Resources for conflict resolution

This topic contains a list of mostly theoretical resources that could be useful for staff members and other people who might be in need of extra resource to handle a conflictual situation.

It presents a list of concepts that help in having a better understanding of the situation and the possible ways out.

Note: the contents still sound academical and could use being rephrased in an easier language. Help is needed with it.

Table of Contents

  1. Conflict

  2. Competition

  3. Cooperation

  4. Threats and explicit promises

  5. Trust

  6. Repeated events

  7. Links for Conflict resolution materials


Taken from

Enrico Zini


ver. 0.1, 30 March, 2006

Copyright © 2005—2006 Enrico Zini

This manual is free software; you may redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2, or (at your option) any later version.

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Conflict is a substantial element in our social life.

Social conflict is an interaction between actors (individuals, groups, organizations, etc), in which at least one actor perceives an incompatibility with one or more other actors, the conflict being in the realm of thought and perceptions, in the realm of emotions or in the realm of will, in a way so that the realization (of one’s thoughts, emotions, will) is obstacled by another actor. (Glasl 1977, p.14)

Conflict are thus posed as problems, insatisfaction to which we try to give an answer. The causes of conflicts are many and complex, and much of the possibility of managing them depends on our capacity of analysis and action. Often we quarrel, but apparently for futile things, and sometimes we fall in a vortex that makes things worse and worse and makes us feel more and more bad.

In conflicts, it is very important to have the capacity of living in difference and sometimes in suffering. In order to dismantle some consolidated behaviours and some wrong habits, one must try to to understand the dynamics and the reality in which they live.

It can be useful to give oneself instruments to analyse the conflicting situations and a common lexicon.

There are four kinds of conflictual action:

  1. People who want to pursue different goals. If they are independent persons, this is not a problem: it becomes a problem when these people are instead bound together by some reason. This can happen in all the situations in which a collective or coordinated action is required. It is called DIVERGENCE. For example, a husband and wife might go in vacation together, but they would prefer different destinations.

  2. In situations in which many actors concur on the exploitation of a limited resource. In this case, the conflict is defined CONCURRENCY. For example, when many shepherds exploit the same free grazing area.

  3. When an actor directs his/her action against the action of another, this is called CREATING OBSTACLES and it’s intended to hinder the other in reaching his/her goal.

  4. When the action is directed against another agent and not against the other agent’s actions, this is called AGGRESSION.


Competition (concurrent + obstacling): in real life, it often happens that two agents that concur towards their goals also make obstacling and aggression acts in order to ensure their success.

In a contest, two candidates can concur without competing: for example, in a football match the players cannot directly act on other players: if they make an act of aggression, then it’s a penalty.

It is not always easy to distinguish between aggression, obstacling and competition. These categories mix in a complex reality. These types are not separated in a clear-cut way: they are a like focal point on a continuous line that starts from a situation of orientation towards an external goal, keeps going towards an augmentation of the interventions on other people’s action, until arriving there where the original goal ends up having a secondary role in front of the will to act on and against the other actor, that is, there where aggression becomes the goal itself. This gradual process is the process of escalation.

There are three big phases of conflict evolution: (Glasl 1997)

  • win/win : mainly cooperative aspects, prevailing over the objective contradictions
  • win/lose : there is the belief that the conflict can be resolved only in favour of one side; attitudes and perceptions acquire an outstanding importance
  • lose/lose : damaging the other even at the price of suffering: violence enters the game

This is not a forced path, and our hope is to become able to activate a process of de-escalation.


Cooperation means putting on a common table part of one’s resources and interests in order to have a collective advantage (which is positive also for the single).

Harmony is realized more easily when interests and goals integrate.

  • Altruism is different from cooperation

  • Egoism does not correspond to individualism

  • You can be egoist and cooperative

Conflicts are usually characterized by the tie between cooperative and competitive processes.

Cooperation is a very interesting element: it offers creative solutions to problems, generating a new “wealth” which is sometimes unexpected. If cooperation is spontaneously perceived, it is even more interesting as it can join the elements of freedom and self-realization into a short-term logic, and sometimes even long-term logic.

Threats and explicit promises

In the case of a normal conflict, the negotiation is articulated with acts of coercion and acts of concession, like threats, warnings and promises. When negotiating, it is wiser to focus on the interests rather than on positions. Because of this, various words have lost meaning.

An example is the threat: a threat has success when the actor that threatens can avoid putting it in practice, because doing so means doing something unpleasant also for oneself, and not only for the other. An example is a strike: when enacting a strike, both parties experience a loss.

Using these instruments knowledgeably, or interpreting them in a correct way when one is subject to them, gives back value and effectiveness to negotiation. Some text define the cooperative game as that game in which the players are able to make binding promises (and then fully exploit the negotiation).


Trust is a certain degree of confidence in one’s forecasting of the behaviour of another actor, or of the external world.

Trust has an important role in cooperation. It can often substitute the effect of rules and punishments. It happens in a way which is more elastic and effective. The conditions with which we can talk of trust are:

  • Non controllability

  • Absence of coercion

  • Freedom

Trust is characterized by some factor of risk.

Repeated events

In real life, social interactions happen often and often with the same people. The best strategies for working together are characterized by these behaviours:

  • correctness : the first step is cooperative, and one pulls back from cooperation only in response to a pull back
  • forgiveness : the punitive action is not continuing if the other party starts cooperating again

Non-cooperative strategies ruin the environment that they exploit, draining it of its resources and not permitting actors who use other strategies, as a consequence also eventually themselves, to survive.

Strategies that gain when cooperating favour the creation of an environment which is favourable and stable over time.

Links for Conflict resolution materials

Conflict Resolution Network has a number of useful “Free training material”.

From “Beyond Intractability: A Free Knowledge Base on More Constructive Approaches to Destructive Conflict”:

From “Intergroup Relations Center - Classroom resources”: