The Tactics of Third-Party Intervention

There is no best third-party approach to conflict resolution, because the function of third parties is to compensate for the deficiencies of the disputants themselves. Hence, they must deploy as many cures as there are maladies. But that is not to say that no patterns exist. It is useful to sort the myriad of possible third-party tactics on a scale from light to heavy, following the theoretical work by Saadia Touval and I. William Zartman.1 At the light, more facilitative end of the scale lie communication tactics. The third party arranges for the disputants to meet, tries to improve their relationship, or at least transmits messages between them. In the moderate, middle range lie formulation tactics by which the mediator undertakes to structure the agenda, suggest new ways of looking at issues, and propose possible solutions. Finally, at the heavy, controlling end of the scale lie manipulation tactics whereby a mediator may threaten, bribe, or otherwise pressure disputants to make concessions and seek compromise.

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