A Conflict-Resolution Primer

prepared by Tesa Silvestre
based on Ken Cloke's Mediation Training Manual
Spring 2017

The primer below was intended for people who are new to mediation and conflict-resolution.  In selecting excerpts from Ken's training manual, I focused on skills that revolve around conflict literacy and resolution more than mediation skills per se, because I felt it would be most digestible and useful for people who are not really planning to become professional mediators, but want to develop greater conflict literacy for their personal growth, or to help facilitate shifts toward a less polarized and more collaborative society.  As I worked with the training manual for my own learning and development, I felt the need to translate different sections of the manual into concrete practices that I could engage in alone and with others to make these skills real in my life.  I offer them here for others who might find these practices useful in integrating Ken's teachings.  

The primer is divided into 3 sections:
(1)  Reading selections and practices
(2) Conflict-Resolution stories
(3) Other suggested readings

You are welcome to copy and print the Primer below.  If you would like to obtain a copy of the Training Manual,  you can (1) order the Kindle version on Amazon ($5.99), or you can (2) order a hard copy binder by mailing Ken a check for $25.00. 


Some Foundational Readings

Here are five excerpts from Ken's training manual, with invitation to engage the readings more personally.  Next to the page selection, I added suggestions of how to engage this particular bit of content to illuminate and upgrade one's relationship to conflict, and apply the teachings to one's life.  Note that the pages may not match the Amazon Kindle version, but the section headers will.   

Selection #1.  Conflict as Opportunity (p. 22-24) ~ Bring to mind a conflict you are directly involved in or a conflict you are witness to, and explore what opportunities it may be offering you, assessing how you are doing in terms of the the crossroads listed on p. 24.

Selection #2.  Seven dimensions of conflict (p. 26 to 28) ~ After you read about the 7 dimensions of the conflict between parents and teenager over curfew, pick one conflict you are involved in (or were involved in) and identify which dimension it currently lives in, and how differently it could look like if taken into higher dimensions. 

Selection #3.  Twenty Definitions of conflict (p. 29-30) ~  Before reading these two pages, think of a conflict you did not successfully resolve, and notice if any insights come to you when you look at it through the 20 different definitions of conflict which Ken offers.   

Selection #4.  Five common conflict resolution strategies (p.45) ~ Explore your own conflict-resolution strategies / style.   Notice if you tend to use some strategies a lot more often than others, and if you use them for different reasons than the ones listed (Ken lists all the best reasons to use these different strategies, but one could come up with a different list of the less noble reasons why we avoid or accommodate etc.).  Notice if you find some of these strategies more challenging to access.  Notice also any patterns in the primary conflict strategies of the people you find most challenging to deal with.

Selection #5. Six orders of conflict resolution (p.46) ~ Look at a couple of significant conflicts you experienced in your life, and assess how far beyond impasse (first level) you managed to get, and how much further you would still need to go to get to reconciliation and the creation of preventative systems.     

Pick and Choose

Below are a series of reading selections and suggested explorations.  Explore them as you feel drawn.

Questions for mediators + meditation techniques (p.56-58)  ~ Explore which of these questions would best support you to be a more effective third party to a conflict you are currently witnessing.

4 Different Kinds of Conversations (p.83) ~ Ken draws a distinction between 4 kinds of conversations (what is wrong, what is true, what could be, what will happen).  See what happens to your ruminations about a particular conflict as you talk about it in these four different modes.  

Phrases for miscommunication vs. phrases for responsive listening (p.84-5).   What are your miscommunication tendencies (of the 19 ones listed in the menu)?   What constructive communication strategies do you routinely rely on (of the 14 on offer).  Where do you see opportunities for upgrades in the way you tend to communicate with others?

Re-phrasing or Re-framing: pages 86-87 ~  Notice the key phrases you use to describe a specific conflict you are / have been involved in, then read the re-frame suggestions to see what you might be able to upgrade.

Exploring Pros and Cons of Honest Communication (p.89) ~ Pick a couple of situations where you are avoiding bringing up an issue and see if you can identify your reasons for holding back (amongst the 10 which Ken offers, and maybe additional ones); then explore which of the 10 reasons he offers for communicating more honestly appeal to you… if any!

Probing Emotional Assumptions (in the context of bullying) p. 127-128 ~ After reading these two pages closely, imagine what a similar line of inquiry might look like in a context of a conflict you are involved in, in, or witnessing.  What questions would you be asking of yourself and others?  

Opening the Heart in Conflict: p. 139 & 140 ~ Think of a conflict you are having with someone, and imagine how you (and the other person) would respond to these 30 questions if a mediator was brought in to mediate your conflict.  Which ones would be most heart-opening for you?  How about for them?

Deep and Honest Self-Inquiry ~ 141-142.  Part 1 ~ Of the 22 questions listed there, which 3 do you think would be most helpful for you to invest some time trying to answer?  Here are mine: (1) What kinds of conflicts have you experienced in the course of your life?  What do they seem to have in common?  (2) List some of the things in this conflict you didn't do but should have. What kept you from doing them?  (3) List some of the things you did do but shouldn't have. What compelled you to do them?  Part 2 ~ Which questions not on that list might you benefit from asking yourself to build  your conflict-resolution capacity?  My biggest one at the moment is "What does my history with conflicts tells me about the most important skills I need to develop to experience a different future?"

Breaking the Compulsion to Solve Problems (151).  Is your wish to solve a particular problem a decision or a compulsion?  Answer questions on page 150 to find out.  Explore common obstacles to solving problems on p.151 and 152, and hurdles to creative problem solving (p.154).  Then pick a problem you want to solve and use these guidelines to identify all the relevant obstacles.  Then brainstorm what would be needed to overcome them.

Exploring Our Prejudices and Biases (p.183).  Read this page to examine your own prejudices and biases first.  I find it makes us a lot more compassionate about other people's!  

Preparatory Steps toward Forgiveness (p.195).  Think of a situation when you have been unable to forgive someone for what they said and did to you, and do the exercises on p.195 to see how it impacts your readiness to free the part of you that is still trapped in that situation.

Practicing the Art of an Effective Apology ~ Recall a time when (1) you apologized to someone for something you said or did or (2) someone else apologized to you for something harmful they said or did.  Rate the quality and impact of your / their apology on a 1 to 10 scale, then read pages 197 and 198 in the manual, and explore what might have improved it.  You could repeat this exploration for any apology offered to you that did not fully land, to clarify what was missing, and what you needed.  You could also explore which relationships in your life might currently benefit from an apology, and use these two pages to make it most effective.  

Getting Honest about One's Motivations for Helping Others (p. 202-3).  Identify one or two situations where you really want to help someone else, and reflect on your motivations for helping.  Then read these two pages to see if it opens up deeper insights about what is driving you.  If you want to go deeper, read Chapter 4 of Mediating Dangerously.  "When helping becomes a hindrance"… which I think should be required reading for all philanthropists!   I don't think the shadow side of helping will be news to you, Laura, at this point in your learning journey, but still very worth reading because it is so clearly spelled out! 

A Couple of Inspiring Stories

  • No More Teachers' Dirty Looks  - You can find this short but potent story at the very end of this fabulous article about the Vibrations of Conflict.  The story is beautiful.  The article is one of my favorites by Ken because it addresses the importance of emotional and energetic attunement and resonance in conflict-resolution.
  • Washing our Sins: A Mediation Case Study.  This is a very inspiring story about the difference that mediation can make. The story involves two kids who nearly killed an older woman by throwing a rock at her windshield." You can find the story on pages p.225-226 in the training manual.

A Few More Reading Recommendations

  • I really recommend Chapter 2 of Mediating Dangerously, one of Ken's books.  The chapter is titled "Suppression, Settlement, and Resolution" and it offers a powerful bird's eye view of the dangers of pacifying conflicts, or seeking to resolve them prematurely, especially where injustices are involved.  I think it is a very important reading in the context of any project aiming to teach and disseminate de-escalation tools, i.e. to get clearer about the difference between (1) de-escalation that supports healthier engagement, and (2) suppression or premature resolution that prevents the deeper issues to surface, and real solutions to emerge.
  • This short article titled "Some Questions to Consider in Responding to Terrorism."  Given many politicians' strategy of tapping into people's fears of terrorism to garner support for "peace through strength" i.e. peace through military power, it feels really urgent to me to help disseminate potent inquiries around more constructive and effective ways to engage terrorism.  
  • In this talk / interview bout the Future of Mediation, Ken gives a great bird's eye view of his approach and vision, and it includes (about 1:13 hours into it) his views about how mediation could transform politics.  It's pretty long (almost two hours), but a pretty wonderful conversation to listen to in 30 minute chunks while cooking, or doing yoga, or driving (if you can stream a video on your phone).