Why Does Peacemaking Work?

 Douglas E. Noll

Home Page

 April, 1999

Peacemaking works because it transforms relationships. Here's why the peacemaking process works. Conflict creates fear, anxiety, and frustration. Consequently, many people avoid it at all costs. We fear conflict because we are uncertain about ourselves and our relationships with others. We experience anxiety in conflict because we do not know how the conflict will resolve. For most of us, conflict has been unpleasant because it has resulted in anger, hurt feelings, or distrust. We become frustrated because we do not have the emotional or social knowledge and deal with conflict competently.

 Peacemaking addresses these problems. Peacemaking gets to the heart of the conflict without fear of escalation. When people have agreed to follow some simple ground rules, with or without an intermediary, they move into a temporary special relationship. This relationship requires a commitment to be constructive, to actively listen, and to be empathically accurate. Conflicts escalate when this temporary special relationship is not formed. How many times have you heard voices become angry or louder as an argument ensued? The conflict is escalating because neither person believes that he or she is being heard. The easiest, but least effective way, to be heard is to raise one's voice. But then the other person doesn't feel heard and raises his voice in response, and so on. Sometimes out of shear frustration violence erupts. Peacemaking stops this escalation by committing each person, for a few moments, to be in a positive, rather than a negative, relationship with another.

 Peacemaking also works because it changes personal orientations from a competitive and hostile attitude to a cooperative and constructive attitude. The attitude shift does not change immediately. More often than not, I have entered peacemaking assignments where the atmosphere was extremely hostile and tense. However, as people work through the peacemaking process, they begin to understand each other's perspectives and, in that context, re-evaluate their own positions. Often times, this re-evaluation and recognition provides the basis for transforming the conflict.

 On an emotional level, peacemaking works because it allows for mutual recognition of injustices or wrongs. In many conflicts, each person feels violated by the other. Peacemaking allows both parties to recognize not only that they have been victimized, but that the other person also may have a sense of victimization. Similarly, peacemaking allows parties to acknowledge there has been a wrong or a violation. The Japanese culture takes this to an extreme. Even when one party is clearly wrong and the other is clearly right, the party in the right will attempt to find some reason to offer apology so as to make the reconciliation process mutual.

 On a practical level, peacemaking allows for a discussion of how to make things right. While people are in that special temporary relationship, they can identify how the wrongs, whether mutual or not, caused the harm, and what they think is necessary to remedy the harm. Sometimes making things right is as simple as an apology. Other times, making things right is substantially more complex. However, if the parties have committed to the peacemaking process, they have agreed the only acceptable solution will be one that satisfies everybody's interests.

 Peacemaking permits movement into the future. Having recognized wrongs and discussed how to make things right, the parties find that the trust building process begins with affirmations of future conduct. Many times, the parties in conflict agree to support each other in ways that did not previously exist. The conflict thus becomes an event for strengthening relationships and providing for cooperative benefits that did not previously exist. Sometimes discussing future intentions uncovers a need for outside support, training, or other assistance. Without this discussion, these needs would go unmet, providing the seeds for conflict on another day.

 When people can come together in hostility and anger, acknowledge injustices, whether mutual or not, decide how to make things right, and discuss their future needs and intentions, they have engaged in a process of moral growth. They have learned to confront their fear, anxiety, and frustration. They have learned to listen and to be empathic. They have learned to recognize and acknowledge the other's perspective. They have become empowered with their own ability to make decisions constructively and cooperatively. They have learned to look to the future and to rebuild trust.

 Peacemaking is therefore a tool for transforming disagreements, hostilities, anger, and resentment into new relationships, leading to greater personal satisfaction and higher productivity. I therefore believe peacemaking skills are a necessity, not a luxury, for all of us.

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

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