Constructive Confrontation Theoretical Framework


Guy Burgess, Ph.D. and Heidi Burgess, Ph.D. -- Co-Directors, Conflict Research Consortium

Copyright 1996 by Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess


Mediation and Intractable Conflict

The greatly expanded use of mediation and other alternative dispute resolution techniques has been one of the great success stories of recent years. It has been immensely effective (and widely accepted) in an number of arenas—such as family and labor-management conflicts. Unfortunately, mediation has been much less effective in resolving intractable conflicts involving deep-rooted value differences (abortion, homosexual rights, or deep ecology), very high-stakes distributional problems (the setting of the Federal budget, health care reform, or social program reform), or "pecking-order" conflicts (sibling rivalry or gang warfare). These kinds of conflicts commonly resist even the best- designed conflict resolution processes. Although individual dispute episodes (over what abortion procedures are allowed when, or whether federal funds can be used to provide or counsel about abortions) may be temporarily decided, the underlying conflict over abortion continues. Similarly, budgets are set and money is spent, but the conflict between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, conservatives and liberals, and Republicans and Democrats, remains. Siblings, too, resolve their immediate disputes over toys, privileges, and parental attention. But the underlying tension persists, only to erupt again at a later time.

When mediation is applied to intractable conflicts in an attempt to resolve them, it often "fails." Therefore, mediation becomes a recipe for disappointment and disillusionment. People conclude that mediation is not all that it is cracked up to be—they see it as a time sink, a money sink, a sell-out, or a co-optive trick that does not yield the promised win-win resolution. This failure to work as advertised, we believe, underlies much of the skepticism and resistance that mediation and the conflict resolution field as a whole are encountering.

Constructive Confrontation

To better deal with intractable conflicts, we have been developing an approach which we call constructive confrontation. This approach is based on the assumption that intense, long-term confrontations over important and difficult issues are inevitable. What is not inevitable, however, is the destructiveness commonly associated with these conflicts. (Consider, for example, the deaths in Bosnia and the Middle East, the economic losses of the U.S. Government shutdowns, or the racial tension resulting from misunderstood and poorly-applied affirmative-action programs.) To limit such destructiveness, we suggest that the parties and intermediaries involved in intractable conflicts should move away from the unrealistic goal of resolution, and focus, instead, on how these conflicts can be conducted more constructively.

In order to find out how this might be done, the Consortium's Intractable Conflict Project began by sponsoring a series of conferences and seminars in which we asked more than 125 conflict scholars, intermediaries, and advocates two questions: 1) From your perspective, how can people deal with intractable conflicts more constructively? 2) What do you mean by "constructive?" Topics addressed included interpersonal conflicts; public policy conflicts over race, ethnicity, abortion, homosexual rights, and environmental protection; and international conflicts in the Middle East, Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Although the answers differed somewhat from one person (or one context) to another, there was a remarkable degree of similarity between the responses we received. By combining the answers to these questions with theoretical ideas from others working in the field, we have been able to develop a theory of intractable conflict, as well as a series of practical steps that parties and intermediaries can take to make their participation in these conflicts more productive.

The Medical Model

The constructive confrontation approach follows a medical model in which destructive conflict processes are likened to diseases—pathological processes that adversely affect people, organizations, and societies as a whole. Sometimes these "diseases" can be completely cured; at other times, we can only limit the most troublesome symptoms. As in medicine, some pathological processes seem to resist all mitigation efforts so far developed, though further research might yield effective remedies. We must be clear that conflict processes are not, of themselves, pathological. Constructive conflict plays an essential role in social evolution and human betterment. Our goal is simply to control the destructive conflict dynamics which can overwhelm these benefits.

Also like medicine, constructive confrontation takes an incremental approach. Rather than looking at conflict as a single entity and asking how can it be completely "resolved," constructive confrontation looks at each aspect of the conflict process and asks whether or not that part is effective and constructive, and if not, how it might be improved.

While constructive confrontation differs considerably from current mediation practice, it builds upon the field's considerable skills by applying these skills in different settings. As such, we see constructive confrontation as a way of extending the field's contributions to situations where the resolution or problem-solving model has not been as effective as we would all like.

Constructive Confrontation Steps

As in medicine, the first step in constructive confrontation is diagnosis. This process begins with preparation of a conflict map. Such a map should include the identification of active and potential adversary groups and intermediaries, along with their interests and positions. It should also place the immediate dispute into the context of the long-term, underlying conflict.

The next part of the diagnosis involves differentiating the core aspects of the conflict from what we call conflict complicating factors.   Complicating factors are problems in the conflict process that get "laid over" the core, making the core issues harder to see and address. Examples (which are shown in Figure 1 and discussed in detail below) include escalation and polarization, misunderstandings, fact-finding problems, procedural problems, and framing problems. After diagnosing complicating factors, problems in the core confrontation process must also be identified. These include the inadequate identification of power options, the inadequate assessment of the costs and benefits of various options, overlooking ripe moments, and reliance on bitter end power struggles. (These too are shown in Figure 1 and discussed in detail below.)

Identification, Selection, and Implementation of Treatment Options

After destructive conflict dynamics are diagnosed, the next step in constructive confrontation is the identification and implementation of realistic, incremental steps for reducing as many of the complicating factors as possible. In some cases these remedies involve easy "don't do its"—pitfalls which are easy to avoid once you see them. (For example, gratuitous insults which promote unnecessary hostility.) Other steps require either the acquisition of new skills (e.g., active listening), outside assistance from conflict professionals (facilitation, transformative mediation, or structured dialogues, perhaps), or the making of hard choices for which there are no clear answers (deciding whether to pursue a short-term victory even though it is likely to provoke a damaging, long-term backlash, for example.) While some remedies can be implemented unilaterally, others require the joint efforts of adversaries, intermediaries, or both. Once specific options are selected and implemented, results should be monitored and adjustments made when needed as the conflict continues and changes over time.

The sections that follow offer a number of examples of conflict pathologies and possible treatments. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of the things that could go wrong. It does, however, illustrate what one looks for when using the constructive confrontation approach. Once one starts to look at confrontations in this way, a great many other opportunities for transforming conflicts in constructive ways appear.

Identification and Treatment of Complicating Factors

Complicating factors tend to fall into one of five categories: 1) framing problems, 2) misunderstandings, 3) procedural problems, 4) fact-finding problems, and 5) escalation and polarization.

Framing Problems

The framing of an intractable conflict by the parties is a complex and often muddled process in which vague but intense feelings of frustration are transformed into passionate crusades for particular positions. If done well, the conflict is framed in ways which accurately reflect the core issues and lead to clear and sensible strategic choices. Often however, errors are made and muddled framing processes leave people pursuing positions that do not really advance their interests. People can, for example, simply get so angry that they fall victim to the primal scream syndrome in which they simply vent their frustrations without seriously considering what it would really take to achieve their goals. Here ADR techniques which help people think more clearly about interests can be very helpful, even though a win-win solution may be impossible.

In other cases, the parties may pursue "into the sea" framing with the objective of making an opponent figuratively or literally disappear from the face of the earth. This unrealistic and immoral goal leaves adversaries with no choice but all-out confrontation. The solution requires the parties to frame the conflict in ways which would at least provide their opponent with a livable outcome.

There is also the danger of unnecessary zero-sum framing in which the parties incorrectly assume that a conflict (or sub-conflict) has an irreducible win-lose character when it does not. This problem, which can be addressed through standard mediation techniques, is capable of making a tractable conflict seem quite intractable.

The worldview problem arises when disputants assume that their opponents see the world the same way that they do. Because disputants then see their opponents as taking an utterly unconscionable position, the only possible explanation is that they are fundamentally evil. In reality opponents' perceptions of the world are usually dramatically different and this different worldview gives them a reasonable, though certainly different, reason for reaching the conclusions that they do. In these situations a joint clarification of the parties' assumptions, beliefs, concerns, and fears--along with their interests and positions--can be very helpful in clarifying why people feel the way they do.


The reality of intractable confrontation is bad enough. When contending parties miscommunicate, the situation can get much worse, especially when one considers the common, worst-case bias that people tend to have toward their opponents. In addition to a lack of basic communication skills, the parties can fall victim to a number of pathologies that contribute to misunderstandings. These misunderstandings not only lead to misinformed decisions, they also contribute to the even more destructive processes of escalation and polarization (which are discussed below).

Few people communicate effectively when they are angry. They say things they don't mean, or things they would regret if they had been thinking carefully before they spoke. At the same time, they tend to misinterpret—usually for the worse—things their opponents say. Put together, these tendencies cause people to overreact and assume their opponents are far more sinister than they really are.

These problems are exacerbated by the recreational complaint syndrome—the common practice of gossiping with one's friends and allies about how one's opponents are the source of all evil, while one's own group, of course, is the source of all virtue. The ability of many radio talk shows to exploit this phenomenon underlies both their success and the highly inaccurate images of the world that they often give to their listeners.

Another problem, the extremist bias, results from the fact that moderate, reasonable people are dull. More interesting, and what the media tends to focus upon, are extreme people and events. This often leads readers and listeners to conclude that these extreme events fairly characterize the opposition and that extreme responses are therefore justified.

People also commonly suffer from the "I already know" syndrome. This problem discourages them from re-evaluating an issue, changing their mind, or even listening to opponents once they have decided what they believe. As a result they are likely to cling to unrealistic stereotypes and not be alert for changes in their opponents' positions or behavior. Finally, communication crises arise when people are overtaken by events and simply run out of time to talk and listen.

These are all problems which can be limited by the systematic application of many communication-improvement techniques which are now in wide use by mediators and other conflict resolution professionals. These include active-listening skills, facilitated dialogues and meetings, rumor control teams, enhanced public writing and speaking skills, and the use of telecommunications technologies to facilitate rapid, accurate, and widespread communication. Slowing down the pace of events can also be beneficial since it provides time for the parties to collect all relevant information and plan a constructive response, rather than reacting to rumors or other misinformation without the time to think things through.

Procedural Problems

Before the parties can constructively address the core substantive issues they must limit the distracting effects of procedural disputes. While people do not always expect to be victorious, they do expect to be treated fairly. Violation of generally-accepted principles of fairness can easily divert attention from the core, substantive issues and become the central focus of a controversy. This may also broaden the scope of the conflict considerably as others, who feel their procedural rights threatened, are drawn into the fray.

Some procedural problems stem from the missing stakeholder syndrome which arises through a failure to identify all stakeholders or to provide a mechanism though which their concerns can be heard and their legitimate interests protected. It is important to include both active stakeholders and potentially-affected groups who are likely to become active as the conflict progresses. Other procedural problems involve issues of power and the charge that ADR is just another way to co-opt the powerless and sugar-coat injustice. Similarly, lengthy and elaborate grievance-review processes, which may be intended to be fair, can also be seen as delaying tactics designed to avoid dealing with injustice under the guise of careful and fair deliberation. (Process complaints can, of course, also arise as part of a process diversion designed to draw attention away from the core issue by those with weak substantive arguments.)

Regardless of their source, process complaints must be limited before the core conflict can be constructively addressed. This can be done by implementing a series of common sense treatment measures—have clear rules of procedure, make sure the rules are well publicized, and then follow them. Don't skip steps, don't hide things, don't do things that even appear improper. It doesn't look good, even if the reason seems good at the time. Treat everyone fairly, and be aware of the impact of power differentials. The process must be chosen carefully to be fair to all groups and be predictable, at least in terms of process, if not outcome.

Fact-Finding Problems

In today's technically complex society it is impossible for people to effectively advance their interests without a good understanding of applicable facts. Without this understanding, long-fought- for "solutions" are likely to have unintended and often adverse consequences.

Typical fact-finding problems include the bidding war syndrome where people contending for leadership positions try to "one-up" each other by claiming to be more concerned about public safety or some other issue than their opponent. Eventually, this process makes it impossible for leaders to decide that a particular safety measure is not worth the expense. Irreducible uncertainties also provide a golden opportunity for those wishing to avoid addressing the tough, but important, issues. They can simply force the process into analysis-paralysis with calls for yet another study.

Equally problematic is the use of junk science to support self-serving positions. Decision makers and the public are usually not scientists and are, therefore, unable to distinguish good science from bad. When one side gets an "expert" to support its view, the opposition is likely to do the same, leaving decision makers and the public with no way to tell who to believe. Often, the potential benefits of formal fact-finding are lost altogether.

Potential solutions to such fact-finding problems include blue-ribbon oversight committees, fact- finding teams, data mediation, technical primers to help lay people understand complex issues, and no-strings-attached funding which citizen groups can use to hire independent experts to verify (or refute) claims made by other parties to a conflict.

Escalation and Polarization

Perhaps the most destructive conflict dynamic is escalation. Its explosive cycle of provocation and counter-provocation eventually results in the replacement of substantive debate with increasingly hateful and sometimes violent confrontations directed more at hurting opponents than advancing interests. This process plays a crucial role in the long slide toward war and the crossing of taboo lines which normally restrain our most inhuman impulses. It can also lead people to take ever more extreme and unjustifiable positions. Escalation alone is sufficiently powerful to transform what should be a tractable dispute into one that is virtually impossible to resolve.

Despite the dangers of escalation, advocates frequently escalate a conflict intention ally—thinking that they can harness to power of escalation to mobilize support for their side. While this riding the tiger strategy may appear to work, it is also likely to build support for the opposition. The common result is the intensification of the conflict, not victory. Escalation can also contribute to polarization—a process which greatly expands the scope of the conflict by forcing people to choose sides in an attempt to build the strongest coalitions possible.

Although traditional settlement-oriented mediation is usually inappropriate to use in intractable conflicts, many of the standard de-escalation strategies used by mediators and facilitators can be adapted and applied in these cases. These include restructuring communication so that it ceases to be hostile and reframing escalated discourse in a nonescalated way. Other useful approaches include GRIT (the Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension-reduction);(1) dialogue processes which create "islands of unescalated discourse" within the context of heated confrontations;(2) independent observers who observe and report to the larger community any violations of peacekeeping arrangements; cooling-off periods; and disarming behaviors such as Anwar al-Sadat's trip to Jerusalem. There are also "mistakes were made" amnesties in which past errors are acknowledged without assigning blame or punishing the offender.

Identification and Treatment of Core Conflict Problems

The core issues involved in intractable conflicts usually have at least one of two key characteristics. First, they tend to contain an irreducible win-lose element. Sometimes these are deep-rooted moral differences that cannot be negotiated; sometimes they are domination contests where only one party can be on top. In either circumstance, win-win solutions are structurally impossible. Second, the stakes are usually very high. If the stakes are low, parties will settle. It isn't worth it to continue to fight. But if the stakes are one's identity; one's security; one's way of life; one's life chances or the life chances of one's children--then the stakes are high enough that parties will not accept defeat until they have tried all of the powers available to them in an effort to prevail. Power, therefore, plays a central role in intractable conflicts.

In addition to identifying the conflict complicating factors, diagnosis also needs to include an analysis of the power strategies being used to confront the core conflict.

Several pathologies occur frequently in the core conflict confrontation process, making the confrontation more costly and less effective than it might otherwise be. These include the inadequate identification of options, the inadequate assessment of the costs and benefits of options, overlooking ripe moments, and fighting until the bitter end. Each of these is discussed below.

Inadequate Identification of Strategic Options

One of the most common causes of destructive confrontation strategies is the inadequate identification of options. Often this is due to the parties' limited skills. Most often, parties only consider options they are familiar with and good at. Lawyers tend to litigate, mediators tend to mediate, warriors tend to wage war. While this rule is violated on occasion, people usually stick with the approaches that they are most comfortable with and experienced in using. Unfortunately, at least in the U.S., there seem to be many more people who are skilled in force-based approaches to conflict than there are with skills in transformative, constructive alternatives. This results in an excessive reliance on force-based strategies involving interpersonal threat, hard-ball politics, no-holds-barred litigation, and, all too often, violence. Not until many more people are exposed to and trained in unconventional and more constructive power options--such as effective persuasion, nonviolent action, coalition-building, and constructive political activism--will force-based strategies recede from their current dominance in intractable conflict confrontations.

While force-based strategies have problems, over reliance on softer strategies also can cause problems. For instance, mediators and negotiators often overlook what we call the "EATNA" effect. EATNA stands for "Estimated Alternatives To A Negotiated Agreement" (a take-off on Fisher and Ury's "BATNA"). The term "EATNA limit" refers to the problem that parties will not negotiate a settlement to a conflict that is highly important--as intractable conflicts usually are--if they believe that they have an alternative that will yield a better outcome than the negotiated settlement.

The EATNA limit is a fundamental principle that can only be changed through conversion--by getting parties to come to believe that they were wrong--at least in part--and that their opponents were right. This occurs fairly often during effective mediation, as the parties recognize the legitimate concerns or claims of the other party. However, if the parties at the table are just representatives of a larger constituency group, as is often the case in public policy conflicts, the conversion process is very difficult to "scale up." While the immediate negotiators may be willing to accept a settlement that is weaker than their EATNA, because their view of their opponent has been converted, the constituents still have their original preconceptions. As a result, these constituents are likely to want to reject the settlement and pursue their "better" alternatives. Thus the EATNA effect and the scale up problem lead to what we call the mirage effect-- settlements often vanish just as they appear to be within reach, as constituency groups won't ratify or uphold the agreement the negotiators reached. There are no easy solutions to this problem either. The challenge, however, is to develop better ways of extending conversion processes to large constituency groups.

Most often overlooked in choosing strategic options is the power of persuasion. Although seldom considered a power strategy, it is a very effective one if used well--the strongest, according to Kenneth Boulding, in Three Faces of Power. Boulding's three faces (or forms of power) are threat (we call it force) which takes the form "you do something I want, or I will do something you don't want;(3) exchange (we call it negotiation) which takes the form "you do something I want and I'll do something you want;(4) and love, which takes the form "you do something for me because you love me.(5) If "love" seems too strong a word, Boulding suggests, one can substitute "respect." Love does seem too strong a word in the context of intractable conflicts, but certainly parties can, indeed, come to respect each other through effective persuasion techniques.

To be successful, persuasion cannot be based upon narrow, selfish attempts by one group to secure an unfair advantage at another group's expense. Instead, it must be based upon clearly articulated principles or values that serve the interests of all citizens. While different political systems and religions have widely differing views about morality, fairness, and justice, there are often important areas of common ground that can serve as a basis for persuasive appeals. For example, Martin Luther King's strategy was based upon an appeal for America to "live out the true meaning of its creed." Since all citizens (black and white) have a stake in the principles of equality and justice, King's appeal was able to deliver white support in ways that a simple black revolt against the evils of white society could not.

King's strategy was actually a combination of force, exchange, and persuasion. He moved from one to the other quickly, and often used two or three at once in an effort to win improved rights for blacks. Several of our respondents suggested similar approaches. Paul Wehr urges the development of what he calls a power strategy mix--a combination of persuasion, negotiation, and force, with just enough of the latter to force the issue, and enough of the first two to keep the opponents negotiating in good faith.(6)

Using a power mix also avoids the one-size-fits all problem in which the only confrontation strategies that parties use are those designed to deal with their most threatening and incorrigible opponents. While there is a place for forceful strategies for dealing with hardliners, it is usually a serious mistake to treat all opponents as if they were incorrigible extremists. More reasonable opponents could easily become so enraged by such a strategy that their opposition does, in fact, become extreme and the conflict escalates out of control. We suggest dividing opponents into at least four groups: persuadables, reluctant persuadables, and incorrigibles. Advocacy groups then need to develop different strategies for dealing with each of these groups. Persuadables should receive a large dose of persuasion. For reluctant persuadables the strategy should be modified to include a modest amount of forcing power to prevent them from avoiding the issue. For incorrigibles the level of force must be increased substantially while still retaining the persuasive efforts needed to legitimate that force and minimize the backlash effect.

Misjudgment of the Costs and Benefits of Alternative Strategies

A second common confrontation error is over-estimating the likely effectiveness of a chosen strategy and/or underestimating its cost. This happens often among advocates of force. While force- based strategies can be very effective over the short term, they entail substantial risks which are often overlooked. One is the risk of inaccurately assessing the balance of power. Sometimes, for instance, disputants fall prey to the picnic illusion--the assumption that they are in such a powerful position that the impending confrontation will be a "picnic." If this assumption is inaccurate (and it often is) the conflict is likely to be much more costly than anticipated and may even result in defeat. Often the result is protracted and costly power struggles which might have been avoided had both sides more accurately assessed the power of the other and chosen a course of action that better reflected the real power balance.

Another cost of force, even when it is quickly successful, is the threat of backlash. People hate to be forced to do things against their will, especially when important issues are involved. While they may, at least initially, submit to such force, they will resent it and are likely to try very hard to build their power base with the goal of launching a counter-attack at the earliest possible opportunity. Therefore, force is likely to encourage backlash, escalation, and continued confrontation. The 1995- 96 Republican response to years of liberal social and environmental policies is one current example of such a backlash.

Similar errors can be made with negotiation-based or persuasion based strategies. People favoring negotiation, for example, often overlook the EATNA limit and the conversion scale-up problem, and assume that negotiation can be used as an alternative to force. While the costs of such an approach are not as high as those of force-based strategies, the benefits may also not reach expectations.

Among traditional low-power groups, there is also the danger of the illusion of powerlessness. Pessimists (and especially disempowered pessimists) often assume the costs of confrontation are much higher and the potential benefits are much lower than they actually are. This usually results in withdrawal or conflict avoidance. While this is appropriate in some cases, it can also result in the perpetuation of serious injustice. A solution to this problem is some sort of advocacy advisor who can apply their knowledge of conflict processes to the task of empowering the disempowered.

Overlooking Ripe Moments and Fighting to the Bitter End

Expectations are key in another way as well. If parties can agree on the likely outcome of available power contests, then they have an incentive to negotiate an agreement that closely parallels the expected outcome, but reduces transaction costs and allows fine-tuning of the outcome. When this occurs we say that the dispute (not the underlying conflict) is ripe for resolution. In a few cases the dispute may not be ripe until destructive power contests have been pursued to the bitter end. In this case negotiations only clarify the terms of surrender.

However, the relative power balance is often clear far before the end, or can be made so by using one of many "short-cut" power-balance tests. For example, mock trials give the parties a prediction of the probable outcome of litigation which they can then use as a basis for negotiation. Similarly, opinion polls or straw votes can be used to forecast the outcome of an electoral power contest. A strong display of police or military power can demonstrate the potency of a force-based alternative to negotiation, which can then remain unused as nonviolent negotiation and persuasion efforts are pursued. If these short cut processes are used to measure the power balance, they can save the costs of a bitter end power contest, yet yield the same result. This is better, even for the loser, as they will have more resources left to regroup and come back again later for a more effective challenge of the status quo. This is a hard choice to make, however, when the stakes are high. Often parties fall prey to the down in flames syndrome in which people who are losing a dispute episode stubbornly pursue the power contest to the bitter end, hoping that somehow they might eventually prevail. Along with the overuse of force and miscalculating the power balance, the down in flames syndrome is one of the most destructive conflict pathologies.

It is also important not to pursue resolution for sake of resolution. Resolution of the immediate dispute should not be the ultimate goal. While such a resolution may be a laudable intermediate goal, the ultimate goal should still be the building of constructive relationships and the making of fair and wise decisions over both the short and long term.

Constructive Confrontation

The Constructive Confrontation Cycle

Traditional problem-solving mediation is linear. It goes through a predetermined series of steps, in a prescribed order. Although different mediators list different steps, most correspond rather closely to those set out by Moore.(7) First, the parties are contacted, background information is collected, a strategy is developed, and the parties' agreement to participate is obtained. Then the mediation session commences--opening statements are made, issues are defined, interests are elicited, options for settlement are developed and assessed, and agreement is reached. A settlement document is drawn up and signed, the mediation is over, and the parties go home.

Constructive confrontation is very different. There is no established beginning point, and usually no end. Rather, parties begin when and where they want to, usually when they have decided (or recognized) that the conflict they are involved in is more destructive than constructive, and they need to develop a more effective way of managing it. To do this, they do begin with a diagnosis process (this is necessary), but then they can choose any of many different approach to treating the pathologies they discover. They can try to tackle all the problems at once, or they can take them one at a time. They can deal with misunderstandings first, and then procedural difficulties, or they can go the other way around. They can start down one path, and reverse to another path as the need develops. Constructive confrontation is very flexible and adaptable to the problem at hand.

Constructive confrontation is also cyclical. After treatments are undertaken, results are monitored, and strategies adjusted if the treatments did not work. It is expected that the underlying conflict will continue, so in order to keep that conflict productive, parties must continue to monitor the changes in core issues and development of complicating factors over time. Things that were "fixed" a few months or years ago may spring up again and need further attention. So constructive confrontation is an ongoing process, not a one-time event plopped in the middle (or at the end) of a protracted conflict.

Constructive Confrontation

One goal of constructive confrontation is to help disputants develop a clear understanding of the dimensions of the problem—both from their own perspective and from their opponents.' A second goal of constructive confrontation is to enable people to separate the core conflict from what we call the conflict complicating factor—the unnecessary and confounding aspects of the conflict that divert attention from the core issues.

The final goal of constructive confrontation is the development of a conflict strategy (which may or may not be a resolution strategy) that will best serve the party's interests. Unlike principled negotiation, which calls for the parties to consider all sides' interests simultaneously and to develop win-win solutions, constructive confrontation recognizes that this is often not a realistic request. Therefore, we ask people not to consider the interests and needs of the other parties, but to design their confrontation strategy primarily with their own interests and needs in mind. This works best if it can be accompanied by a recognition of commonly accepted principles of fairness and justice.

Since it is almost always in the interest of both parties to act in a way which limits destructive outcomes (e.g., violence, escalating hatred, and distrust) this strategy seldom makes a conflict worse, and it usually encourages constructive results—improved relationships, better understanding of the issues from all points of view, and a better understanding of the confrontation and resolution options and the likely results of both. Thus, these strategies usually work to the advantages of both sides. They are unlikely, however, to go far enough to resolve the conflict.

Constructive, Though Still Conflictual, Relationships

The ultimate goal of constructive confrontation is the constructive transformation of conflictual relationships. Such a transformation allows individuals, organizations, and the society as a whole to realize the benefits of conflict. It helps people, organizations, and societies to learn, grow, and change. It helps people identify problems and challenges and develop ways to meet those challenges and become stronger in the process. Without successful transformation, destructive conflicts just drag people down. They consume resources, time, energy, and morale—all to no avail. They destroy relationships, undermine productivity, and often lead to violations of basic human rights. It is, therefore, essential that better techniques be developed to transform destructive intractable conflicts into constructive, though often still conflictual, relationships. This is just a beginning. Much more effort is needed to test these ideas and to develop better approaches for transforming destructive conflicts in constructive ways.