflicts have different frameworks, a general theory is inapplicable, and furthermore that "a special theory for a given kind of conflict can provide greater understanding of the relevant phenomena than could be provided by a more general theory.”1 The examination of interpersonal conflicts and other types of conflicts, from the perspective of the individual, will not provide the conceptualisation in one general theory of the way conflicts are resolved. It may however go part of the way towards providing the outline of an effective nonviolent process of conflict resolution – one which, by extension, is applicable to conflicts generally, regardless of their substance. A focusing on the substance of a conflict may be important in determining tactics. However, as the Gandhian ideal of conflict resolution emphasises an arrival at truth, rather than at victory in the narrow sense, far more importance will be placed on the processes of conflict rather than the substance.
It should be noted at the very outset that a conflict is not "bad" or "destructive"per se. It can be an explicit way to resolve tensions between parties, prevent stagnation, stimulate interest and curiosity; it can be the medium "through which problems can be aired and solutions arrived at"; it can be the root of personal and social change. Conflicts do not necessarily mean either a breakdown within the relationship or community in which they occur – “they are 'normal' and are indicative of the fact that 'real life processes' continue".2 Furthermore, Coser has pointed to the possible political function and importance of social conflict when he observed that conflict can have a binding and stabilising effect on the community by eliminating sources of dissatisfaction, providing warning systems that change is required, and ushering in new norms.3 This observation also holds true for national relations and especially interpersonal relationships.
Conflict and its causes
Conflicts have been described as existing "whenever incompatible activities occur", when two people wish to carry out acts which are mutually inconsistent, when there is "a state of tension between two actors irrespective of how it has originated or how it is terminated", when there is "the active striving for one's preferred outcome which, if attained, precludes the attainment by others of their own preferred outcome, thereby producing hostility", and "when one individual, community, nation, or even supranational bloc desires something that can be obtained only at the expense of what another individual or group also desires”.4
Conflicts can occur between many varying combinations of parties and for a great many different reasons. And they may also take various forms: from personal quarrels, through family, clan and community disagreements; disagreements between individuals and larger groups; disputes between political parties or workers and manage-ment; religious and ideological conflicts; to various forms of international disputes. Conflicts "may arise from differences in information or belief... may reflect differences in interests, desires or values... may occur as a result of a scarcity of some resource such as money, time, space, position [which includes success, pride, authority, status, recognition, etc.] ... or... may reflect a rivalry in which one person tries to outdo or undo the other”.5
The diversity of parties to, and motivational reasons for, conflicts make a precise definition of this expression difficult, if not impossible. For these reasons Fink suggests that a broad definition be used. Although he was specifically dealing with social conflicts, his definition is useful for personal as well as national disputes. A conflict, according to this definition, is any "situation or process in which two or more social entities are linked by at least one form of antagonistic psychological relation or at least one form of antagonistic interaction".6
In Fink's definition, "psychological antagonisms" include such things as incompatible goals, mutually exclusive interests, emotional hostility, factual or value dissensus and traditional enmities; while "antagonistic interactions range from the most direct, violent, and unregulated struggle to the most subtle, indirect and highly regulated forms of mutual interference".7
In other words:
A conflict emerges whenever two or more persons (or groups) seek to possess the same object, occupy the same space or the same exclusive position, play incompatible roles, maintain incompatible goals, or undertake mutually incompatible means for achieving their purposes.8
Conflicts need not have obvious causes, such as a precipitating incident. In all relationships, whether interpersonal or otherwise, there occasionally occurs some form of behaviour which annoys, causes tension to, or engenders resentment in, one of the parties involved. These feelings or the behaviour patterns causing conflicts generally pass with little notice. Occasionally, however, they do lead to open conflicts. The term "conflict" implies a situation in which both actors, or groups of actors, are aware of the incompatibility.9 Deutsch calls this position "manifest conflict" to distinguish it from the underlying tension or "underlying conflict" out of which it may grow. Some small incident may trigger a manifest conflict which may not be concerned with the same issues as the underlying conflict. Conflicts, therefore, need not always be about what they seem: " 'Manifest' conflict often cannot be resolved more than temporarily unless the underlying conflict is dealt with or unless it can be disconnected and separated from the underlying conflict so that it can be treated in isolation."10
Nader and Todd have broken down conflict situations into three distinct evolutionary phrases. First, there is a "grievance" or "pre-conflict stage" in which an injustice, or grounds for resentment or complaint are perceived by one party. This is followed by what they call the "conflict stage" where the aggrieved party opts for confrontation and communicates his feelings to the offending party, that is, both parties are now aware of antagonism. Finally, the conflict enters the "dispute stage" when it becomes public, and third parties become involved.
Conflicts may move from the first to the second phase because of the discovery of a hitherto unknown incident, or the shift could result from one incident too many within a whole string of events, or one that is qualitatively different from the rest. Such "trigger events", however, may be only part of the reason for escalation. The role of outsiders in potential dispute situations must also be taken into account. They may play an important part in either precipitating a conflict into the dispute stage, or preventing the movement of such development. Fitzgerald et al. have noted that an audience can be instrumental in the precipitation of conflicts in situations where an action may otherwise have been scarcely noticed, e.g., where a loss of face occurs. Outside supporters may also precipitate a conflict by bringing otherwise unnoticed behaviour to the attention of one of the parties. Not only can such outsiders give support and aid in the articulation of the problem, but, conversely, they can explain that the party involved is being unreasonable or overreacting, or that there is too much to lose in such a conflict.11
Once a conflict has become apparent and open disputing has commenced, there are many ways of trying to bring about a resolution. A conflict can be said to be resolved, for instance, when both parties have given up any hope of changing or amending the situation. In the Gandhian dialectic, however, conflicts can only be said to have been resolved when all parties are satisfied with the outcome, that is, "when some mutually consistent set of actions is worked out".12 Such solutions obviously greatly reduce the fragility of resolutions.
Ways of dealing with conflict
Disputes are solved in a variety of ways, including coercion, "lumping it", avoidance, mediation, adjudication, arbitration and negotiation. Some of these methods are more applicable than others to certain types of conflict or to certain situations. Those attempting to overcome a conflict by unilateral means, for example, by using coercion or withdrawing, may suffer the personal costs of either making a resolution more difficult than it need be by increasing the antagonism of the opponent or by totally failing to "resolve" the conflict in the sense that the word has been defined above.
(a) Coercion. Coercion can readily be resorted to in conflict situations where one party feels powerless to conduct the dispute in any other way; where power disparities are so great that reciprocity need not be considered, where concern over the crucial issues involved gives way to concern over not yielding, or where "loss of face" becomes an issue. Challenges to beliefs, status and wants continually confront individuals and groups. The usual response to such challenges is opposition, often aggressive, and this can lead to violence. When the resources over which the dispute arose are tangible (money, property, etc.), the dispute can presumably be terminated by sharing, by compromise or by increasing the goods available. Swingle clearly points out that this is not possible with intangible resources (such as beliefs or concepts of "winning" and "not yielding"). In these situations, winning is the value sought and if winning is to have any value, there can be only one winner. He claims that a major factor in "maintaining conflict at a high level of violence is that of the protagonists defining negotiable conflict (focal issue a divisible resource) as non-negotiable (focal issue a non-divisible resource such as "winning").13
The problem of "loss of face" must not be underestimated in conflict situations· Even in disputes over the largest possible stakes, it can be of paramount importance – for example, in the Cuban missile crisis "face" and "pride" as well as "security" were considered important.14 The need for allowing the Soviets a face-saving way out of the situation was stressed by several of the President's advisers. Robert Kennedy, the then American Attorney-General, admitted:
Neither side wanted war over Cuba, we agreed, but it was possible that either side would take a step – for reasons of "security" or "pride" or "face” – that would require a response from the other side which, in turn, for the same reasons of security, pride or face, would bring about a counter response and eventually an escalation into armed conflict.15
Rapoport, in a very useful typology, classifies conflicts as either fights, games, or debates. While we shall return to the notion of "debate" as an ideal for the resolution of conflicts, it is interesting to note here what he says of the other two:
...the essential differences between a fight and a game…..is that while in a fight the object (if any) is to harm the opponent, in a game it is to outwit the opponent . . . a fight can be idealised as devoid of the rationality of the opponents, while a game on the contrary, is idealised as a struggle in which complete
"rationality” of the opponent is assumed.16
A fight (attempted mutual coercion), therefore, involves no strategy. It is blind – each adversary merely reacts to situations as they arise. Such a method of dealing with conflict has the obvious disadvantage that the conflict can never by truly "resolved" and, like the game of "chicken", is dangerous, forcing a protagonist to expose himself to risk of loss (usually substantial) in order to threaten the opponent. In other words, although threat may be expressed unilaterally, punishment tends to be bilateral.
(b) "Lumping it" and avoidance. Many grievance situations do not get to the conflict stage. Rather than being resolved, they are sidestepped by the resignation or exit of one party. This happens either by the process of "lumping", that is, ignoring the issues that gave rise to the problem, or "avoidance" which entails removing oneself from the situation giving rise to the grievance – for example, terminating a relationship. These procedures have obvious costs for the aggrieved person and in the long term may be no solution at all – merely exchanging actors rather than changing the pattern of interaction that caused the dispute. The reasons why these patterns of behaviour are resorted to include a socialised ethic of not causing trouble, feelings of powerlessness, lack of negotiating skills, fear and cost of courts or, according to Felstiner, a lack of suitable alternatives. He claims that in our society "where non-governmental institutionalised mediation of interpersonal disputes are infrequent, some of the slack may be absorbed by avoidance."
The notion of avoidance is that a party may change his behaviour on account of the dispute in such a way that his relationship with the other disputant is, at least temporarily, shrunk or terminated. The dispute, although not settled, is thus no longer a matter which the disputant believes he ought to do something about.17
While "lumping it" has the disadvantage of condemning an individual to continue living in a tension-creating situation, avoidance behaviour also has a great many costs associated with it – both internal and external.
If one "solves" a dispute by severing the relationship with a close friend or leaving a job, the effort taken to find a new friend or job (and the risk that they may not be as good as the old) are the internal prices paid for choosing this mode. These costs could be social, economic or psychological. The psychological cost of avoidance may include attendant feelings of guilt. When an individual limits a relationship
which is socially or personally expected to be intimate or extensive, he may be disturbed by his own breach of social conventions or of his own standards or by his failure to communicate further with a person who has a reasonable expectation that disputes between them will be worked through rather than avoided.18
The external costs are those imposed upon an ex-friend or an ex-employer who must also either find new friends or employees or do with fewer. The avoider may even gain benefits by way of feelings of satisfaction from imposing these costs, but then they may lead to further internal costs if the avoided party decides to retaliate against the avoider. Still, further costs can be incurred by the redirection of hostility that has not dissipated after avoidance measures have been taken. This redirected hostility could be aimed at either an available non-disputant or against the self, creating further external and/or internal cost.
(c) Mediation, arbitration, adjudication. When physical aggression (or other coercive measures) or avoidance fails to successfully terminate a conflict situation, or where interpersonal (or intergroup) negotiations break down, the use of third parties to facilitate a settlement through mediation, adjudication or arbitration becomes likely. Although unsuccessful negotiations often result in third-party intervention (requested or otherwise), it is proposed to deal with these latter methods of conflict resolution first, because, when properly conducted, interpersonal negotiations maximise the probability of a lasting resolution with the minimum of cost to either side.
Of the many disputes where negotiations fail relatively few end up before a court, instead one or both parties may decide, even at this late stage, to resort to avoidance or to some unofficial "forum" that "is part of (and embedded within) the social setting within which the dispute arose, including the school principal, the shop steward, the administrator etc.”19
These situations may involve mediation, arbitration or adjudication. In mediation the third party aids the disputants in reaching an agreement. Both disputing parties have agreed to the presence of the mediator who suggests solutions without any decision-making power. In arbitration situations the disputants have voluntarily abdicated their own decision-making power in favour of that of the arbitrator. In these cases the protagonists explain their perceptions of the conflict situation to a third party whose power to make a decision they have agreed to accept beforehand. An example of such a situation is where two parties voluntarily go to court to achieve the final resolution of a conflict. An adjudication is an autocratic solution whereby the third party has the authority to intervene in the dispute even where one or neither of the protagonists wish it, give a decision and enforce compliance with it. These situations generally occur where one party to a dispute takes court action compelling the other party to join the proceedings even without his or her consent, or where, for example, an interpersonal dispute leads to a breach of the criminal code and, through the intervention of the police, ends up in court. Except for the type of dispute illustrated by the preceding example many disputes that go to court for arbitration and adjudication do not reach the trial stage because of abandonment, withdrawal or settlement.
As Aubert has pointed out, the movement of a conflict from private bargaining to litigation before a law court involves the risk of total loss for one of the parties.20 This obviously is not in the interest of either side, especially when court costs are taken into account. Why then is this "non-rational' behaviour resorted to?
Conflicts are generally terminated in one of two ways: compromise, where both parties win something and lose something, or by a decision based on fault, where the outcome is one of zero-sum, that is, the winner takes all. Some writers believe that in Western industrial societies we, unlike less complex societies, ever increasingly rely on the latter model:
As societies become more complex and stratified, and hence tend to emphasise rule enforcement as the objective in settling disputes, a different set of institutions is required for the maintenance of order. Instead of institutions directed towards the achievement of compromise and the maintenance of solidarity, institutions designed to sanction the breach of norms are required.21
Others, like Unger, claim that as societies become ever more complex, become welfare and corporate states, the opposite trend operates. The rule of law is undermined and tendencies creating a shift towards democratic communities that "look for an alternative to the idea of legality in the notion of a community bound together by a shared experience and capable of developing its own self-revising customs or principles of interaction''22are strengthened.
The first scenario points to inbuilt biases in our social structure against compromise and mediation, the second, as the shift from the ideological to reality occurs, sees a great possibility for compromise to play an expanded role in the solution of social conflicts.
Whichever scenario is accepted, it must be noted that some forms of conflict are inherently less amenable to negotiation or compromise. In situations of scarcity (that is, where a conflict of interests exists) the usual remedy is achieved through negotiation, but where there is a dissensus (that is, the conflict is one of values) these remedies are not quite as obvious:
As long as a conflict of interest remains relatively pure, it is amenable to solutions through bargaining and compromise on the condition that there is something to give and something to take on both sides . . . When a clash of interests has become associated with a dissensus, bargaining and compromise may be harder to achieve, while the conflict has on the other hand, become amenable to a solution through the intervention of law in the broadest sense.23
Although clashing values by themselves may lead to overt conflicts, where one party attempts to convert the other, they tend to result in avoidance. While clashing interests tend to bring people together and increase the likelihood of disputes, clashing values tend to keep people apart creating little likelihood of conflict or the need for resolution. A combination of the two types of clashes, of value and interest, therefore, facilitates the appearance of the dispute in the courtroom – the clashing interests bringing the parties together and the clashing values making compromise difficult.
Besides these "built in" tendencies there are many other factors which can come into play steering a conflict into the generally zero-sum (or to use Aubert's phrase "non-rational") procedures of arbitration and adjudication. These include the overestimation of the likelihood of victory by both sides, the provision of a "moral test case for the individual, which the settlement out of court could not have", the ability to pass costs on to others,24 an unwillingness to bargain over one's perceived moral rights, ill-feelings towards the opponent which preclude negotiations, negotiations with an opponent being seen as moral weakness making defeat at the hands of a judge preferable, the setting of precedent on which similar future claims can be based, the role played by outsiders who may create fear of being seen as having sold out, and the avoidance of responsibility and blame for not having done enough to defend the interests involved – especially if the litigant is not alone in the dispute, for example, if family, partners or colleagues are also involved.25
(d) Negotiation. When facing a conflict there are alternatives to coercion or the reliance upon the judgement of third parties. Like mediation, negotiation is a search for an outcome that is adequately suitable to both parties, but unlike mediation, the dispute is settled bilaterally, that is, the two parties are themselves the decision makers.
The first two of the above methods can be termed competitive modes of conflict resolution, being generally characterised by the presence of a third party with decision making powers, coercive power, emphasis on norms, looking at past behaviour, verdicts, zero-sum decisions and guilt findings. The latter two examples, on the other hand, can be termed compromise modes. They are characterised by the bilateral meeting of the parties involved, the lack of coercive power, emphasis on the pursuit of interests, looking to the future of the relationship, agreements, compromise decisions and the avoidance of guilt or innocence as an issue.26
Negotiations are attempts to arrange a new combination of some of the common and conflicting interests of the parties but they can only result in agreement "if there exists at least one set of terms that each party would prefer to having no agreement.”27 Negotiators have various choices open to them, they can accept the other party's offer or propose a preferred alternative. They can also push the dispute to the position where the intervention of a third party becomes a probability either "by refusing to consider the issues further, by refusing to hear the other's views, or by walking out and refusing to return”,28 that is, by accepting the status quo.
Negotiations have the advantage over the other methods of dispute settlement already discussed in that they are most likely to effect lasting resolution to conflict as well as reduce dependence on "experts" thereby making the parties self-reliant, giving them control over important decisions that need to be made concerning their own lives. As a dialectical process negotiations also occasionally aid the discovery of entirely new approaches to the problem:
The outcome of a negotiation is essentially one that, in each party's opinion in the perceived circumstances, is at least satisfactory enough and is perhaps considered to be the best that is obtainable. It often represents a compromise between the parties' initial demands and expectations but there may be in part or whole, the joint creation of some new terms not originally conceived of by either party.29
Further than that, negotiations offer the opportunity for personal growth by exposing each party to the views of the other, providing a situation for learning – the decision being “the culmination of an interactive process of information exchange".30This prevents personal, and in the long term and on a larger scale, social and national stagnation – when an agreement between the parties is reached "the position of each has been subtly changed not only by terms offered, but by its experience of the other and exposure to the other's persuasion".31
Destructive versus productive conflict
A conflict can be termed "destructive" when "the participants in it are dissatisfied with the outcomes and they feel they have lost as a result of the conflict". It is "productive" "if the participants are satisfied with their outcomes and feel that they have gained as a result of the conflict".32
Destructive conflicts have a tendency to expand and escalate, becoming independent of the initiating causes – often continuing after these have become irrelevant or have been forgotten. Expansion can occur in the size and number of the issues involved, the size and number of principles and precedents seen to be at stake, the costs participants are willing to bear, the intensity of negative attitudes to the opponent and the number of norms of moral conduct from which behaviour towards the other side is exempted.
Deutsch points out that the outcome of a conflict is never totally determined by objective circumstances, and that actions of the participants are not inevitably determined by external circumstances: "Whether a conflict takes a productive or a destructive course is thus open to influence even under the most unfavourable conditions.”33
If this is correct then the onus is placed on each individual to ensure that rather than the conflict becoming a competitive encounter in which as one gains, the other loses, the encounter remains cooperative and thus maximising the chances of a productive conflict resolution.
In a cooperative context a conflict is seen as a common problem in which the opponents "have the joint interest of reaching a mutually satisfactory solution". This process is likely to lead to a productive conflict resolution because "it aids open and honest communication of relevant information between the participants" reducing misunderstandings "which can lead to confusion and mistrust", it tends to limit rather than expand the scope of the conflict by encouraging "the recognition of legitimacy of each other's interests and of the necessity of searching for a solution which is responsive to the needs of each side", and "it leads to a trusting, friendly attitude which increases sensitivity to similarities and common interests, while minimising the salience of differences.”34
(a) Behaviour promoting destructive conflict. If parties to conflict undergoing negotiation or mediation go in with a winner-take-all attitude a lasting "resolution", using the term as it was defined at the beginning of this chapter, is well nigh impossible. In these situations "one party marshalls all its forces to compel the other party to do what the first has decided it wants. Confrontation is from a fixed position and seeks to mobilise the power to win.''35
When parties negotiate they are generally trying both to elicit concessions from an opponent and to resolve the dispute by coming to an agreement. In practice, especially if too much emphasis is placed on the first aim, each party will often endeavour "to coerce or lure its adversary into making maximal concessions while conceding as little as possible itself".36
In order to do this various pressure tactics are used in an effort to persuade the opponent to yield. These tactics include threats, refusal to negotiate over certain issues, coercion, deception, punishments and the use of illegitimate techniques which violate the values and norms governing such interactions.
A study by Wilson and Bixenstine of interpersonal bargaining indicated that unjustified insult, unfair reduction of one bargainer's outcomes by an opponent, or other behaviour posing a threat or damage to "face" usually resulted in retaliation and mutual loss rather than in cooperative effort.37
This experiment indicates that when bargainers (negotiators) "have been made to look foolish and weak before a salient audience, they are likely to retaliate against whoever caused their humiliation. Moreover, retaliation will be chosen despite the knowledge that doing so may require the sacrifice of all or large portions of the available outcomes".38
Likewise Siegel and Fouraker concluded from the results of their experiments that “Some negotiations collapse when one party becomes incensed at the other, and henceforth strives to maximise his opponent's displeasure rather than his own satisfaction.”39
Promises and threats are employed as measures attempting to affect the opponent's behaviour "by altering the perceived gains and cost of his alternative course of action through linking an externally imposed reward or punishment to his relevant alternatives". Their use is based on the assumption that "the other must be externally motivated to comply with one's wishes”.40 Negative sanctions, that is, threats and punishments, and inappropriate sanctions tend to elicit more resistance than do positive sanctions such as promises and rewards. Threatening behaviour is not at all conducive to the discovery of a cooperative solution to a conflict – as Deutsch has pointed out: "Threat induces defensiveness and reduces the tolerance of ambiguity as well as openness to the new and unfamiliar; excessive tension leads to a primitivisation and stereo-typing of thought process.''41
Many consider that "toughness" is a good strategy to be employed in negotiations – a "tough" negotiator being one who starts with high demands and either makes concessions only hesitantly or not at all. Under some circumstances toughness can be a good tactic. Experiments conducted by Bartos found that "those who were tough tended to receive a higher payoff than those who were soft”42
but he went on to explain that "the main reason for this was the fact that toughness in the bargaining situation did not impede progress towards an agreement too seriously",43
the toughness was of style. Where toughness becomes "positional commitment" negotiations must break down. Positional commitments, for example non-negotiable demands, involve "communicating inflexibility to the adversary, making it clear to him that no more concessions are forthcoming and that he will have to concede in order to resolve the controversy".44
Being tough, when the absolutely minimum acceptable payoff to the opponent is known, will increase the likelihood that negotiations will fail. Being tough, even where there is no subjective positional commitment, can have another drawback:
...a tough person is, by definition, one who demands more than is fair. And demanding more than is fair will be rejected as soon as the unfairness of the demand is obvious . . . Given this hypothesis, the finding that toughness is a good strategy can be placed in proper perspective. This generalization holds for negotiations that start without realistic beliefs about the opponent's payoff. For negotiations which start with realistic beliefs, toughness is less advisable and may be even a definitively bad strategy.45
Deception easily creeps into a competitive situation where one or both parties are trying to enhance the credibility of their threats while trying to diminish the credibility of the opponent's threats. Even if deception does not enter the conflict, poor communications, which can be as destructive, are an almost inevitable result of the competitive process. Suspicions and hostile attitudes, which play up the differences and minimise the points of similarity between the parties, make a satisfactory resolution to the conflict at hand ever more difficult.
The use of pressure tactics can be summed up by quoting Pruitt where he maintains that they
are often only partially successful or tend to cancel each other out. In such cases they only serve to delimit the outer boundaries of the solution to the problem, the points beyond which each party cannot be pushed. They do not lead to a specific solution.46
Finally, the violation of values and norms which govern interactions in given situations also have the effect of making a cooperative effort to resolve a conflict more difficult than need be. These rules of "fairness" include rules which are content specific, that is, they specify the appropriate solution to a given problem (for instance, accepting that loud music after midnight is unreasonable), rules of equity which dictate that disputes be settled on the basis of an interpretation of notions of fairness or reciprocity, and finally, mutual responsiveness where each party is expected to make concessions to the extent that the other party demonstrates its need for these concessions.47
Although competition is the normal method of conflict solution, the destructive nature of unregulated competitive conflict is well recognised and consequently it is limited and controlled by institutional forms (e.g. the legal system), rules for conducting negotiations, and various social roles (e.g. lawyers and police) and social norms such as "justice", "nonviolence' and "fairness”.48
(b) Behaviour facilitating productive conflict. When pressure tactics are employed to seek resolution of a dispute it is often found that they are incompatible with the aim of persuading the adversary to make concessions, and further, such tactics actually subvert the aim of resolving the conflict.49
A cooperative process, which is more likely to result in productive conflict resolution, employs the strategy of persuasion and the tactics of conciliation, minimisation of differences and the enhancement of mutual understanding and goodwill.50
The aim is to maintain open and honest communication of all information relevant to the participants, thus reducing the likelihood of the development of misunderstandings which often lead to confusion and mistrust. The cooperative process entails the recognition of the legitimacy of the adversary's interests and of the necessity to engage in the search for a solution that adequately meets the needs of both sides. Positions, therefore, should be stated in terms of the problem to be solved
rather than a solution to be accepted by the adversary.
This process is analogous with the third mode of conducting a conflict in Rapoport's typology, that is, debate. According to Rapoport, a debate, having the objective of convincing the opponent and making them see things as you see them, is composed of three elements. These can be summarised as (a) conveying the message to the opponent that they have been heard, and understood, (b) delineating the region of validity of the opponent's stand, and (c) inducing the assumption of similarity.51
In order for this to be done successfully the opponent must not be threatened, a relationship of trust and mutual responsiveness must be built up. It should be remembered that it is easier to move in the direction of cooperation to competition than from competition to cooperation. "Trust when violated", observes Deutsch, "is more likely to turn into suspicion than negated suspicion is to turn into trust."52
Trust can be built up by showing a positive interest in the opponent's welfare, and demonstrating a readiness to respond helpfully to their needs and requests. There are however the obvious problems with trust – what if opponents take advantage of a trust-inducing or breakthrough-creating action (such as a unilateral concession) for their own ends? Or if such concession is interpreted as a sign of weakness and thus emboldens the opponent to make more vigorous use of pressure tactics against the one offering the trust-inducing concession? Of course this may happen, but all too often conflicts are conducted on the assumption that it will happen if the parties are not sufficiently tough. The co-operative method of conflict resolution does involve the taking of some risk, however this risk is far less than the risk of the loss of a mutually acceptable resolution incurred by the use of pressure tactics.
The other main element of a "debate" is the emphasis placed on mutual responsiveness and reciprocity. This first step in building up the climate for these elements starts with the self. It requires giving others the credit one gives oneself and an undoing of the normal bias "towards perceiving one's own behaviour towards the other as being more benevolent and more legitimate than the other's behaviour towards oneself".53
While mutual responsiveness is reasonably altruistic in the first instance, being governed by the other party's needs, it, like the well established norm of reciprocity (you should help those who have helped you and you should not injure those who have helped you), assumes that in the long term such actions will be repaid. In short, "if you want to be helped by others you must helpthem”.54
When people or groups enter into a relationship with other people or groups, an expectation is built up that they will be attentive to the others' needs. This norm however also operates in situations where there is no close relationship and even in situations where power differences might invite exploitation:
The norm thus safeguards powerful people against the temptations of their own status; it motivates and regulates reciprocity as an exchange pattern, striving to inhibit the emergence of exploitative relations which would undermine the social system and the very power arrangements which had made exploitation possible.55
Mutual responsiveness can be developed outside of the close relationships in which it is the expected mode
of interaction by the performing of acts of generosity:
One party must necessarily start the ball rolling by being generous, and his behaviour at this time may well be an effort to ingratiate or an expression of initial attraction towards the other party. The fact that the ball continues rolling may at first be a matter of reciprocity, with the other party reciprocating this reciprocity. But eventually a norm of mutual responsiveness emerges that is quite distinct from such historical origins.56
Bearing these factors in mind Rapoport's ideal cooperative form of conflict resolution is forwarded as the most productive method, the one most in keeping with the Gandhian tradition, and the one upon which a satyagraha campaign can be superimposed without contradiction.
Rapoport claims that where most debates fail in modifying outlooks the failure can be traced to either the unwillingness or the inability of the parties to listen to each other. The first step for overcoming this potential stumbling block is the removal of threat by the conveyance of assurances that the opponent has been clearly and accurately understood. The best method of doing this is by stating the opponent's case back to them, for in order "To make a dent in the opponent's mental armor, you must make him listen, and something he is sure to listen to is his own case.''57
Usually in a debate we point out the grounds on which we consider the opponent's position to be invalid. Rapoport argues that if we want to reduce threats to the opponent, this procedure must be reversed – we should point out "conditions under which the opponent's point of view is valid". Having shown that their point of view has been understood, they should be invited to perform the same exercise with respect to us. This is difficult because there are no rules for such a procedure. This however may be advantageous, for, as Rapoport points out, if there were such rules a game could ensue where the opponent became suspicious that they were being outwitted.
The object of this procedure is to induce the opponent to treat you the way they would wish to be treated, to induce them to assume that you are like him; that if he feels that he deserves to be believed and trusted; that if he feels that he has been relieved by the removal of threat, then it is to his advantage to relieve you, in order that threats…..do not interfere with the cooperative potentialities of the situation.58
With this reversal of the normal procedure of conflict handling, one's own shortcomings and aggressive urges are not imputed to the adversary, instead:
one seeks within himself the clearly perceived shortcomings of the opponent. The opponent often seems stupid or rigid or dishonest or ruthless. It will serve us well to ask ourselves to what extent we resemble him... To convince, we must be heard, and to be heard, we must be listened to; people listen most attentively to what they like to hear; they like to hear their own shortcomings projected on others, not others' shortcomings projected on them. Our ultimate purpose in raising questions about ourselves is to induce the opponent to raise similar questions about himself. We see ourselves as intelligent, honest and considerate. It will serve us well to imagine that the opponent possesses these qualities to some degree. Maybe he does not, but maybe this "delusion" of ours will induce a similar delusion in him about us.59
Although if one opponent in a conflict is committed to a zero-sum outcome while the other is seeking a cooperative resolution "the usual tendency for such asymmetries in orientation is to produce a change toward mutual competition rather than mutual cooperation'',60 this is not the inevitable outcome. The Gandhian model of conflict resolution rests upon the assumption that a committed individual will be able to resolve conflicts in a productive way if they put maximum effort into the process. Spiegel has established that in conflicts between partners in a close relationship, conflicts do move from the competitive to the cooperative.61 The Gandhian model rests on the belief that this is also possible in other more distant relationships.
The successful resolution of manifest conflicts, even where the underlying conflicts are completely sidestepped, can also still be useful. The productive resolution of conflict is a learned procedure, and even though our society sets great store by teaching competitiveness and conflict suppression and provides little formal training in the techniques of constructive conflict resolution or provides few institutional resources to aid such actions, each small victory for productive conflict is a step in the right direction. The successful management of manifest conflicts may give the parties the confidence to face more fundamental conflicts in the future.
Likert and Likert come to the same conclusion, arguing that our entire mode of interaction within conflict situations is learned. If zero-sum and other inadequate methods of dealing with conflict are learned, then, they argue, "more effective ways can be learned equally well and, through socialisation, can be passed on from person to person and from generation to generation”.62
In conclusion, to quote Curle:
It is within the capacity of everyone to increase the number of peaceful relationships in which he is involved, and to decrease the number of unpeaceful ones. If our concepts of peace and unpeacefulness, and consequently our objectives, are clear, there are several spheres of life in which we can take action and in doing so possibly have an effect (though often too indirect and obscure for recognition) upon a larger sphere.63