of Constructive Confrontation
Persuasion, Not Force: The first step towards more constructive
confrontation is a commitment by the parties to use persuasion
and moral argument as the primary component of their strategy.
All too often parties conclude that the other side will
never seriously consider arguments which challenge their
position. Therefore, they abandon persuasive arguments in
favor of force-based strategies designed to compel opponents
to make concessions. (Students will try to use demonstrations
or threats of disruption or violence to force the administration
to comply with their demands, while the administration will
try to use administrative or police force to compel the
students to stop their power tactics without getting anything
in exchange, or to accept less than they otherwise wanted
in exchange for an end to the protest action.)
all of these cases, the conflicts focus becomes administrative,
legal, political, or even violence based power strategies,
rather than moral argument. However, the administration
usually has more power, so such strategies, when used by
students, usually fail. While the administration is generally
more successful when it relies on power, the over-use of
such strategies can leave the administration and the institution
in a weak position publically if it is seen as being unreasonable
or on shaky moral grounds. Thus, if the administration stonewalls
students whose demands are seen as reasonable by the regents,
the community, or the university's funders (the state legislature,
for example, for public universities), then such power ploys
can harm the administration as well. In addition, the legitimacy
of the overall process is eroded, since no one is really
making the case that what they are advocating is the "right
thing to do," but rather they are relying on the dictum
that "might makes right."
generally superior approach for all parties, we believe,
is a commitment to research, analysis, debate, and dialogue.
The University needs to provide many opportunities to help
its community grapple with the difficult moral issues of
the time. This is especially important for higher education
communities which traditionally value reasoned argument
so highly. It should also be clear that this commitment
to persuasion also involves the willingness to be open to
persuasion. Rather than rejecting student concerns or belittling
the importance of an issue, transforming a protest into
an educational opportunity for students, faculty, staff,
and administrators alike can have far-reaching positive
effects. This might be done by structuring study groups
to examine the problem or even by proposing new classes
to look at the issue. Even if a solution does not result
from this process, considerable learning is likely to take
place and the parties may develop more respect for the other
side and a better understanding of why this is a more difficult
issue than it originally appeared to be.
Use of Constructive Mobilization: Also important
for student protest groups is a clear distinction between
destructive escalation and constructive mobilization of
interest on an issue. Advocacy groups must be able to mobilize
supporters and stimulate public interest in and support
for their cause. Unfortunately, this is often done using
destructive escalation which unfairly characterizes the
positions and actions of opponents as dangerous, unjustified,
and requiring immediate opposition. Disinformation and inflammatory
sound-bites are common. In political terms, this is commonly
referred to as "negative campaigning".
more beneficial is a commitment by all the parties to abandon
destructive escalation tactics in favor of "positive
campaigning" and constructive mobilization. (Although
university administrators seldom use such overtly negative
tactics, they sometimes make disparaging remarks in private
which may be "leaked" or overheard and made public.
In addition, just by making the pronouncement that they
will agree to address the issue in a positive way, without
resorting to negative or misleading advertising, they put
pressure on the student group to do the same.)
the protest group, such tactics can still include demonstrations
and other actions designed to force the university administration
to address the tough issues and confront injustice. Still,
this needs to be done in ways which are truthful and leave
open opportunities for debate and a mutual reappraisal of
positions. Also required is a commitment to oppose personal
attacks, avoid the destruction of private or public property,
and repudiate all acts of violence. (This helps advocates
as well as their targets, as violence usually diminishes
a group's credibility significantly.)
is also highly desirable for University administrators,
police, and protest groups to work out protest plans ahead
of time, to prevent inflammatory and potentially dangerous
Allow the Opponent to Save Face: One of the common
errors made by student protest groups is to put the University
administration in a position where they cannot agree with
the students' position even if they want to. When the students'
interests are stated in terms of non-negotiable "demands,"
it is very difficult for the administration to meet those
demands without looking like it is completely caving in
to unruly students. Even worse, students may threaten violence
if they don't get their way. This makes it even more difficult
for the administration to comply, or even to open negotiations,
for fear of being charged with caving in to threats. If
students want to be taken seriously, they need to state
their case in a way that can be taken seriously. They must
make it possible for the administration to work with them
without losing credibility or public support. As Ury says
in his sequel to Getting to Yes called Getting Past No,
both sides should try to "make it easy for their opponents
to say 'yes', " while making it equally hard for them
to say 'no."
Negotiation "Loop-Backs": Another useful
concept taken from conflict theory is that of "negotiation
loopbacks." This idea is based on the notion that there
many different ways to resolve disputes: negotiation, adjudication,
or power contests of various sorts (for example political
power contests, military contests, or nonviolent force.)
Negotiation is the least costly in terms of money, time,
and broken relationships. For this reason, it should always
been tried first. If it fails, or if parties won't enter
into negotiations because of the reasons listed above, they
should generally consider the least expensive alternative.
If this fails, they can go to more expensive optionstypically
force-based options are the most expensive in terms of relationship
especially, but also often time, money, and property.
term negotiation loopbacks refers to the importance of returning
(or "looping back to") negotiation as soon as
possible after the alternatives have been pursued long enough
to clarify each side's BATNAs or EATNAs. As soon as it is
clear who is going to prevail in a legal or political contest,
or most importantly a contest of force, it is usually beneficial
to both sides to stop the costly dispute resolution process
and return to negotiation to work out the details. This,
most often, will result in the same outcome, but at much
lower cost to all concerned.
What this means in terms of constructive confrontation is
that even if negotiation is not possible at one time, disputants
should work to build their power and clarify their alternatives
until they have a good idea of where they stand and what
they are likely to get through a continued rights based
or power struggle. Then, instead of continuing these costly
power contests, they should revert to negotiation and try
to work out an agreement that satisfies both sides interests
and needs now that they know what their EATNAs are.
final important lesson to keep in mind is
that justice conflicts seldom, if ever, are completely resolved.
Disputes can be settled, new policies can be set, and sometimes,
justice is, indeed, achieved. But sooner or later another
group will come along, challenging the decision that was
made earlier. Or a different issue will develop. The key
for both protest groups and university administrators is
to recognize what is negotiable and what is not, and to
use constructive confrontation strategies both within the
context of negotiation (along with principled negotiation)
and outside of the negotiation process to assure that the
confrontation is constructive and educational, rather than
destructive and divisive for the university community.
and Further Reading
Edward. The Management of Protracted Social Conflict. Hampshire,
England: Dartmouth, 1990.
Heidi and Burgess, Guy. "Constructive Confrontation:
A Transformative Approach to Intractable Conflict."
Mediation Quarterly, 1996, 13, 305-322.
John. Resolving Deep-Rooted Conflict: A Handbook. Lanham,
MD: University Press of America, 1987.
Peter. "Redefining Ripeness: A Social Psychological
Perspective." Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace
Psychology, 1997, 3, 81-103.
Peter. "Intractable Conflict." In Deutsch and
Coleman (eds.) The Handbook of Conflict Resolution. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2000.
Morton. The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive
Processes. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1977.
Roger, Ury, William, and Patton, Bruce. Getting to Yes.,
Second Edition. New York: Penguin Books. 1991.
Dean, and Olczak, P. "Beyond Hope: Approaches to Resolving
Seemingly Intractable Conflict." In Bunker and Rubin
(eds.) Cooperation, Conflict, and Justice; Essays Inspired
by the Work of Morton Deutsch. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage,
Marc. The Management of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive
Processes. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1993.
William. Getting Past No. New York: Bantam. 1991.
William, Brett, Jeanne, and Goldberg, Stephen. Getting Disputes
Resolved. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. 1988.
project of Campus Conflict Resolution
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo
to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.
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