Natalie Züfle Conflict Management
Task: How can the analysis of a conflict inform the conflict manager’s implementation choice of negotiation or mediation?
Conflicts can be managed by means of various approaches, two of which are negotiation and mediation. Regarding the relation of mediation to negotiation, various scholars denote the former one as “merely a special case of (bilateral) negotiation in which a third-party facilitator is brought to enable the parties to do what they could not do when left alone” (Zartman 2002, p. 78, also Pruitt and Carnevale 1993, p. 165, etc.). But when do conflict managers rather decide for negotiation, when for mediation? From this position, I am going to illustrate how the analysis of conflict can inform the conflict manager’s implementation choice of negotiation or mediation.
To put it very clearly in a nutshell right at the beginning: knowing background and details1 about a certain conflict improves the chances accordingly to find more appropriate strategies and conflict management methodologies for de-escalating it. When scholars know about the nature of a conflict they can easier attune tools for its resolution. A conflict can be analysed with the help of different approaches.
A very comprehensible argumentation2 for when to use either negotiation or mediation is brought forward by Bercovitch and Jackson. In their study the authors conclude that
“negotiation tends to be used when conflicts are relatively simple, of a low intensity, and when both parties are relatively equal in power. Mediation, on the other hand, tends to be used in disputes characterized by high complexity, high intensity, long duration, unequal and fractionated parties, and where the willingness of the parties to settle peacefully is in doubt” (Bercovitch and Jackson 2001, p. 59).
The application of both tools depends on certain given preconditions. This is the case, when according to the authors a conflict situation is marked by
“(1) a low or decreasing probability of attaining conflict goals through violent struggle, withdrawal, or avoidance;
(2) a decreasing value of the conflict goals, relative to the direct costs of pursuing those goals and relative to other goals;
(3) a set of common or compatible interests between the parties, or at least the possibility of a settlement offering mutual advantages over continued conflict; and
(4) the flexibility by each leadership to consider negotiation”
(Bercovitch and Jackson 2001, p. 61)
For the special case of mediation to be considered, the authors on the one hand argue that the negotiation efforts in the conflict must have come to a dead end. Pruitt and Carnevale speak here of a “hurting stalemate”, which in consequence will increase the rivals’ receptivity (1993, p. 178). On the other hand, there should exist an expectation that the conflict can be solved through a mediator as well as own goals to be realized (“cost-benefit analysis of the viability of negotiations, unilateral actions, or mediation”, Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001, p. 61, 65).
With regard to the latter aspect, Terris and Maoz come to similar results in their game-theoretical conflict analysis treatise – with disputants being rational actors, seeking to maximize utility. According to them, the examination of the structure of the conflict helps to determine, which tool is going to be used with greater chances for success, concluding that that the more versatile the conflict, the rather mediation is going to occur (Terris and Maoz 2005, p. 577).
One must add that some scholars also concurrently refer to the changed nature of many conflicts3 in the last decades, implying other characteristics that have to be taken into account, like the analysis of the disputants’ identity (Rothman and Olsen 2001, p. 290). By using the ARIA-framework “underlying values, needs, and their Resonance within and between sides” can be considered (2001, p. 297).
1 Analyzing a conflict can include getting information about the following aspects (see Maulden 2009, p. 5):
– Sources of the conflict – Parties involved in the conflict – Issues in contention – Tactics used by all parties – Changes in tactics, issues, and/or parties over time – Enlargement or expansion of issues and/or parties over time – Roles that conflict parties or conflict interveners have assumed – Outcomes of the conflict or of previous interventions
2 Without going too much into detail, in their plausible descriptive-analytical approach – the Contingency Framework of International Negotiation– there are three sets of variables (regarding context, process and outcome) “with specific operational criteria, each of which may have an impact on the process and outcome of the conflict management” (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2001, p. 66). Within the first one the nature of the dispute and the parties is examined, within the second one the conflict management characteristics having taken place so far. Results from these two categories lead to the determination of the respective conflict management method, i.e. either negotiation or mediation, to be applied.
3 denoted among others as 'ethnopolitical conflict', 'communal conflict', 'protracted social conflict', 'identity-based conflict'