1. Practice a variety of conflict-resolution skills.
  2. Learn ways of handling real-life situations.
  3. Adopt a lifestyle of living for the sake of others.
  4. Seek to perceive people’s inner, more spiritual needs.
  5. Learn creative approaches to situations that stimulate people to rise above narrow ways of thinking.

Handling Common Conflicts

Preparation: Post a large sheet of paper entitled "Common Conflicts That Come up When Working Together in an Activity":
Personality differences
Language barriers
Age differences
Different energy levels
Different opinions
Practical challenges

Post a large blank sheet of paper entitled “Ways to Deal with Common Conflicts.”

Introduction: We appreciate the efforts that each one of you is making work together. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions and best of heart, conflicts develop among people working together in an activity. People have found these six types of conflicts to be the most common. Such conflicts have little to do with differences in race, religion, nationality, or culture. They are just part of being human. There is no single way to handle all conflicts. Peacemakers need to learn and teach several alternatives to violence in dealing with conflict.

Let’s brainstorm some ideas for dealing with these conflicts.

Possible answers:
  • Both parties talk things out, and they decide on a solution that pleases both.
  • Both parties talk things out, and each side makes a compromise.
  • Someone who is not part of the conflict helps them talk things out and reach a solution.
  • Both parties agree to talk things out with a third party and let them decide.
  • One party gives into the other party, to prevent anger or violence.

If one party is clearly in the wrong:
  • The party who has done wrong apologizes, and the other party forgives.
  • The party who has done wrong has to pay for damages and make things right.
  • Both parties work together to make things right.

[When there is a threat of physical harm, there are legitimate rights of self-defense or getting out of harm’s way. Even so, heroic figures of the 20th century such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela used creative non-violence to overturn oppressive systems.]

Team activity: Ask each team to plan a skit about a conflict situation and use one of the suggested approaches to try to resolve it. Have teams make their presentation. Invite the audience to respond to the conflict-resolution approach they used and discuss what other approaches might have been used.

Discussion: After all teams present, invite discussion about the effectiveness of the various approaches to conflict resolution.

Recognizing Basic Human Concerns

Preparation: Make cards each with a scenario that could lead to conflict (situations that the participants can relate to). Large sheet of paper entitled “Basic Human Concerns”

Introduction: Everybody has basic physical needs that are essential to survival. Let’s list some examples.

Examples of needs: Food, water, shelter, health care

Tragically, some of our global conflicts arise from the lack of these resources, and the victims of conflict often suffer for their lack. Hopefully, during our time together there will be enough food, water, shelter, and health care for everyone so you won’t have to compete to survive.

Beyond survival, people are motivated by basic human concerns. What are some of the basic human concerns that motivate all people?

Examples of concerns:
Security, economic well-being, a sense of belonging, recognition, control over one’s life

When conflicts come up, look for these basic human concerns. Because they are not visible, these underlying concerns are often overlooked. People have competing interests, but they often revolve around these basic concerns. If you can find ways to take care of basic concerns, you increase the likelihood of the conflicting sides to reach an agreement.

Identifying basic human concerns often requires a lot of listening.
To help identify people’s underlying interests, ask both sides questions beginning with:
Why … ?
Why not … ?
What if …?
(These questions can explore the past, present or the future.)

Teamwork: Hand each team one of the conflict scenario cards. Ask them to explore their scenario from the viewpoint of basic human concerns of both sides. Have each team prepare a skit illustrating how attention to basic human concerns can help bring a resolution to the conflict.

Skits: Each team presents its skit.

Discussion: What basic human concerns did each skit address? How well did they help resolve the conflict? How might this apply to conflicts on a larger scale?

Living for the Sake of Others

Materials needed: 4 large sheets of paper hung up on wall; potential conflict scenario cards. [If the project theme is harmonious relationships in the global human family, cards can describe some family conflict situations typical of the participants’ cultures.]

Explanation & brainstorming: We are about transformation. Our motto is, “Living for the sake of others.” [Write one section of the motto, “Living” – “For the Sake of” – “Others” at the top of each sheet of paper.] Ask participants to brainstorm concepts associated with these three headings. List ideas under each heading:


Possible responses:
- Living (being alive, aware, growing, nourished, active)
- For the sake of (showing interest; listening, observing and speaking; finding ways to make a connection, seeking to understand experiences, values, needs, resources, feelings; developing empathy; offering something meaningful; going out of one’s way to help, being open to receive)
- Others (each sphere of your life—family, clan, friends, neighbors, school, occupation, nation—people who need help, people who depend on you, people of a different race, culture, religion or nationality—perhaps even your opponents)

Small group task: Give each group a potential conflict scenario card. Ask them to brainstorm how “living for the sake of others” might help transform the situation. They can create a skit portraying the conflict and applying the motto “living for the sake of others.”

Reports: Have a spokesperson from each small group report to the whole, or have each group present their skit. List the key ideas. Discuss circumstances in which service can be transformative. List the outcomes on the 4th sheet of paper.

Examples: expand people’s horizons, bring in new resources, see new potentials, break down walls, build bridges
Invite someone to share a memorable experience connected to living for the sake of others.

Exploring Ways to Transcend Conflict

Preparation: A table with 2 chairs facing it. One orange on the table. Two people (or two stuffed animals) on the chairs. A large sheet of paper for each team. A sheet of paper with the list:

Y prevails and X loses
X prevails and Y loses
Both compromise
Both withdraw
They work together to find ways to transcend the conflict

Introduction: Behind conflicts one can often find conflicting goals. Sometimes these conflicting goals are clearly stated, but sometimes they are hidden. These goals may be legitimate or illegitimate. Let us imagine an ordinary situation in which both people might have an obvious, legitimate goal: one orange.

Teamwork:Have participants meet in teams to brainstorm what might happen. Record all suggestions on a large sheet of paper, without evaluating any of them. Encourage participants to generate as many ideas as possible. Tape each group’s paper on the wall.

Explanation: Conflict generally leads to one of the five outcomes shown on the diagram: (#1 & #2) One side prevails over the other; (#3) both withdraw from the conflict; (#4) both make compromises; (#5) they discover a way to transcend the conflict. Transcendence opens up a new landscape. It expands your thinking to bring in new resources, see new potentials, or go over or around limitations. The more responses people can think of, the less likely they are to use violence. Thus, a peacemaker’s most important skill might be creative thinking.

Group reports and analysis: Have each group read the results of their brainstorming, and label each idea with the corresponding number or numbers on the diagram.

Possible responses in each category:
#1 & #2 — One or the other party prevails: If they apply the rule of “might is right,” they fight it out (to be avoided); if they apply the rule of law, they argue and reach a decision based on some principle, such as who needs the orange the most; if they apply the rule of chance, they roll dice or use some other random method to decide who gets the orange.
#3 — Withdrawal: both walk away from the situation; they destroy the orange or give it away; they sit and watch the orange; they store it in some way, perhaps in a freezer.
#4 — Compromise: they cut the orange and share it; they squeeze the orange and share the juice; they peel the orange and divide the slices.
#5 — Transcendence: they look for one more orange; they invite more people to share the orange; they bake an orange cake; they hold a lottery and divide the proceeds; they focus on the enduring, growth-oriented part of the orange (the seeds) and plant them; they create a plantation and provide a means of living for all.

Concluding small group task: Give an orange to each group, and challenge participants to find ways to make this exercise memorable.

Helping People Solve Their Own Conflicts

Individual reading and reflection:

Once upon a time a mullah (a Muslim religious leader) was on his way by camel to the holy city of Mecca. Coming to an oasis he saw three men standing there, crying. So he stopped the camel and asked, “My children, what is the matter?” And they answered, “Our father just passed away, and we loved him so much.” “But,” said the mullah, “I am sure he loved you too, and no doubt he has left something behind for you?”

The three men answered, “Yes, he did indeed. He left behind camels. And in his will it is stated 1/2 to the eldest son, 1/3 to the second and 1/9 to the youngest. We loved camels, we agree with the parts to each. But there is a problem: he left behind 17 camels and we have been to school, we know that 17 is a prime number. Loving camels we cannot divide them.”

The mullah thought for a while, and then said, “I can give you my camel; then you have 18.” And they started to protest: “No, you cannot do that, you are on your way to something important.” The mullah interrupted them, “My children, take the camel, go ahead.” So they divided the camels according to the father’s instructions:
  • 18 divided by 2 = 9, so the eldest son got 9 camels.
  • 18 divided by 3 = 6, so the second son got 6 camels.
  • 18 divided by 9 = 2, so the youngest son got 2 camels.
  • Thus the three sons got 9 + 6 + 2 = 17 camels in all.

One camel remained standing alone: the mullah’s camel. The mullah said: “Are you happy? Well, then, maybe I can get my camel back?” And the three men, full of gratitude, said, “Of course,” not quite understanding what had happened. The mullah blessed them, mounted his camel, and the last they saw was a tiny cloud of dust, quickly settling in the glowing evening sun.

Now review the story and list the steps the mullah used to help the brothers resolve their conflict:

Compare your list with a partner.

Possible responses:
Notice a situation that needs attention, stop the routine, perceive people’s emotions, express a parental heart, ask questions, listen, look for something positive to build on [in this case, love between parent and children], ask about other circumstances that might not have been explained yet, take time to contemplate, look for what’s missing, offer something dear to oneself and others, let the parties in conflict work out their own solution based on criteria they can agree upon, check whether they are satisfied, ask them to give back what they don’t need, move on.

Building on Our Strengths

Individual reflection: People have general styles of handling conflict. These are often based on things we learned when we were very young. As we grow, we can evaluate their effectiveness and learn new methods. Take a few moments to reflect and consider whether one of these animals describes you:

Ostrich: I hide my head in the sand until the conflict goes away.
House dog: I timidly slouch away and chew up the furniture when no one is looking.
Hawk: I fly above it all and pick my targets to attack.
Coyote: I use my brains to win.
Dolphin: I can fight if necessary, but I would rather swim away.

Consider possible characteristics of an elephant, lion and fox. Each has strengths to draw upon to help resolve conflicts. Circle the strengths you recognize in yourself:

Elephant: supportive, trusting, adaptable, optimistic
Lion: ambitious, competitive, self-confident, forceful
Fox: analytic, cautious, methodical, fair

Describe how you drew upon one of these strengths to resolve a conflict.

How might you apply these strengths during a potential conflict in your daily life?

(Adapted by Joy Pople and Akiko Ikeno building on Religious Youth Service interactive learning exercises)

See also
Communication Skills
Team-Building Exercises
PeaceMaker video game role-playing scenarios in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (free)
People Power video game of non-violent resistance strategies ($10 fee)