Overcoming Barriers to Effective Conflict Resolution: Insights from Negotiation Science

Conflict is a ubiquitous aspect of human experience, yet many people feel uncomfortable around it. Dan Shapiro, a Harvard negotiator and author of Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally-Charged Conflicts, argues that conflict can be useful if managed effectively. In this article, we explore Shapiro's insights on how to argue effectively by overcoming three major barriers: identity, appreciation, and affiliation.

Identity refers to the core values and beliefs that individuals feel are threatened during conflicts. According to Shapiro, understanding one's identity is crucial to effective conflict resolution because the moment an individual's identity gets hooked in a conflict, their emotions become more intense. Shapiro suggests that individuals should ask themselves what values and beliefs are driving them to take a stance on an issue. By understanding their own identity, individuals can maintain their balance and stay focused on their purpose, even when their core values and beliefs are threatened.

Appreciation refers to the act of recognizing and valuing the other side's perspective during a conflict. Shapiro notes that appreciating the other side's perspective can be challenging because individuals often feel defensive and protective of their own beliefs. However, he suggests that individuals should take the first 10 minutes of a conflict to consciously listen to the other side and try to understand their perspective. By doing so, individuals can recognize the value in the other side's perspective and communicate that understanding back to them. Appreciation can create a sense of mutual respect and facilitate more productive conflict resolution.

Affiliation refers to the emotional connection between individuals in a conflict. Shapiro argues that people often approach conflicts as "me versus you," which can lead to a combative and unproductive exchange. Instead, he suggests finding common ground and approaching the conflict as a shared problem to be solved collaboratively. By asking the other side for their advice on how to get as many interests met as possible, individuals can shift the focus away from competition and towards cooperation. This approach can transform the nature of the conversation and ultimately lead to more effective conflict resolution.

Research supports Shapiro's insights on effective conflict resolution. For example, a study by De Dreu and colleagues (2010) found that showing appreciation for the other side's perspective can increase cooperative behavior during conflicts. Similarly, a study by Tiedens and Fragale (2003) found that emphasizing common goals can reduce intergroup bias and lead to more effective collaboration.

In conclusion, Dan Shapiro's insights on effective conflict resolution offer a valuable contribution to negotiation science. By overcoming barriers related to identity, appreciation, and affiliation, individuals can transform conflicts into opportunities for collaboration and problem-solving. As we navigate the complex and often emotionally-charged conflicts of our time, such insights can help us build more productive and harmonious relationships with one another.


De Dreu, C. K. W., Carnevale, P. J., Emans, B. J. M., & van de Vliert, E. (2010). Effects of gain-loss frames in negotiations: Loss aversion, mismatching, and frame adoption. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(3), 365–378. doi: 10.1037/a0017457

Tiedens, L. Z., & Fragale, A. R. (2003). Power moves: Complementarity in dominant and submissive nonverbal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(3), 558–568. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.3.558