Mayhew-Hite Report        A Review of Where the Rubber Meets the Clouds

Jhannelle Harrison

In Where the Rubber Meets the Clouds: Anticipated Developments in Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory,[i] Heather Pincock[ii] and Timothy Hedeen[iii] explore areas where conflict resolution practice has outpaced research and theory development. Pincock and Hedeen predict that multiple conflict resolution theories will evolve as mediators and arbitrators adopt new methods to serve their changing clients. They anticipate that these new theories will try to develop frameworks that apply to macro and micro conflicts at the individual, organizational, and international levels. The authors anticipate that the field of alternative dispute resolution field will continue to focus on the positive potential of conflict, and the possibility of peaceful resolution. Finally, Pincock and Hedeen expect conflict resolution theory to experience a greater shift to practical efforts on the part of the conflicted parties and interveners.

Pincock and Hedeen identify seven areas where they expect conflict resolution theories to continue to evolve over the next 30 years. These seven areas are: (1) decision-making through the life sciences such as neuroscience, and behavioral sciences such as psychology, (2) transitional justice concepts, (3) theory development of intractability toward ripeness, (4) gender theory in conflict, (5) theories based on technological innovation, (6) responses to bullying, and (7) theories refining dispute systems.

At the core of conflict resolution is emotional intelligence. Advances in neuroscience have shed light on the triggers, impulses, and responses that shape our attitudes and action in conflict situations. For instance, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) illustrates that the brain responds to repulsive offers and unfair offers in similar ways. Moreover, various chemicals play a central role in rationalizing offers or how we perceive others during a conflict. For example, high-levels of testosterone leads to self-sacrificing aggressive behavior, which enables individuals to mete out punishment for others’ transgressions, while high levels of oxytocin create a more trusting and generous sentiment towards others, which leads to greater rapport and cooperation. Stressful events lead to a lot of activity in the amygdala, the brain’s core for self-preservation, and temporally inhibit frontal lobe executive thinking. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, authors of Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk,[iv] have developed work in “behavioral economics.” Their theory builds on loss aversion, the tendency of individuals to feel losses more deeply than gains, to predict that our motivation increases as we approach a goal and then diminishes as we surpass that goal.  Many facets of the mediation process may be supported or undermined by the implications of brain research. Consequently, there will be greater emphasis on the decision-making process based on neuroscience, psychology, and biology.

The next development that is expected to evolve in conflict resolution is transitional justice. As a recent approach to achieving justice through redress of past injustices, many tactics such as peace tribunals and reparations have been primarily applied to situations where there have been human rights violations. These processes employed may not fulfill the goals or hopes of all involved parties, so each future experience presents an opportunity to refine theories and practices in this area.

As the dynamics of conflict resolution emphasize the positive potential of conflict, the discipline will see development in intractability toward ripeness. Conflict resolution theorists seek to comprehend the dynamics of intractable conflict—the nature of the parties and their relationship to each other; the complexity of the issues; the role of context, audiences, intermediaries; and the amount time available—in efforts to explain their origins. Researchers have found that many conflicts—one in twenty—resist mediation especially as the conflict heightens. Among any type of parties, whether children or countries, conflicts can become intractable, meaning the two parties have become stubborn. Parties usually settle after reaching a mutually disadvantageous stalemate meaning there is no way for either party to prevail unilaterally. At this stage, the conflict is ripe for intervention. To declare a conflict to be ripe, or intractable, a mediator or observer must consider the many factors related to the parties and the issues in dispute, which may include costs and duration of the conflict, and perceptions of stalemate. Pincock and Hedeen predict that studying the concept of intractability toward ripeness is an invaluable aspect to especially third party interveners.

New frontiers in gender theory applied to conflict dynamics and process will continue to develop over the next several decades. Empirical studies and theories that draw attention to differences between men’s and women’s perceptions and behavior have aimed at countering sexist and patriarchal notions that privilege male experience in ways that erase or undervalue female experience. The study of men’s and women’s distinct conflict behavior in the workplace has also helped to shed light on how gendered norms of behavior and socialization processes work to reinforce wage inequities and present barriers to women’s career advancement. Shifting from the use of the term gender to sex implies that these norms are socially constructed and not biologically determined. Although this shift implies that change is possible, theories that focus on gender and conflict seeking to acknowledge gender differences and their implications for gender equality still run the risk of emphasizing gender identities and reinforcing dominant gender norms in ways that are confining for both women and men. It relies on binary heteronormative conception of gender, and sexuality even though developments in our understanding of sex, gender and sexuality point to a wide range of identities and experiences that are ignored. Furthermore, conflict theory will need to decouple sex, gender identity, and sexuality from each other altogether. This area of research has experienced growth with the growth of the transgender rights movement.

Pincock and Hedeen predict that online dispute resolution (ODR) will gain new ground in conflict resolution theory. ODR emerged as a response to disputes arising from online commerce. ODR has expanded to conflicts that did not initially have an online component: from resolving protests about real estate assessments to managing complications from post-divorce visitation schedules. Leah Wing and Daniel Riney, authors of Online Dispute Resolution and the Development of Theory from Online Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice,[v] predict that ODR theory will unravel towards deception and agenda setting since deception and agenda setting are heightened in the virtual realm. Interpersonal deception theory concerns communication between those who would likely deceive and those who are trying to recognize when they are being deceived; given that online relations remove important contextual clues as to users’ intentions or veracity, how might trust be established and ensured?

Finally, theory will continue to distinguish bullying and related concepts such as harassment, mobbing, horizontal violence, and incivility. Most studies of bullying in the workplace have centered on the supervisor/supervisee relationship, since a major characteristic of bulling is the presence of power imbalance. Horizontal or lateral bullying between co-workers has also gained traction. The growth of organizational policies in the United States will see an emphasis on concepts such as harassment, discrimination, and microagressions. As a result, there will be a greater response to intervention in, and prevention of, workplace bullying. One theory that is gaining prominence in workplace bullying is restorative justice. Restorative justice approaches focus on incidents of non-reciprocal harm and emphasize the incorporation of broader communities affected by these harms. Dispute system design is a field of study dedicated to assessing, designing, and refining methods of handling disputes among organization or group members, consumers, and counterparts. The “analytic framework” assesses “Goals,” “Processes and Structure,” “Stakeholders,” “Resources,” and “Success and Accountability.” System designers may prioritize some goals at the expenses of realizing others: “the trade-offs required among competing goals may affect the quality of the resulting system.”[vi] Contemporary and future work in conflict resolution theory will continue to enhance the field’s and the world’s understanding of the constructive opportunities provided by conflict. Overall, Pincock and Hedeen had an insightful prediction on the future of conflict resolution theory. They expounded upon the innovations that practitioners will continue to see in areas such as psychology and biology, gender theory, and technology. All in all, the article ignites a fruitful conversation on conflict resolution theory and negotiation methods with the overall intention of urging theorists to pick up the ball where they left off.

[i] Heather Pincock &Timothy Hedeen, Where the Rubber Meets the Clouds: Anticipated Developments in Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory, 30 Ohio ST. J. ON DISP. RESOL. 431 (2016).
[ii] Assistant Professor of Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University.
[iii] Professor of Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University.
[iv] Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky, Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk, 47 ECONOMETRICA 263 (1979).
[v] Leah Wing & Daniel Rainey, Online Dispute Resolution and the Development of Theory, ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION: THEORY AND PRACTICE 23, 23 (2012).
[vi] Stephanie Smith & Janet Martinez, An Analytic Framework for Dispute Systems Design, 14 HARV. NEGOT. L. REV. 123 (2009).