Communication in a peace operation environment is much more challenging than in normal circumstances. As a CIMIC Officer you will be communicating on a daily basis with people from other cultures, most likely without a common first language, often in threatening, stressful or tense circumstances.

In this environment, every individual CIMIC Officer needs more communication and negotiation skills than they would have needed if they were carrying out the same duties in their own country, or in peaceful circumstances.

The key to successful communication and negotiation in the peace operation context is awareness and preparation. Every minute spent on planning and preparation will influence the outcome of the negotiation. The CIMIC Officer’s ability to communicate and negotiate will improve with experience and practice.

This chapter will serve as an introduction to negotiation skills. It will create awareness of the type of situations with which the CIMIC Officer will have to deal, and will cover issues relating to preparing for, conducting, and reporting on negotiations in the peace operations context.

Why are Communication and Negotiation Skills Necessary?

Peace operations differ from war (which is the primary role for which all soldiers are trained) in a number of critical ways.

  • In war, you are one of the warring parties; in peace operations, you are a neutral third party. You are not part of the conflict, and you are required to stand above it.
  • In war, your aim is victory (which implies defeat of the enemy). In peace operations, your aim is to assist the parties to achieve peace. You have no enemies or opponents in peace operations. You work with the warring parties to achieve peace, security and stability. In some cases this means that you need to counter spoilers, but that does not mean that you take sides in the political resolution of the conflict.
  • In war, you want to surprise the enemy, hence you wear camouflage and try to conceal your presence, strength and movements from the enemy. In peace operations, your visible presence emphasises your role as a neutral third party, and helps to instil confidence in the peace process among the parties and local people. Typically, you want the parties to know your strength and you will inform them of your movements. Your presence and movements are transparent. There is no secrecy or stealth – your visibility is your strength. This is why all AU and UN facilities an equipment is clearly marked and why we move around in white vehicles. In stabilization operations it may be necessary, at times, to take action against spoilers or aggressors, and that may require a combat posture. However, that does not change the overall neutral third-party identity of the mission.
  • In war you achieve victory by defeating your opponent through combat. In peace operations, you achieve peace and stability by managing the conflict (containing it at manageable levels and preventing it from becoming violent once again). The primary tools you will use to manage the conflict are communication and negotiation.

War vs. Peace

War ↔ Peace Operations
Party to the Conflict ↔ Neutral Third party
Victory ↔ Peace
Surprise ↔ Transparent
Combat ↔ Communication

This is especially true in the case of the CIMIC Officer, because you will be the designated focal point for communication on behalf of your unit or headquarters, with your host community, civil society, government representatives and fellow external actors – such as UN humanitarian and development agencies, and NGOs.

Conflict Management Cycle

• Identify potential violent disputes
• Make an appraisal of the situation
• Design a response
• Undertake the intervention
• Evaluate the outcome/feedback

You will be communicating with these internal and external actors on a daily basis. This will involve both informal conversations and formal negotiations, often in the form of meetings. Sometimes you will have to chair or facilitate these meetings as addressed in Chapter 9, ‘Meeting Facilitation’.

You will also have to report on the outcome of these meetings to your own unit or headquarters. This involves effective communication, because you will have to ensure that they understand the importance of maintaining an appropriate supportive relationship with their civilian counterparts, and the host community.

What are Negotiation and Mediation?


Negotiation is communication with the aim of reaching an agreement.


Mediation is the intervention into a dispute by an acceptable, impartial and neutral third party, that has no authoritative decision making power.

Negotiation is not capitulation. Some people, especially soldiers, associate negotiation with ‘giving-in’ to the demands of the party with which you are negotiating. For instance, we will often hear people say: ‘We will not negotiate with terrorists.’ What they mean is that they will not give in to their demands, but in most cases authorities do negotiate with terrorists to secure the release of hostages, and so on.

Negotiation describes a process, not an outcome. Negotiation is communication with the aim of reaching an agreement. Any communication with the aim of reaching an agreement is a negotiation. Every time you, as a CIMIC Officer, are communicating with one or more people, with the aim of reaching an agreement, you are negotiating.

Mediation is the intervention in a dispute by an acceptable, impartial and neutral third party who has no authoritative decision-making power. This person assists parties to voluntarily reach their own mutually-acceptable agreement. If you, as a CIMIC Officer, are called upon to assist two parties to reach an agreement, you are, in a way, mediating between the two parties.

Successful Negotiation

Successful negotiation depends on:
• Understanding the mandate and role of the peace operation (your interest)
• Preparing your approach
• Understanding the interests of the other parties
• Anticipating their approach
• Understanding the cultural/historical context

Negotiation in the Peace Operations Context

Negotiation preparation

Preparation is crucial for successful negotiations. The more prepared you are the better are your chances of reaching a sustainable agreement.

Whenever CIMIC Officers negotiate with other parties in a peace operations context, the subject of the negotiation is likely to fall into one of the following categories:

  • Negotiating freedom of movement of CIMIC Officers, NGOs, or members of the local population through an area controlled by one of the parties – for example, at a roadblock.
  • Discussing relationships or roles between the peace operation and the parties, or local authorities – for example, a patrol moving through a village.
  • Resolving disputes with, or between, parties and local people, villages, or communities (depending on the mandate).
  • CIMIC Officers meeting among themselves, or with opposing parties, local authorities or community leaders to coordinate a specific event – for example, a marriage or other traditional ceremony in a sensitive area; making arrangements for a vaccination campaign; coordinating the return of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees; or, coordinating humanitarian relief distribution.

Factors that Influence the Outcome of a Negotiation

Successful communication and negotiation depends on your understanding of the following three factors:

1. Understanding your Interests

You need to have a clear understanding of your own interests, that is, what you want to achieve from the negotiations. In the peace operations context, your interests will derive from the mission’s mandate, the policies of your unit, and the instructions you have received.

2. Understand the Interests of Other Parties

You need to anticipate and understand what the other parties’ interests are, and what they want to achieve from the negotiations. You can do so to a large degree by studying their previous statements and actions to detect any changes in policy. Your focus should be on identifying their real underlying interests, not their stated positions.

Understand the Cultural and Historical Context within which you Operate

By being sensitive to the cultural and historical context in which you operate, you can avoid critical cultural mistakes and improve your credibility and acceptability.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Culture is the collective world-view a group of people has developed over many years to make sense of the world around them, and to order their society accordingly. Your own culture may be different from that of the community in which you serve as a peacekeeper, but you should understand it in the context of that community’s history and environment. Guard against judging another culture as right or wrong, as good or bad, using your own as a yardstick.

The foundation for effective cross-cultural communication is respect. The golden rule is to do nothing that will offend the other culture. If you are professional, humble, friendly and respectful, your chances of not offending anybody are very good.

Three Stages of Negotiation

• Introduction
• Substantive discussion
• Conclusion

Take note that every culture has developed customs and traditions to regulate formal communications like negotiation and mediation. Find out what these cultural expectations are, and try to shape the way in which you conduct negotiations so that it reflects local customs and traditions.

However, you should maintain AU and UN standards and guidelines. If these are in conflict with local culture and tradition, follow AU and UN standards and guidelines, and explain to your local interlocutors why this is being done.

Preparing For Negotiations

• What is the dispute about? Underlying causes?
• Why did it come up now? Immediate triggers?
• What is the background/history?
• Who are the persons/parties involved?
• History of previous attempts to solve the dispute.
• Has it been dealt with before?
• What was the previous UN position and how does it relate to the current situation? Is it still relevant?
• What are your options, limitations, time frame, mandate?

Basic Communication Techniques

The following basic communication techniques are useful in most communication and negotiation situations.

Empathic Listening

Listen actively, with understanding, even if you do not agree with what is being said. Be alert and focused on the person speaking. Do not speak to your colleagues when the other person is speaking, even if you are waiting for interpretation.


Listen and restate in your own words what another person is saying, for instance: ‘So, what you are saying is…?’

Communicating Openness

Be open to hearing the perceptions and needs of others, even if you disagree with what they are saying, for instance, by exploring their ideas: ‘How would that work if…?’


Shifting the focus from positions to interests, encouraging flexibility and expressing something in a different way. For instance: ‘In other words, what you want is…?’

Non-verbal communication

It is important to remember that non-verbal communication is culture-specific. Make sure you know what your non-verbal communication means in the local context, and avoid taboos.

Non-verbal communication includes acknowledgement that you are willing to listen (eye contact when culturally appropriate, body focused on the person); paying attention (not looking away); hearing what is being said (nodding); smiling when appropriate and showing genuine interest in solving the problem at hand.

Preparing your Delegation

• Who is going to do the talking?
• Who is going to take minutes?
• Need for an observer?
• Cross-cultural sensitivity?
• Role of interpreter(s)
• Need for specialists?

Preparing the Venue

• Arrive in good time, good shape and be well-dressed.
• Prepare seating, security, parking, communications.
• Consider refreshments (smoking?)
• Prepare maps, stationery, etc.
• If not your own venue, recce the proposed venue and clarify these issues before arrival.

Preparing for Negotiation

Preparations are crucial to successful negotiations. The more prepared you are, the better your chances of successfully calming and managing a potentially violent conflict situation. Take time, even if only a few minutes, to make sure you have a clear understanding of your own interests, the interests of the other parties and the context within which the negotiation is taking place. One of the often ignored focus areas in preparing for negotiation is preparing the venue and seating arrangements. Venues and seating orders that are not easily accessible and unsafe or gives one party undue advantage over another could jeopardize the success of the negotiation process

However, you may often find yourself forced to respond to an impromptu situation where there is no time for preparation. For instance, you may come across a village dispute on a patrol, you may be forced to deal with a situation at a checkpoint or at your post, or you may come across a roadblock while on convoy escort duty. However, if you have gained enough generic knowledge of the history, culture and nature of the conflict, if you are well-briefed on your own mandate and orders (e.g. convoy protocols), and if you use the start of the negotiations to gather information about the specific problem you are facing, you will be armed with enough knowledge to deal with most impromptu situations.

The point is that if you are generally well-prepared, focusing on the factors which influence the favourable outcome of a negotiation (highlighted above), you will be in a much better position to deal with impromptu negotiations.

Opening and Welcome

• Welcome and open according to proper custom and protocol (according to local practice)
• Introduce delegations
• Explain the role of the mediator
• Outline the objective of the meeting
• Outline process agreed on
• Present agenda

The Three Stages of a Negotiation

Any actual negotiation process will always have three stages: the introduction (start), the substantive negotiations (discussion) and the closing session (end).

1. Introduction (the Start)

When you are the host or the facilitator of the meeting, it will be your role to welcome the other parties to the meeting, and to start by introducing your team (if you are the mediator), or your delegation (if you are one of the parties) and any others present.

Once you have introduced your team or delegation you should give the other parties an opportunity to do the same. Be sure to follow the appropriate local customs and protocol. You should only deviate if you feel that the local traditions are incompatible with AU or UN policies, and international standards and norms – for example, including female members in your delegation in a culture where only men will normally participate in this kind of formal meeting. In this kind of situation explain why you are not following local custom by providing them with information on the relevant UN policies and international standards and norms. If there is any chance that your behaviour may cause insult, inform the other party beforehand so that there is an opportunity to discuss and resolve the issue outside of formal negotiations. There should be no surprises to either party at the introduction stage.

After the welcome and introductions, you should explain the purpose of the meeting and present the agenda. If there was no time to prepare an agenda beforehand, ask the delegates to identify the points that need to be discussed and agree on the order in which you will deal with them.

Lastly, take time to discuss the ‘rules of procedure’ according to which the meeting will be run. The parties should voluntary agree to these rules, and in the case of mediation, agree to the role the facilitator will have in enforcing these rules. Rules of procedure typically include such issues as: the role of the chair or facilitator in the case of a mediation; not allowing any interruptions; the maximum time allowed for any speaker; how decisions will be taken; who is responsible for taking notes; where formal minutes are kept and how they will be approved; and, joint statements to the media. In some cases these may be very basic, in others more elaborate. Use your own judgement.

Once you and the other parties are comfortable that you have a common understanding of the process and the rules of procedure, you may move onto the substantial discussions.

Substantive Negotiation/Mediation

• Opening statements
• Responses to opening statements (seek interests)
• Identify and agree on key points for further discussion (those issues that each party wants to be addressed before agreement)
• Prioritise/sequence
• Break/caucus/joint and private sessions
• Generate options for settlement
• Reduce number of options
• Agreement
• Implementation and monitoring
• Agreement in writing – all languages
• Information to media/public

2. Substance (the Discussion)

Substantive sessions will normally start with an opening statement by each party. This is typically a statement that sets out the overall position and main arguments of the party. Allow the party with a grievance to start or, if you are the host, invite the other party to start. Listen attentively, and show through your non-verbal language that you are paying close attention.

If, as is likely at some point in the peace operations context, your opening statement is conveying a complaint, make sure the complaint is very clear, detailed and factual. In most cases it will be a good idea to put the complaint in writing and give the other parties a copy.

Closing Session

• Summarise agreement and next steps
• Formal adoption/signing of agreement (local customs and protocol)
• Next meeting (time, venue, agenda, documents)

If the peace operation is being criticised, which in the peace operations context is often the case, listen attentively and do not show displeasure or disagreement through your non-verbal communication. Do not take it personally – it is not about you. When responding, do not respond to allegations or emotion. Give factual corrections if the data presented by the other party is wrong.

If an operational action resulted in deaths, injuries or destruction of property – for example, a car accident – that may be subject to a claim or investigation, be careful not to pre-empt the outcome of such an investigation or commit the peace operation to the payment of claims. Instead, explain the procedure for making claims and how they are processed, and explain the investigative process.

Follow-Up on Negotiation/Mediation

• Prepare sitrep for higher HQs
• Prepare short statement for media/ public (agreed to by parties)
• Prepare minutes and copies of agreement
• Prepare comments and future expectations
• Add observations that may assist others to deal with this or other similar disputes in the future
• Establish mechanism to monitor implementation of the agreement (agreed to by parties)
• Carry out the negotiator/mediator’s undertakings in the agreement
• Prepare progress reports
• Prepare for next meeting

As facilitator, as host, or as one of the parties, you can summarise what was said by listing those things that each party said was important for them to achieve, or to be discussed. Such a list can serve as a basis for further discussion.

The facilitator, host, or chair can then use this summary, or list of issues, to suggest a process for discussing these issues. This should include the priority, or order, and purpose of discussion.

In general, such discussions should lead to generating different options – for example, a list of things that can be done to avoid the recurrence of an incident in future. The next step is the reduction of the list to a set of options the parties can agree on, that will achieve the desired effect, and that can be implemented.

When you feel all the parties have reached a common position the proposed agreement can be summarised and presented for formal agreement.

The agreement should include, or be followed by, further discussion on the steps that need to be taken to implement the agreement.

The substantive discussions should close with a summary of all the agreements reached during the meeting, and these should preferably be put in writing in the form of minutes, confirmatory notes and/or a joint declaration, statement or communiqué.

The parties should also consider how, and when, they want to release the news of the agreement to the public and media, and how much information should be released. If the agreement is of such a nature that the media would be interested, it is always a good idea rather to have agreed statements or communiqués. You want to avoid continuing the negotiation publicly, in the media.

Comparison of Western/Other Models of Conflict Resolution

From T. Duffey, ‘Culture, Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping: An Analysis with Special Reference to the Operations in Somalia’, Unpublished PhD thesis. Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, 1998.

3. Conclusion (the End)

Once the representatives have concluded the drafting process and the parties have informally agreed to the text, the facilitator, chair or host can then call the meeting to order and present the agreement.

Sometimes, one of the other parties may be asked to present, or each of the parties may present an equal part of the final agreement.

Further negotiations on the wording of the agreement may occur, but should be kept to a minimum to avoid the whole agreement from unravelling.

Once everyone agrees, the formal agreement should be recorded, and all parties can sign copies of the agreement. Each party should leave the meeting with signed original copies in all the languages agreed upon during the introductory phase.

The last item on the agenda is agreement on the date, time and place of the next meeting, and agreement on when any working groups, sub-committees or verification mechanisms established through the agreement will start their work.

As per the introduction, and throughout the rest of the meeting, it is important to follow the proper custom and protocol during the closure of the meeting, as per the local culture and tradition.

Reporting on Negotiations

Negotiation and mediation always take place amongst a small group of representatives of the parties. The agreements reached need to be implemented by a much larger group and the follow-up and information-sharing with these wider constituencies is thus of vital importance.

In the peace operations context you should prepare a short report (commonly referred to as a Situation Report, or ‘sitrep’) for immediate release to higher HQs and other elements. This could be verbal radio message or a short written ‘flash report’. It should contain the essential information higher HQs or other elements need to know until a more detailed report arrives.

A short summary of what was agreed upon for release to the media and wider community (use public information specialists where available), if appropriate, should be agreed to during the negotiation or mediation. (Refer to Chapter 12, ‘Media Relations’.)

A detailed report should be prepared, filed and sent to the appropriate higher HQs and all relevant departments. Partners from other organisations and colleagues from other departments at your level should be briefed. The report should include copies of all the documents, your assessment of the situation and your analysis of the future. It should include an analysis of the negotiation or mediation, and be detailed enough to serve as a thorough briefing for your replacement should this problem re-occur during their tour of duty.

If it was agreed as part of the process, formal minutes or confirmatory notes need to be prepared so that these can be considered for approval at the next meeting.


During negotiations it is crucial that one respects the local culture; plans and prepares according to the three factors that influence negotiations (your interest, their interest and the context); approaches negotiation from the perspective of the three stages (start, discussion, end) regardless of whether the negotiations are impromptu or planned; uses common sense; applies guidelines as appropriate to the situation and issues reports to ensure implementation beyond the few people who participated in the meeting.

One cannot expect to learn how to negotiate effectively in a couple of minutes. The aim of this chapter was to give you an overview of the process and issues at stake. It is important that you seek further opportunities to improve your negotiation skills. Negotiation is a practical skill and is ideally gained through participating in a practical negotiation course.

Many CIMIC Officers experience difficulty in communicating in the language of the local people of the host country, and this raises the importance of interpreters.
For more information on this topic see: Cedric de Coning & Ian Henderson, “Conflict Management for Peacekeepers and Peacebuilding” (Durban, ACCORD 2008)