Saturday, April 28, 2012

An Introduction to Conflict Resolution

By Lisa A M Bauman
* Based on a review of chapters 1 and 2 of Contemporary Conflict Resolution by Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, and Miall

Many thoughts and ideas have developed about conflict resolution. Major methods include an ideal of controlled communication (subjectiveness) or a rational negotiation or mediation approach (objectiveness). For example, some believe traditional thinking lacks thought about future conflicts. Holsti (1991) admitted that leaders often have difficulty doing this because the nature of conflicts and resolutions are so difficult already (pg. 40). Some believe that violence is never productive. Others believe that it is strategically inappropriate, difficult, or counter-productive to avoid violence (pg. 42). Again, many agree that more than violence should be addressed in conflict, but the way to reach it is debated. Some argue that transformation must occur in all relevant institutions, discourses, and practices (pg. 49). These are just some examples of differences in views, but all idealists have the same goal: to search for ways to transform actual or potential conflicts into peaceful processes of political and social change (pg. 62).

Conflict resolution became a field of study formally in the 50's and 60's in response to nuclear threats and fears of world destruction spurred on by the Cold War (pg 4). Still, development of the study most likely began in 1918 in a desire to avoid the First World War (pg. 26 to 37). This new field gained respect over time and made a difference especially in the 80's and 90's.
The book Contemporary Conflict Resolution describes many different conflict resolution models including multilevel, multidisciplinary, multicultural, and analytic and/or normative. A Conflict Escalation and De-Escalation Model is presented to illustrate the way conflict begins and is resolved. Additionally, the authors offer a new hourglass model that brings to light deeper levels of cultural and structural peace building. The conflict tree introduces still another view of this system (pg. 14 to 15).

Different idealisms have developed and Contemporary Conflict Resolution addresses specifically three types: a variant of traditional realist criticism, a variant of traditional Marxist criticism, and a third set of critics based on Paul Salem's Critique of western conflict resolution from a non-western perspective (pg 6). The distinction of these three thoughts have been generated over time as the world has changed. Traditional realist criticism sees power and coercion as currency, but traditional Marxist criticism sees violence as unavoidable and integral in the nature of conflict. The third ideal argues that western assumptions on conflict resolution are not universally applicable (pg. 6). This book argues that conflict resolution is beneficial and needed and therefore should not be dismissed as a western ideal but rather we should find ways to enrich western and non-western traditions through their mutual encounter (pg. 7).

To truly understand the development of conflict resolution we must learn a little about classical thought. Classical conflict approaches draw attention to a person's interests; weather they lean to self or the other. The goal is to find the ability to assert needs and wants while advocating for a "win-win" outcome. Traditional conflict resolution attempts to show parties the situation from a new view of win-win rather than zero-sum (pg. 17-18). First conflicts must be refocused. Positions need to be reformed into a recognisation of needs and interests (pg. 21). Incentives for finding mutual gain can be further encouraged by increasing scarce resources, offering bold gestures on less important issues to build trust and reduce tension, brainstorming for new options, finding other mutual benefits or goals, compensation, and agreeing upon penalties (pg. 20). Finally, a third party can facilitate especially difficult situations. This is especially useful in asymmetric conflicts where one party continuously "wins" because of some kind of power. A change of structure is needed to resolve this type of conflict.
In Galtung's Models of Conflict Violence and Peace we learn the concepts of positive and negative peace. Here conflict is modeled as a triangle. Each side represents structure, attitudes, and behavior. To resolve a conflict, a change needs to be made in all three areas. Merely addressing violence (behavior) can only create negative peace. Positive peace is formed when structural and cultural violence (such as poverty and the justification of doing wrong) are addressed along with it (pg 8). Although negative peace sounds like an unfavorable choice by its naming, it should not be. This type of peace offers safety and peace of mind, but lacks in protecting against oppression. Still, positive peace is not always the easy answer either because it requires a judgment of ethics which can be easily misinterpreted (pg. 12).

In summary, we have learned a little about the development and ideals about conflict resolution in the west in chapters one and two. As we read the remainder of the book we will dig deeper to discover new ideals that will bring about peaceful processes of political and social change.

** For Com301U, Intro to Conflict Resolution, Portland State University, Spring Term, April 2012 **

Sunday, April 15, 2012


By Lisa Bauman
Reference: "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In" by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

I have always felt that negotiation is a very common activity that we do each day. Despite the continuous practice that we get in negotiation, it remains to be a difficult task. Often times we focus so hard on winning that we lose sight of our real goals. We substitute our real needs and desires to win our position, unload blame, or appear the winner. Often times we fall into the seductive trap to "play hardball against powerful, underhanded opponents or non-participating parties. Fisher and Ury gives simple ideals for successful negotiation.

Successful negotiation is based on three criteria (pg 4).
1. It produces a wise agreement (if possible).
2. It is efficient.
3. It improves (or at least does not damage) relationships.

The authors look at negotiation more as a game than a war. They compare it to the game of Frisbee (pg 154). It is silly to point out a winner when conquering the other party can only harm your own interests. Still, we see ourselves find difficulty in avoiding this contest of wills. Fisher and Ury insist that "if you do not like the choice between hard and soft positional bargaining, you can change the game." They give four rules that help you to change the game of bargaining (pg 11).

1. Focus on Interests, not positions.
2. Separate the people from the problem.
3. Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
4. Insist that the result be based on an objective standard.

First, we learn that our pride is often the first roadblock in negotiation. We get locked into positions to save face. Fisher and Ury calls this "arguing over positions." Agreements then become difficult and relationships suffer (pg 5). The worst consequences of arguing over positions is the tenancy for this type of bargaining to create inefficient decisions and damaged relationships. The bargaining takes longer and agreements are less satisfying for both sides. It creates a contest of will and sets both parties at odds. In the end no one wins. Finally, positional barging creates an unhelpful dynamic where people can only respond softly in an effort to save the relationship or hard to gain their position. This is why we must focus on interests, not positions.

Secondly, our objective is often skewed because we overlook our long-term goals which include positive relationships (pg 17). We must deal with others sensitively. First we should attempt to build relationships before a negotiation occurs (pg 38). We must consider the other parties' emotions and perception and use healthy communication skills. This is where we take into account our mutual stake in the outcome of the negotiation. We remove selfish thinking like "solving their problem is their problem (pg 61)."

Thirdly, because of this mutual stake, we should generate a variety of possibilities for mutual gain. We must brainstorm and avoid deciding the outcome before many options are available (pg 62). Additionally, we should ask the other party about their preferences and make their decision easy for them (pg 78-79). Lastly, we must base our decision on objective criteria.

These goals in negotiating are not always easy to achieve. Powerful opponents can intimate us. Fisher and Ury suggest a strategy called Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATA) in this situation. This is where we consider that there is a possibility of failure to reach an agreement (pg 104). While considering this, we may find less favorable, but acceptable alternatives to cushion the blow of such a circumstance. Also, we must set limits to the negotiation to avoid devastating outcomes. Fisher and Ury call this a "trip wire (pg 106)." When the opponent is powerful, a highly developed and explored BATA strategy is our biggest ally. We must use our "knowledge, time, money, people, connections, and wits " to devise "the best solution independent of the other side's assent (pg 110)."

When the other party refuses to participate we must use three basic tactics. First we concentrate on interests/merits rather than positions (regardless of the other parties' attitude). Second we use what the authors call "Negotiation Jujitsu" where we don't attack the other parties' position, but instead look for the interests behind it (pg 114). And finally, if these do not work, we must consider a third party (pg 118).

For the underhanded fellow negotiator who uses deliberate deception, physiological warfare, or positional pressure we must make sure not to be the victim (pg 149). We do this by pointing out the other parties' tactics and negotiating over them. We divide the people from the problem (pg 136). The underhanded tactics require patients, but can be exposed. Once exposed the problem can be sidestepped and attention moved to the issue at hand.

Although these ideals seem simple, they are useful. It is important to understand that we are all negotiators. Negotiators are people who hold a mutual stake in reaching a favorable decision. This is why we must operate compassionately and considerately to insure positive future relationships and fair, mutually beneficial outcomes.

Fisher, R., Ury, W. and Patton, B. (1991), Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin.

** For Com301U, Intro to Conflict Resolution, Portland State University, Spring Term, April 2012 **

Monday, April 9, 2012

Glenn Ligon, View of an Artist

1. What is Ligon’s philosophy in his profession? What is he trying to communicate through his artwork?

Ligon has said of his work that he wants to "make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it." His bodies of text-based paintings describe or quote writings and speeches of influential and diverse persons. He explores American history, literature, and society to express questions of identity, race, and history. His work seeks to give a realistic and intimate look at life. Even while addressing slavery in his runaway slave prints, he mentioned personal attributes about the person in the artwork such as height and sexual orientation. His work seems to describe and bring conversation rather than preach.

2. How does Ligon’s work differ from other artists?

Although Ligon's pieces include sculptures, prints, drawings, mixed media and even neon signs, they are dominated by large, text-based paintings with repeated phrases that fade out. He frequently uses evocative text and quotations from culturally charged and historical relevant material, both as a source of imagery and a statement.

3. What are your own personal feelings about this artist’s work?

I feel he accomplishes his goal to give language a "sense of weight." His work is an example of art that is internalized. It is possible that a blind person could find value in his insight as well as a seeing person. He draws attention to the art of words and makes art valuable for more than merely atheistic qualities. He even manages to use a sense of witty humor through self deprecation and irony in his choice of text. I agree with one writer that his work does not hold a condescending nature, but rather a thought-provoking quality. Beside this, I feel that his use of mixed media is truly creative and tasteful in its simplicity.

Sources and References:

** For Art100, Grapic Design, Portland State University, Spring Term, April 2012 **