Else Hammerich, Director, Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution

Ellen Banz, Teachers for Peace, and Lotte Christy, DCCR, T f P, Denmark

Why work with conflicts?
1. Conflicts are inevitable - fruitful and painful.
2. You can learn to handle them better: reduce violence and suffering, save time, money and energy.
3. You get to know yourself better: The existential challenge.
4. The world needs people who can handle conflicts.
5. You improve your relations with others, co-operation.

Principles on the relationships between teacher and participant.
We always assume, that the participants have the necessary experience and wisdom, and that this should be respected. Education is based on their resources. We can help structuring these experiences.
The principles for conflict resolution are simple, the diff~cult thing is putting them into practice. We can help the participants practising these skills, and give them time and space for reflection. Our function is being helpers, with closeness and distance; we are not experts on their lives and their tasks.
The education comes alive in the meeting between their specific knowledge of specific conflicts, and our general ability as supervisors. The less we blow ourselves up, as being experts, the more we can contribute.
That is why we use more and more time at the seminars on silence, reflection, practice and face-to-face dialogue, whereas we use less time on lecturing.


-Please participate!...but you may "pass"
Comment: It is relieving for the participants that their integrity will be respected. To know that they will never be forced to reveal any secrets they might have. On the other hand they have to dare something, contribute in order to get a personal benefit from the course.

- Personal stories are confidential.
Comment: After the course the participants can tell what they themselves have experienced. However, they can not tell any names of persons, organisations and institutions. This gives them a safe space in which they can work with their own problems.

-It is OK to change
Comment: A crucial point in conflict resolution: You do not become smaller by becoming wiser!

-Respect one another's differences - no put-downs
Comment: This rule can seem very unnecessary in a civilised course. But during role plays about conflict resolution and mediation it can become a relevant agreement.

-Listen actively to each other without interrupting
Comment: This can be a very difficult rule when you wish to give a piece of good advice while the other person is telling his or her story and when you are in a role play e.g. about mediation and you very strongly disagree and you are very angry.


Definition - positive and negative potentials.
The Centre, as well as the major part of modern literature on the subject - use a broad and neutral definition: conflicts are disagreements between human beings.

This definition is connected to some basic assumptions:
1. Conflicts are part of life, they are part of any change. They may lead to progress or havoc, depending on how we live through and approach them. The point is - in accordance with Ghandi - that conflicts should not be suppressed or explode in violence, but transformed into energy.

2. Enmity and violence are parts of human potential, not a fixed programme in us.

3. This means that we can learn to manage conflicts more constructively, that there is a possibility here. As the peace researcher Jan Öberg puts it: " we do not need to be conflict illiterates. "

Conflict Understanding: Types
There are innumerable ways to analyse conflicts, many models and figures. It can be said about all of them that they do not represent reality. They separate conceptions which are in reality inextricably interwoven. Therefore, these types should rather be considered to be dimensions of conflicts.

Instrumental conflicts: The "pure" conflicts: they are still not polluted by negative sentiments, personifications, reproaches and so on. Two parties are having a disagreement, they simply disagree upon what to do and how. They must find a solution in order to get on with the matter. We have this type of conflict daily; only a few lead to animosity or traumas.

Conflicts of interest: Here, there is a competition for resources which are sparse, or appear to be sparse. At home, it may be the allocation of rooms, should the television be turned on etc. At work, the dispute is often about working plans, facilities, wages. At a larger scale, there is the fight for territories. In the future (even now) there is a fight for basic necessities of life, water supplies, and other resources of nature.

Personal conflicts: This is the dimension of conflicts that may infect everyday life and create enormous confusion: Here, deep and often hidden feelings play the leading role, and the parties become uncertain and vulnerable: Do the others regard me as somebody? Does anybody at all see me? Can I trust them? Are we kept out? Do they despise us?

The fusion: In real life these types are often completely entangled. When two colleagues are having a dispute about an office, it may look like an instrumental conflict, but may at the same time be a conflict of interest and a fight for power or esteem. When heirs are having a fight over a certain piece of inheritance, e.g. mother's silver spoon, it may look like a conflict of interest, but perhaps they are fighting over something of which they are not conscious: whom did mother love the most? In the eighties, when the USA and the USSR were negotiating disarmament, the two governments were not able to agree upon where to meet or the shape of the negotiation table. This may look like an instrumental conflict, but was probably more like a
conflict of interests (economy and world supremacy). Maybe even a personal conflict - statesmen also have strong feelings although they claim to be "objective".

But if it is true that the types are in fact always merged into one another, what is the purpose of distinguishing? What's the point of a model like this? Why spend time on analysis?

Because in any conflict there will be a centre of gravity, and because it is useful to sort out threads from this basis. If there are deep emotional problems in one part or both, it's no use expecting them to act sensibly and stick to the point. Furthermore, if there are real and serious conflicts of interest between two parties, it should not be managed as a problem of emotions.

Conflict understanding: Escalation

Every conflict is unique, on no matter what level: in the individual, between two persons, between groups, locally, in society, or internationally. However, there seems to be a paragon for destructive escalation, some kind of script in accordance with which we act, and which appears to be somehow universal. It's good to know the script. Being aware of it may lead to our reflection on whether we want to play the given parts of the tragedy. The model below comes from Northern Ireland, and we have talked to people from many cultures who recognise the pattern:

1. Problem solving
2. Personal antagonism and defensiveness
3. Issue expansion
4. Moving towards stereotyping
5. An eye for an eye
6. Open hostility
7. Polarisation

The spiral is not inevitable but predictable

The pattern reappears at any level: individually, in groups, socially, and internationally. But it does not take place in a vacuum. Larger social conflicts in particular are subject to the superior fight for resources and political power. Furthermore, the escalation must always be seen as connected to power, justice, ethics, human rights. The model does not explain why and how
wars (direct violence) and oppression (indirect violence) arise. Erich Fromm says in his great opus "An Anatomy of Human Destructiveness": "Wars do not arise from human destructiveness, they are planned by leaders to obtain certain objects".
The dynamics found in inter-human conflicts are used by rulers and their media to get support for the armed conflict performed by military or paramilitary forces. They use the script deliberately, whipping up or creating the destructive conflict behaviour. Therefore, the dynamics of the model can be useful to know.


1. Evade: Flee, wear a mask, ignore, postpone, wait, bend.

2. Attack: Be aggressive, threaten, verbal violence, psychological violence, physical violence.

3. Question: Speak, clarify your feelings, ask, listen to the other point of wiew, agree to diagree

The three responses are optional. All are commonly applied, but if 1) and 2) forms a pattern with the individual, or in the group as a whole, change is needed.

Most participants admit that they are afraid of conflicts and confrontations, that they are evasive and that they are not proud of it. Others have the wrong idea that conflict resolution is about being nice and turning the other cheek. Conflict resolution is not about giving in but about self-respect, standing up for one's values just as one respects the other party's right to being different.


At this point we shall be working with the different stages in conflict resolution. These stages seem to be generally appreciated whether you are directly involved in a conflict or act as a mediator in one. Only direct involvement is far more challenging personally and requires a lot of practice. The steps are obvious in their simplicity yet they are hard to put into practice because they are contrary to our habits and our aquired conflict behaviour.

1. Direct contact.
If you can agree to disagree you are already well on your way out of the emotional chaos and its domination.

2. Accepting an attempt.
This is a crucial step without which any technique is useless. Both parties must have the desire to move on. This is when you begin to realise that you might have your share of the conflict. Bring in third party. Agree on rules.

3. Each person tells his or her story.
The positions put forward by the parties will often be far from each other and irreconcilable. However it is not from these that the solutions will arise.

4. Determine the main features.
Subsequently determine the agenda: Which problems do we have to solve? It is a good idea to begin with the simplest ones.

5. Finding underlying needs and interests.
This is the "Open, Sesame!" in conflict resolution. If we stick to our standpoints it is hard to come to an agreement. At best a compromise is reached.

The other possibility is "creative conflict resolution". This is more ambitious in that ideally both parties come out as winners and with a more authentic relationship.

Consequently the object of the disagreement is just not divided but expanded. This can only happen if you look further than the standpoints to the underlying needs and interests. These are often related to identity, emotions, non-material dimensions. This is the very reason they open up a wide range of solutions.

6. Brainstorming.
Finding a number of solutions and choosing one. The point is not to decide too early. This can be a very relieving phase which is characterised by sudden changes in moods. From distrust to good will, from sulkiness to kindness, from persistence to generosity.

7. Making sure that both parties win.

8. Concrete, workable agreements




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