Humans have resolved disputes in three fundamentally divergent ways: power, rights, and interests.
The Problem of Power and Rights Based Approaches
Both power- and rights-based approaches require winners and losers, they distribute social status, economic wealth and political power hierarchically, competitively and disproportionately. Usually the most goes to the smallest number at the top, and the least goes to the greatest number at the bottom.
Power contests are ones where the most powerful are the victors. Power-based approaches to conflict rely on war, violence, force, or duress. These will inevitably produce winners and losers, destroy important relationships, and generate "collateral damage.” Power encourages corruption in those who use it, and blind obedience, resistance, and revolt in those it is used against. Power-based solutions routinely lead to future disputes and make it difficult to sustainably change, adapt, or evolve.
Rights-based processes resolve conflicts by deciding who is most "right" according to laws or established principles. When based on rights conflicts are resolved using legislation, litigation, adversarial forms of negotiation, bureaucratic coercion, rules and regulations, contractual agreements, and policies and procedures. Rights are limitations on the exercise of power, yet depend on power for their enforcement. Rights are correctly perceived by those in power as reducing their exclusive and otherwise unlimited control and authority. Rights-based processes also generate winners and losers, undermine relationships, and result in collateral damage, but less so than power-based solutions. Since rights rely on legally interpreted and enforced rules, change is discouraged, and nothing significant or systemic is transformed or transcended without the approval of people in positions of power or authority.
While power-based processes rest on hierarchy, operate by command and result in obedience, rights-based processes rest on bureaucracy, operate by control and result in compliance. Power-based approaches encourage attitudes of domination, resulting in personal arrogance, elitism and contempt. Rights-based approaches encourage attitudes of social alienation, resulting in cynicism, apathy and uncaring. Neither seeks to prevent or transcend chronic conflicts or evolve by dismantling them at their systemic source.
Chronic social, economic and political conflicts commonly flow from the win/lose, competitive, hierarchical allocation of status, wealth and power.
Alternatively, conflicts can be resolved using an interest-based approach…
Balancing the Elements of Effective Decision Making (Content, Relationship and Process)
To have effective discussion and decision making about social and political issues there must be a shared understanding of the content being discussed, strong relationships and a clear and effective process that reflects the desired outcome.
Conflict is usually not about what it's about.
The presenting problems of social and political conflict are usually just symptoms of something deeper, especially when emotions are involved.
, and strategies are inspired by values. Threats to these values, and the needs and interests they reflect, provoke an inherently emotional experience, and this emotional experience is the fuel behind political and social conflicts.
When we are in impassioned conflict it means that we are discussing something that touches deep chords, and have discovered a topic that is profoundly important to everyone involved. The fact that conflict connects straight to what is most important makes it especially divisive and volatile. This same fact, however, also means that social and political conflict offers us an opportunity to come closer together, rediscover our common humanity, and jointly define our fate.
Whoever is involved in a problem, must be involved in the solution.
Holistic and inclusive participation is essential, because more perspectives allow a more accurate assessment of the problem and a more comprehensive solution.
The outcome of any process won't actually be the end either; it is a choice to enter into a new process, a new way of being in relationship.
Remember: If you are in an ongoing relationship, there won't ever be a final outcome.
As long as you're in an ongoing relationship, there will always be new problems to address, including implementation of the new solution. Things have a way of not going according to plan. This means that the most important agreements are NOT just about what will happen, but how it will happen.
Use processes that focus on addressing the underlying feelings and needs and are inclusive. If you infuse these values into the process, then you'll be ready to address whatever happens.
The way to see beyond these divisions is interest-based language, creativity, and an attitude of empathy and collaboration, which are fundamental elements in dialogue and mediation. Interests reflect not merely what people want, but why they want it. Consequently, this approach encourages informal problem-solving, facilitation, dialogue, collaborative negotiation, consensus building and mediation.
Moreover, interest-based processes are “win/win” games that are better able to prevent, resolve, transform, and transcend chronic conflicts by addressing them at their systemic source, and to support collaborative, democratic relationships that encourage continuous adaptation, evolution, and personal and systemic change.