Conflict resolution refers to a process for ending disputes. A broad spectrum of mechanisms for dealing with conflicts exists across all levels, from interpersonal disputes to international armed engagements. These processes enlist a variety of problem-solving methods to resolve incompatibilities in needs, interests, and goals. Variations in both the methods used and outcomes achieved characterize the differences between conflict resolution and other processes, such as conflict settlement, conflict management, or conflict regulation.
Conflict resolution is an approach to ending conflicts rooted in a normative framework that sees conflict as a normal part of human interactions and thus argues for a particular understanding of resolution. Conflict resolution, when done well, should be productive and maximize the potential for positive change at both a personal and a structural level. Thus, what distinguishes conflict resolution from other dispute resolution processes is its emphasis on participatory processes, party control of solutions, and self-enforcing, integrative solutions. Typical aspects of the conflict resolution process include getting both sides to listen to each other, providing opportunities for parties to meet each side’s needs, and finding the means to address both sides’ interests to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome.
Designing a conflict resolution process requires a broad definition of “parties” to the conflict. This would include people impacted by the conflict, or those who could be impacted by potential solutions. More narrow definitions of parties, limited to decision makers or power brokers, are insufficient because they often ignore parties who can block decisions or who, if excluded, may choose to wage their own round of the conflict.
Getting to resolution also requires the use of participatory processes in which parties have both voice and vote. Third parties may help facilitate a process, but parties should maintain control over both the development and selection of viable solutions. Conflicts may be settled or regulated when powerful third parties dictate or enforce solutions, but this seldom results in eliminating the causal factors.
Conflict resolution further requires the addressing of the deep-rooted causes of the conflict. Processes that address symptoms rather than underlying causes may temporally manage a conflict, but they do not result in full resolution. Although there can be significant trade-offs in the agreement, these must not sacrifice the key issues and needs.
The final criterion for achieving the resolution of a conflict is the building of integrative solutions. To achieve a successful resolution, both parties must have at least some, if not all, of their underlying needs and interests satisfied. If one side leaves the process feeling it has lost, the actual achievement of resolution did not occur.
- Deutsch, Morton, Peter T. Coleman, and Eric C. Marcus, eds. 2006. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Miall, Hugh, Oliver Ramsbotham, and Tom Woodhouse. 2005. Contemporary Conflict Resolution. 2nd ed. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
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