Principles for Conflict Resolution

Tom Murray

V. 12/06

Below are principles of conflict resolution and peace-making, which I compiled as part of the Dance New England (DNE) community's Peace and Justice Policy.  It is an attempt to articulate a set of principles that underlie the concrete Peace and Justice Procedures and the Guidelines for Conflict Resolution Councils, as well as and the operations of both formal Peace Council (PC) interventions, and informal conflict resolution councils.  The Principles below are  very roughly ordered to build upon each other. The list is inspired by many sources, including Marshall Rosenberg, Arnold Mindell, restorative justice, Reevaluation Co-counseling, the Harvard Negotiation Project, Public Conversations Project, J¸rgen Habermas.  The list is intended as a grounding point for conversation about our values, and as a first draft that will evolve as community members and leaders discuss the principles.

1.                        People have a deep desire to care for each other and contribute to each other's well-being, though many other factors can keep this desire from surfacing in specific situations.

2.                        Conflict is a natural and healthy part of life that happens because people they have different needs, values, perspectives, and beliefs.  Our personal desires can conflict with the interests of others or of the group as a whole.

3.                        Conflict can be seen as an opportunity to grow, to learn about each other and ourselves, to become more intimate with and committed to each other.

4.                        We place a high value on the quality of interpersonal relationships.  Building quality relationships and trust requires effort, patience, and integrity. 

5.                        Conflict is always best dealt with non-violently.

6.                        'Violence' can take many forms, and it is not enough to only focus on obvious physical violence, as non physical violence can be equally damaging.  In addition to physical violence, some would say that violent acts can be verbal emotional, passive aggressive, rumor spreading, etc. (including violence to one's self).  Threats of physical violence are taken very seriously, and are not tolerated in our community.

7.                        Dealing with conflict is about dialog.  When there is a problem situation, there should be a strong intention to hear every side and perspective in a safe and  respectful environment.   Those who will be affected by the end decision  (or representatives of such groups) should be brought into the process. 

8.                        One of the most important skills in dialog is listening.  A critical part of dealing with conflict is understanding other perspectives and gaining some distance from our own world view.   Listening to the opinions of others who we disagree with, or when we are feeling strong emotions, is difficult.  Listening is a real skill, not to be taken for granted, but to be practiced, taught, and reflected upon.  The experience of 'being heard' or understood is, for many, an important prerequisite to ongoing dialog. 

9.                        An important skill in dealing with conflict is self awareness--the ability to reflect on our own beliefs, values, biases, and behavior. 

10.                    It is important to pay attention to the language we use when we communicate our needs, feelings, and beliefs.  For example,  our society has come to understand the importance of 'I' messages.  There are other useful practices involving the skillful use of language (NVC, etc.).

11.                    It is useful to make a clear differentiation between what statements can be mutually taken as facts or data vs. those that are opinions, judgments, or hypotheses.  It may take some dialog to determine what the agreed upon facts are.  It is also useful to identify and differentiate one's feelings, needs/values, and requests (as in the Non-Violent Communication model).

12.                    A spectrum of needs must be balanced  in conflict prevention and intervention.  Caring, empathy, and compassion are vital, but also strong, decisive action, clear boundaries, and, when necessary, the "protective use of force."

13.                    When the actions of someone result in harm to others, the accused should listen to the reactions of those who they have (allegedly) affected (or representatives of those).

14.                    All parties (those accused of doing harm and those believing they have been harmed) should have the support of allies as they try to articulate their positions and argue to have their needs met.  All processes should include witnesses, at least some of whom are relatively neutral and not directly involved.

15.                    Punishment , like retribution,  is counterproductive.  All harmful acts are done by a person trying their best to meet some needs, misguided and tragic as their strategies might be.  Consequences should be appropriate and fitting, and should aim toward healing the damage caused, education and personal growth, and creating systems of agreements  and responsibilities that support personal integrity and the quality of relationships. 

16.                    Strong or decisive "consequences" or decisions can be made in the name of the safety and protection of others, or in the hopes of providing opportunities for the accused to learn.  But as best we can, these should come from a place of compassion and understanding rather than anger or fear. 

17.                    Those who's manner or intentions fall significantly outside of our values can be removed from the community and its events (see P&J Procedures).

18.                    We try not to get overly bogged down in processing the past when this is not productive, but to look to current needs and are what we can do in the future to help everyone's needs be met.

19.                    Just saying "sorry" is often not enough, and appropriate compensation or reconciliation can be important to "restorative justice." This helps the offended party know that the offender(s) take their pain seriously, and allows to be reestablished.  It is also beneficial for the accused to support self-esteem and a sense of balance.  It help all parties heal and reestablish a bond of friendship and/or community. Either party might suggest an act of reconciliation to compensate for suffering or inconvenience. (Examples include a written public apology, doing a chore shift, etc.).

20.                    It is often best to put agreements in writing, sighed by both parties.

21.                    Though most of the methods mentioned here involve dialog, there are many non-verbal methods of expressing ideas and connection that may work best for some people (art, writing, movement, play...).

22.                    The skills mentioned here need to be practiced to make a difference.  Reading, understanding, and agreeing with them is only a beginning.  Creating a community understanding of what these mean in real situations requires that we try to apply them to diverse situation and practice making key distinctions (ex. .between feelings and needs).

23.                    As a community we are committed to an ongoing process of educating ourselves, becoming more sensitive listeners, developing our awareness of the needs of others, and to keep evolving our understanding of conflict resolution.

24.                    While we all want inner and outer peace and justice, DNE members, leaders, and community resources can not be expected to right every injustice and heal every wound.  Policies should set some limits on what participants can expect from DNE in terms of "give and take". The line between conflict resolution and "therapy" can be fuzzy.  Issues involving extended work with personal growth, healing, etc. should be dealt with separately from formal conflict resolution sessions (unless otherwise agreed).