Online Toolkit

Part 4 - Key Concepts, Models, and Tools

Conflict Management, Resolution, and Transformation???

There are different ways of studying and dealing with conflict. In the academic world, there has been a lot of debate on what studies regarding conflict should be labelled. Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution are the two most common terms, however these terms are perceived by some to inadequately capture the true goals of dealing with conflict. Conflict Transformation is a new term gaining popularity, as it addresses the shortcomings found within Conflict Management and Resolution.[96]

Conflict Management refers to actions and activities undertaken to control and handle a conflict with the aim of: limiting its negative effects, preventing the escalation of existing violence, and bringing it to an end – which is why it applies to actions on all levels and tracks.

Conflict Resolution refers to the short and medium term activities, particularly aimed at overcoming the deep-rooted causes of the conflict. It focuses above all on the relationships between the parties. A classical idea in conflict resolution is to distinguish between the positions held by the parties, and their underlying interests and needs. It is thought that, as long as the conflict is translated into the language of positions, interests and needs, an outcome that satisfies both sides' needs can be found.

Conflict Transformation is a more comprehensive term, referring to all those actions and processes that seek to alter the multiplying characteristics and dynamics of a conflict – concentrating on the root causes, over the long-term. [97] It seeks to transform a destructive conflict into a more constructive one, integrating conflict resolution processes, and going beyond the mere management of conflicts.

 Conflict Resolution PerspectiveConflict Transformation Perspective
The key questionHow do we end something not desired?
How to end something destructive and build something desired?
How to end something destructive and build something desired?
The focusIt is content-centred.It is relationship-centred.
The purposeTo achieve an agreement and solution to the presenting problem creating the crisis.To promote constructive change processes, inclusive of - but not limited to - immediate solutions.
The development of the processIt is embedded and built around the immediacy of the relationship where the presenting problems appear.It is concerned with responding to symptoms and engaging the systems within which relationships are embedded.
Time frameThe horizon is short-term.The horizon is mid to long-range.
View of conflictIt envisions the need to de-escalate conflict processes.It envisions conflict as a dynamic of ebb (conflict de-escalation to pursue constructive change) and flow (conflict escalation to pursue constructive change.[98]

Conflict Transformation

Conflict is a natural part of life that can present us with opportunities for creative solutions. When approached openly, it can actually motivate us to change, grow, and deepen our relationships with others.

Yet many of us have been taught that conflict is bad, and that we should either retreat, concede or fight until we win. We usually get stuck in a single approach to conflicts, which inhibits our ability to effectively solve problems. As a result of our past experiences with conflict, many of us are very anxious about interpersonal differences. There are different ways of reacting to a conflict, and one of the most effective ones is to try to transform it.

Conflict Transformation, as described by the peace researcher and practitioner John Paul Lederach, does not suggest that we simply eliminate or control conflict, but rather that we recognise and work with its "dialectic nature." Social conflict is naturally created by humans who are involved in relationships, yet once it occurs, it changes (i.e., transforms) those people, relationships, and events that created the initial conflict. The cause-and-effect relationship goes both ways – from the people and the relationships, to the conflict, and then back to the people and relationships. In this sense, "Conflict Transformation" is a term that describes a natural occurrence. Conflicts change relationships in predictable ways, altering communication patterns and patterns of social organisation, altering images of the self and of others.

What is it?
The art of Conflict Transformation is about shifting our way of thinking – developing an attitude of curiosity and openness, which enables us to create win-win solutions.

What is the goal?

  • to move conflict away from destructive processes, and towards constructive ones.
  • to build constructive change out of the energy created by conflict.
  • to generate creative platforms that can change underlying social structures and relationship patterns.
  • to increase comfort in dealing with conflict.
  • to learn an effective method for responding to conflict.
  • to increase trust and communication in relationships.

The lens as a transformational tool

According to Lederach, "Conflict Transformation is more than a set of specific techniques. It is about a way of looking and seeing, and it provides a set of lenses through which we make sense of social conflict. These lenses draw our attention to certain aspects of conflict, and help us to bring the overall meaning of the conflict into sharper focus." [99]

He uses the lens as a transformational tool. Not just a simple lens but a progressive lens – having three different types of lenses in one frame.

  • Lens # 1 helps bring into focus things from a great distance (very far).
  • Lens # 2 helps bring into focus things from a mid-range distance.
  • Lens # 3 helps one see small things closely (like reading a book or inserting a fish line through a hook).

All three lenses together create the whole picture. Translated into conflict situations, we need:
  1. A lens to see the immediate situation.
  2. A lens to see past the immediate problems and view the deeper relationship patterns that form the context of the conflict. This goes beyond finding a quick solution to the problem, and seeks to address what is happening in human relationships at a deeper level.
  3. A lens that helps us envision a framework that holds these together, and creates a platform to address the content, the context, and the structure of the relationship. From this platform, parties can begin to find creative responses and solutions.[100]

What is the framework?
There are three components, and each of them represent a point of inquiry in the development of a response to conflict:
  1. the present situation,
  2. the preferred future,
  3. the development of change processes linking the two.

The movement from the present to the desired future is not a straight line, but rather a set of dynamic initiatives that create a sustained platform to pursue long-term change. Such framework emphasises the challenge of how to end something not desired, and how to build something that is desired. Remember, Conflict Transformation is a circular journey with a purpose.

Conflict Transformation and Change

Conflict is related to different dimensions of human experience – personal, relational, structural and cultural. "Transformation" promotes constructive processes within each of these dimensions.

  • Personal: Minimise the destructive effects of social conflict, and maximise the potential for personal growth - at physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
  • Relational: Minimise poorly functioning communication, and maximise understanding.
  • Structural: Understand and address root causes of violent conflict; promote non-violent mechanisms; minimise violence; foster structures that meet basic human needs; and maximise public participation.
  • Cultural: Identify and understand the cultural patterns that contribute to the rise of violent expressions of conflict; identify cultural resources for constructively handling conflict.
Human relationships are at the heart of Conflict Transformation!

Where to start?
1) Find a positive orientation toward conflict.
2) Stimulate a willingness to engage in resolving the conflict.
3) Make an effort to produce constructive change or growth.

What to do?
When analysing and thinking about conflict and Conflict Transformation, consider the following:
  • How your history with conflict impacts your current responses.
  • The differences between win-lose and win-win responses to conflict.
  • How to check conflict-escalating assumptions.
  • Centring - a way to be present in the moment.
  • Distinguishing between positions and needs.
  • Enhancing your ability to listen and inquire while in conflict.
  • Finding common ground and achieving win-win solutions. [101]