As a peacemaker, I have come to believe that “conflict resolution” or “conflict management” are not viable options for creating sustainable, thriving, life-affirming relationships in all areas of life. rather I embrace a practice “conflict transformation.” Conflict transformation is different from the other two because it reflects a better understanding of the nature of conflict itself.
“Conflict resolution” implies that conflict is bad, that something should be ended. It also assumes that conflict is a short-term phenomenon that can be”resolved” permanently through mediation or other intervention processes. “Conflict management” correctly assumes that conflicts are long-term processes that often cannot be quickly resolved, but the notion of “management” suggests that people can be directed or controlled as though they were physical objects. In addition, the notion of management suggests that the goal is the reduction or control of volatility more than dealing with the real source of the problem.
Conflict transformation, as described by Lederach, does not suggest that we simply eliminate or control conflict, but rather recognize and work with its “dialectic nature.” By this he means that social conflict is naturally created by humans who are involved in relationships, yet once it occurs, it changes (transforms) those events, people, and relationships that created the initial conflict. Thus, the cause-and-effect relationship goes both ways – from the people and the relationships to the conflict and back to the people and relationships.
In this sense, “conflict transformation” is a term that describes a natural occurrence. Conflicts change relationships in predictable ways, altering communication patters and patterns of social organization, altering images of the self and of the other.
Conflict transformation is also a prescriptive concept. It suggests that left alone, conflict can have destructive consequences. However, the consequences can be modified or transformed so that self-images, relationships, and social structures improve as a result of conflict instead of being harmed by it. Usually this involves transforming perceptions of issues, actions, and other people or groups. Since conflict usually transforms perceptions by accentuating the differences between people and positions, effective conflict transformation can work to improve mutual understanding. Even when people’s interests, values, and needs are different, even non- reconcilable, progress has been made if each group gains a relatively accurate understanding of the other.
Transformation also involves transforming the way conflict is expressed. It may be expressed competitively, aggressively, or violently, or it may be expressed through nonviolent advocacy, conciliation, or attempted cooperation. Unlike many conflict theorists and activists, who perceive mediation and advocacy as being in opposition to each other, Lederach sees advocacy and mediation as being different stages of the conflict transformation process. Activism is important in early stages of a conflict to raise people’s awareness of an issue. Thus activism uses nonviolent advocacy to escalate and confront the conflict. Once awareness and concern is generated, then mediation can be used to transform the expression of conflict from “mutually destructive modes toward dialogue and itnerdependence.” (Lederach, 1989l p. 14)
Such transformation, Lederach suggests, must take place at both the personal and the systemic level. At the personal level, conflict transformation involves the pursuit of awareness, growth, and commitment to change which may occur through the recognition of fear, anger, grief, and bitterness. These emotions must be outwardly acknowledged and dealt with in order for effective conflict transformation to occur.
Peacemaking also involves systemic transformation–the process of increasing justice and equality in the social system as a whole. This may involve the elimination of oppression, improved sharing of resources, and the non-violent resolution of conflict between groups of people. Each of these actions reinforces the other. In other words, transformation of personal relationships facilitates the transformation of social systems and systemic changes facilitate personal transformation. Key to both kinds of transformation are truth, justice, and mercy, as well as empowerment and interdependence. These concepts are frequently seen to be in opposition to each other; however, they must come together for reconciliation or “peace” to occur, Lederach asserts.
We provide Conflict Coaching and Mediation support services:
Conflict Coaching refers to supporting individuals as they explore internal and interpersonal conflicts and prepare themselves to re-enter these situations in an intentional and empowered way.
Mediating refers to supporting two or more parties to connect to and understand the other’s experience, and from this connection collaborative solutions emerge.
Conflict is a normal part of life. The question becomes, what is our relationship to the conflict we experience in our life? We can avoid or run from conflict, we can fight it or we can understand our conflict for what it is. As we embrace conflict we can discover the valuable gift it has to offer us.
The feelings that surface in response to conflict can range from angry and agitated, to feeling anxious, afraid or distressed to name a few. These feelings are trying to get our attention. NVC offers us a way to connect deeply with ourselves so we can understand what is underneath the feelings we are experiencing. They point to our values and needs that are not being fulfilled.
Mediating is a term we use for the process of transforming conflict from something negative into something we can embrace and understand for the message it offers. We can mediate in our lives on four levels:
Internal – When there is inner conflict.
Interpersonal – When you are a party in the conflict.
Informal – Entering a conflict without being asked.
Formal – When you are asked to help those in conflict resolve their dispute.