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

The Art of Persuasion

Persuasion is an essential skill for negotiators, but the best method of being persuasive is often unclear.  William Ury recently lent insight to this subject outlining a five point process for being persuasive.  His article, “The Five P’s of Persuasion: Roger Fisher’s Approach to Influence,” is based on notes Ury took when he worked with Fisher in the late 1970s.1 For those familiar with either Fisher or Ury’s work, the five concepts are classics of the Principled Negotiation school of thought.  The following points outline the 5 P’s of Persuasion:

Purpose.  When negotiating, it is important that a clear and practical purpose be defined.  One of the first ideas Fisher shared with Ury was “Be purposive. Look forward, not back.”  Fisher used to begin meetings with, “What’s our purpose here?”  This focus on purpose helps lead disputing parties away from a past-focused orientation, which usually involves assigning blame, to a future-focused orientation where progress (even if it is incremental) can be made on the issues in dispute.

Perceptions.  After understanding the purpose of the negotiation, one must develop an understanding of each party’s perceptions of the issues in dispute.  When addressing conflict, facts have their place, but understanding the parties’ perceptions of the facts is more important to the negotiation process.  Discussing of the validity of each party’s perceptions can provide a pivoting point to focus parties on how to move forward towards a mutually acceptable resolution.

Problem Solving.  Having defined the purpose and explored perceptions, the next step is to determine options that may resolve the conflict. Fisher used a four step method of analysis to aid in the problem solving endeavor. First, define the problem or “what was wrong.” Second, explore the need, or “what was missing or needed,” which was causing the problem. Third, suggest an approach or “how could the need be met.” Forth, suggest an action-idea or “what operational steps could be taken to carry out the approach.” Ury notes that this approach was what inspired his idea for the Circle Chart used in Getting to Yes.

Proposition.  Effectively defining purpose, understanding perceptions, and problem solving should culminate in a proposition. The proposition should be a solution the party or parties can realistically accept. Ury notes that a proposition should be conscious of the parties’ “presently perceived choice.” In other words, you should consider both the benefits and drawbacks for the other side should they accept or reject your proposition. This analysis can open the door to further practical discussions about what can be done to make your proposition more attractive. Fisher did not believe that the proposition needed a fifty-fifty chance of success, but that it should be crafted in such a way as to make it as easy as possible for the other side to accept.

Process.  Though negotiations tend to focus on substantive issues, Fisher believed that focusing on process while viewing the conflict as a collection of smaller more manageable issues was a better approach. Ury wrote, “Roger approached international conflicts not as predestined and immovable forces of history but essentially as differences to be coped with, problems to be managed through good process.” By viewing conflict as a situation that needs a single solution opposed to an opportunity to generate issue-specific solutions parties miss the opportunity to make progress. A key aspect of Fisher’s process, which he and Daniel Shapiro describe in Beyond Reason, is the concept of “ACBD” or “Always Consult Before Deciding.” When applied, this idea creates room for the other side to impart their advice and perspective about the problem and its solutions. This “consulting” approach creates an opportunity for them to take partial ownership of a potential solution, which increases the likelihood of the end proposal’s acceptance.

Fisher’s mark on the field of conflict resolution cannot be overstated, and yet the concepts canonized in his works with his associates at the Harvard Negotiation Project are incredibly simple and straightforward.  Ury’s synopsis of Fisher’s approach to persuasion is yet another example of the power of Fisher’s straight forward ideas for resolving differences between individuals, organizations, and nations.

Works Referenced

  1. William Ury, “The Five P’s of Persuasion: Roger Fisher’s Approach to Influence,” Negotiation Journal (April 2013): 133-140.
By |January 26th, 2014|Negotiation|Comments Off

A Story of Conflict: The Northern Ireland Troubles

The story of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the violent conflict that embroiled the province from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, is the story of a multi-faceted conflict, involving many individuals and groups with opposing interests and means of achieving those interests.  The Northern Ireland Troubles provides an ideal case study of a conflict once seen as intractable.  An understanding of the intricacies of the Troubles provides both a realistic view of the seemingly insurmountable difficulties inherent in managing conflict, and hope that even situations, which seem impossible to resolve do in fact contain the seeds of transformation and resolution.


The genesis of the Northern Ireland conflict can be found in the birth of the province itself.  In 1921, the island of Ireland was partitioned into the Irish Free State, which would later become the Republic of Ireland, comprised of the island’s twenty-six southern counties and Northern Ireland, which contains the six northeastern counties in Ulster.  The island was partitioned to satisfy the interests of two groups:  the predominantly Catholic, Irish Nationalists and Republicans who sought independence from Britain, and the predominantly Protestant, British Unionists and Loyalists who primarily lived in the northeastern six counties and desired to remain a part of the United Kingdom.


Unionists & Loyalists.  The community of citizens in Northern Ireland whose constitutional and territorial aspirations were to remain a part of the United Kingdom.  This group was overwhelmingly Protestant and is primarily represented by two political parties: the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).  Unionism in Northern Ireland was characterized by several qualities including:  traditional opposition to the involvement of the Republic of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland; traditional opposition to power-sharing arrangements with Nationalists and Republican political parties; and a distrust of Britain’s commitment to the union, despite their desire to remain a province of the United Kingdom.

Nationalists & Republicans.  The community of citizens in Northern Ireland whose constitutional and territorial aspirations were to secede from the United Kingdom and join the Republic of Ireland.  Nationalists and Republicans were overwhelmingly Catholic and were primarily represented by two political parties: the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Féin.  The historical differences between the SDLP and Sinn Féin involved the means by which Northern Ireland should be joined to the Republic of Ireland.  The SDLP sought a non-violent, political approach to the resolution of the conflict, while Sinn Féin was generally accepted as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army which pursued an armed struggle.

 Paramilitary Organizations.  In both the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland paramilitary organizations emerged and engaged in various forms of physical violence as a means of advancing their political interests.  The largest Republican paramilitary involved in the Troubles was the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which initially emerged to protect the Nationalist community from Loyalists and British security forces, but later actively targeted British armed forces, Unionist political leaders, and police through bombings and assassinations.  Many citizens, both Protestant and Catholic, were also killed or wounded through PIRA violence.  The majority of the PIRA’s most notorious acts of violence were bombings.  The Loyalist paramilitary organizations, like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), claimed to be reactionary organizations playing tit-for-tat with Republicans, however there were notable acts of Loyalist violence, which were seemingly unprovoked.  Though the Loyalist paramilitaries used bombs, their primary means of violence came through the use of guns and knives.

The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.  Both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic had significant roles in the conflict.  The traditional British view was that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.  However, the Republic of Ireland, through Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, laid claim to all 32 counties of Ireland, including the six counties of Northern Ireland.  As the conflict progressed, both governments worked together to address the violent dispute, and through a series of agreements, both governments accepted the principle of self-determination as the deciding factor in whether or not the six counties of Northern Ireland would remain part of Britain or join the Irish Republic.


Like most intractable conflicts, the Northern Ireland Troubles were multi-dimensional in both causes and drivers of the conflict.  The three broad areas of national identity and aspirations, inequality, and the process for resolving the conflict capture the essence of the struggle.

National Identity & Aspirations.  The national identity and ambitions of the two main communities in Northern Ireland were a significant contributor to the conflict.  The essence of the conflict was between those who considered themselves Irish and wanted an end to the partition of Northern Ireland and those who considered themselves British and sought the continued partition of Northern Ireland as a British province.  The predominantly Catholic Nationalists, who considered themselves Irish, saw the conflict as a struggle for independence against the politically dominant Unionist majority and the British government that was protecting a colonial and territorial interest.  The predominantly Protestant Unionists, who considered themselves British, believed that they were the minority in the broader context of the island of Ireland and were using their political dominance in the province to protect their community and cultural identity from the Nationalist’s ambition of a united, Catholic Ireland.  The differences arising from both communities’ need for protection and expression of their cultural identities has continued to cause difficulties in the province to this day.  These differences of identity and aspirations divided the people of Northern Ireland in both a political and community context, and there is still little intermingling of the two communities.

Inequality.  In the years between the partition of Ireland and the Troubles, the political dominance of Unionism led to systematic political discrimination against the nationalist minority.  The discrimination was manifest in the electoral system, which supported the continued political dominance of Unionist parties.  This electoral discrimination led to further injustice in public housing, in public and private employment, and in community representation in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police force.  Though many of the structural problems leading to this discrimination have been addressed,  complaints of injustice still exist in the province today.

Process.  The process by which a conflict is addressed can aid in resolving substantive and relational differences, or it can lead to further escalation of the conflict.  In the case of the Troubles, the process of conflict resolution adopted by the British army and paramilitary organizations led to an escalation of the conflict.  The persistent paramilitary violence led to an entrenched view of the conflict by many parts of both communities.  Despite the prevalence of violence during the Troubles, there were strong and consistent supporters of non-violent means for resolving the conflict, most notably the SDLP, led by John Hume.

The interconnection of the major issues affecting the Troubles created a complex situation that was difficult to resolve.  In the end, even the Good Friday Agreement, which was a commitment by most of the major parties in Northern Ireland to work through non-violent and political means to resolve the differences between the two communities, did not resolve the underlying drivers of the conflict.


From the time of partition in 1921 until the beginning of direct rule by the British in 1972, the parliament in Northern Ireland, known in the province as Stormont, was dominated by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).  The UUP formed every provincial government during this period.  This political domination was due in part to the demographics of the province, which had a majority Protestant population, but also due to systematic electoral discrimination against Catholic Nationalists.  Specifically, voting rules and gerrymandering helped the UUP maintain an unchecked political dominance that subjugated the Catholic population.

By the late 1960s, the tensions between the Nationalist and Unionist communities over the systemic discrimination against Nationalists erupted into violence, and in 1969, British troops were deployed to maintain order in the province.  The deployment of British troops coincided with the re-emergence of Republican and Unionist paramilitary organizations like the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).  By 1972, the British had suspended the Northern Ireland parliament and reinstated direct rule, which was administered by the appointed British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


Violence was a frequent and persistent aspect of the conflict from the 1960s through the 1990s, and it continues to infrequently arise to this day.  There were also several key agreements negotiated between the political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish governments that were milestones of the conflict.  Both the high profile acts of violence, which illuminate the human suffering of the conflict, and the key moments marking the long walk towards peace are essential elements to understanding how the conflict unfolded.  These events trace the path to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998, which is often seen as the major transformational point of the conflict leading to a prolonged abstention from large-scale violence by the paramilitary organizations.

Derry Housing Action Committee March.  In October of 1968, a march by the Derry Housing Action Committee and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) devolved into a riot when an altercation between Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, turned violent.  This incident is considered by some to be the beginning of the Troubles, and it raised awareness of the situation in Northern Ireland to an international level.

Bloody Sunday.  One of the most infamous acts of violence during the Troubles took place in Derry (or Londonderry) on January 30, 1972.  The event that would become known as Bloody Sunday involved British soldiers firing into a crowd of Nationalist protesters.  The protesters had gathered in opposition to internment, or the holding of prisoners without trial, which had disproportionately targeted Nationalists and Republicans.  The protest devolved into rioting, and fourteen people (all Catholic, some of whom were shot in the back) died as a result of the shooting.  This event was a galvanizing moment for the PIRA as large numbers of previously moderate Nationalists and Republicans began supporting the PIRA and its violent tactics.  The details of this incident were contested for many years, but in 2010, after a twelve year inquiry into the shooting which concluded that the violence by the British army was unjustified, Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology.

The Bloody Friday Bombings.  In late 1972, the PIRA orchestrated the detonation of twenty-six bombs over the course of an eighty minute period in Belfast.  The incident known as Bloody Friday resulted in eleven casualties.  Those who died in the bombings included both British soldiers and Protestant and Catholic civilians.  The bombings were considered a response to Bloody Sunday and a breakdown in negotiations between the PIRA and British government.  During the negotiations, the PIRA demanded the release of Republican prisoners and a withdrawal of British troops from the province by 1975, which was untenable to the British government.

Sunningdale Agreement.  In late November 1973, members of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP), along with William Whitelaw, the British Secretary of State of the province, announced an agreement to create a power sharing executive to govern Northern Ireland that would ensure protection of the Catholic minority’s rights.  Several weeks later, representatives of the aforementioned parties, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Edward Heath, and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Liam Cosgrave, met in Sunningdale, England to discuss remaining issues surrounding the power sharing government.  Of particular importance was the issue of the “Irish Dimension”, or the role the Republic of Ireland should play in the new Northern Ireland government.  A role for the Republic was supported by Nationalists but resisted by Unionists.  Ultimately, the negotiations led to the proposal for the establishment of the Council of Ireland, which would have two bodies consisting of members from the Dáil (Irish Legislature) and the Northern Ireland Assembly.  Loyalist opposition to the agreement was intense.  Following the announcement of the agreement and general elections in the United Kingdom, the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC), a Unionist group, called a general strike throughout the province in 1974.  The strike only lasted thirteen days, but it was effective enough to halt the implementation of the Sunningdale Agreement and stalemate the attempts that had been made for a political resolution to the conflict.

The La Mon Hotel Bombing.  On February 17, 1978, a PIRA bomb exploded at the La Mon Hotel outside Belfast.  The bomb was planted after the PIRA had received faulty information that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was holding a meeting at the hotel.  The RUC had actually met at the hotel a week before, and a dinner dance was being hosted at the hotel the night of the bombing.  The PIRA claimed that, upon learning the RUC was not meeting at the hotel, they attempted to warn the hotel of the bomb.  However, the warning came only nine minutes before the bomb detonated, and the explosion resulted in twelve casualties, and thirty people who were wounded.  This event was especially gruesome because the bomb was an incendiary device, which exploded as a ball of fire, causing the victims to be burned alive.

The 1981 Hunger Strikes.  On March 1, 1976, the British government ended the special category status which had designated newly convicted members of paramilitary organizations as political prisoners, however the special category status for existing prisoners remained.  Almost four years later, the special category status was revoked for all prisoners regardless of conviction date.  In response to the change in status, members of the PIRA began a hunger strike, refusing to eat in protest of the status change.  However, the strike was cut short in respect of the request of the Catholic Primate of Ireland.  On March 1, 1981, the PIRA leader in  Maze Prison, Bobby Sands, began a hunger strike, exactly five years after the announcement to end special category status.  Sands was soon followed by other hunger strikers in Maze Prison, and a month after Sands began the hunger strike, he was elected as a Member of Parliament to Westminster for the Fermanagh / South Tyrone district.  Despite many attempts by outsiders to persuade Sands and the others to stop the strike, he died on May 5, 1981, after 66 days.  In total, ten prisoners died throughout the strike.  This was another galvanizing moment for Republicans who saw the refusal of the British government, then led by Margaret Thatcher’s, to concede special category status to the prisoners as evidence of a callous perspective the British held towards the Irish.  Thatcher and her government received much international condemnation for their handling of the hunger strikes.  The strikes are also considered to be the initiation of the paradigm shift by Republicans away from violence and towards political means of settlement. Bobby Sands’ election demonstrated the political potential of republicanism.

Anglo-Irish Agreement.  Over a decade after the collapse of the Sunningdale Agreement, British and Irish governments negotiated an agreement regarding their respective roles related to the conflict in Northern Ireland.  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had been a strong supporter of the Unionist cause, began to change her view seeing that only an agreement which included a role for the Republic of Ireland could bring an end to the political violence in the province.  Thatcher and the Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, came to agreement on two significant issues.  First, they “affirm[ed] that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would only come about with the consent of a majority of ‘the people of’ Northern Ireland,” and “that the present wish of a majority of ‘the people of’ Northern Ireland is for no change in the status of Northern Ireland.”  Second, the agreement established an Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council to address political, security, legal, and cross-border matters.  The body established by the agreement accomplished a similar aim to that of the Sunningdale Agreement by creating the opportunity for the Republic of Ireland to be involved in affairs of Northern Ireland.  The agreement marked a significant step forward for Anglo-Irish relations establishing cooperative relationship between both governments.

 Hume-Adams Talks.  In early 1988, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Féin (generally considered the political arm of the Irish Republican Army), began a series of talks that eventually led to the Hume/Adams initiative.  The talks went on for a number of years, and points of agreement between the two leaders eventually became part of the Downing Street Declaration. These discussions are considered by some commentators to mark the beginning of the “peace process” in Northern Ireland.

The Downing Street Declaration.  In 1993, Prime Minister John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds issues a joint statement outlining the opinions of their respective governments on the conflict in Northern Ireland.  The declaration was an important milestone for the emerging “peace process” because it clarified the views and intentions of both the British and Irish governments and enabled the Nationalist and Unionist communities to better understand how each government viewed their constitutional aspirations.  The declaration stated that its primary goal was to recognize that the conflict in Northern Ireland could only be addressed through a political and democratic process and that the British Government would assist in facilitating and implementing an agreement reflective of the will of the people of Northern Ireland.  The document was powerful in that it contained several key ideas that marked a clear direction for the resolution of the conflict.  First, the British Government stated that it had “no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland.”  This idea was a counter to the PIRA’s claim that they were engaged in a colonial struggle.  Second, the document recognized three important relationships that would need to be addressed to resolve the conflict: the relationships between the Unionist and Nationalist communities, Northern Ireland and the Republic, and the Irish and British governments.  Third, the British Government stated, “it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish.”  This statement further supported the idea that the British Government’s primary interest in Northern Ireland was not for the province to remain a part of the United Kingdom, but to find a peaceful resolutions to the conflict.  Finally, the declaration stated that the Irish Government recognized it could not impose its will on the island’s minority Unionist population in bringing about a united Ireland.  The declaration noted, “It would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland, in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”

PIRA Ceasefire.  On August 31st, 1994, a major breakthrough in the conflict came when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) called an indefinite cessation of all military activity.  The ceasefire is generally seen as a response to the Downing Street Agreement.  On October 13, 1994, the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) also called for a cessation of violence from the CLMC member organization’s the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), and the Red Hand Commando.  The PIRA’s ceasefire lasted until February 9, 1996, when the PIRA bombed the Canary Wharf.  The bombing is considered a response to the refusal of Unionist politicians to allow Sinn Féin to participate in negotiations regarding the future of the province.  The Unionists’ refusal was based on their unmet demand for a full decommissioning of PIRA weapons.  From February 1996 until July 1997, the ceasefire was called off, but resumed again on July  19, 1997.   The PIRA ceasefire has been in place since that time.

The Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.  On Good Friday of 1998 (April 10), an agreement was reached after almost two years of negotiations led by former U.S. Senator and Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, George Mitchell.  The agreement was reached between the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, the Ulster Democratic Party, Labour, and the British and Irish Governments.  It is notable that the Democratic Unionist Party led by Ian Paisley abstained from participation in the negotiation in protest of Sinn Féin’s presence.  The agreement created a framework in which the political parties representing Northern Ireland’s communities could work towards a lasting peace.  The agreement consists of two broad agreements, one between the parties in Northern Ireland and the second between the British and Irish Governments.  The agreement was organized into three sections, or strands, that address the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland’s relationship with the United Kingdom.  The agreement was important because it marked a significant turning point in how the Northern Ireland conflict was addressed, shifting from violence to political methods of dealing with cross-community differences.  The agreement was a reiteration of many of the concepts contained in earlier agreements, and controversially to the Unionist population, led to the replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  The agreement set the stage for a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, which was initially implemented on December 2, 1999, but was suspended on four occasions until May 7, 2007, from which time it has been operational.

The Omagh Bombing.  Several months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a dissident splinter group of the PIRA calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) detonated a car bomb in Omagh that killed twenty-nine people.  The bombing was the single deadliest act throughout the Troubles.  The bombing was a reminder that though the parties had agreed to a resolve their differences by peaceful means, there were still those who did not agree with the pivot away from an armed struggle.  By 1998, approximately 3500 people had died as a result of the conflict, and approximately 36,000 were injured.  Expressed in terms of the United States population these numbers were equivalent to the 350,000 deaths and 3,600,000 injuries sustained by Americans.


Since the Good Friday Agreement and the implementation of the devolved government in Northern Ireland, three issues have persisted in the province.  First, cross-community relations between Unionists and Nationalists have remained either non-existent or very fragile, as they were before violence erupted in the late 1960s.  A symbol of this persistent division are the almost 90 “peace walls” separating Unionist and Nationalist areas throughout the province.  The second problem is best described as “dissident violence” committed by individuals or splinter groups of former paramilitaries as an expression of their dissatisfaction with the changes in the region.  Finally, the political parties, which have shifted power from the moderate SDLP and UUP to the more partisan Sinn Féin and DUP, have made much commendable progress but still appear to struggle to effectively work together on contentious issues.  As of now, large-scale, organized violence has given way to political means of conflict resolution, and the progress that is being made in this ancient conflict is real albeit understandably slower than most outside observers can appreciate.

Works Referenced

  1. Aaron Edwards and Cillian McGrattan. The Northern Ireland Conflict. (Oneworld Publications, 2012).
  2. “Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985.” United Nations Peacemaker. Last Accessed December 23, 2013.
  3. David Cutler. “Factbox: History of Northern Ireland conflict.” Last Updated June 27, 2012. Last Accessed December 4, 2013.
  4. David McKittrick and David McVea. Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. (New Amsterdam Books, 2012).
  5. “Downing Street Declaration.” BBC News. Last Accessed December 18, 2013.
  6. Feargal Cochrane. Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace. (Yale University Press, 2013).
  7. Jason Walsh. “15 years after Good Friday Agreement, an imperfect peace in Northern Ireland.” The Christian Science Monitor. Last Updated April 10, 2013.  Last Accessed December 19, 2013.
  8. John Darby. “Conflict in Northern Ireland: A Background Essay.” in Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. ed. Seamus Dunn. (Macmillan Press, 1995).
  9. John Hume. A New Ireland: Politics, Peace, and Reconciliation. (Roberts Rinehart, 2012).
  10. Jonathan Tonge. Northern Ireland (Global Political Hot Spots). (Polity Press, 2006).
  11. “Joint Declaration on Peace: The Downing Street Declaration, Wednesday 15 December 1993.” CAIN Web Service – Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland – University of Ulster. Last Accessed December 18, 2013.
  12. Martin Melaugh. “The Hunger Strike of 1981 – A Chronology of Main Events.” CAIN Web Service – Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland – University of Ulster. Last Accessed December 13, 2013.
  13. Martin Melaugh. “The Sunningdale Agreement – Chronology of Main Events.” CAIN Web Service – Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland – University of Ulster. Last Accessed December 18, 2013.
  14. “Northern Ireland.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Last Accessed December 5, 2013.
By |January 5th, 2014|Conflict Resolution|0 Comments