True dialogue

We live in challenging times. Harvey Weinstein’s actions have opened the door to more and more sexual harassment revelations coming out every day. The Brexit negotiations are in chaos. Germany’s government coalition building attempts are a fiasco.  Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump’s teenage nuclear Twitter fight is frightening and irresponsible. The building of new and old walls and the possibility of a new Spanish Civil War are shocking. And so on. We have the means to communicate around the world, with everyone and even simultaneously. But, do we know what to say and how to listen? – do we know how to establish true dialogue?

Small and Big C conflicts

Whether it’s small c or Big C conflicts, we mediators and ADR experts are more needed than ever to support our families, communities, countries and businesses in their journey toward reconciliation. Conflict and negotiation expert William Ury said that the key to his (and Roger Fisher’s) bestseller “Getting to Yes”, came from studying the field of mediation and, in particular, community mediation.  Since the book came out, they’ve been exploring ways to uncover how humanity can learn to develop the moral, ethical and emotional genius necessary to live together peacefully and effectively.

Dear reader, let’s take on their challenge and start building a winning coalition for peace and tackle the small c and big C conflicts in this world.

Getting to Peace:

Before we get started, we should take in 3 important lessons [1]:

  • Getting to yes with yourself – Mental hygiene

Before we listen to others, before we negotiate with others, before we help others in getting to yes, we have to go to our own “mental balcony”, listen to ourselves, walk in our own shoes and find out who we really are. Learning about our own needs, interests, views and fears will enable us to keep the necessary perspective, build our confidence in dialogue, and assess our own state of mind, assumptions and triggers.

  • Starting with the end in mind – Prepare the victory speech first

Negotiating with internal stakeholders is often much more difficult than conflict conversations with main parties. If for example, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump decided today to stop threatening each other (and the rest of the world), they would get massive pushback from the military and other internal stakeholders. They would be regarded as weak leaders.  In order to remain consistent and congruent with their actions and image, they have no other choice but to continue to escalate and inflame the situation.  A smart alternative to this Doomsday scenario would be for a neutral mediator to sit down with each of them and create effective victory speeches they would deliver to their internal negotiation teams without losing face. After this, they would then work backwards from victory. The mediators would map out, together with the warring parties, their irreducible interests that must be met and uncover what they would be prepared to give up in order to forge peace. After which would come the drafting of key messages and a reverse-engineered action plan to get there.

  • Creating a Winning Coalition for peace – and including those who would exclude us

The ultimate resolution of conflicts is NOT a settlement. It is the reconciliation of the issues themselves and the strengthening of the main relationships. Conflict might be inevitable but fighting and violence are not. It’s about creating a conflict culture where dialogue is key and WE include THOSE that would exclude us.  Hence, sitting down with the Donald Trumps and Kim Jong Uns of this world alone is not enough to ensure both the de-escalation of conflict and a sustainable peace process.  The surrounding communities need to be involved to influence the wider peace process. Over the past millennia, humankind has only survived because they’ve been able to put co-existence ahead of conflict. Community dialogue is essential to help transform conflict situations into something constructive. If we look, for example, at the San tribes in Southern Africa or native Indian communities in the Americas or even parties in the European Union, we find brilliant examples of groups creating and policing an effective reconciliation process through building active coalitions for peace.

The Small and the Big IF

The question of whether we can transform even the BIG C conflicts into effective and manageable conflict is, “Yes if”. Ury says the “if” depends on us and it is always a big “IF”. It requires courage to face our own conflicts, to look into the mirror, to forgive, to apologise, to truly listen and to engage in authentic dialogue, even with those who would exclude us.
Let’s take this wonderful opportunity and engage within our communities to enjoy mutual exchange and, possibly, inspiring and surprising outcomes.

For more information on our International Peacemaking Certification course in Spring 2018, please consult our flyer.

[1] Inspired by Covey, Gandhi, Ury, and others


By Liz Kramer

Daniel Kershen is the Foundation Project Co-ordinator for The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).