Comprehensive Assessment Guides
Conflict assessment is the process of systematic collection of
information about the dynamics of a conflict. The guides stress
open-ended, participant-based data as the path to specifying
conflict processes. Such approaches are particularly useful for
third parties such as intervention agents and students wishing to
study a particular conflict. As a party to the conflict, one can
use the guides to collect information from himself or herself and
the other party about the conflict. In either case, one needs to
use primary information from the parties -for they are the ones
who created and maintain the conflict.
Two assessment guides are (1) the Wehr Conflict Mapping Guide
and (2) the Hocker-Wilmot Conflict Assessment Guide. Depending on
the purpose of the assessment, the guides can be combined or
altered to specifically address one's assessment goals. All
conflicts change over time, and an assessment is limited to the
time period in which it was collected--one might obtain different
information by assessing earlier or later in the conflict
Wehr's Conflict Map
In his book Conflict Regulation, Wehr (1979) provided a
"Conflict Mapping Guide" to give "both the
intervener and the conflict parties a clearer understanding of
the origins, nature, dynamics, and possibilities for resolution
of conflict" (19). The map should include the following
- Summary Description (one-page maximum)
- Conflict History. The origins and major events
in the evolution both of the conflict and its context. It
is important to make this distinction between the
interactive conflict relationship among the parties and
the context within which it occurs.
- Conflict Context. It is important to establish
the scope and character of the context or setting within
which the conflict takes place. Such dimensions are
geographical boundaries; political structures, relations,
and jurisdictions; communication networks and patterns;
and decision-making methods. Most of these are applicable
to the full range of conflict types, from interpersonal
to international levels
- Conflict Parties. Decisional units directly or
indirectly involved in the conflict and having some
significant stake in its outcome.
- Primary: parties whose goals are, or are
perceived by them to be, incompatible and who
interact directly in pursuit of those respective
goals. Where the conflict parties are
organizations or groups, each may be composed of
smaller units differing in their involvement and
investment in the conflict.
- Secondary: parties who have an indirect
stake in the outcome of the dispute but who do
not feel themselves to be directly involved. As
the conflict progresses, secondary parties may
become primary, however, and vice-versa.
- Interested third parties; those who have
an interest in the successful resolution of the
Pertinent information about the parties in addition to who
they are would include the nature of the power relations
between/among them (e.g., symmetrical or asymmetrical); their
leadership; each party's main goals(s) in the conflict; and the
potential for coalitions among parties.
- Issues. Normally, a conflict will develop around
one or more issues emerging from or leading to a
decision. Each issue can be viewed as a point of
disagreement that must be resolved. Issues can be
identified and grouped according to the primary
- Facts-based: disagreement over what is
because of how parties perceive what is. Judgment
and perception are the primary conflict
- Values-based: disagreement over what
should be as a determinant of a policy decision,
a relationship, or some other source of conflict.
- Interests-based: disagreement over who
will get what in the distribution of scarce
resources (e.g., power, privilege, economic
- Nonrealistic: originating elsewhere than
in disparate perceptions, interests, or values.
Style of interaction the parties use, the quality
of communication between them, or aspects of the
immediate physical setting, such as physical
discomfort, are examples.
With few exceptions, any one conflict will be influenced by
some disagreement emerging from each of these sources, but
normally one source is predominant. It is useful not only to
identify each issue in this way but to identify as well the
significant disparities in perception, values, and interests
motivating each party. (Values are here defined as beliefs that
determine a party's position on any one issue [e.g., economic
growth is always desirable]. Interests are defined as any party's
desired or expected share of scarce resources [e.g., power,
money, prestige, survival, respect, level).
- Dynamics. Social conflicts have common though
not always predictable dynamics that if recognized can
help an intervener find the way around a conflict. The
intervener must seek to reverse some of these and make
them dynamics of regulation and resolution. They include
- Precipitating events signaling the
surfacing of a dispute.
- Issue emergence, transformation,
proliferation. Issues change as a conflict
progresses--specific issues become generalized,
single issues multiply, impersonal disagreements
can become personal feuds.
- Polarization. As parties seek internal
consistency and coalitions with allies, and
leaders consolidate positions, parties in
conflict tend toward bipolarization that can lead
both to greater intensity and to simplification
and resolution of the conflict.
- Spiraling. Through a process of
reciprocal causation, each party may try to
increase the hostility or damage to opponents in
each round, with a corresponding increase from
the latter. Also possible are deescalatory
spirals, in which opponents reciprocally and
incrementally reduce the hostility and rigidity
of their interaction.
- Stereotyping and mirror-imaging.
Opponents often come to perceive one another as
impersonal representations of the mirror-opposite
of their own exemplary and benign
characteristics. This process encourages rigidity
on position and miscommunication and
misinterpretation between conflict parties.
- Alternative Routes to Solution(s) of the Problem(s). Each
of the parties and often uninvolved observers will have
suggestions for resolving the conflict. In conflicts
within a formal policymaking framework, the options can
be formal plans. In interpersonal conflicts, alternatives
can be behavioral changes suggested to (or by) the
parties. It is essential to identify as many
"policies" as possible that have already
surfaced in the conflict. They should be made visible for
both the conflict parties and the intervener. The
intervener may then suggest new alternatives or
combinations of those already identified.
- Conflict Regulation Potential. In and for each
conflict situation are to be found resources for limiting
and perhaps resolving the conflict. The mapping process
notes these resources, albeit in a preliminary way. They
may include the following:
- Internal limiting factors like values
and interests the conflicting parties have a
common, or the intrinsic value of a relationship
between them that neither wishes to destroy, or
cross pressures of multiple commitments of
parties that constrain the conflict.
- External limiting factors like a higher
authority who could intervene and force a
settlement or an intermediary from outside the
- Interested or neutral third parties
trusted by the parties in conflict who could
facilitate communication, mediate the dispute, or
locate financial resources to alleviate a
- Techniques of conflict management, both
those familiar to the different conflict parties
and third parties and those known to have been
useful elsewhere. Such methods range from the
well-known mediation, conciliation, and rumor
control to fractionating issues and extending the
time range to encourage settlement.
- Using the Map. The conflict map is most useful
(and quite essential) as the initial step in conflict
intervention. Mapping permits an informed judgment about
whether the intervention should continue. The map is also
helpful in assisting conflict parties to move back from
and make sense out of a process to which they are too
close. If the mapper decides to further intervene,
sharing the map can loosen up the conflict, making it
easier to resolve. Finally, the map helps demystify the
process of conflict that, for so many people, seems a
confusing, unfathomable, inexplicable, and thoroughly
The Hocker- Wilmot Conflict Assessment Guide
This guide is composed of a series of questions designed to
focus on the components of conflict discussed in part I of this
book. It can be used to bring specific aspects of a conflict into
focus and serve as a check on gaps in information about a
conflict. The guide is best used in tote so that the interplay of
conflict elements can be clearly highlighted.
- Nature of the Conflict
- What are the "triggering events" that
brought this conflict into mutual awareness?
- What is the historical context of this conflict
in terms of (1) the ongoing relationship between
the parties and (2) other, external events within
which this conflict is embedded?
- Do the parties have assumptions about conflict
that are discernable by their choices of conflict
metaphors, patterns of behavior, or clear
expressions of their attitudes about conflict?
- Conflict elements:
- How is the struggle being expressed by
- What are the perceived incompatible
- What are the perceived scarce rewards?
- In what ways are the parties
interdependent? How are they interfering
with one another? How are they
cooperating to keep the conflict in
- Has the conflict vacillated between productive
and destructive phases? If so, which elements
were transformed during the productive cycles?
Which elements might be transformed by creative
solutions to the conflict?
- Styles of Conflict
- What individual styles did each party use?
- How did the individual styles change during the
course of the conflict?
- How did the parties perceive the other's style?
- In what way did a party's style reinforce the
choices the other party made as the conflict
- Were the style choices primarily symmetrical or
- From an external perspective, what were the
advantages and disadvantages of each style within
this particular conflict?
- Can the overall system be characterized as having
a predominant style? What do the participants say
about the relationship as a whole?
- From an external perspective, where would this
conflict system be placed in terms of cohesion
- Would any of the other system descriptions aptly
summarize the system dynamics?
- What attitudes about their own and the other's
power does each party have? Do they talk openly
about power, or is it not discussed?
- What do the parties see as their own and the
other's dependencies on one another? As an
external observer, can you classify some
dependencies that they do not list?
- What power currencies do the parties see
themselves and the other possessing?
- From an external perspective, what power
currencies of which the participants are not
aware seem to be operating?
- In what ways do the parties disagree on the
balance of power between them? Do they
underestimate their own or the other's influence?
- What impact does each party's assessment of power
have on subsequent choices in the conflict?
- What evidence of destructive "power
- In what ways do observers of the conflict agree
and disagree with the parties' assessments of
- What are some unused sources of power that are
- How do the parties clarify their goals? Do they
phrase them in individualistic or system terms?
- What does each party think the other's goals are?
Are they similar or dissimilar to the perceptions
- How have the goals been altered from the
beginning of the conflict to the present? In what
ways are the prospective, transactive, and
retrospective goals similar or dissimilar?
- What are the content goals?
- What are the relational goals?
- What is each party's translation of content goals
into relationship terms? How do the two sets of
translations correspond or differ?
- Do the participants appear to strategize about
their conflict choices or remain spontaneous?
- How does each party view the other's
- What are the tactical options used by both
- Do the tactical options classify primarily into
avoidance, competition, or collaborative tactics?
- How are the participants' tactics mutually
impacting on the other's choices? How are the
tactics interlocking to push the conflict through
phases of escalation, maintenance, and reduction?
- What rules of repetitive patterns characterize
- Can quantitative instruments be used to give
information about elements of the conflict?
- What options for change do the parties perceive?
- What philosophy of conflict characterizes the
- What techniques for self-regulation or
system-regulation have been used thus far? Which
might be used productively by the system?
- Attempted Solutions
- What options have been explored for managing the
- Have attempted solutions become part of the
- Have third parties been brought into the
conflict? If so, what roles did they play and
what was the impact of their involvement?
- Is this conflict a repetitive one, with attempted
solutions providing temporary change, but with
the overall pattern remaining unchanged? If so,
what is that overall pattern?
- Can you identify categories of attempted
solutions that have not been tried?
The Conflict Assessment Guide can be used in a variety of
contexts. Students who are writing an analysis of a conflict can
use the questions as a check on the components of conflict. Using
extensive interviews with the conflict parties or constructing a
questionnaire based on the guide enables one to discover the
dynamics of a conflict. The guide can also be used for analyzing
larger social or international conflicts, but without
interviewing or assessing the conflict parties, one is restricted
to highly selective information.
A consultant to organizations can also use the guide by
modifying it for direct use. Similarly, an intervener in private
conflicts such as those of a family can solicit information about
the components of a conflict in an informal, conversational way
by referring to the guide as an outline of relevant topics. In
either case, care should be taken to modify the guide for the
particular task, for the conflict parties, and for your
If one is a participant in a conflict, the guide can be used
as a form of self-intervention. If both parties respond to the
guide, you can use it to highlight what you and the other party
perceive about your conflict. Usually, we recommend that a
questionnaire be constructed for both persons to answer, and once
the data are collected, the parties can discuss the similarities
and differences in their perceptions of the conflict.
Whatever your preferred assessment technique, or combination
of approaches, the assessment devices in this chapter can enable
you to see some order and regularity in conflicts that at first
appear confusing and overwhelming. With careful assessment, the
dynamics of conflict can come into focus so you can fashion
creative, productive options for management.
Conflicts are often perplexing to both participants and
outsiders. Usually, however, an interpersonal conflict is
operating as a system of relations, complete with repetitive
behavior, rules, and other identifiable dynamics. There are many
possible ways to assess conflict patterns. Metaphoric/dramatic
approaches search for the images of the process held by the
participants and use those as a stepping stone for creative
management options. Diagramming triangular relations also
provides useful information about system dynamics. Sculpting is a
nonverbal, spatially-based technique for identifying patterns of
communication within a larger system. One can also focus on
system rules, the prescriptions for what one ought to do in a
given situation. Microevents are observable, recurring patterns
of behavior that can be analyzed for underlying conflict
If one wishes a quantitative assessment of conflict components
for either (l)conflicts produced by simulation or games or (2)
real-life conflicts accessed through self-reports of the parties,
many options are available. For example, one can measure general
orientations toward conflict, code behaviors enacted in an
episode, identify conflict styles, assess power balances, or
isolate the tactics used in a conflict.
Finally, two overall assessment guides are presented. The Wehr
and Hocker-Wilmot guides are useful ways to generate information
about the dynamics of specific conflicts; they can be used by
either participants or outside observers.