Conflict Management
and Peace Mediation
Lars Kirchhoff outlines various strategies and tools used in peace mediations worldwide.
"If there's one thing I want you to know," our speaker, Lars Kirchhoff, says, "it's that conflict isn't necessarily a zero-sum game.".

Using terms like mediation, conflict management, dialogue, conflict transformation can be quite trendy, but he also would like us to know that people are seeing them more and more like a science. It isn't about, as he puts it, flying Jimmy Carter out somewhere and letting magic happen – there are teams of people putting meetings together, skills you can educate yourself in, networks that can prop you up. Not that we don't need Jimmy Carters anymore, but things are less based on individual charisma (and winging it) and more on what we do as a group. What we can learn from each other.

So what are different components of a dialogue? He tells us about a couple major areas: attitudes, knowledge and skills.

When we talk about attitude, terms like 'multi-partiality' are big buzzwords. Think the ability to recognize one's interest and non-neutrality but still being partial to different sides at the right moments, as well as being detached when called for. Other attitude factors include respect, patience, empathy, listening skills, helping a person formulate or express their interests or needs. But of course these also raise questions: can these be taught? Do you need to just *have* empathy from the start?

With knowledge, one of the things Lars focuses on is the need to have people on mediation teams who've been formed in different disciplines. Law, for example, or psychology, political science, economics, cultural studies, social geography. Again, he stresses the need for teams to be made of a number of folks all injecting expertise from different spheres.

Then there are skills, and we're going to look a bit more at those below, but there are a couple different skill-clusters that have to do with different roles:
Good Offices
This is the act of finding space for compromise or good talks – think the logistics, the place, transport, a non-partial vibe. Think the peace tent offered by a third party.
The process by which different parties are assisted by a facilitator (or not? but usually yes) to understand each other's interests better. There isn't a focus on finding a solution so much on making sure that everyone in the process is seen and understood. Then things can move on to other stages
This has a lot to do with the role of the mediator her/himself. In a mediation, the facilitator structures the talks, helps elicit the interests of each party (like in dialogue), but there is a focus on finding solutions. These solutions, though, have to come from the parties and not from the facilitator.
This is the same as mediation, but with the difference that the facilitator can actually propose solutions – they become involved, in a way, like another party to the issue.
So, depending on what you want to do you'll be needing very different skillsets and backgrounds involved.

Stepping back, he starts to look at data from different conflicts around the world (I notice that his data is taken from the Journal of Peace Research, which is a publication maintained by PRIO). But where PRIO usually starts from the figure that the number of battle-deaths are dropping (prompting a kind of optimism), he presents figures on the number of conflicts themselves, which has risen until the 90's and hovered in the low fifties/high forties since then. This does not look optimistic. Even less so: the number of conflicts solved by mediation hasn't super-increased along with their number.

Continuing to speak about things from a top-down level, he notes that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (USA, China, UK, Russia, France) are proportionally-speaking the most involved in active mediation (not mentioned here, but organizations like the African Union are also quite prominent). Article 33 of the UN Charter speaks about the need for peaceful settlement of disputes, and the UN generally advocates for political settlements that promote peaceful inclusive societies that advance human rights.

There's a special document they released called something like the UN Report of the Secretary General on the Future of UN Peace Operations and it discusses the need for integrated peace initiatives on all levels, not just political ones. While there's certainly a lot of criticism about how much of this policy remains on paper, it's written that "This is not a lofty ideal, it makes hard practical sense." The language the UN uses is rarely, rarely this direct. But take from that what you will.

This is often referring to whether or not civil society's taken into account – in theory everyone says that this is something necessary, but whether it happens is another story. When we talk about diplomacy or conflict mediation/resolution/transformation, we're often talking about three different levels.
Tracks of Diplomacy
Track 1
This is the international stage, the treaty negotiations, people signing things in front of cameras with fancy pens involving the people who can actually make major policy changes.
Track 1.5
All the scrambling in the background to track one – think negotiations in bars and hotels, settling on certain points off-camera.
Track 2
Major national actors such as politicians, religious figures, community leaders, influential members of society. They're not as big as track one folks and don't have as much power, but they do have some sway.
Track 3
Grassroots initiatives and civil society. This one involves the most amount of people and diffuses elements of the peace process across culture and society as a whole.
There's a lot said about how there needs to be a multi-track approach to things, but in practice this doesn't always happen. Track one negotiators look down at track three practitioners (so many people looking for budgets) and track three might be disillusioned with track one (they don't represent us, they've sold out to other interests). When round tables happen on track three and don't make their way up to the top, dialogue fatigue can set in along with cynicism. This can threaten people's participation in general. So people are still working to see how we can create these links.

But that means there can also be spoilers (people interested in breaking the peace) on all tracks, or even among people who are excluded from the table altogether. Non-state actors who are potential spoilers are a big concern in any conflict management scenario. That, and sometimes offering too many options/styles to the parties already involved: too much choice can sometimes paralyze people and they go back to conflict. Then there are all the interests behind the folks at the table – even the interests behind the mediator him/herself (they might be neutral in the talks, but someone sent them there, someone's paying for them).

So that's a bit of a background to the field itself – now Lars wants to focus on concrete skills we can use in dialogue, mediation, conciliation, whatever.
Loop of Understanding
This is something that is quite intuitive in some ways, but I'd never heard it described as a concrete tool. When someone is sharing a complex story, one of the key jobs of the facilitator is a) to listen, b) to rephrase things for understanding, and c) allow the speaker to add additions, amendments and/or confirmation.

This helps to build trust and empathy, because the person who is speaking knows that you are actually interested enough to try to understand exactly what they're saying.

This is an issue because people often represent the interests of other people incorrectly, or through the lense of their own experience/interests. Here, there needs to be a kind of restraint from shortcutting to a solution. You need to hold back from asking questions or putting words in their mouth. You need to rephrase them intelligently, trying to go to the core of what their concerns are. You're not there to evaluate, moralize, identify with the experience, dramatize, examine or propose quick-fixes. Or to patronize them.

We did an activity to practice: in pairs, ask what needs to happen in the office for you to feel your professional identity is threatened. First let the person speak, then rephrase, then allow for them to confirm or fix your rephrasing
Eliciting Interests
This is the second major skill we're talking about today, and Lars opens with the orange metaphor. Two kids are fighting over an orange and one of their parents comes in. One thing the parent could do is just split the orange in half, but they could ask the kids what they need it for. It turns out that one needs the flesh to make juice, and the other needs skin in order to have zest for cake. By asking what the needs are, you're able to make solutions that fit for people (hopefully). In this case, half an orange would have been fair but wouldn't address the core needs.

Obviously this doesn't always work this easily, but you can still break things down into three different parts that help you gain insight into the situation: positions, interests and needs. The position is what a person says: "I want the orange!" But the interest is "I need the pulp to make juice!" This is something different. And then the need under that has to do with something more basic, more human. Think Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maybe the juice is for a friend or family, or for yourself, and so needs like food/drink or love are involved. Often two different parties are working out of similar needs, and this can help find some inch of common ground

Take a hypothetical/not-so-hypothetical situation of Russia and Germany wanting to run a pipeline from one to the other through the Baltic Sea – Poland, who would need to agree, says a loud NO. This is their position. If we want to address this conflict, how can we figure out what their interests are? And once we have an idea, how can we express those interests in a constructive way? Luckily, Lars tells us, there are criteria for that.

First, a well-formulated interest must be OPEN to multiple options or solutions. Otherwise it's just a position. Next, it has to be CONCRETE, meaning as specific as possible. Then it should be POSITIVELY FRAMED – think about it being expressed as a yes to something rather than a no. Then there has to be a sufficient EMOTIONAL RESONANCE. It has to vibe with the person and how they see themselves. Put together(ish), you could call this an acronym called OPEC.

Behind a clear no there may be a hidden yes – if you satisfy those yeses, the no might disappear. Maybe Poland is afraid of environmental risks, or economic dependence, or what have you. Once you identify those interests and express them in a way that implies a way forward, you might actually be able to move forward.

We do this as a group: Lars asks us to state potential Polish interests and he adapts them so that they fit the OPEC model. When people are too vague or non-confrontation, he invites them to address the elephants in the room, but to do it with clarity and respect.

We're given another situation: there's a Nazi monument that still exists in the center of Hamburg, an important German city. People have asked to take it down and others have asked to keep it – we divide into groups and have to come up with potential interests on each side. The other group would then be the OPEC police and shoot those interests down if they're not open enough.

Eliciting solutions:

Once we're done with mentioning the different interests, we're told to stand up and say different potential solutions, popcorn style. Once we've said something, no matter how realistic or whatever, then we can sit down. We start thinking about a number of different ways to deal with the situation, and maybe something the pops into our head becomes something like a revelation to someone else. It also builds trust and opens the floor to new ideas.

Interest profiling:

This is super-interesting for me but he only teases it. Imagine visual diagrams with mapped interests and how they interact. Give me more. But we're almost out of time so he's sprinting at this point.

Focus mediation:

This is a potential format for the way that a mediation can work – think about the basic structure of a meeting. For example:
Open the proceedings, create a working bond, build trust, agree on a framework;
Evaluate the situation, compile information and issues, use loop of understanding;
Address areas of identified conflict, find interests and emotional resonances, profile them;
Search for solutions/resolutions, collect them first before evaluating them, then evaluate;
Conclude the proceedings, maybe draw a consensus or final agreement;

The goal isn't to use power to create solutions, but to take interests into account. When people use power rather than interests as a framework, you get a quick-fix that will not address the real issues and create the potential for conflict to resurface over time.

He wants us to do one of two more exercises, either conflict mapping or looking at individual approaches to conflict management. We pick the second, and he describes five main roles: avoidance, concessions, compromise, competition and collaboration. We're asked to place ourselves as avoiders, conceeders or competitors and ask ourselves a) what strengths/weaknesses do we have as a group, b) what bothers us about the others, and c) what needs to happen for us to abandon our role and take on another one?

A bunch of these exercises I had seen before while at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue, but this was still super interesting.