read Bush and Folgerk (1994)
work and in some ways heard my
voice. Trained in international
relations and conflict resolution,
work as an analyst of and intervenor in con-
flicts of nations and organizations that are deeply rooted in disputants’ sense
of self in short, identity conflicts (Northrup, 1989; Rothman, 1992, forth-
coming). In such conflicts, while “solving” problems is indeed an ultimate goal,
is one that can fruitfully be postponed, and the path for
prepared, as dis-
putants learn to express their
voices (empowerment) and hear one
In this article, written for fellow third-party intervenors in complex and
want to briefly share the key methodology of my
work, which is the facilitation of
form of transformational
conflict resolution. Reflexive dialogue
use to harness the
resources contained within deep conflict to transform itself from a destructive
to a constructive feature of human and, in particular, group relationships.
believe this process resonates loudly, albeit with many different emphases and
procedures, with the hnd of transformational process prescribed by Bush and
Folger (1994) and Folger and Bush (this volume).
When people’s essential identity needs are threatened or frustrated, con-
flict almost inevitably follows. Parties regularly flee such conflicts due to their
negative experience with them. However, this kind
avoidance often back-
fires and leads to
opposite as the conflict protracts.
the other extreme,
disputants also regularly seek to do battle over such conflicts, to win, to con-
quer, due to what are often high stakes. The goal of reflexive dialogue
disputants and third parties identify identity conflicts and engage proactively
in a creative conflict management process at the midpoint between these
Conflict of all kinds has the potential to promote dynamism and creative
change in institutions and human relationships; all too often, however, that
lost as conflict poorly handled leads to violence and inertia. This
is especially the case when conflict is perceived to be existentially threatening.
fundamental precondition for ending deep and persistent identity-driven
conflict rests in helping disputants give voice
their essential concerns and
to hear and recognize the essential concerns of the other side as well. What are
the underlyng concerns in identity conflicts? Can they be articulated and com-
prehended? What is the benefit of doing
Beyond Subjectivity in Identity Conflict
One of the attributes of identity conflict is that it is intangible. Another way of
is to say that such conflict is deeply subjective; disputants locked in
identity conflict often have a very hard time explaining the nature of their con-
flict to others who have not experienced
in the way that they have. When
the parties involved in an identity conflict describe its significance in histori-
cal terms, observers may believe that different histories are being told. In many
ways they are. The subjective experience of disputants in conflict is shaped by
and shapes their particular cultural realities and historical narratives. Moreover
disputants’ experience of self and others in conflict is subjective. One side’s
freedom fighter is very often another side’s terrorist.
Seeking the objective truth about such a conflict,
history, and the mer-
one side’s interpretations and experiences against another’s is futile; this
approach regularly leads to a fruitless debate in which each side asserts its real-
the other side counterasserts, and no listening or learning occurs. However,
it is possible and potentially transforming
discover the meeting points
between the subjective experiences and interpretations-the intersubjective
intersections between adversaries. In pursuing the work of articulating con-
flict’s deep meaning to one’s identity through this process of reflexive dialogue,
wherein disputants strive
articulate to each other the impact of conflict on
their self-definition and experience, respectively and interactively, what be-
comes profoundly clear is that subjective renderings of conflict can have an
intersubjective resonance between disputants.
was afraid,” says one side.
says the other. While reframing starts with frame introspection-shift-
ing frames, from external to internal-such a start
a necessary but insuffi-
cient first step. The more profound first step is when disputants incorporate
their different subjective frames of the conflict into a shared intersubjective def-
the core narratives, meaning and motives: “We were afraid.”
this process reflexive dialogue, or interactive introspection.
In identity conflicts, such meeting points can regularly be discovered in
the respective articulation of disputants’ hopes, fears, needs, and motivations.
the reasons identity disputes are
protracted and intransigent is that
the stakes are very high: They have to do with disputants’ needs for safety, dig-
nity, control over destiny, and
needs regularly resonate negatively between disputants locked in identity con-
flicts, who share in common an experience of threat or frustration around such
the core of such conflicts is the destructive relationship with the
other side, viewed as the cause of threatened or frustrated needs.
The transformational potential that can be forged out of such negative con-
flict cycles is that one side may become an ally in fostering or fulfilling the
other side’s needs, instead of damaging them. This cannot occur, however, until
both sides become explicit and articulate their motivations in the conflict (such
as, the fulfillment of their needs).
Disputants may be able to explain the external attributes of their conflict and
has caused them, but they are often hard-pressed to verbalize
the conflict’s inner meaning. Moreover, it is uncommon for disputants to try
since other forms of explanation are simpler, and blame is apparently
rhetorically appealing and psychologically comforting. While identity conflict
is subjectively perceived and intangible, it also has an objective
component that is more tangible and describable. Thus, disputants rarely
articulate the deeper significance of conflict to themselves and instead describe
its attributes and effects, and the underlying significance of conflict often
remains at the tacit level (Polyani,
If disputants operate out of apparently incommensurate subjective reali-
ties, which may not be fully comprehended even by themselves, how then can
constructive communication, intersubjective agreement, and conflict resolu-
tion be initiated? First and foremost, we can help disputants articulate and
frame their own concerns
that they themselves are clear about the deep
structures of their conflict and can educate the other side about them.
The approach that
use to harness the potential of deep conflict for trans-
formation and enduring creative change is reflexive dialogue. Such dialogue is
a form of guided and interactive introspection by which disputants speak
about themselves in the presence of their adversaries, and about their needs
and values as viewed interactively through the prism of the conflict situation.
Reflexive dialogue can be transforming, for not only does it nurture an expres-
sion of disputants’ underlyng motivations for conflict, but
may also help
them articulate to themselves, while they communicate to the other side, what
they care about and why.
can be, in its richest form, a kind of consciousness
raising by which disputants come to know and express themselves in ways
may not have occurred had the conflict not provided an opportunity, or neces-
sity, for such articulation.
Reflexive dialogue can lead to a fresh start toward reconciling identity-
driven conflicts that may have become protracted in part due to methods
(like negotiation or problem solving) used previously to discuss and manage
them. Whereas in conventional adversarial conflict framing, parties typically
identify the locus and source of the conflict in their opponents, in reflexive
reframing, parties begin, or start over, with themselves. They inquire fore-
most into what the conflict “out there” means to them “inside,” and how their
own internal processes and priorities have negatively shaped and can be
channeled to positively reshape the course of that exogenous conflict. This
is a reflexive process.
There are, however, two forms of reflexivity, and distinguishing between
them clarifies the meaning intended here. The common form of reflexivity is
reactive and thus akin to blaming.
a kind of single feedback loop between
actions and reactions. This
knee-jerk reflexivity of the kind stimulated by
the rubber mallet in a doctor’s hand. Such single-loop reflexivity, in which we
react instinctively to a stimulus, making sense
data and operating out of a
predetermined cognitive map, is a conditioned response. The second type of
reflexivity has the opposite meaning, though it builds on the first.
slowed-down and self-conscious analysis of the interactive nature
(for example, “Hey, what is going on here that
much? Why is
it getting such a rise out of me?”), which potentially provides needed space for
deciding how one wants to react, instead of simply acting in accord with how
conditioned to react. We can be active agents, making decisions about
our responses, learning to encounter stimulus contemplatively, questioning our
assumptions, anticipating our
reactions prior to enacting them, and,
finally, choosing how to proceed (Steier,
We can build on single-loop cognitive or emotional reactions to develop
double-loop decisions about our actions (Argyris and Schon,
Putnam, and Smith,
We can move from somewhat blind or tacit as-
sumptions to profound self-awareness and volition. Single-loop reactions, like
adversarial conflict framing, are those based on a given frame that may be
refined and improved (“How might we better gain what we want from them?”).
Double-loop reactions are based on inquiry into the nature of the frame itself,
and whether an alternative frame might be prefer-
able (“How might we reconceptualize our conflict
that we view ourselves as
in it together and therefore getting out of it together?”).
Reflexive dialogue is a valuable tool for helping disputants who are locked
in identity conflicts-where who they and other such existential issues are at
stake, whether in national or organizational settings-to honestly express what
they care about and why, who they are, and, given their identity definitions,
why the conflicts matter
much to them. Having expressed themselves in this
way, disputants may begin to inquire of each other about their concerns, needs,
values, motivations, and identities, providing a foundation for agenda setting
and coordinated next steps-further meetings, functional cooperation, joint
problem solving, program development, and
Reflexive Dialogue over Jerusalem
work in reflexive dialogue began in Jerusalem, working with Israelis
and Palestinians around their protracted conflict over this city It continued in
other deeply protracted ethnic conflicts and then took an interesting turn into
the organizational arena. While describing my work in international conflict
resolution at a university workshop,
was invited to apply this approach to the
task of transforming a decades-old labor-management conflict that had left the
parties deeply divided and recycling the conflict annually. Here
the reflexive approach in a discussion of dialogues
have facilitated in Jeru-
have discussed my work in organizational settings (Roth-
man, forthcoming; Rothman and Klein,
a somewhat stylized summary of dozens of reflexive dia-
logues on the future of Jerusalem that
facilitated between Israelis and Pales-
After disputants articulate the “what”
the conflict, which
regularly adversarially framed, they begin to re frame reflexively their
concerns from an outward focus on what the other side did and how bad they
are, to what they themselves care about and why.
FACILITATOR: In what way
Jerusalem core to your
people, their hopes
and fears, and core in this conflict?
our center. It
from whence our national, cultural,
and religious lives emanate. Walking to the golden dome of the
Mosque, we gain a sense of elevation and calm simultaneously. While the
whole Arab and indeed Moslem world claims this spot as its religious
birthright, and with complete justification, to us our link with Jerusalem
equal to our
national Palestinian selfhood. Moreover, Jerusalem
has always been the main nerve of our intellectual and economic life
Without Jerusalem, we
remain what we have become, a fragmented, poor-
led, somewhat unfocused collection of tribes. With Jerusalem, our national
the key to our continuity For the past three thousand
years, without break or exception, our ancestors either lived here or prayed
daily, in fact three times
live here. We must pass
on to our next gen-
erations, as a birthright, for only thus will we as a people, a culture, a religon,
and a nation be ensured of a future. In other words, without Jerusalem, we are
we were not and thus will not be. Jerusalem and the Jewish people are
really synonymous, past, present, and future. Moreover, politically, if we lose
hold of Jerusalem,
matter of time before we lose hold
the rest of
FACILITATOR: The fears you each have expressed about Jerusalem are very pow-
erful. Palestinians, you said that without Jerusalem you will remain fragmented
and dispersed. Israelis, you said that without Jerusalem your past and future
are wiped out. Say more about your hopes, values, and needs that are at stake
in this conflict.
ISRAELIS: We need Jerusalem to be who we are and will become. Jerusalem is
equivalent to our identity. We need it to be safe and recognized. This may
sound a little grandiose, but we need Jerusalem to continue to be bigger than
our size. We are small, but Jerusalem helps to make
larger. In short,
us cultural, religious, national, and political meaning and purpose. Simply,
without Jerusalem we shrivel.
Our history has been marked by occupations by foreigners. The
Turks, the French, the British, the Jews. We aspire to control our
this is only really or fully possible with Jerusalem as our religious and politi-
cal core. With Jerusalem we will gain the internal cohesion, politically and
nationally, and the external recognition that we require.
Having heard such deep-felt articulations of self, please ask each
other questions for clarification.
not engage in the typical positional debate,
as we already experienced
the beginning of this workshop, in which you
tried to prove the other side wrong. Instead, even
you doubt the efficacy of
their perceptions, or that they really have the needs they assert they do, try to
take them at their word that these are their perceptions and that they do
believe they have these needs. Ask questions
that you may attempt to un-
derstand them and their values and needs as they perceive them, even if you
still do not necessarily agree with them. Only through deeply understanding
what motivates the other side will you gain the tools needed to work with
them, and not against them, to solve the conflict.
You say Jerusalem
your unity, but this
Wait a minute, it sounds as if you are about to score a point.
That’s positional debate; here we want questions for clarification, for under-
standing, for analytical empathy. In a minute
will ask you to role-play the
other side and express their values and core concerns as
have heard them
you should now gather information and insight to help you do this.
Okay, then as a question, Why has Jerusalem become
to you in terms of Palestinian peoplehood? This is a relatively new concern for
you, less than a hundred years ago you cared only about it religiously, now you
is your national core. Why?
is true that our national consciousness, at least in the West-
ern sense of the word, is a relatively modern phenomenon; but it does exist
and it is undeniable that it motivates everything we think and do. Jerusalem,
for religious, historical, cultural, political, and
many other reasons, is the
cannot really explain
should think that you, of
all people, should be able to understand this quintessentially spiritual con-
Reflexive Dialogue as Transformation
nection we have with Jerusalemdven those of us who are secular! You speak
of Jerusalem as your core. But why do you need to rule over us?
Can you make this question a little less provocative? We are
engaged in listening for understanding, which requires both willingness to
ten to what the other side has to say about themselves and also willingness to
ask questions such that the other wants to answer honestly and nondefensively.
Okay, I’ll try.
your safety and access to your holy sites and the
Jewish areas were assured, wouldn’t
be a relief not to rule over Palestinians
in East Jerusalem who are hostile to you?
Your question is just too hypothetical. Our security has never been
assured and will only be secured by our
can never again entrust
others-and certainly not to others who have at one time vowed
to destroy us. When Jerusalem was divided, we were not allowed access; now
whole and everyone has access. Sure, it would be fine
you could gain
greater self-rule and control, but not at our expense, which our experience
what would happen were Jerusalem ever again to be divided.
This type of reflexive dialogue may continue in this way for hours or for
days, with many questions posed
me and increasingly by the parties them-
selves. It might eventually lead to a great deal
clarification and understand-
ing about what is at stake and why it matters
Finally, the parties may reach the point at which we would test whether
they have developed the kind of analytical empathy sought (that is, the goal
such a dialogue is not persuasion but rather deep insight). Each side in turn
might, for example, reverse roles temporarily and describe their motivations,
needs, and values as if they were the other side. It is always a powerful moment
when, often for the first time, each side feels that their adversaries have truly
heard them and at least recognized their deep concerns. When parties can
indeed achieve this role reversal to their mutual satisfaction, a new foundation
can be built, one on which the definition
the problem as
can begin to be replaced by “we share.”
In reflexive dialogue disputants reframe their perceptions and analyses
other and their own identities: In short, they learn to articulate their own
voices clearly and to recognize each other’s voices as valid. Where blame was,
mutual responsibility enters. Where us versus them dynamics prevailed, the
way in which the disputants were locked into a relationship and in part
becomes both clear and potentially constructive with a new use
Where negative attributions clouded all differentiation of the other, a
new analytical empathy may emerge in which the other is viewed as “like self”
motivations, needs, and values. Finally, where pernicious pro-
jections were entrenched, a new awareness of disputants’ own imperfections
are acknowledged and accepted, promoting a less self-righteous or judgmen-
tal battle and more tolerance for failings of the other side as well.
in his classic book
Resolving Social Conflicts,
that when disputants are locked in bitter battles, they must somehow
“unfreeze” cognitions about each other and their situation that perpetuate the
fight in order to view them afresh and enable a new beginning. Bush and Fol-
ger give practitioners valuable new concepts for such unfreezing. Reflexive dia-
logue is one tool that can produce the kind
transformational process they
promote, whereby parties learn a great deal about their
needs and values
by articulating them in guided dialogue, and they come to reflexively recog-
nize the needs and values of the other side as well.
and Smith, D. M.
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Argyns, C., and Schon,
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Bush, R.A.B., and Folger,
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“Dynamic of Identity in Personal and Social Conflict.”
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Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse
University Press, 1989.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.
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San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.
The Tacit Dimension.
Kegan Paul. 1966.
Cooperation: Resolving Ethnic and Regional Conflict.
Resolving Identity Conflicts Within and Between Nations, Organizations, and Communi-
“The Role of Pre-Negotiation in Addressing ‘Intransigent’ Conflicts.”
Steier, F. (ed.).
Reflexivity and Research.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1991.
Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1992.
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1nternationalJoumal of Croup Tensions,
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Jay Rothman, Ph.D., is coordinator and assistant professor ofpeace and
Mawr and Haverford Colleges,
Pennsylvania, and director
the Program on Dia-