The Conflict Paradox


Seven Dilemmas at the Core of Disputes

Bernard Mayer

336 Pages, Hardcover

When in conflict should we cooperate and when should we compete? When should we be realists and when should we be guided by optimism? Do we insist on sticking to our principles or do we prepare for compromise? The toughest challenges in conflict arise from the polarized ways in which we view our choices about how to approach a dispute, choices that seem to involve two mutually exclusive paths, neither of which will get us to where we want to go. In The Conflict Paradox, Bernie Mayer argues that the real challenge is to find a new path that incorporates both approaches. These apparently opposing conflict practices need not be mutually exclusive—in fact, each is necessary to the other.

The Conflict Paradox poses seven dilemmas that permeate our thinking about conflict, whether a family crisis, a corporate dispute, or a geopolitical negotiation. Disputants often understand their choices as mutually exclusive and ask themselves the following:

-Competition or cooperation?
-Optimism or realism?
-Avoidance or engagement?
-Principle or compromise?
-Emotion or logic?
-Neutrality or advocacy?
-Autonomy or community?

The more fundamental challenge is to evolve beyond these polarities, which are not true choices but essential dynamics of human interaction. Without competition, there can be no cooperation. Without autonomy, there would be no community. When third-party mediators, legal professionals, and advocates can help their clients to understand and embrace these paradoxes, deeper understanding of their conflict and a clearer vision of a path forward becomes possible.

This book, published in cooperation with the American Bar Association, provides a practical approach for dealing with the paradoxes that underlie almost all conflicts. Case studies, reflective exercises, and other tools enable readers to discover points of contact between seemingly incompatible paths through conflict. The Conflict Paradox is an accessible text, ready for application in the dispute resolution field. Readers will learn to accommodate contradictions, welcome complexity, and become more fluent in the paradoxical language of change. This book will challenge how you think about both conflict and social change, and encourage you to look at the dynamics of disputing in a new way.


BERNARD MAYER, PHD, is an internationally recognized leader in the field of conflict intervention. He is Professor of Dispute Resolution at The Werner Institute at Creighton University and was a founding partner of CDR Associates, an internationally acclaimed conflict intervention and training firm. His background spans family mediation, public and private sector consultation, environmental decision making, organizational conflict, and international mediation. His previous books include Beyond Neutrality, Staying with Conflict, and The Dynamics of Conflict.


Item #: 1118852910