Navigating conflict is a core activist skill. These tips from peacebuilding have the potential to depolarise and de-escalate tense and challenging situations. This is an excerpt from the Nonviolent Community Safety and Peacebuilding Trainers’ Manual which is also available for download on the Commons.
Separate people from the problem
Look at the problem as being separate from the person themselves. If a person feels they are being personally attacked, they are more likely to be defensive, and less open to listening to your issues. If the problem is the person’s behaviour, name it as a behaviour, rather than a personal characteristic. Eg: “I’ve never seen you do the dishes”, as opposed to “You’re lazy”. Separating the person from the problem allows both people to confront the problem together, if they wish.
- “I” statements
- Refer to ‘the problem’ rather than ‘you’
Focus on interests, not positions
An interest is a want, need, fear or concern that you have. A position is what you want, or your proposed solution. By stating your own interests, the other person has an opportunity to understand why you want what you do. By focusing on your own, and the other person’s interests, you open space for finding other solutions that may meet your needs better. Another way of framing this is to focus on problems, not solutions.
- Can you tell me a bit about what’s going on for you?
- I feel passionately about this because . . .
- I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from. Can you tell me about why this is important for you?
- The problem I’m having with this situation is . . .
Invent options for mutual gain
Focus on identifying options for resolving the conflict without the pressure of reaching a decision. A brainstorming process can be useful to invent a wide range of options that advance shared interests and creatively reconcile differing interests. The key ground rule to brainstorming is to postpone criticism and evaluation of the ideas being generated. To broaden the options, think about the problem in different ways and build upon the ideas presented.
- How else could we do this?
- What haven’t we considered yet?
- What about . . .. . ?
Use objective criteria
Using objective criteria ensures that the agreement reflects some fair standard instead of the arbitrary will of either side. Objective criteria might include quotes from repairers, legal advice, or information from other experts.
These principles are taken from Fisher & Ury (1981) – Getting to Yes