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Conflict resolution is a range of methods for alleviating or eliminating sources of conflict. The term "conflict resolution" is sometimes used interchangeably with the term dispute resolution or alternative dispute resolution. Processes of conflict resolution generally include negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy. The processes of arbitration, litigation, and formal complaint processes such as ombudsman processes, are usually described with the term dispute resolution, although some refer to them as "conflict resolution." Processes of mediation and arbitration are often referred to as alternative dispute resolution.


There are many tools available to people who work in conflict. How and when they are used depends on several factors (such as the specific issues at stake in the conflict and the cultural context of the disputants). In such cases, a conflict atlas is used to show the major issues, which led to the conflict. The list of tools available to practitioners includes:  negotiation, mediation, community building, advocacy, diplomacy, activism, nonviolence, critical pedagogy, prayer, and counseling. In real-world conflict situations, which range in scale from kindergarten bullying to genocide, practitioners will creatively combine several of these approaches as needed. Additionally, practitioners will often specialize in a particular scale (e.g. interpersonal, community, or international), or a particular variety of conflict (such as environmental, religious, or organizational), and repertoires of tools which they find most useful.


Conflict resolution as both a professional practice and academic field is highly sensitive to culture. In Western cultural contexts, such as Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker, successful conflict resolution usually involves fostering communication among disputants, problem solving, and drafting agreements that meet their underlying needs. In these situations, conflict resolvers often talk about finding the win-win solution, or mutually satisfying scenario, for everyone involved (see Fisher and Ury (1981), Getting to Yes).In many non-Western cultural contexts, such as Afghanistanmarker, Vietnammarker, and Chinamarker, it is also important to find "win-win" solutions; however, getting there can be very different. In these contexts, direct communication between disputants that explicitly addresses the issues at stake in the conflict can be perceived as very rude, making the conflict worse and delaying resolution. Rather, it can make sense to involve religious, tribal or community leaders, communicate difficult truths indirectly through a third party, and make suggestions through stories (see David Augsberger (1992), Conflict Mediation Across Cultures). Intercultural conflicts are often the most difficult to resolve because the expectations of the disputants can be very different, and there is much occasion for misunderstanding. A firm position in diplomacy must be maintained.

In animals

Conflict resolution has also been studied in non-humans, like dogs, cats, monkeys, elephants, and primates (see Frans de Waal, 2000). Aggression is more common among relatives and within a group, than between groups. Instead of creating a distance between the individuals, however, the primates were more intimate in the period after the aggressive incident. These intimacies consisted of grooming and various forms of body contact. Stress responses, like an increased heart rate, usually decrease after these reconciliatory signals. Different types of primates, as well as many other species who are living in groups, show different types of conciliatory behaviour. Resolving conflicts that threaten the interaction between individuals in a group is necessary for survival, hence has a strong evolutionary value. These findings contradicted previous existing theories about the general function of aggression, i.e. creating space between individuals (first proposed by Konrad Lorenz), which seems to be more the case in conflicts between groups than it is within groups.

In addition to research in primates, biologists are beginning to explore reconciliation in other animals. Up until recently, the literature dealing with reconciliation in non-primates have consisted of anecdotal observations and very little quantitative data. Although peaceful post-conflict behavior had been documented going back to the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1993 that Rowell made the first explicit mention of reconciliation in feral sheep. Reconciliation has since been documented in spotted hyenas, lions, dolphins, dwarf mongooses, domestic goats, and domestic dogs.

Careers and education

Conflict resolution is an expanding field of professional practice, both in the U.S. and around the world. The escalating costs of conflict for both organizations and individuals has led to the increased use of arbitrators, mediators, and other neutrals, including fact-finders, facilitators, and ombudsmen to resolve such conflicts. The expansion of the field has also resulted in the need for managers, union representatives, attorneys and advocates, administrators, and consultants to acquire the skills and expertise necessary to handle disputes effectively.

Several universities offer programs of study pertaining to conflict management. The Cornell Universitymarker ILR Schoolmarker houses the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution, which offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional training on conflict resolution.

Furthermore, the Pax Ludens Foundation based in the Netherlandsmarker is an orgnization that puts together conflict resolution simulations set in an International Relations scenario to help students learn about the intricacies of where conflict emerges in the world of international politics.

Conflict resolution is a growing area of interest in UK pedagogy, with teachers and students both encouraged to learn about the mechanisms which lead people towards aggressive actions, and those which lead them towards peaceful resolution.

In many schools in the UK, conflict resolution has now become an integral part of the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme, chiming,as it does, with the SEAL principles of developing social skills and an understanding of ones own feelings.

See also


  1. Wahaj, S. A., Guse, K. & Holekamp, K. E. 2001: Reconciliation in the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Ethology 107, 1057—1074
  2. Weaver, A. 2003: Conflict and reconciliation in captive bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus. Marine Mammal Science 19, 836—846.
  3. Schino, G. 1998: Reconciliation in domestic goats. Behaviour 135, 343—356.
  4. Cools, A. K. A., Van Hout, A. J.-M., Nelissen M. H. J. 2008: Canine Reconciliation and Third-Party-Initiated Postconflict Affiliation: Do Peacemaking Social Mechanisms in Dogs Rival Those of Higher Primates? Ethology 114, 53—63.


  • Augsburger, D. (1992). Conflict mediation across cultures. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster / John Knox Press.
  • Bannon, I. & Paul Collier (Eds.). (2003). Natural resources and violent conflict: Options and actions. Washington, D.C: The World Bank.
  • Ury, F. & Rodger Fisher. (1981). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
  • Wilmot,W. & Jouyce Hocker. (2007). Interpersonal conflict. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.
  • de Waal, Frans B. M. and Angeline van Roosmalen. 1979. Reconciliation and consolation among chimpanzees. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 5: 55–66.
  • de Waal, Frans B. M. 1989. Peacemaking Among Primates. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Judge, Peter G. and Frans B. M. de Waal. 1993. Conflict avoidance among rhesus monkeys: coping with short-term crowding. Animal Behaviour 46: 221–232.
  • Veenema, Hans et al. 1994. Methodological improvements for the study of reconciliation. Behavioural Processes 31:29–38.
  • de Waal, Frans B. M. and Filippo Aureli. 1996. Consolation, reconciliation, and a possible cognitive difference between macaques and chimpanzees. Reaching into thought: The minds of the great apes (Eds. Anne E. Russon, Kim A. Bard, Sue Taylor Parker), Cambridge University Press, New York, NY: 80–110.
  • Aureli, Filippo. 1997. Post-conflict anxiety in non-human primates: the mediating role of emotion in conflict resolution. Aggressive Behavior 23: 315–328.
  • Castles, Duncan L. and Andrew Whiten. 1998. Post-conflict behaviour of wild olive baboons, I. Reconciliation, redirection, and consolation. Ethology 104: 126–147.
  • Aureli, Filippo and Frans B. M. de Waal, eds. 2000. Natural Conflict Resolution. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
  • de Waal, Frans B. M. 2000. Primates––A natural heritage of conflict resolution. Science 289: 586–590.
  • Silk, Joan B. 2002. The form and function of reconciliation in primates. Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 21–44.
  • Weaver, Ann and Frans B. M. de Waal. 2003. The mother-offspring relationship as a template in social development: reconciliation in captive brown capuchins (Cebus apella). Journal of Comparative Psychology 117: 101–110.
  • Palagi, Elisabetta et al. 2004. Reconciliation and consolation in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus). American Journal of Primatology 62: 15–30.
  • Palagi, Elisabetta et al. 2005. Aggression and reconciliation in two captive groups of Lemur catta. International Journal of Primatology 26: 279–294.
  • Lorenzen, Michael. 2006. Conflict Resolution and Academic Library Instruction. LOEX Quarterly 33, no. ½,: 6–9, 11.
  • Winslade, John & Monk, Gerald. 2000. Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.
  • Bar-Siman-Tov, Yaacov (Ed.) (2004). From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation. Oxford University Press

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