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An overview of the conflict resolution theory Essay

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Conflict Resolution Theory

In conflict resolution, preconceived notions, also called the natural cognitive sorting processes, are the stimuli that unwittingly foment war. By taking a look at individual and intergroup relations, one can better grasp conflict resolution as a way of mediation which may lessen the probabilities of the outbreak of political violence. This essay takes a close examination of the effect of individual-level models of change to inspire change at the social level. The scaling up the process from individual treatment to social has its strengths and weakness.

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Controlled communication, sensitivity training, Freud’s hydraulic model, complex mirroring and conscious raising psychotherapy are experimented means in conflict resolution to dissolve conflict at both individual and general levels.

The natural cognitive sorting mechanism of dividing people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ engenders prejudice and in the long run, political violence. This perspective is typical to The Self and The Other concept in which people and groups are constructed to exclude the other or any entity that is perceived as foreign and to include the self or other entities affiliated to the self. “Protracted social conflicts typically involve an enduring set of antagonistic perceptions and interactions between communal groups…negative attributions of motivations and reciprocal negative images perpetuate the antagonisms and solidify the conflict” (Fisher 1997). This concept breeds the antagonization of groups which turns one group against the other, deepening rifts and sharpening rivalry. Since this type of social cognitive process emphasizes differences between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ an elitism can arise which advantages one group over the other and fosters an unhealthy intergroup competition and mutual exclusion. With mutual degradation and demonized motives, each group continues to not only drift apart but rub against each other in a frictional relationship to produce an aggression fire.

At the national level, us and them dichotomy leads to jingoism which is a chauvinistic form of nationalism. This ideology promotes the suppression of one and the superiority of a people. Fanatical patriotism and the prejudiced belief propose that another party must suffer in the power imbalance. (Paris 2004) agrees that “exclusionary forms of nationalism also make enemies of excluded groups.” In other words, one nation categorizes, segregates and disadvantages another. As a consequence, the excluded party harbors resentment toward the opposing group. Resentment begets tension-filled relations, which beget mistrust. The polarizing effect of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ construct leads inevitably to suspicion and in a competitive environment, to perceived inequalities. Inequalities result in the categorization of an oppressed and an oppressor, the victimized and the victimizer. At a particular point, one group arrives at a breaking point, demanding the redress of wrongs whether real or perceived and an equalizing of the playing field. (Fisher 1997) also recognizes that some “conflicts arise when identity groups perceive that they are oppressed and victimized through a denial of recognition, security, equity and political participation.” Imbalances of power stimulate one group to react or even retaliate – hence hostilities erupt. It was a wave of nationalism which provokes WWII in which the Aryan Germans attempt to purge Germany of ‘unwanted elements’ for the sake of the country. Similarly, in the case of Rwanda and other countries, ethnic cleansing or genocide take place because of inequality and a false sense of nationalism.

Sorting out the Natural Cognitive Processes

To arrive at conflict resolution, one must broach the theme of altering intergroup perceptions. This method is an individual-to-social strategy in which with a third party intervention, both groups can mutually exchange opinions and feelings. John Burton pioneers and implements a “casework approach,” a term used in social work to explain the methods implemented to solve an in individual or group problem. Controlled communication signifies a way to forge effective communication habits. Burton asserts that the source of conflict is miscommunication and the source of miscommunication is distorted worldviews or perceptions of the other. In practicing controlled communication, groups can share their prejudices and biases in a setting that diffuses anger and sets a more amicable tone for talks would help improve relations. Also, Leonard Doob advocates sensitivity training which progresses the transition from individual-level change to collective change. He puts forward that a small representative group ventilates their perceptions, opinions, and concerns to create awareness and better grasping of group processes. The sensitivity training workshop is similar to a psychological therapy conducted by a third party. Ideas and feelings are shared to increase interpersonal effectiveness. (Toft 2010) declares that giving voice to former combatants is a mechanism in conflict resolution to craft negotiation settlements in which “renewed violence can be averted.” This rule follows the sensitivity training theory which enhances sympathy and increases chances at understanding and positive change.

In Sigmund Freud’s group processes theory, he posits that the group’s way of thinking is spawned directly from the individual’s. In Freud’s hydraulic model, the principle is that just as it is dangerous to suppress feelings for fear of compounding them for a more violent eruption, so at the social level, it is risky to continually inhibit ill-feeling by conflict resolution (Strachey 1966); instead, venting would help diffuse tensions and instead of internalizing the resentment, the person finds relief in expression. In his work “Give War a Chance” (Luttwak 1999) examines the effect of peacekeeping which only temporarily resolves the issue by satisfying parties. However, he advocates war as the means of reaching a more definitive and longer lasting conflict resolution.

Complex Mirroring

Complex mirroring within the group setting is a way in which the individual change scalps up to the group level change. In remedying traumatized individuals, the victims join themselves to a group and begin to mirror one another’s feelings and experiences. A critic notices that “by listening to one another’s individual presentation of personal experiences, participants gain a new perspective…by listening to the series of such descriptions, they gained the experience of universality” (Herman 1997). As a result, the individual-level change dynamic transmutes into the group-level change. As one witness the effect of trauma, the support group experiences secondary trauma as wounded members relate their experiences and seek emotional support. The incidence of secondary trauma gives rise to empowerment and awareness. Kathie Sarachild formulated the conscious-raising psychotherapy structures specifically for the individual but which could be used “to effect social rather than individual change” (Herman 1997). This method was implemented for rape-victims who were silenced by the violence and trauma inflicted by another. In the scope of social change, political violence is a grave injustice inflicted by one and visited upon the other. A remedial path is a sensitization rather than retaining the silence over the injury. As the public’s consciousness heightens, a cure has to be suggested and taken. The beneficial result is that “changes at the individual level were being linked with policy processes at the macro level” (Fisher 1997).

Conflict Resolution Strengths and Weaknesses

In conflict resolution, a strength of the individual to group model application is that groups comprise a conglomerate body in which individual mirroring gradually filters into the group’s ethics. The reasoning is that a group is comprised of individuals and since a group is made up of individuals, then a method aimed at effecting change in an individual can also be applied to the group. However, this method does not factor in the wide diversity of the individuals belonging to a group. One rigid rule utilized for one individual cannot work for a group because this view only facilitates the one-size-fits-all theory which is not socially viable.



Fisher, R.J. (1997). Interactive Conflict Resolution, Syracuse University Press, New York.

Herman, J.L. (1997). Trauma and Recovery. Basic Books Publishers, New York.

Anonymous. (1996). Human Rights in Peace Negotiations, Human Rights Quarterly,18(2), 249-


Luttwak, E. (1999).  Give War a Chance, Journal of Foreign Affairs, 78 (4), 36-44

<http://www.jstor.org/stable/20049362>. Accessed 14 December 2011.

Strachey, J. (1966). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund

Freud, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 22,

Toft, M.D. (2010). Ending Civil Wars: A Case for Rebel Victory, Journal of International

Security, 34 (2), 7-36.

Paris, R. (2004). At War’s End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict. Cambridge University Press.

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