When a conflict is particularly intense and complicated, or involves multiple parties, the conflict intervener will seek to gather information upfront by doing a conflict analysis.
He or she will gather that information from both parties separately, visually represent this information in a conflict map, and then bring the parties together. An important piece of information for the intervener to gather during this process is the beliefs held by each party. As you know, a belief is what each side sees as absolutely true, right, and correct.
The intervener will probably discover that there are some differences in terms of how each side sees the causes, consequences, and facts of the conflict. However, he or she will probably also find that there are some similarities. Because each side is probably unaware of any similarities in beliefs, the mapping process is an excellent tool for revealing these similarities to the parties.
In addition to beliefs, the intervener will also want to gather information about the parties’ positions and interests.
To review, a position is a particular way of getting an interest met. Each party will likely come into the resolution process with that solution already in mind; however, there might be other ways that the interest could be met.
Conversely, an interest is an item, action, or belief that the party views as absolutely essential to his or her satisfaction and happiness. This is why he or she has taken a particular position on how to meet that interest.
In creating a conflict map, the intervener will be looking at the parties’ positions while also uncovering their interests.
An environmental group realizes what these residents are considering, and opposes them in favor of environmental preservation. Additionally, the people in the community want to preserve private property rights; the environmental group is interested in recreational access for the public. The conflict seems to evolve into an either/or situation of economic development versus environmental preservation.
The parties clearly have two opposing positions, but it’s possible that they have something in common in terms of interests. In talking to the community members who want economic development, the intervener discovers that natural beauty, open air, clean space, and wildlife are all very important to the residents. They do want to preserve those things because those are some of the reasons why they love this area. Of course, the environmental group also shares those feelings. Once shared interests are identified, it can be easier for the parties to think about how they can work together.
The intervener actually mapping out the positions and interests of both sides can be enormously helpful, as the parties will have a visual representation of the areas in which they agree and disagree.
Because intense or complicated conflicts usually involve each side looking at the other in an extreme way, perhaps involving labels or stereotypes, realizing that there are some interests or beliefs in common can cause cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance happens when the mind tries to hold two or more incompatible thoughts or beliefs; when the parties are made aware of shared beliefs/mutual interests, their minds have to make room for new views about one another.
This is where the conflict resolution process can be very helpful. Mapping the conflict is a great starting point because it allows each side to see exactly where the shared beliefs/mutual interests are.
EXAMPLEReturning to the example of the land use conflict, which really did occur in a community on the West Coast, when the parties identified their common interests, they were able to identify over 100 alternative actions they could take to meet the interests of both sides. Both sides feeling heard, and realizing that they have these mutual interests, went a long way towards defusing the anger and personal accusations.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Marlene Johnson.