Problem Solving for One: A Brief Synopsis

I was recently exposed to a conflict management process that I had never heard of before – Problem Solving for One (PS1). PS1 was developed by Alan Tidwell and his students at Macquarie University for use in conflicts in which only one party is willing to engage in an ADR process. PS1 can be used to help one party in a conflict determine a strategy to address or, at the least, “reduce the negative consequences” of a conflict. Since the process was developed in 1993, it has been used in different sectors in Australia and the United States from family counseling to departments within the US government.1

In a recent talk, Tidwell noted that PS1 is adaptable, transferable, and portable.2 The process is adaptable because it can easily be modified to suit a variety of context-specific purposes, ranging from family to workplace related issues. PS1 is transferable because it is practical and is easily understood by the participating party. Finally, the process is portable because it results in the party having a written conflict management plan they can use for reference when addressing their conflict.

The PS1 process is executed by a facilitator working with the party. According to Tidwell, PS1 has four central elements: conflict analysis, generation of options, communication strategy development, and creation of a conflict management plan.

Conflict Analysis: The PS1 process begins with the party describing the conflict situation and is followed by a more reflective analysis of the conflict, focusing on the perspectives of all parties involved. Regardless of how the analysis is completed (casually or methodically), it should result in specific problem statements that describe the discrete issues created by the conflict.

Generation of Options: Options are generated for each issue in contention. The facilitator helps the party brainstorm ideas through direct participation in the brainstorming process or by asking questions that provoke idea generation. Once options are generated to address the issues, the facilitator works with the party to understand the costs and benefits of each option. The goal is for the party to reflect critically on how each option would affect all parties involved in the conflict in order to determine which option is most suitable for addressing the conflict.

Communication Strategy Development: After the party has selected the most appropriate option(s) for addressing the conflict, they work with the facilitator to develop a communication strategy, but only if the party intendeds to directly communicate with the other person involved in the conflict. Here, the facilitator listens to what messages the party intends to communicate, how the party intends to communicate those messages, and what risks are involved in communicating with the other side. The facilitator can also role-play with the party, or just have the party talk through what they would like to communicate. Helping the party to develop the communication strategy enables the facilitator to provide constructive feedback about the messages or strategy to further aid the party in refining their strategy before execution.

Conflict Management Plan: After the facilitator and the party have completed the analysis, options generation, and communication strategy, they will have the raw elements for a conflict management plan. The final product of the PS1 process is a plan that is “an outline for future action, designed to decrease the negative aspects of a given conflict.” The facilitator can help the party map out the next action steps for dealing with the conflict, which will constitute the conflict management plan.

PS1 can be used in a variety of settings from workplaces to schools to retirement communities and is flexible enough to help parties deal with a variety of different disputes.



  1. Alan Tidwell, “Problem Solving for One,” Management Development Forum, Vol. 1 (1998),
  2. Alan Tidwell, “Problem Solving for One: What it is, How it is Used, and How it is being Adapted,” Teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution Workplace Section’s Conflict Coaching Committee, Hosted on July 15, 2014.


By |August 24th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

Negotiation & Trust

Trust is essential for creating a wise agreement. As Gary Furlong notes in The Conflict Resolution Toolbox, “One of the core issues in conflict resolution between parties is the issue of trust.” He goes on to state that trust is a “key resource in the conflict management process.”1 Without the appropriate degree of trust, parties’ hostile view of their relationship often leads to impasse.  However, with enough trust, parties can often find accord on even the most difficult issues. As trust plays a crucial role in the negotiation process, I wanted to outline a theory concerning levels or sources of trust and ideas for building trust while negotiating.

Trust Defined

Before outlining the theory, it will be helpful to define trust. Furlong defines trust as “having positive expectations about another’s motives and intentions towards us where potential risks are involved.” Another similar but more academic definition notes that trust is “the willingness of one party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.”2 Both definitions highlight that trust involves the willingness to engage in an uncertain situation that involves exposure to risk.

Levels of Trust

In Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Conflict Diagnosis Approach, Laurie Coltri describes the three commonly cited levels of trust. The levels of trust described by this theory can be conceived of both as distinct sources of trust as well as progressive levels of trust that are attained over time through repeated interaction.3

Calculus-Based Trust: Trust that is based on consequences of compliance or noncompliance imposed within a given interaction. For example, calculus-based trust can lead parties involved in a violent political struggle to the negotiation table if they know that undesired violence will continue in the absence of a negotiated settlement.

Knowledge-Based Trust: Trust based on knowledge of the other person. Coltri states that knowledge-based trust requires “understanding, the other person’s habits, traits, attitudes, principles, and values” and is established “on knowing the other person well enough to acquire the relevant knowledge.” Following the previous example, the parties engaged in violent struggle will establish this level of trust from previous knowledge and experience with one another or through the process of negotiating an end to the struggle.

Identification-Based Trust: Trust based on one person’s identification with another. Identification-based trust is the highest level of trust and stems from individuals seeing “themselves as being ‘as one’ in their goals, values, and needs.” Because this level of trust is difficult to establish, it is unlikely that the parties in our example would establish this level of trust without years of work towards reconciliation.

Building Trust

Successfully negotiating agreement often requires the establishment of a degree of trust. One approach to this task is the use of Furlong’s Triangle of Satisfaction model as a framework for addressing the interests of the other party as a means to build trust. The Triangle of Satisfaction model represents the three types of interests parties have in a negotiation: substantive, procedural, and psychological.

When negotiating with a party where trust is low or absent, open the negotiation with a discussion of the process itself. Discuss an agenda for the negotiation, methods for devising proposals, and ways to determine the fairness of an agreement. You can also talk about ways of communicating throughout the negotiation, who needs to be involved to reach a commitment, and potential risks and contingencies related to the negotiation. This approach allows for a “warm up” negotiation before substantive matters are discussed and creates the opportunity for you to demonstrate a genuine interest in the other side’s perspective. This activity will deepen the other side’s knowledge-based trust in you as a negotiator.

Continuing to build trust through addressing the psychological and substantive interests of the other side follows naturally from collaboratively discussing the process. These two types of interests will be addressed using the same skills. The first step to building trust is through actively listening to the other side’s substantive concerns. Asking open ended questions, exploring the needs, ambitions, and concerns behind the stated issues, and ensuring they have an uninterrupted opportunity to share their perspective.

The second step is to communicate to the other side that you not only have listened but that you understand what they want and why it is important to them. This can be accomplished through periodically summarizing what they have told you throughout the conversation or through summarizing what you learned once they feel they have communicated their perspective in full.

Finally, once you have both shared your perspectives, encourage them to help you find a solution that will meet both of your interests. This can be accomplished through brainstorming, soliciting their advice on how you could best resolve the matter, or developing a plan of action to find and further discuss possibilities for resolving the conflict. All three steps build trust by addressing the other side’s psychological interests of being heard and being involved in devising the final agreement. These steps also address their substantive issues by creating an opportunity to discuss those interests and finding a mutually acceptable solution.

Trust is a key element of a negotiated agreement. Without it, finding agreement will be difficult, if not impossible. In some cases, it will be necessary to build trust with the other side as you negotiate, and in those cases, focusing on their substantive, procedural, and psychological interests will aid in building the trust needed for agreement.


Works Referenced

  1. Gary T. Furlong, The Conflict Resolution Toolbox (Wiley 2005)
  2. Arnaud Stimec and Jean Poitras in “Building Trust with Parties: Are Mediators Overdoing It?” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 26 (Spring 2009).
  3. Laurie S. Coltri, Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Conflict Diagnosis Approach (Prentice Hall: 2009)
By |August 3rd, 2014|Negotiation|0 Comments

The Heart of Negotiation

I have recently given thought to the essence of negotiation. What are the essential goals we as negotiators are trying to accomplish when addressing conflict? Not the goals we are trying to accomplish in a specific negotiation, but the meta-goals we are trying to accomplish in every negotiation. Through consideration of this question, three concepts emerged as the spirit of intent for my negotiation practice. For me, these concepts act as the lighthouse amidst the stormy sea of conflict, and when achieved, allow for contentious situations to be transformed.

Shared Understanding

My first goal is to achieve a degree of shared understanding of the perceptions and problems in contention. This means looking backwards to the past to better understand the causes and conditions that gave rise to the conflict. The depth to which shared understanding is needed to make progress depends on the volume and complexity of substantive and relational interests at stake. When a multitude of issues and interests are in contention, a deeper level of shared understanding is required to make progress.

Achieving this goal often entails being the first to listen to the other side and demonstrating a genuine interest in their perception of the problem. Modeling this behavior generally sets the tone for shared understanding. Actively listening and asking clarifying questions eases a party’s frustration, increases their willingness to reciprocate, and halts or slows the escalation of the dispute. This is, of course, deceptively simple and requires self-discipline to effectively facilitate shared understanding with someone who may be seen (at least situationally) as an adversary. However, without this foundation, it is difficult to shift towards future-focused, problem-solving conversations which address the substantive issues of the conflict.

Pivotal Action

My second goal is to achieve pivotal action. Once the foundation of shared understanding is established, the conversation can transition into a discussion of which actions can be taken to resolve the differences at hand. This ambition focuses on changing the paradigm of the conflict in the present moment, and I am purposively making the distinction of action opposed to the idea of agreement. This is conceptually important because conflicts are managed or resolved through action. Writing a check, making a restorative amends, or drafting a protocol for future interactions between countries are all actions that precipitate other actions that move parties’ to resolution. In the end, negotiated agreements are about which actions will be taken to address the existing differences. The subtle shift from agreement-seeking to action-seeking helps to frame the conversation on two important assumptions. First, that the conflict can be resolved through a series of positive actions, and second, that the conflict will be resolved. In this way, I strive to use language that frames the negotiation optimistically as a realistic path to resolution.

Pivotal actions typically come from creative conversations centrally focused on devising, strengthening, and selecting the best ideas to act upon. Creative conversations consist of three elements. First, all ideas are to be conceptually treated as possibilities. This perspective allows for unrestricted thinking while not committing either party to a specific idea. This possibility perspective, if you will, often helps to further clarify interests and strengthen shared understanding. The second element entails jointly exploring what makes each possibility fair from the perspective of the parties, relying on objective standards when needed. This establishes the basis for determining which pivotal action will best meet the interests of all involved. Finally, posing actionable scenarios and fair standards through “what if” questions energizes creative, action-oriented thinking while respecting everyone’s autonomy.

Sustained Progress

My third goal is to establish a pattern of sustained progress, both within and after the negotiation. Sustained progress is future-focused and naturally flows from a foundation of shared understanding and conversations aimed at generating pivotal action. Sustained progress is demonstrated during the negotiation as the parties shift the dynamic of their interactions in a constructive direction. It also guides negotiators towards the best pivotal action for resolving the conflict by asking – what actions can be taken that will create a lasting resolution? The goal is to shift the relational dynamics within the negotiation enough to make progress while determining which actions will be sustainable into the future.

The form that sustained progress assumes is variable and does not mean parties will become reconciled to one another. In fact, sustained progress may mean the parties desist from communicating in the future. However, if the parties have an on-going relationship, sustained progress will mean they are well positioned to engage in those negotiations from an improved relational paradigm. In this sense, sustained progress means that parties’ joint understanding and action lead them along a path where they are unlikely to relapse into the same (or a similar) conflict.

These three concepts allow the negotiators to strive towards what is essential to reach and implement and agreement. By using these concepts as a navigational goal, negotiators are more likely to meet their and the other side’s interests in the negotiation.

By |July 13th, 2014|Negotiation|0 Comments

Meeting Facilitation: Notes from an Expert

I recently attended an excellent teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Workplace Section.1 The seminar was led by Rita Callahan, a New York-based Facilitator and Organizational Consultant, who shared some wisdom from her nineteen years of experience working in the field. The following are my notes from the call.2

Rita first clarified the difference between facilitative mediation and facilitation, a topic germane to her audience of mediators. She defined facilitative mediation as an activity involving a mediator, a conflict, and a pre-existing process. The mediator utilizes the pre-existing process to assist the conflicting parties in finding a mutually acceptable agreement, listening, and questioning the parties about their interests, options, and alternatives. As an example, she provided a six step mediation process to consider:

  1. Mediator’s Opening Statement
  2. Parties’ Opening Statements
  3. Joint Discussion
  4. Caucusing
  5. Continued Discussion
  6. Agreement Writing

The key distinctions between facilitation and facilitative mediation are the existence of a conflict, which is true in mediation but not necessarily so in facilitation, and the utilization of a pre-existing mediation process.

Facilitation, as a Rita noted, is a term often used but lacking in clear definition. She noted that, in general, facilitation is any activity that makes a task easier for others, and then she further clarified facilitation by listing the following characteristics:

  • Facilitation can be used in business and organizational settings for strategic planning, team building, action planning, retreats, and other purposes
  • Facilitation ensures the design and running of successful meetings
  • Facilitation helps participants to understand common objectives and how to achieve them
  • Facilitated meetings are lead by a neutral party who is impartial to the people and content of the meetings and who structures the process for the group to achieve its purpose
  • There may or may not be conflict involved in a facilitated meeting
  • The facilitator is responsible for the design and execution of the process

Rita then noted some of the core competencies that facilitators should possess, citing the International Association of Facilitators’ core competencies. The facilitator should be able to:

  • Design a meeting process so that the attending group can achieve its purpose
  • Guide groups to appropriate and useful outcomes by building group consensus for decision-making
  • Model professional behavior, honor diversity, manage group conflict, and evoke group creativity
  • Trust the group’s potential to solve their problem by maintaining neutrality
  • Remain focused on the job of developing and executing processes that help the group meet their objectives

Finally, Rita provided specific guidance on useful techniques for designing and facilitating meetings.

Preparation: Solid preparation and planning followed by effective execution of the plan is essential for successful facilitation. Effective preparation helps to prevent conflict in the meeting and enables the group to efficiently meet their goal. Rita said she uses a 4:1 ratio of preparation time to meeting time. For every hour she will be facilitating a meeting, she spends four preparing.

Agenda: When preparing to facilitate, it is critical to have an agenda and to allow the participants to comment on the agenda prior to each meeting. If an issue arises during a meeting that would alter the agenda, the facilitator should ask the group if they want to modify the agenda. Rita noted the importance of seeking the group’s permission to modify the agenda because it is their agenda, their meeting, and their goals – not the facilitator’s.

Personal Connections: In every meeting, there should be a connection point for every person in the room. Even if the participants already know one another or the time spent on making the connection is short, it is an important aspect of the process. For example, have each participant introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting by answering a question, which can but does not have to be related to the substantive issue(s) of the meeting.

Agreements (Ground Rules): Rita used the term “agreements” in the place of “ground rules” (perhaps because it sounds more forbearing than ground rules). She noted that every meeting should have agreements that are brainstormed within the group and agreed upon by the group. The agreements are guidelines for how the participants will interact with each other during the meeting. Rita said that “respect” is a common example of a suggested agreement, and she then used that as an example of a brainstormed idea that could be clarified by the facilitator exploring what “respect” means to the group. The agreements are another measure that helps prevent and address conflict within the group. If the meeting recurs, review agreements with the group before beginning each meeting.

Engaging Participants: When addressing participant engagement, use processes that fit the group’s need for engagement. For example, if a group is identifying open issues that need to be discussed but there is a lack of engagement, have each participant write their top three issues on Post-it notes and then hang the notes on the wall. Another idea for addressing a similar problem would be to move participants into small groups to discuss and share ideas about issues, then prioritize their list of issues. These techniques help break the engagement dilemma while collectively moving the group towards their objectives before bringing ideas back to larger group. The small groups or Post-it note processes help those who may feel uncomfortable in the larger group setting to engage the process.


Sources & Notes

  1. Rita Callahan, “Facilitation: In-Person and Virtual,” Teleseminar hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution Workplace Section, Hosted on April 23, 2014.
  2. This post provides a synopsis of Rita Callahan’s presentation in my own words. This is the information that I heard, not necessarily what she said or meant.

By |June 22nd, 2014|Facilitation|0 Comments

Mixed Motives in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Imagine this: you and an acquaintance, Thomas, went out for drinks last night, and this morning, you wake up in an isolated jail cell with no recollection of what happened. This is obviously disturbing, as you care deeply about your personal freedom. Shortly after waking, the cell door opens, and a criminal prosecutor walks in and informs you that you and Thomas robbed a string of liquor stores last night. He then offers you the following options:

  1. You can confess to all crimes, and if your accomplice remains silent, I will drop the charges against you in exchange for your testimony. Bottom line, you will go free and your accomplice will do 20 years in the state penitentiary
  2. You can remain silent, but if your accomplice confesses, I will drop the charges against him in exchange for his testimony. Bottom line, he will go free and you will do 20 years in the state penitentiary
  3. If you both confess, both of you will do 16 years in the state penitentiary
  4. If you both remain silent, I can only get you on weapons charges and you will both do 2 years in the state penitentiary

He then informs you that he has made the same offer to Thomas, tells you that you have 15 minutes to decide, and walks out of the cell. What do you do?1

This game is known as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” and among other things, it illustrates the divergent motives present in negotiation. Should one compete, striving to get what one wants at the expense of another? Or should one cooperate, striving to maximize the final deal for all parties involved? Negotiation theorists refer to this conundrum as “Mixed Motive Negotiation.” In most negotiations, the parties involved have to address and reconcile the divergent motivations of competition and cooperation. Most often, the question is not which of the two motivations to follow, but how to balance the motivations in the dynamic interpersonal exchange of negotiation. Negotiators are advised to create value (cooperate) with the other side before claiming value. This usually involves balancing integrative and distributive negotiation strategies within a single negotiation.2

Ury, Fisher, and Patton address a similar subject in Getting to Yes. They describe the “hard” and “soft” strategies used to negotiate. Hard bargaining takes an adversarial, goal oriented, and distrusting approach to negotiation where demands, threats, bluffing, and pressure tactics are applied to attain an outcome aligned with the hard bargainers’ expressed positions. Soft bargaining, on the other hand, is characterized by trust, high concern for the negotiators’ relationship, easily making concessions, transparency, avoidance of adversarial exchanges, and easily changing one’s position to accommodate agreement. It is not difficult to see the limitations of each approach: one is too competitive and the other is too cooperative—both pose high risks to the negotiator and his or her ambitions.

The authors go on to note, “Every negotiator has two kinds of interests: in the substance and in the relationship.” Interests are the needs, wants, concerns, and ambitions of the negotiators and/or their constituents. Negotiations involve two or more parties discussing what they want from a deal or their substantive interests in the deal. Negotiations also involve an interpersonal or relationship dynamic. Often, negotiations take place in the context of existing relationships, which intensifies the importance of negotiators’ relationship interests, but some the negotiators’ relationship is short-term and involves a single transaction. Even in such cases, the authors state, “At a minimum, a negotiator wants to maintain a working relationship good enough to produce an acceptable agreement.”3

The tension between a negotiator’s substantive and relationship interests drives the mixed motive dynamic, and makes the job of managing that dynamic a central concern of the negotiation process. Many strategies4 have been noted for managing the mixed motive dynamic.  A few of the more popular strategies are listed below:

  • Tit-for-Tat: Perhaps the most famous strategy for managing mixed motives.  It involves making your first move in the negotiation cooperative, then reciprocating the other side’s response (i.e. if they respond cooperatively, you reciprocate; if they respond competitively, you reciprocate). This iterative strategy often leads parties to the understanding that they are better off by cooperating.
  • Strategically Negotiating: This tactic employs both integrative and distributive negotiation strategies. The integrative strategies are employed for exploring interests and options of both parties to create value in the deal, while the distributive strategies are used for bargaining over the deal’s value.
  • Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-Reduction (GRIT): This strategy was developed during the Cold War for escalated, high stakes negotiation and involves making concessions not related to the main issue, with an invitation for the other side to reciprocate. For example, if two business have been in a patent-dispute, one company may employ the GRIT strategy by offering the other firm a concession that is relevant to their interests, but not directly related to the patent dispute. This technique allows for a de-escalation of the dispute before moving forward with the original substantive concern.

Matthew Guasco and Peter Robinson point out in Principles of Negotiation that a key to managing the mixed motive dilemma is to be aware of your own natural inclination towards cooperation or competition as a negotiator. Being aware of your tendency to compete or cooperate within a negotiation allows you to engage the process more effectively by knowing where in the negotiation you may need to “step out” of the approach that arises from your natural inclination and into the opposite approach for the sake of balancing the competing interests present in the negotiation.



  1. “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Last Modified October 22, 2007,
  2. Matthew Guasco and Peter R. Robinson, Principles of Negotiation: Strategies, Tactics, Techniques to Reach Agreement (Entrepreneur Press: 2007)
  3. Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Random House: 1991)
  4. Peter T. Coleman, “President Obama’s Mixed-Motive Dilemma,” Psychology Today, Last Modified February 3, 2012,



By |June 1st, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

The Two Phase Model of Conflict Management: Differentiation and Integration

The two phase conflict management model is based on the work of Richard Walton from his 1969 book, Interpersonal Peacemaking1, and was furthered by Joseph P. Folger, Marshall Scott Poole, Randall K. Stutman in Working Through Conflict2. The two phase model is simple, yet robust and envisions the conflict management process as taking place in two separate phases.


In the model’s first phase, differentiation, the parties communicate to learn about one another’s positions and interests related to the issues in the conflict. The differentiation phase presents challenges due to the parties’ focus on conflicting perspectives, but it is a necessary step in the conflict management process. The differentiation phase includes the following actions by each party: expression of perspectives regarding the issues in contention, exchange of information relevant to positions and interests, development of a sense of satisfaction that accompanies the expression of grievances, and potential acknowledgement of differing perspectives by the other side.

Due to the differentiation phase’s inherent difficulties – negative emotions, hostility, tensions, and a focus on seemingly irreconcilable perspectives – the parties may begin to avoid or escalate the conflict.

Avoidance. When parties consciously or unconsciously elect to avoid the conflict, they often do so out of concern that confronting the issues at stake may lead to an escalation of the conflict. The parties’ avoidant behavior can assume many forms – ambiguity in communication, suppression of communication, unwillingness to acknowledge differences – but it ultimately results in the conflicting issues not being discussed. Avoidance is more common with affective conflicts (interpersonal conflicts) than substantive conflicts (conflicts about something), but it can be present in both types.

Escalation. If the parties fall into confrontational, threatening, or competitive patterns of communication during the differentiation phase, in which each party is exchanging demands and making negative motivational attributions of the other, the conflict is escalating. Escalation can lead to irritation, frustration, and anger, which tends to reinforce a cycle of negative communication. The potential for the parties’ communication to escalate into negative exchanges during the differentiation stage creates a disincentive for parties to participate in open discussion of issues. The risk of escalation is grounded in in the differentiation stage’s focus on the differences between the parties’ points of view, tensions inherent in communications over conflicts, and the sense of high stakes arising from the outlined differences.

Managing Differentiation. The ability to effectively guide the process away from escalation and avoidance and towards the integration phase is the goal of negotiation. This path is narrow and can be difficult to transverse, but it is essential to move through differentiation to integration for the conflict to be resolved. There are five behaviors that parties should avoid to more effectively move through differentiation into integration:

  • Personalizing the issues in conflict
  • Allowing psychological and emotional barriers to block understanding of opposing positions
  • Engaging in hostile communications and behaviors
  • Allowing uncertainty regarding the conflict’s resolution to derail constructive communication
  • Not developing a solid understanding of the risks of non-agreement

Conflicts are prone to these destructive behaviors, which can lead to avoidance or escalation. When these behaviors arise, it is important for the parties to recognize their deconstructive capacity and for the mediator to monitor the direction of the parties’ interactions to ensure they do not slip into avoidance or escalation.

There are several signs that one or both parties is moving in the direction of avoidance or escalation. Indicators of a party moving towards avoidance include:

  • A decreasing engagement in the process, where one or both parties stops paying attention to the conversation and/or withdraws from participating in the conversation
  • An increasing disengagement from communication focused on controversial issues, problem solving, and/or sharing of information
  • A lack of commitment to addressing issues that have not been resolved and/or communication only focusing on uncontroversial issues
  • Acceptance of proposals without discussion about the proposal or its implementation

Indicators of a party moving towards escalation include:

  • An increasingly tense pattern of communication with subtle hostility and threatening body language, tone of voice, and comments
  • One or both parties continue to repeat themselves and the time spent on any given issue (even basic issues) increases
  • The intensity of the conversation increases, the pace of collaborative activities decreases, and a sense that agreement is impossible increases

In spite of these risks, the differentiation stage is necessary, as it serves as the pivotal point in the management of a conflict. Once parties have exchanged information about their positions, they have the opportunity to shift the focus of the discussion from attributing blame to one another and to move toward the integration phase and potential solutions to their mutual problem. The integration stage allows the parties to find common ground for the contrasting issues they communicated during the differentiation phase.


Integration is the model’s second phase , in which the parties who have previously discussed their perspectives and positions pivot their discussion towards options for resolving the conflict. Though integration is usually less tense than differentiation, parties are susceptible to relapsing back into differentiation if their communications revert from a future-oriented perspective to a past-oriented perspective.

Conflicts that are effectively managed will transition from focusing on the parties differences to focusing on how the parties can cooperatively resolve a mutual problem. This transition can be difficult, but is necessary for progress.

Successfully facilitating the transition from differentiation to integration involves:

  • Both parties’ readiness to move into an integrative conversation. Most often, this change is not synchronized and may require one party to focus on a collaborative approach even while the other party is still focused on differences. This requires a breakdown in tit-for-tat interactions
  • Each party being prepared to pivot the conversation’s focus from their positions and differences to a forward-looking focus aimed at resolution
  • Ensuring the parties have thoroughly explained their positions to each other and all relevant information is on the table. This helps prevent a relapse back into differentiation.
  • Each party should have a clear set of goals and understand the needs that drive those goals before engaging in collaborative, solution-focused dialogue
  • Each party must understand that they cannot push an unfavorable settlement onto the other party. Each party must also understand that they cannot be pushed into an unfavorable settlement.

The two phase model is intended to be implemented as a linear model, starting with differentiation and proceeding to integration and resolution, but it often plays out in an iterative manner, in which the parties begin in differentiation, then move back and forth between differentiation and integration, and finally conclude their discussions with a resolution. For example, imagine a conflict between two business associates. They would start in the differentiation phase by outlining their conflicting perspectives, then move into the integration phase, where they discuss potential solutions to their problem. However, at some point in the integration phase, a misunderstood comment or new information could move the associates back to the differentiation phase, where they will continue to discuss their differences before moving back into the integration phase.

The more effectively the conflict management process is executed, the less likely the process will result in an iterative loop. It is important that as much information as possible is uncovered during the differentiation phase and that the parties maintain a forward-focus during the integration phase to avoid cycling between the two phases. Constant cycling will tire and frustrate the parties, making a settlement less likely.



  1. Richard E. Walton, Interpersonal Peacemaking: Confrontations and Third-Party Consultation, (Addison-Wesley: 1969).
  2. Joseph P. Folger, Marshall Scott Poole, Randall K. Stutman, Working through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations, (Pearson: 2012).
By |May 11th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

Stalemate, De-escalation, and Settlement

Continuing from the previous two posts, The Stages of Conflict and Escalation, this post focuses on the stages a conflict moves through after stagnating as a manifest conflict.

After options for escalation have been exhausted, the parties reach a stalemate, which gives way to de-escalation, settlement, and post conflict tensions.

Stalemate: Dean Pruitt and Jeffrey Rubin in Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement describe stalemate as “the point…neither party can or will escalate the conflict further, though neither is yet able or willing to take the actions that will eventually generate an agreement.”1 When parties have reached the stalemate stage, the conflict has peaked with the parties in a state of balanced power.

De-escalation:  In the absence of new options for escalation or a revived willingness to further escalate the conflict, the dispute will eventually begin to de-escalate. This is a transformation in the conflict that is marked by a continued stalemate, and one or more of the following qualities: a reduction in demands by one or both parties, a revision of the goals of one or both parties, and a change in methods used to resolve the conflict that marks a shift from previously used destructive tactics.2

Settlement:  The stage of de-escalation leads to settlement-focused processes for resolving the conflict. Settlements can take on many forms and may or may not be encompassing of all issues in dispute. For example, two warring factions of a country may agree to cease to engage in violence even though they have not resolved the issues that led to violence in the first place.3

Post Conflict Tensions:  After parties have reached a settlement, there can be a period of prolonged tension between the individuals or groups who were in conflict. The tensions are the after-effects of the conflict and must be carefully managed to avoid a relapse back into an active conflict.

Works Referenced

  1. Dean G. Pruitt and Jeffrey Z. Rubin. Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)
  2. Louis Kriesberg. “De-escalation Stage.” Beyond Intractability. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Last Modified September 2003. Last Accessed February 12, 2014.
  3. Eric Brahm. “Conflict Stages.” Beyond Intractability. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Last Modified September 2003. Last Accessed February 10, 2013.
By |April 20th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments


Continuing from the previous post, The Stages of Conflict, this post focuses on escalation, which is the underlying cause of a conflict moving from emerging to overt to manifest conflict.

As a conflict changes from latent to emergent to manifest, it is escalating from stage to stage. Escalation is a key concept for understanding conflict and how it can evolve. The Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado defines escalation as “the increase in intensity of a conflict.”1

There are five characteristics of escalation identified by Dean Pruitt and Jeffrey Rubin in Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement.2

  1. Contentious tactics used by the parties increase in intensity
  2. The number of issues involved in the conflict grows from a single issue or small number of issues into a conflict with a broader scope, covering a larger number of issues
  3. The conflict’s identified issues transform from specific issues to more general issues
  4. The parties’ ambitions change from meeting the needs or desires which drew them into the conflict to defeating the other party
  5. The number of participants involved in the conflict and/or affected by the conflict grows

Pruitt and Rubin provide two ideas about how and why conflicts escalate. First, they suggest that downward spiraling or ‘tit-for-tat’ interactions between parties both cause and drive escalation. When one party takes action, the other party reacts, causing further action by the party who initially acted. Second, they note, “Conflict, and the tactics used to pursue it, produce residues in the form of changes in the parties and the communities to which the parties belong. These residues then encourage further contentious behavior, at an equal or still more escalated level, and diminish efforts at conflict resolution.” In other words, the residual effect of the conflict acts as both a consequence and a cause of escalation.

Pruitt and Robin also offer five reasons for the persistence of escalation.

  • Selective Perception: An attitude that is held by one party about the other party which occurs when an individual notices information that confirms existing beliefs while ignoring or discounting information that does not
  • Self-fulfilling Prophecy: Occurs when one party’s expectations or beliefs about the other party leads them to act in a manner which elicits a reaction from the other party that confirms their expectations. This can lead to a needles cycle of negative interactions between the parties which was initially based on an assumption
  • Autistic Hostility: Animosity between parties that is caused and driven by the parties’ unwillingness to communicate. The negative perceptions of the other party are reinforced by prolonged breakdowns in communication
  • Overcommitment: A perspective grounded in the belief that the resources committed to a conflict are an investment. The perspective can lead to a conflict’s escalation as one or both parties attempt to recoup their investment.
  • Entrapment: A perspective resulting from prolonged over-commitment in which a party’s “concern with maximizing winnings, which first gave way to a concern with minimizing losses, is now supplanted by the determination to make certain that, even though one is sure to lose oneself, the other player is going to lose at least as much”

Works Referenced

  1. “General Information on Escalation.” Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Last Accessed February 11, 2014.
  2. Dean G. Pruitt and Jeffrey Z. Rubin. Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)
By |March 30th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

The Stages of Conflict

Most conflicts are quickly resolved. However, some conflicts escalate and assume a larger presence in the lives of the parties involved. To best understand how conflicts can change over time, it is helpful to view the evolution of a conflict as a series of stages, with each stage marked by certain characteristics of the conflict and the circumstances surrounding the conflict.

 Conflict Stages

Christopher Moore identifies three stages of conflict in his work The Mediation Process.1 Each stage is characterized by the involved parties’ awareness and participation in the conflict, how the conflict is being addressed, and the degree to which the conflict has escalated.

Latent Conflict: This stage of conflict is marked by underlying tensions experienced by one or both parties that have not evolved into a defined dispute. In latent conflicts, there are tensions arising from a problem that is not fully defined and is known by some, but not all, of the people who will be affected by the problem and participate in the dispute. For example, Woodstock, Vermont is a town with strict zoning regulations that are strongly supported by the town’s citizens. If a real estate company began lobbying the city’s planning commission for a new downtown development that would require certain exceptions to planning ordinances, this would spark a latent conflict. In this example, the problem is known by some people who will be involved in the dispute, but a full definition of the problem and identification of all the parties is missing.

Emergent Conflict: In this stage of conflict, most, if not all, of the issues in contention have been defined, and the parties have been identified and are aware of the dispute. Despite having defined the dispute, conflicts in the emerging stage lack a clear process for resolution, and as a result, have the potential to continue escalating. An example of an emerging conflict is a budget dispute that has emerged between the finance and operations departments of an organization. In this example, the problem is defined, and the people affected by the problem have been identified, but a procedure for resolving the problem has not been established.

Manifest Conflict: When an emergent conflict is not effectively addressed, the conflict becomes manifest. This stage is marked by a prolonged dispute involving contentious tactics by both parties. The parties may have attempted to resolve their dispute and reached an impasse or the parties may never have attempted to resolve the dispute at all. An example of a manifest conflict is the Northern Ireland Troubles, which lasted for thirty years, as the two main communities in Northern Ireland disputed the constitutional status of the island, among other issues. The Troubles were marked by both frequent violence (a contentious tactic) and deadlocked negotiations over the thirty year period.

William Ury uses a similar three step model to identify the stages through which a conflict evolves in The Third Side.2 Ury’s stages include: latent tensions, overt conflict, and power struggle. The difference between Ury and Moore’s work is that Ury classifies conflicts without the potential to cause widespread destruction as an overt conflict, while Moore’s definition of manifest conflict (the parallel between the two models) encompass conflicts that include, but are not limited to, destructive, violent tactics.

Works Referenced 

  1. Christopher Moore. The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict. (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2003)
  2. William Ury. The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop. (Penguin Books, 2000)
By |March 9th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments

Conflict’s Positive and Negative Aspects

Though many of us tend to view conflict as a negative occurrence, it has both positive and negative aspects, which arise both during and as a result of interactions between conflicting individuals or groups.

The Positive Aspects of Conflict

In Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement, Dean Pruitt and Jeffrey Rubin identify five positive or beneficial aspects of conflict.1

  • Conflict contributes to social change ensuring both interpersonal and intergroup dynamics remain fresh and reflective of current interests and realities
  • Conflict serves to “discourage premature group decision making,” forcing participants in the decision making process to explore the issues and interests at stake
  • Conflict allows for the reconciliation of the parties’ concerns, which can lead to an agreement benefiting both parties’ needs, and often their relationship and organizations
  • Conflict strengthens intragroup unity by providing an outlet for group members to discuss and negotiate their interests within the group. Without intragroup conflict, the health of the group typically declines
  • Conflict between groups produces intra-group unity as the conflict provides the opportunity for increased intra-group cooperation while working towards the group’s common goal for the conflict’s outcome

The Negative Aspects of Conflict

Pruitt and Rubin also note that, despite most conflicts being resolved peacefully with positive outcomes, conflict has definite negative and sometimes even severe consequences.

  • Conflict can distract individuals and groups from their primary purposes, leaving them with less time and resources for other activities. When conflict involves the use of “heavy contentious tactics,” it can cause the individuals or groups involved in the conflict as well as individuals or groups not involved in the conflict to divert time and resources away from other needs
  • Conflict can have both short term and long term effects on the physical and psychological health of the individuals involved in or affected by the conflict. In worst case scenarios the psychological consequences can include deep trauma and diminished coping mechanisms
  • Conflict can lead to “collective traumas,” which lead to “chosen trauma” and can be transmitted to future generations in the form of resentment against one’s ancestors’ enemies. Chosen trauma gives rise to group identity and keeps the flame of conflict burning

Our Perspective Regarding Conflict

The potential for conflict to produce both positive and negative results closely mirrors our individual perspectives regarding conflict and can be mapped along a continuum from a positive or benefit-centric perspective on one end to a negative or cost-centric perspective on the other.

Research suggests that an individual’s perspective regarding conflict strongly impacts their ability to effectively address it.2 As our perspective of conflict charts our path for engaging and navigating our differences, our view of conflict must be balanced, realistic, and flexible. Such a perspective recognizes that conflict is a normal, natural aspect of human interaction that inevitably manifests to varying degrees in almost everyone’s life.3 The perspective also understands that, though conflict has potential costs, it does not have to be negative or destructive. When properly understood and addressed constructively, conflict can be managed in a way that minimizes its potential, but not inevitable, negative impacts.

Works Referenced

  • Dean G. Pruitt and Jeffrey Z. Rubin. Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)
  • Ellen B. Zweibel, Rose Goldstein, John A. Manwaring, and Meridith B. Marks. “What Sticks: How Medical Residents and Academic Health Care Faculty Transfer Conflict Resolution Training from the Workshop to the Workplace.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 25 (Spring 2008): 321-350
  • Bernard Mayer. The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention. (Jossey-Bass, 2012)
By |February 16th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|Comments Off