The Research Base for Resolve Conflict and Negotiate

"Conflict resolution" is defined generally as the act of accurately defining a conflict situation and then engaging the parties involved in choosing and pursuing a course of action that will alleviate the conflict to the satisfaction of all. While the ability to resolve conflict and negotiate are of great interest to those who work in the social and behavioral sciences, conflict management has also played a crucial role on the job and in labor/management relations, in politics, and in public policy. Conflict resolution is a domain of adult knowledge and skills that is critical for adults to be able to draw from in order to carry out their responsibilities in their roles as family members, workers, and citizens. Yet, teaching and assessing ability to resolve conflict and negotiate in adult education is a fairly new endeavor.

The descriptions of performance at each level of the Resolve Conflict and Negotiate Performance Continuum are anchored in analysis of data on adult learner performance collected by teacher researchers who developed activities based on the Resolve Conflict and Negotiate Standard. The activities they developed addressed problems the adults they taught face in real-world contexts including the workplace, the family, and the community. Teachers in five field research states developed performance tasks and measured learner performance on the tasks as part of a rigorous three-year field development process. This evidence of learner performance on the standard went through analysis by research staff who also consulted research and theory on conflict resolution and negotiation to guide and refine the definition of performance criteria. Our job of developing a Performance Continuum for the standard that will support valid and reliable assessment of individual performance on the standard has been a challenging one and our understanding of competent adult performance in conflict resolution and negotiation continues to evolve.

A number of research-based sources have guided our understanding of proficiency in conflict resolution and negotiation. Readers who would like to see a more detailed description of the research and citations should go to the Resolve Conflict and Negotiate Research Summary in the EFF Assessment Resource Collection library. Our work supports an approach to negotiation that primarily focuses on creating value or increasing gain for all parties, also known as "integrative", "principled", "collaborative" or "win/win" negotiation. Settlement usually involves compromise and concession on each side; each party is likely to have to give up something in order to gain something more important. Key components of this model include effective communication and a focus on problem-solving. The EFF Standard Resolve Conflict and Negotiate is strongly influenced by this integrative mode of conflict settlement, however, we acknowledge that no one conflict negotiation/resolution style or method is appropriate across all situation. Negotiation behaviors are culturally bounded (and, some research suggests, gender bounded as well) with different kinds of conflict requiring different approaches. This EFF Standard calls for the ability to:

  • Acknowledge that there is a conflict;
  • identify areas of agreement and disagreement;
  • generate options for resolving the conflict that have a "win/win" potential;
  • evaluate the results of the efforts and revise the approach, as necessary.

From the research, we find that there is a cognitive basis to conflict response that deals with the gathering, processing, and sending of information related to the conflict. We also find that communication is a critical piece to effective conflict resolution and negotiation. Related to this, the issue of the integrative, "win/win" approach to conflict resolution is of crucial import to the EFF Standard, and this approach hinges on effective communication among all parties. Some researchers argue that "effective communication" that leads to integrative solutions cannot be limited to communication that is perceived by the parties as "open" or "empathetic". Rather, effective communication will be related to, and reflect, goal interdependence among the parties. In other words, it will be easier to manage conflict when the parties can identify some areas of agreement, some shared or cooperative purpose, as they define the conflict to be resolved. All three of these components — the cognitive processes involved in resolving conflict and negotiating, the use of effective communication in conflict resolution and negotiation, and the need for goal interdependence and the definition of conflict to achieve an integrative, "win/win" situation" during conflict resolution and negotiation — are reflected in the Key Knowledge, Skills, and Strategies for the Standard at each level of the performance continuum.

(The Resolve Conflict and Negotiate Resources section of the EFF Assessment Resource Collection library contains a more detailed description of this research and a bibliography).

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