What is a Peacemaker?

 Douglas E. Noll

Home Page

 March, 1999

When I tell people I am a peacemaker, they invariably respond in two ways: "Oh, you are a mediator?" or "What is a peacemaker?" I am quick to say that I am not a mediator, although mediation may be a part of peacemaking. Still, the question remains unanswered, "What is a peacemaker?" My view of peacemaking boils down to how a person approaches human conflict. While conflict can be seen from many perspectives, one comparison I like is Satisfaction versus Transformation.

 Most conflict resolution professionals, especially lawyers, are oriented to the Satisfaction way of solving conflicts. As its name suggests, the Satisfaction method solves problems by satisfying demands. When people look at conflict from the Satisfaction viewpoint, they want to get to the heart of the matter; they are bottom-line oriented. The conflict is reduced to the simplest terms possible to reach an expedient result. It assumes human conflict can be reduced to an economic or game model of win-win. However, win-win usually means win-lose, especially when the conflict is resolved in the context of an adversary process.

The Satisfaction view of conflict also assumes that, through compromise, a mutually agreeable solution has been reached. Relationship conflicts and face saving are dismissed as too difficult to solve. Because conflict is not considered in its many dimensions, following the Satisfaction way often means the conflict will resurface in another form at another time.

 Transforming human conflict takes a different approach. Under this orientation, conflict is viewed as broadly as possible to uncover all issues. A peacemaker asks, "What are all the potential issues causing this problem?" The answer may lie in the discovery that relationships and face saving goals are more important than the "real" issue. For example, a demand for a salary increase or bonus or perquisite may sometimes be a symbolic way of demanding respect and face. When this occurs, a peacemaker may recognize that face saving is driving the conflict, not content (the salary demand, for example). The problem-solver might be inclined to analyze the conflict on the basis of narrower concerns, such as employment market economics, worth to the company, parity with other employees, or enterprise financial implications. The peacemaker will consider these issues, but will also look at horizontal and vertical relationships, opportunities for respect, and face-giving. Thus, in my view, a peacemaker has an expansionist, not a reductionist view of human conflict. This cuts against the conventional wisdom of mediation and competitive negotiation, which generally seek to narrow issues.

 A problem-solver operating under the Satisfaction Model measures success by whether the conflict has been settled by agreement. A problem-solver uses compromise, concession, or accommodation as her principal tools. Often, this results in coercive pressure to settle. In contrast, a peacemaker measures success by two less tangible factors: Empowerment and recognition. Empowerment means that each person is allowed to make his or her decisions about the conflict. Recognition means that each person sees and acknowledges the other?s point of view. The degree of empowerment and recognition may vary from slight to great. To the peacemaker, any degree is sufficient for success. When empowerment and recognition occur, the people in conflict have changed, even if slightly. The peacemaker recognizes that if people change, the problem will probably change too.

By transforming people, a peacemaker engenders moral growth for the parties in conflict. Transforming conflict may open people's minds. They may see themselves and their relationships from a different outlook. People learn new ways of approaching conflict and gain greater self-confidence as they improve their competency to deal with conflict. Once a conflict is viewed in a new light, different options for resolution appear. In the business enterprise, this may translate to higher morale and productivity.

 Problem-solvers criticize the Satisfaction orientation because it does not always result in a hard, fast, or apparently permanent solution. The criticism is correct, if one accepts the basic premise of the Satisfaction view: Expediency is more important than people. The difference between Satisfaction and Transformation is therefore in their values. Resolving conflict through Satisfaction focuses on the problem, not the people. In contrast, Transformation focuses on the people, not the problem.

My answer to the question "What is a peacemaker?" should be now be clear. I think a peacemaker is interested in people, not problems. This may mean more time, effort, and patience in the short term. However, the peacemaker operates with the belief that helping people take responsibility for themselves and recognizing others will more likely yield long term, positive outcomes for all. I therefore believe Conflict Transformation is the way of the peacemaker.

Douglas E. Noll, Esq. is a lawyer specializing in peacemaking and mediation of difficult and intractable conflicts throughout California. His firm, Douglas E. Noll and Associates is based in Central California. He may be reached through his website and email at

© 1999, Douglas E. Noll