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Essay Paper on Conflict Resolution

by George Princeton 


Conflicts are as old as mankind; they are a universal phenomenon which can be found at all levels of human coexistence. It is not the presence of conflict which is problematic; the pure existence of conflicts it is not constituting a threat to peace. However its violent forms, which propagate unjust system that favors only one of the parties involved, inclined to take over power and to impose their own interests and who believe that only they hold the “absolute truth” is the most dangerous (Bolstad and Hamblett, 2011). Such attitudes can easily degenerate into thought and behavior patterns targeted on total domination: losses registered by one party are gains for another. The winner, by association, is the most powerful, justice standing on his side. In everyday life, conflicts are automatically associated with arguments, with conflicts of interest, with power or with the use of violence.


Ulrike C. Wasmuth as cited by Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, pointed out that it is important to consider conflicts as mere social facts, and not confuse them with their more advanced forms; conflicts should not be limited in terms of specific assessment and should not be confused with their causes (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009). The conflict in Wasmuth’s vision is a “social fact involving at least two parties (individuals, groups, states) that:

a)      serve different purposes, or even the same purpose, but these cannot be achieved by a single party and / or

b)      want to use the disputed means to achieve a particular purpose

People often try to resolve conflicts through various “traditional” methods, whose inefficiency has long been proven. These methods include: strategies of coercion, intimidation and threat which would are aimed at forcing the parties to drop the conflict. The possibilities of constructive conflict resolution depend on both the conflict’s type and its level of development. Furthermore, it must be determined whether it is a conflict between individuals, groups or institutions or even a conflict at the level of the entire international society, and whether the conflict is latent or already violent. One of the most difficult undertakings is to remove the structural causes of the conflict, ie the final dissolution of the differences and tensions between the parties.

Thomas Gordon, an American psychologist from the humanist school, became known by establishing communication concepts such as the “family conference”, the “teacher conference” and the “managers’ conference”. The Gordon model talks about general rules applicable to communication and conflict resolution according to universal rules in the spirit of fair play.

Conflicts are often perceived as a battle that needs to be won. They often develop an internal dynamic that makes it difficult, if not excludes, a peaceful, constructive and non-violent settlement. Researches aimed at the human behavior in situations of conflict have shown that people tend to impose their own interests focusing on their own opinions – this happens even when failures are beginning to show their effects. This behavior pattern is accompanied also by an increasing limitation of the capacity of perception and decision.

Mutual respect and understanding are possible settlement of conflicts, in which there are no winners or losers. The goal is that people learn to impose in order to meet their needs, but without neglecting the needs of others, and like this pre-encountering such feelings as frustration or development of resignation. Moreover, the goal is that people should:

  • open to each other (to show their needs, feelings, desires, and the effects of others behavior), instead of examining and underestimating others
  • listen carefully to each other and help others to express themselves clearly,
  • resolve conflicts in a creative way that pleases everybody
  • develop their advisory capacity, in order to advise others how to resolve conflicts

The most important elements of a communication process in a spirit of fair play are (Gordon Training, 2011):

  • people must express their thoughts and ideas clearly, personally, and always use first person singular
  • they must recognize and avoid derogatory messages, formulated using second person
  • they must be able to describe problematic behaviors rather than evaluate them
  • they must recognize active listening, communication barriers and they must adopt the style of active listening
  • they must express their feelings
  • they should not give advice regarding the conduct to be followed

In addition to acquiring these rules of communication one must also learn some strategies for resolving conflicts. The strategies for communication in the spirit of fair play are:

  • confrontation type discussions
  • the “everybody wins” solution
  • discussions for clarification of the situation

The confrontation type discussions are part of the strategies that people practice every day. These discussions often have the role of imposing one’s opinion – using force and with the risk of hurting the personal relations – or not to impose, with the risk of feeling dissatisfied, because the unwanted situation is unchanged. Applying the principle of fair-play in the communication process, people can see that there is also a third way to impose over other people, but without damaging the relationship that they have with them. The second strategy is the solution “everybody wins” (the win-win strategy). It is more appropriate for complex problems, that involve more people and where there should be considered multiple interests. In this case it is important to divide the solution process into smaller steps:

  • Needs clarification
  • Identifying multiple variants of solving
  • Evaluation of alternatives
  • Decision
  • Planning the execution of solutions, and the control of effectiveness of these solutions

Messages in the first person, singular (I messages)

When a person speaks using first person, singular, it means that he will take responsibility for what has been said, and that he wants to be direct and to the point. Thus, the partner (in the conflict) is not blamed (“You …!”); Moreover, the effect of his actions on the initiator of the communication process is placed in the heart of the expressions. When we speak in first person, singular, it means that we want to talk about how we view things, about our own desires, needs and interests (Tauber, 2007). Messages in the first person singular, have a particular style, which, when are perceived only in a technocratic way, may sound somewhat fake. Therefore, this kind of messages should not be used as a technology – they must express genuine feelings.

The third way for solving conflicts concerns the personal side. This strategy seeks to clarify issues through discussions between the partners that are already having very close personal relationships. During the dialogue between partners, there are clarified the expectations, needs and desires of the parties and joint decisions are taken.

One of the most common and well known applications of the Gordon model regards the classroom management. Effective management of the learning environment is based on negotiations aimed at establishing rules to prevent potential conflicts. Thomas Gordon, believed that the use of precise and relatively neutral communication means can help reduce the negative behaviors of the students and thus to reduce the number of conflict. Gordon’s analysis is centered on the question: “Who has a problem?”. If the problem is on the part of the student, the teacher will have to get involved and help solve it (the teacher becomes advisor and supporter). In such cases, Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire recommend active listening, meaning to temporary tune your own point of the view with the partner’s point of view (Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire, 1989). The idea is to help the student, offering sympathy and support as a teacher, in order to determine the student to find a way to solve the problem himself. For this there are recommend a few items that can support active listening:

  • Do not talk about you
  • Do not change topics
  • Do not give advice, do not diagnosed, do not encouraged, do not criticize or harass
  • Do not think ahead to what you will say
  • Do not ignore or deny the other’s feelings
  • Consider what he feels from what he does not say, as well as from what he says
  • Watch nonverbal communication (eg has tears in her/his eyes? Has nervous moves?)
  • Do not pretend that you understood what he meant when in fact you did not
  • Ask about his needs, concerns, anxieties and difficulties
  • Acknowledge that you have understood. Paraphrase the main idea

If the teacher has a problem, in one way or another the students will be affected and therefore they must be involved in the solution. For example, if the lesson cannot be presented due to noise and bustle from a group of students, the teacher has a problem. In such cases it is recommended a message centered on the teacher and not on the student; a message that will highlight the possible undesirable consequences of the student’s actions on the teacher. If the situation does not change, Gordon recommends a multi-stage procedure, which involves both the teacher and the pupil / students: the win-win strategy.


A successful communication is the key to constructive conflict resolution. In its professionalized and even ritualized shape, communication plays an important role in all conflict resolution procedures. Therefore, mediation communicative skills are central to peace education. When there is a conflict, the communication process is scrambled or very limited. So we first must see how communication can be organized in order to reach a common perspective on the conflict, and on the problems that underlie it. The first condition for this is the will to add to our perceptual horizon a new different conception, and trying to understand the other’s intentions. Threats, accusations, and asserting do not belong here. They should be replaced by cooperative models of explanation and understanding.

Nowadays, the Gordon Model is as actual, as in the day it was first developed. However, many people consider the Gordon model just as a tool for parenting or for teachers – but at a more closer look, we can see that this model can be extended to almost any area of life that involves conflicts. Of course this model needs major transformation when applied for international conflicts or political issues, but the basic principles remain unchanged, because negotiation, at any level, is still made between people. The Gordon model teaches both communication and conflict resolution for all types of leaders, teachers, and parents.

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Bolstad R. and Hamblett M., (2011) How Do You Build Co-operation? Retrieved from: http://www.transformations.net.nz/trancescript/how-can-we-solve-this.html, January 2nd 2012
Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire, (1989) Everyone can win, Simon & Schuster, Pymble
Gordon Training, (2011), Active Listening, retrieved from: http://www.gordontraining.com/free-resources/free-school-resources/, January 2nd 2012
Tauber, R.T., (2007), Clasroom Management, Praeger Publishers, USA
Zastrow C., Kirst-Ashman K., (2009), Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Brooks/Cole, USA

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