Part 3 of a Series on Persuasion

 

While each of these principles is supported by both systematic and anecdotal evidence, it is not always clear how one might utilize the principles in a particular relationship or encounter. Louis Kriesberg [1] suggests five ways in which one party might influence another in moving toward resolution of a dispute:

  1. Party A may ask Party B to look at the situation from Party A's point of view, to take on the role of Party A. This may serve not only to help Party B understand that Party A's intentions are, for example, defensive rather than aggressive, but it may lay a foundation for a more harmonious relationship between the two parties.
  2. "A second kind of argument points out complementary interests that would be enhanced by yielding what is sought."[2] Party B may benefit in a different way from the right or privilege that Party A seeks. One argument in pleas of the oppressed is that oppression hurts the oppressor as well as the oppressed. An enslaver, for example, is assured the grudging compliance of the slave, but at a cost of constant monitoring and loss of his or her own humanity. Freeing slaves affords a society the benefit of willing labor as well as a more humane environment for everyone.
  3. "A third kind of persuasive argument tries to turn a divisive issue into a problem that is shared and needs a mutually satisfactory solution." [3] In the conflict-resolution literature, this is an example of what is called "reframing." Reframing allows the adversary to see the issue differently and to retreat from a previously stated singular position to a new, shared one; it may also serve as a face-savingmechanism. The more publicly I have committed myself to a position, the more embarrassing it is for me to back away from it. If, however, the issue is reframed, it is the situation rather than my stance that has changed.
  4. The interlocking nature of conflicts is the basis for the fourth type of influence. While Parties A and B may be locked in conflict over one set of issues, they may also share an antagonist against whom they can work together. This antagonist need not be another party; it may be a shared issue. If the concern is shared and its importance is higher than those issues which separate the parties, it becomes asuperordinate or transcendent goal.[4] In his several experiments on superordinate goals, Sharif found them a particularly compelling way to reduce hostility.
  5. Persuasion may also occur through "appeals to common values and norms ... The appeal is made to abstract principles, shared identifications or previously neglected values."[5]

In the case of intractable conflicts, these strategies often work best when a third-party intervener is involved. Party B may be reluctant, or even unable, to accept the reframing done by Party A. Party A, after all, has a self-interest in Party B's reassessing the situation. A third party is more likely to be trusted not to act out of self-interest, and her or his attempts to reframe are therefore likely to be more credible than Party A's attempts to communicate exactly the same ideas.

It should be noted that each of these forms of persuasion can lead to a warming and strengthening of a relationship between current or former adversaries, as well as to a cementing of an already good relationship. In the optimal case, in resolving a subsequent disagreement, Party A will not need to rely so much on persuasion as on the existing collaboration. Effective persuasion may thus lay the base for other forms of integrative power (i.e., the power of relationships).

ENDNOTE

[1] Kriesberg, Louis. Social Conflicts. 2nd Ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1982, p.115-117.

[2] Kriesberg, p. 116.

[3] Id.

[4] Sherif, Muzafer. In Common Predicament: Social Psychology of Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966, http://books.google.com/books?id=ElxCAAAAIAAJ.

[5] Kriesberg, p. 116.

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By Máire Dugan

Máire Dugan is currently directing Race Relations 2020, which she founded. She also developed the Masters in Conflict Resolution curriculum at Columbia College. Dr. Dugan is a member of the Board of Directors for the SCCCR. She developed the "nested theory" to delineate how a given interpersonal, familial, or organizational conflict is symptomatic of over-arching societal systems and structures. Dr. Dugan suggests an intermediate level, which she calls the sub-system, as an arena that practitioners can use to simultaneously address the conflict at hand, the relationship, and the larger system. http://www.beyondintractability.org