Negotiating Identity and Values-Based Disputes

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conflict resolution

How Do Parties in Conflict Negotiate Core Beliefs?

Identity and values-based disputes are particularly challenging to resolve, as identities are naturally inflexible and values are typically much less elastic than interest-based issues. In conventional interest-based negotiation, parties often do give up one thing in exchange for getting something they want more. This is often not possible in identity and values-based disputes because it would involve the parties giving up part of their belief system. Furthermore, value and identity-based disputes are often riddled with emotions and histories of distrust and animosity. Parties are not just fighting for their interests, but for their core identities and rights. Well-run processes can, however, greatly increase mutual understanding, build trust, and identify opportunities to enhance coexistence.

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) offers a variety of role-play simulations that involve identity and values-based disputes that can be used to teach students how to address conflicts where parties’ core beliefs are at stake. The March at Drumcree, Williams v. Northville, and the Armenia/Azerbaijan/Nagorno Karabakh role-play simulations all address identity and values-based disputes in a variety of contexts.

The March at Drumcree

This four hour, five-party, multi-issue, EU-mediated negotiation is between representatives of Catholic and Protestant groups regarding a Protestant marching route through Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. The conflict centers around the issue of Protestant celebrations of the Protestant defeat of the last Catholic King of England in 1690. These celebrations, in the form of marches through the neighborhoods of Portadown, have been occurring for nearly two hundred years; however, due to changing demographics, some of these neighborhoods are nor inhabited primarily by Catholics, who view the marches as a symbol of Protestant domination. As this role play begins, a government commission has ordered representatives of the Orange Order, the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition, the RUC, the Protestant Church of Ireland, and the Catholic Church to try to resolve the dispute, with the help of a mediator from the European Union. Specifically at issue are the following questions: whether the march will take place, and if so, the route that it will take; what behavior rules the marchers and residents will follow; and what kind of long-term arrangements can be made to settle such disputes in the future. Major lessons of this simulation include:

  • Understanding causes of conflict, and how parties’ perceptions of what those causes are can evolve.
  • How negotiation processes can increase mutual understanding.
  • Using interest-based negotiation techniques in identity and values-based disputes.

The March at Drumcree role play simulation is part of the Workable Peace Curriculum Series which is a conflict resolution program for high school students and young adults. Download a free March at Drumcree Teacher’s Package to learn more.

Williams v. Northville

This two-hour, five person, non-scorable mediation is between a school principal and a parent (with attorneys) regarding a values-based dispute over classroom discussions and materials addressing same-sex couples and their families. The simulation focuses on mediating values-based legal disputes, specifically disputes involving potentially conflicting interests around issues of homosexuality and religious faith.

In Williams vs. Northville, Jim and Jan Williams are the parents of two elementary school children in the Northville Public School System. A dispute arose between the Williamses and the school system about materials in the school’s diversity curriculum that presented homosexual relationships and families headed by same-sex couples. J. Williams asked the school principal, S. Smith, for advance notification anytime homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or families headed by same-sex couples would be raised in class and that the Williams children be excused from class during these discussions. Principal Smith denied Williams’ request, explaining that no parental notification was required to discuss homosexual families in class in this way. The Williamses filed a lawsuit against the school district in state court asserting a parental right to have their sons excused from the parts of the curriculum that were contrary to their religious beliefs. The judge in the state trial court resolved the legal situation raised by the Williamses in favor of the school district, holding that parents do not have the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children. This simulation begins at the point where the Williamses have filed an appeal to the lower court’s decision. Major lessons include:

  • Assisted negotiation (i.e., mediation) can be used to resolve values-based disputes. With the assistance of a mediator, the parties and their attorneys can craft a settlement that does not require them to compromise their fundamental values.
  • The importance in values-based disputes of avoiding threats to individual identity.
  • Stressing the human element, focusing on ongoing relationships, focusing on overarching values, and focusing on individual interests as well as values.

Download a free Williams v. Northville Teacher’s Package to learn more.

Armenia/Azerbaijan/Nagorno Karabakh

This complex 13-party, two-team facilitated negotiation is between private citizens from both sides of the Armenia Azerbaijan conflict. This simulation is based on the ethnic conflict between the ex-Soviet Transcaucasian states of Armenia and Azerbaijan over the predominantly Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, located within Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at war with each other since the late 1980s, although animosities go back many centuries. This study brings together influential private citizens from both sides of the conflict and attempts to involve them in an interactive dialogue intended to change relationships among the participants. It is based on the assumption that, although governments are the official bodies responsible for making peace agreements, citizens have a critical role in peace-making, as they are best equipped to address the non-negotiable human issues in ethnic conflicts. The case study is based on real-life efforts undertaken by several U.S.-based non-governmental organizations to bring together influential individuals from countries entangled in bitter ethnic wars.

Each party in this negotiation has experienced more or less directly the war that has engulfed the region. Not only do the participants have fresh memories of the wrongdoings by the other side, but they also carry with them a sense of historical injustice for the real or exaggerated harms perpetrated by the other nation. Each group does not realize, however, that the other one carries a different and incompatible view of the history of the region. These different views are a product of diverging versions of history perpetrated through the educational system and word-of-mouth learning. The parties must deal with the issues of fairness, historical injustice, historical blaming and, if possible, the power of apologizing. They have to grapple with the difficulty of moving beyond the circle of hate, which they have been conditioned to nurture. Major lessons include:

  • The importance of understanding the human dimension in ethnic conflicts and the difficulty of proposing solutions without grasping the complexity of the relationship.
  • The application and study of the major negotiation techniques in settings that do not involve negotiating, e.g., active listening.
  • The role of partisan perceptions, prejudices, and blaming in ethnic conflicts, and ways to move beyond them.

Download a free Armenia/Azerbaijan/Nagorno Karabakh Teacher’s Package to learn more.

Take your training to the next level with the TNRC

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center offers a wide range of effective teaching materials, including

TNRC negotiation exercises and teaching materials are designed for educational purposes. They are used in college classroom settings or corporate training settings; used by mediators and facilitators seeking to introduce their clients to a process or issue; and used by individuals who want to enhance their negotiation skills and knowledge.

Negotiation exercises and role-play simulations introduce participants to new negotiation and dispute resolution tools, techniques and strategies. Our videos, books, case studies, and periodicals are also a helpful way of introducing students to key concepts while addressing the theory and practice of negotiation.

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