Conflict resolution is the process by which an arbiter (often referred to as a “neutral”) induces disputing parties to reach an agreement that resolves the dispute. Ideally, the dispute is settled in an equable manner that protects the dignity and human rights of all concerned without resorting to coercion.
A lot of people equate conflict resolution with conflict management, but the two are quite different. Conflict resolution resolves conflicts so that the two sides can get back to operating as a team. Conflict management, on the other hand, is a method of managing conflicts that don’t really have a short-term solution, like the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Conflict management leaves the big, unsolvable problems alone, concentrating instead on the side issues in an attempt to get the two sides to co-exist with a minimum of hostility.
Experts agree that contestants can approach a dispute in any of five basic ways: avoiding, accommodating, competing, compromising or collaborating.
Avoiding a conflict means to evade it completely, almost as though it didn’t exist. People who avoid conflicts tend to delegate controversial decisions because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Avoiding a conflict has value when a victory in virtually impossible or when someone else has a better shot at handling the issue, but otherwise it’s a weak approach.
Accommodating shows a willingness to accept the adversary’s position by giving in to it. Sometimes the accommodator believes peace is more valuable than the object of the dispute, and at other times the accommodator is hoping to secure a “chip” from the adversary to cash in later.
Competing means to take a firm stand, usually from a position of power, expertise and/or persuasive ability. This approach can prove useful in an emergency, where a decision must be made quickly. Sometimes this approach is necessary when competing against someone who is trying to exploit a situation for selfish purposes.
Compromising means to try to find a solution that meets the basic needs of all concerned, with everyone making a small sacrifice. This approach is useful when adversaries of equal strength are at a standstill or when a deadline is looming.
Collaborating means to work tirelessly with all parties in trying to achieve a creative solution that works well for everyone, without anyone having to make a concession.
Types of Degrees
Conflict resolution degree programs typically combine classwork and applied training to enable students to develop practical models for negotiating and resolving various conflicts and disputes among individuals and parties.
There are only a handful of universities who offer a bachelor’s degree program in conflict resolution, and those programs are quite competitive. So you might have to design your own program and major.
In designing a program, it’s important to realize that there are basically two levels of conflict resolution: local and international. Local disputes might be between two businesses or between two people within one business. International disputes are between governments or businesses from different countries.
If you plan to work internationally, you’ll have to learn about international politics and other cultures, and you’ll probably want to design your program in a college of international affairs. Here’s a sampling of topics and courses applicable to international conflict resolution:
- Politics, ethnicity and nationalism
- Anthropology of human rights
- Population geography
- Energy resources
- Water resources
- Political geography
- Military geography
- Arab-Israeli disputes
- Nuclear arms race
- Politics and culture in the Middle East
- Understanding protracted conflict
- US foreign policy in Africa
- Women in global politics
- Globalization and national security
- Politics and conflict in South Asia
- International law
- International security politics
- Gender, war and peace
At the local level, conflict resolution classes might look more like the following:
- Negotiation theory and practice
- Labor relations disputes
- Labor arbitration and economics
- Organizational behavior
- Race and the urban community
- American cultural pluralism and the law
- Drama techniques in crisis intervention
- The American judiciary
- Critical thinking and informal logic
- Community policing
- The sociology of violence
- Family conflict and family court
- Constitutional rights and liberties
Though some entry-level jobs in conflict resolution are available for students with only a bachelor’s degree, most jobs require at least a master’s degree. At the graduate level, programs in conflict resolution are more abundant than at the undergraduate level.
Most jobs in conflict resolution at the international level require a doctorate degree, preferably a PhD in conflict resolution. Typically, it is a four to five year program. Mediators having a law degree or a master’s in public policy might also have an advantage in this field.
Conflict resolution neutrals can find work in many types of disputes, including commercial, personal, environmental, international and regulatory disputes. These disputes can arise in public, private or non-profit sectors or in complex litigation. Some mediators work for relief organizations. Others work for universities, where they might also teach or work in administration. High schools are also starting to hire mediators.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2012 median pay for mediators, arbitrators and conciliators was $61,280 per year or $29.46 per hour.