How Do We Engage In Peacemaking?

 Douglas E. Noll

Home Page

 July, 1999

How do we engage in peacemaking? Like many things, peacemaking is hard, but it's easy. It's hard because we are not used to thinking about it. It's easy because once we do start thinking about it, we see things we have never seen before. Our emotional competency jumps to a new, higher level.

 The first great rule is to be aware. We have to know what's going on with the people around us. Awareness is simply a matter of asking ourselves what we are seeing in the people we live and work with. Conflict usually starts slowly. If we can catch conflict early, we can more easily transform it. Is the important client acting a little differently? Is the supervisor quieter than normal? Do we see some body language that might mean conflict is simmering? Most of the time, we are too absorbed in our own pressures to look outward. But if we devote just a little energy outward, we can see signs of conflict as early warning signals. Can we learn to sense that we are entering conflict ourselves?

By the time we are in conflict, feelings have escalated to the point of no return. So peacemaking becomes harder as the conflict cycle lengthens. A partner comes in irate at some issue, but the ire is directed to you. What to do? The normal reaction seems like fight or flight, with flight in the form of avoidance being the usual tactic. Listen for value and maintain a non-anxious presence. Can you tell when you are becoming angry? Can you feel yourself reacting strongly to what is being said to you? Can you feel your face flushing or your palms becoming moist or your heart beat increasing? Does your field of awareness begin to narrow? Do you move from a relaxed state to a tense state? I do, and I'm trained not to. I work hard at staying non-anxious and relaxed when I finally see that conflict is developing around me. It's hard, but it's easy.

 We are all aware of how we react, when we want to be aware. I am suggesting that our awareness be open enough to break the conflict cycle by not reacting. If we consciously maintain a non-anxious presence even in the face of anger, frustration, or anxiety, we can break the destructive aspect of the conflict.

 In peacemaking, I often find that all of the principals in the conflict feel victimized. The actions, deeds or intentions of others injured them. One sign of victimization is a feeling of unfairness. "It's not fair!" "He ripped me off!" "I've been screwed!" and so forth are indications of victimization. Be aware of those feelings when they arise. As a trial lawyer, I have represented hundreds of clients in business and commercial cases. They were always victims. No client has ever claimed he or she was wrong. Not surprisingly, whenever I talked to the other party (usually through formal depositions or trial testimony), that person felt victimized too! Can I count the number of cases where both sides felt victimized, refused to see the other side's sense of victimization, and spent too much money on attorneys' fees sorting out the dispute? You've been there too.

 Here's the second great rule: We can control our feelings of victimization. Sure, the deal went bad or there was a misunderstanding or there was a substantial loss. But how much easier is the problem to solve in a climate of peace than in a climate of conflict? Victimization leads us into a destructive conflict cycle, so taking business reversals or contract breaches as personal affronts is dangerous. Better that we should acknowledge wrongs, not take on the role of the victim, and remained relaxed. The problem has to be solved and will not go away, but we can control the context in which the issues and solutions are discussed.

 Sometimes, peacemaking is perceived as weak. I used to think this myself. Now, I know better. First, persuading someone to sit down and discuss a conflict is much more challenging than combat. Second, confronting adversaries with respect requires more courage than hiring expensive trial lawyers. I can tell you that cross-examination is far easier than engaging someone that I dislike or distrust in constructive, cooperative dialogue. So, I contend that our reactions to conflict-to lose awareness, to play the role of the victim, to not be relaxed, to not maintain a non-anxious presence, and to not confront conflict directly-are reasons why peacemaking is difficult. My advice is to show some courage: Try the high road between conflict and avoidance. You might find that peacemaking works.


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