What has it to do with you when a conflict becomes a dispute?

Conflict is normal. Each person is unique so each person experiences the world differently from each other person. For there to be no conflict, each of us would need to be a clone of the other. How enervating that would be!

Since conflict is normal it is reasonable to expect to experience it more often than not; as a day-to-day reality; as an expression of uniqueness. I think of conflict as the experience you have when your sense-of-self, your sense of being unique and your sense of knowing yourself are stretched. When the stretching is contained within the scope of your usual range of coping, you (self) recognise that you have choices, you think about them  then you decide to walk away from some conflict;  to avoid some and settle  some with a temporary compromise.  Other conflict you decide to resolve.


Sometimes it may seem as if you have few choices. The conflict has become acute. I regard this situation as a dispute.

Disputes occur when a conflict is sufficiently important to you and the other people involved that it stretches your sense-of-self, your sense of being unique  and your sense of knowing yourself  beyond your usual coping range and therefore beyond self-recognition. The situation becomes self-perpetuating: your sense-of-self is stretched beyond engaging your usual coping approaches so you do not cope; because you do not cope, your sense-of-self continues to stretch beyond self-recognition. As a result of the stress created by the gap which is created by being unrecognisable to your self, your thinking is likely to be replaced by emotion.


By this stage many people would benefit from some assistance to be able to approach a dispute thoughtfully, that is, in the way that they would if it were a day-to-day conflict.

The shift from a conflict to a dispute occurs for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the issue has become particularly important; perhaps the conflict has been persistent; perhaps communication has become counter-productive; perhaps there is a shift in ability to influence one another. Whatever the reason, the outcome is that you are stretched beyond your coping skills. This can lead to what can be described by the person experiencing the dispute as a weakening of resolve (to reach an amicable resolution) and observed by others as a strengthening of resolve…(to follow through on threats) … all can lead to what can be described by the person experiencing the dispute as a  strengthening of resolve (to reach an amicable resolution) and observed by others as a weakening of resolve… (to follow through on threats)

Q: weakening and strengthening of resolve to do what?

A: to resolve the dispute respectfully…

Disputes can be resolved respectfully.  Resolution is achieved when ‘the forum fits the fuss’. Mediation  can shift a dispute from being outside your coping range to being  within your coping range and then on to a resolution, if a resolution is appropriate. Mediation accomplishes this by facilitating a temporary shift in each participant from self-interest to joint interests. From the joint interests, an agreement that meets individuals’ self-interests can usually be crafted. Mediation is one among many ways to resolve disputes respectfully.  See ‘Your Guide to Dispute Resolution’ for other approaches.

Mediation is not suited to all circumstances of dispute.  There are rare situations when a decision that is imposed is more likely to be effective than a decision created by the people who will be affected.   An imposed decision is particularly appropriate in a crisis. Crises are rare.