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Clinical Review ABC of conflict and disaster

Approaches to conflict resolution

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 04 August 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:344
  1. Ewan W Anderson


    The potential for conflict is almost limitless, and it is impossible to prepare a recipe for resolution that will fit every occasion. Conflict may be on any scale from an individual to entire states; and no one can be an expert on all forms of conflict resolution. The most that can be asked is that aid workers have an awareness of the issues and can, if required, make some positive contribution to resolution.

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    War damaged Afghan market

    Local level conflict

    Conflict may start in the mind of one person and spill over to affect the local community. By focusing on that person, an aid worker may be able to defuse the conflict. On this scale, the skills required are those associated with guidance and counselling. Both sides in any negotiation need to have

    • A demonstrable understanding of the issue

    • A degree of empathy

    • A feeling of immediacy, that something must be done

    • Shared confidence that it is possible to reach a solution.

    Thus the aid worker must have a thorough knowledge of the problem, a positive relationship with the person involved, and confidence that a solution can be found. Such confidence is only likely to come from prior thought and planning. The aid worker should then be able to rely on counselling skills during subsequent discussions.

    View this table:

    Basic principles of conflict resolution

    However, conflicts are more likely to concern groups than clearly identifiable individuals (though individuals are normally members of a group, so personal conflict can be seen as the simplest stage of group conflict). Group conflict can occur as intra-group conflict (when members of a group conflict with one another) or inter-group conflict (when there is a conflict between separate groups). Definitions depend on the viewpoint of the observer; for an aid worker, the main distinction must be practical and concern effectiveness. Can …

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