Every conflict is different, and each one offers a unique combination of factors––the sources of the conflict; its history; the positions and interests of the players, and so on. By understanding these factors and employing peacebuilder’s tools, such as those described below, it is possible to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict.
Here is an introduction to some primary tools that peacebuilders can use to help manage conflict. These tools can be used individually or in conjunction with one another in order to address the unique context of any particular conflict.
After learning about the tools below, take the Peacebuilder's Tools Quiz to test your knowledge and earn a stamp for your Virtual Passport.
Listening is perhaps one of the most important communication tools available to manage conflict. The degree to which people feel listened to or understood is often a significant cause of conflict and can determine how a particular conflict will evolve.
The specific skill of active listening focuses on both the content of statements in a conversation (what is being said), as well as the underlying emotions, values and needs (what is not being said). It involves encouraging the other party to share by asking open-ended questions, seeking clarification, reflecting and validating the other’s feelings, and restating what the person has said to confirm understanding. The purpose of using active listening as a tool when trying to manage a conflict is not just to ‘get the facts’ but also to support the speaker in understanding his or her own thoughts and feelings about the conflict. When people feel listened to and understood, they are more likely to listen to others, and to be more willing to deal constructively with a conflict.
When used effectively, active listening is a tool with the potential to defuse strong emotions, persuade someone to consider different perspectives, improve relationships, and manage conflict.
Every conflict—whether local, regional or international—is shaped by a unique and often complex set of factors that ultimately determine the effectiveness of a peacebuilder’s intervention. Conflict analysis is the process of looking critically at a particular conflict to understand its causes, context, participants, and other factors affecting the conflict. It can help provide a detailed picture of what is happening and help peacebuilders determine what they can do to manage or resolve a conflict.
There are many models of conflict analysis; each offers a particular set of questions about the people, the process, and the problem in order to understand a conflict. A sample of possible conflict analysis questions include:
Peacebuilders can then use the understanding derived from such analysis in order to help them develop creative solutions. In this way, conflict analysis for be valuable as a peacebuilder’s tool.
When faced with a conflict, each person has specific ways in which they tend to respond; these are known as conflict styles. The conflict style may be based on habits, learned patterns, belief systems, or factors such as mood, the nature of the relationship, the significance of the conflict to you, or how much time you have to address it. Learning how to respond constructively to conflict requires understanding what your tendency is when faced with conflict – this is why it is valuable to know your own conflict style.
There are five commonly identified conflict styles:
There are particular uses for—and advantages and disadvantages to—each of the conflict styles, depending on the situation. Generally, a problem solving approach is most likely to result in a win-win solution, where the needs and interests of all parties are sufficiently met.
Peacebuilders can use their understanding of conflict styles in order to respond intentionally to a conflict, rather than just react impulsively. This is a tool that can help seek the most appropriate response to conflict that will best contribute to its management or resolution.
Negotiation is a process of communicating and bargaining between parties trying to reach a mutually acceptable outcome on issues of shared concern.
In negotiation, the parties themselves resolve conflicts that arise from competing needs, interests, and goals. A negotiation occurs when the parties in a conflict both agree that working together will have a better result than acting alone. Negotiation processes often involve getting beyond stated positions (or wants) to uncover each party’s interests or needs (why they want what they want). By exploring interests, parties can often find common ground which can open up possibilities for a creative solution. In this way, negotiation can be a valuable peacebuilder’s tool.
Mediation is a kind of negotiation in which a mutually acceptable third party helps the individuals or groups in conflict find a solution that they cannot find themselves. It is a process that allows those in conflict with one another to listen to and understand each other’s perspectives, discover common ground, brainstorm possible solutions and ideally come to an agreement.
Mediation has been used as an effective method of conflict management in many contexts: interpersonal disputes (such as disputes between neighbors, family members, classmates, roommates, or co-workers), community disputes, and international disputes. An effective mediator must be impartial, patient, and flexible. She or he must also be a good listener and be able to create a trusting environment in which to work.
Collaborative problem solving is an approach that encourages parties to a conflict to reevaluate their attitudes, and it involves both basic negotiation and mediation skills. Collaborative problem solving is a five step process in which those in conflict, often led by a mediator, attempt to:
When mediating a dispute, a peacebuilder can use this skill or tool to encourage cooperation as opposed to competition among individuals or groups in conflict. This can help to reframe their focus towards creative, collaborative solutions.
Take the Peacebuilder's Tools Quiz to test your knowledge and earn a stamp for your Virtual Passport.
Experts from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) discuss the meaning of the term "rule...
The Global Peacebuilding Center, USIP’s youth-focused education program, marked its first full...
© 2012 by the Endowment of the United States Institute of Peace | Privacy / Terms / Accessibility