In a peace mission you will face conflict – of that there is no doubt. And this conflict will take place at many different levels: with co-workers, in the mission structures and between military and civilian sectors – not to mention in the host communities. You are also likely to experience inner conflict as a result of the challenging circumstances and feeling isolated and far from home.

But this will not be a new experience for you – we all have a lifetime’s experience in dealing with conflict. And we have developed certain built-in mechanisms for dealing with conflict that work for us at some levels, but may be dysfunctional at others. Most of us are afraid of conflict, and withdraw from it to some extent, even in situations where it may be better to confront the situation and deal with the conflict directly.

This lesson will help us look at our personal background and context and identify our built-in styles of conflict handling, and which areas of our personal style need to be further developed.

Key Things to Learn

• Gain a deeper understanding of ourselves
• Self-assess our experience, skills and knowledge as a basis for further learning
• Understand the different personal attributes that contribute to effective conflict management
• Understand that there are different archetypal responses to handling conflict, and that they may be appropriate at different times

Personal Styles of Dealing with Conflict

Every person has an individual way of handling conflict that has grown out of a lifetime of experience with conflict, and is also a product of our own cultural and historical background. Developing our capacity to handle conflict – both personally and professionally – involves examining what works well, and what needs to develop further in our approach. This is a journey of growth that will last a lifetime.

Personal Conflict Map

You are already part of – or are likely soon to be part of –  a peace mission, where dealing with conflict is one of the challenges that will determine whether this is going to be a constructive experience for you. Are you prepared? This online course offers many tools, insights and approaches to help you, but it may be good to start by getting a sense of how well equipped you are so far.

Draw a conflict map similar to the example below, and then shade in each segment, on a scale of 1 to 10. If the description describes you well, then shade in most or all of the segment, from the centre outwards. If it doesn’t – you are, in fact, the opposite – then leave it blank, or shade it a little. Decide for yourself where on the scale you are.

  • Experience at work – I have a lot of experience of dealing with conflict successfully at work; I am utilised as a resource to help others resolve conflict; when I have difficulties with others, I am able to resolve them and have a constructive work relationship.
  • Personal life experience – in my family and with close friends I can deal with difficulties well, and have harmonious relationships; I don’t have long-standing problems with people; I am seen by those close to me as someone who can resolve problems.
  • Inner self – I am good at facing and dealing with inner conflict around difficult choices and things that have not gone the way I wanted them to in my life; I don’t repress or avoid things within myself; I understand all parts of myself pretty well.
  • Learning and training – I have undergone training in conflict management; I have read books and papers on different ways to handle conflict; I know the theory of how to handle conflict.
  • Framework – I have a personal framework for dealing with conflict; when facing a conflict situation in my mind, I can consciously imagine what steps to follow and what to do; over the years I have refined and developed my personal approach, and it works quite well for me.
  • Emotional response – I am not so afraid of conflict; when facing conflict, I am relatively comfortable with dealing with it, even though I know it can be difficult; I don’t avoid conflict – I would rather deal with it.
  • Culture and background – I am a person who knows my culture and history; I know about traditional methods for dealing with conflict in my family and culture, and I have integrated them into my personal approach; I see myself carrying on with my cultural rituals and practices.

Once you have shaded each segment, mark a dot in the middle and connect the dots to make your own personal ‘conflict spider’. The spider should ideally make a balanced circular shape – if yours is a lopsided or spidery-shaped then the areas with little shading will demonstrate to you the areas on which you need to work.

Learning to handle conflict is a multifaceted process of never-ending learning. This online course will assist you on that journey. Part of the learning is about theories and thinking, part of it is about tools and skills, and part of it is about personal transformation and internal change.

Conflict Handling Experiences: Self, Home and Work

We all have a wealth of ‘conflict management’ experience, built up over years of dealing with conflict at many levels in life. Honestly evaluating where our approach is working for us, and which areas we find difficult or problematic, is the first step towards improving our capacity to deal with conflict. It is helpful to think of a conflict system where all the levels are interconnected – our capacity to deal with our own inner conflict, for example, helps us to be sensitive and empathetic to the needs and perspectives of others in our work environment.

Learning and Training

A tremendous amount of research and writing has been done on conflict and its effective management. A lot is to be gained from reading and participating in training in conflict handling – particularly when exposed to perspectives and approaches that one might not otherwise have been experienced. Start with this online course, and then look at other sources listed in the Resources section.


Conflicts are complex, unpredictable phenomena. Dealing with conflict effectively requires a systematic approach, particularly under stress and pressure. Internalising a system, which one tests and refines over time, and adapts to your personal qualities and circumstances, can greatly enhance one’s capacity to respond effectively to conflict.

Emotional Response

Many people fear dealing with conflict. Withdrawing from conflict can be a legitimate response – for instance, when potential for violence is high. However, if our fear of facing conflict leads us to avoid dealing with it at all costs, and in all situations, then avoidance can carry a high cost in perpetuating conflict. Gaining tools and confidence to deal with conflict can be an important part of overcoming our fear of it.

Culture and Background

Many cultural backgrounds have rich traditions, developed over centuries, for dealing with conflict – but globalisation and the destruction of the fabric of traditional societies means we are losing these resources. Through reading, research and talking to the elders in your family and community, you may be able to regain access to some of these resources.

A United Nations Peacekeeper escorts a mother and child from the Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, May 1994.

Archetypal Responses

There are five basic ‘archetypal’ styles that we use when responding to conflict. Each style may be appropriate under certain circumstances, and we should make a conscious choice which approach to use.

Source: Thomas-Kilman (1974) adapted by Radford, Glaser and Associates (1991) for Miedzinski and Steadman (1993: 8).

What is an Appropriate Response?

As part of a peacekeeping mission, you probably do not have complete freedom to respond to a conflict situation in any way that you want – you may need to follow protocol, lines of authority, and policy and guidelines. You may also have to consider the safety and security of civilians or team members in a dangerous situation.

Select your response to a conflict according to the particular demands of the environment in which you find yourself. A joint problem-solving solution may not always be the most appropriate response.