A state of momentum can be identified when examining the nature of conflicts and dispute resolution processes. Various factors seemingly influence the rise of positive momentum, neutral momentum, and negative momentum in conflict resolution practices such as mediation, facilitation, and negotiation. At first glance, this might appear to be a simple, suppositious, or unimportant notion, however, reflecting on momentum in this context is significantly valuable and offers a great deal of depth in theoretical and practical domains. Value is found where relevant conceptual understandings are challenged and new ones are brought forward — such a project can effectively investigate crucial dispute resolution elements, relationships, and methods. Uncovering certain legitimate inputs and outputs associated with positive momentum provides helpful insight for consensus-building practices and other communication paradigms. The following writing argues in favor of developing positive momentum in conflict resolution efforts — it outlines some key methods and details thereof. It also discusses inhibitors of creating positive momentum and how the direction of momentum plays a pivotal role leading up to, during, and succeeding breaking points.

Each state of momentum mentioned above generally maintains differing characteristics and outcomes. Whereas, for example, positive momentum usually indicates greater collaborative-decision-making, effective communication, productive processes, and positive outlooks, negative momentum is typically associated with more opposing unilateral actions, exhaustive communication breakdowns, unproductive processes, and discouraging outlooks — the former of these is more likely to lead to mutual agreements while the latter commonly generates spirals of unmanaged conflicts that are more unlikely to formulate agreements (**). Neutral momentum is most often marked by uncertain dispositions, unclear information, and inactive or avoidant processes. Practitioners (third-party facilitators) can work with parties (individuals or groups) in dispute to increase the chances of creating positive momentum from the outset. The certain starting position of momentum (positive, neutral, or negative) doesn’t have to rest exactly in one state. It can be reasoned that at times the overall position of momentum rests somewhere in between neutral and either positive or negative momentum. Momentum in the context of dispute resolution may be likened to a tidal wave. Natural events that give rise to the wave such as water and force, for instance, are analogously representative of the factors that make up a given conflict including prior and subsequent efforts to resolve it. Though, it should be noted that a wave of momentum in conflict resolution can move and build strength in either a positive or negative direction. The fundamental parts that make up a particular state are factors such as those described above — broadly, disposition, commitment, collaboration, past events, and future outlooks involving each party and the problem at hand. From an individual perspective, it may be viewed as the overall feeling on how the resolving process is turning-out based on beliefs, morale, and subsequent actions and events. This is to say that it is difficult to mutually establish agreements when parties do not have a shared-confident-feeling about resolution processes nor concrete and optimistic beliefs concerning possible agreements. Some disputes might possess a wave of negative momentum before making their way to a conflict resolution practice and therefore can require more work to sort-out, turn-around, and resolve. The work of practitioners can clearly benefit from understanding the size and direction of the “wave”.  For instance, it may help them to select and utilize appropriate conflict resolution tools and strategies. 

Breaking points may be referred to as critical standstill moments in dispute resolution processes where momentum is usually neutral and whereby the subsequent state of momentum depends on what takes place during the process of addressing them. These moments offer the potential to reveal and comprehend key breakdowns. Once such relevant matters are out on the table, comprehension and determinations can take place — for instance, discussing logistics and creating a possible road map to mitigate major concerns. Breaking points are often key junctures, indicating a breakdown in communication around a topic that, once addressed, may catapult parties in either direction (positive or negative) when it comes to momentum. Practitioners are commonly invited to work on a dispute due to a breaking point. The work of third-party facilitators and individuals and groups leading up to, during, and through breaking points can significantly influence the future construction of mutually-agreeable resolutions. In short, breaking points should be properly recognized, assessed, and discussed in order to take subsequent steps towards agreement making.

Successful agreement-making is usually supported by a steady trend of positive momentum throughout the various stages of resolution process. Such a trend is often a result of a strong foundation. This is one reason that third-party facilitators should adhere to principles of relationship building and information gathering from the get-go (****). It’s additionally important that practitioners develop awareness and understanding around all sides of the conflict. They can help individuals and groups observe the situation in manner of open inquiry, and thereby allow them to step back from positions and take into account all needs and interests. A mutual effort here may establish the kind of honest assessment and discovery that encourages the construction of positive momentum through confidence and belief in possibility. In sum, gaining positive momentum has much to do with forming an open ended investigation early on to invoke productive intention, communication, relationships, and process. There is an opportunity in the beginning stages of conflict resolution to create a space for listening to others so that everyone involved becomes informed about what needs to be addressed, including certain relationship factors (***). This might be a rudimentary task but it is no less imperative — it can be easily overlooked, namely in a chaotic situations that lack structural method and yield unclear communication. 

Where specific process is concerned, agenda setting is a critical stage whereby positive momentum can be given a foundation and energy. For instance, in certain scenarios, the third-party facilitator may suggest a building-block agenda (developing a coherent map of resolution points that can successively build on each other) or contingent agenda (highlighting tasks or goals that are contingent on the resolution of other certain matters first) (****). Similarly, an easy-items-first approach might be employed to enact initial focus on issues that are more likely to be agreed upon (****). With mutual consensus, the notion and goal with such strategies in mind is to develop an incremental method where positive momentum has the best chance to grow. It’s seemingly agreeable that the aforementioned processes do well not to overwhelm parties. Co-establishing an agenda usually forms buy-in whereby the structure of dispute resolution practice enables the ability to frame issues into manageable task-items (***). In short, there are myriad good reasons for emphasizing a particular focus on positive momentum building in the early stages of conflict resolution. It’s harder to stop a runaway train moving in the wrong direction and reverse its direction than it is to jump aboard a train headed in the right direction. Getting clear on important details, understandings, and expectations can be absolutely fundamental to building positive momentum. Even if there is disagreement somewhere among these considerations, the discovery thereof allows dissonance to become addressable. The putting together of consistent, robust positive momentum is usually a result of using patient and thorough practice whereby to keep functional, legal, and ethical considerations front and center along the way. Violating just one such category can halt or derail positive momentum quickly.

The importance of relationship factors when it comes to developing positive momentum in conflict resolution cannot be overstated. Accounting for them can surface details about the state of momentum — thereby, for practitioners, providing a useful grasp on communicative and collaborative tendencies as well as outlining specific interests and needs. Importantly, such an examination may highlight dispositions of humiliation, anger, and resentment. An overview of conflict nature, generally speaking, suggests that these types of feelings are commonly associated with deconstructive actions that threaten successful agreement-making. In response, we might look to build an atmosphere of dignity (*). The establishment of dignity can ensure that individuals and groups are seen, heard, understood, included, and given the benefit of the doubt (*). While effective dispute resolution can require that greater attention be given to dignity in some cases, the principle should remain a focus for third-party facilitators. In general, dignity provides assistance with building positive momentum by invoking respect, understanding, morale, trust, and participation. Developing buy-in across the table may fail if there is a lack of mutual respect. Where appropriate, parties may collectively decide to directly or indirectly outline ethical guidelines for their best interest. The principle notion here is accessible — that is, with experiential reflection, we can see that people are more likely to collaborate with creativity in environments where they feel understood, respected, and valued. Therefore, the fulfillment of these considerations is critical concerning the establishment of positive momentum.

Regarding the effective enactment of a collaborative atmosphere in dispute resolution, attitude and disposition appear to play a critical role thereof. Hostile motives and behaviors, for instance, oftentimes create negative momentum or otherwise form a deadlock. In some cases, these conditions can be explored in meaningful ways to unlock stalemates, turn the tide, and invoke positive momentum. A good example is when a practitioner asks important questions to counteract apparently inconsistent or unclear information which may be driving unhelpful attitudes and dispositions — this can encourage bringing in outside expertise or designating some kind of internal investigation process. I’ve witnessed instances when a well-placed-question caused individuals and groups to reflect more deeply on certain matters and consequently changed their respective motivating sentiments towards positive momentum. It might be said that collaborative inquiry, reflection, and belief hold significant power when it comes to positive momentum. When a concession or offer has been made during a reflective moment (or breaking point) in dispute resolution, it instills the belief that agreements can be made simply in the identifiable willingness — one party is much more likely to buy-in when another does so as well. This can influence and develop a productive back-and-forth exchange that will ultimately give parties positive dispositions and useful methods centered on creating mutual solutions. 

One common inhibitor to positive momentum building is time. To this end, individuals and groups may feel that things are moving too quickly and therefore decide to (either individually or mutually) place a stop or hold on dispute resolution processes. To the contrary, time-pressing constraints may influence a rush to accomplish agreements whereby critical components of conflict resolution practice and agreement-making are put aside. Hesitation and vigor seem to be innate feelings that can be related to the consideration of time in this sense. This may especially be the case when the outcome of dispute resolution is believed to be significantly life-altering. Third-party facilitators have an imperative responsibility here to check-in with individuals and groups. It might be helpful to demonstrate humility through careful listening and giving genuine responses of empathy. They can additionally suggest flexibility with respect to designating particular time objectives in agreements or in future agreement-making efforts. When time related hurdles persist, demonstrating adaptability is a good way to keep positive momentum from being derailed. Developing effective and efficient mutual agreements is oftentimes a delicate balance between doing sufficient research and reflection while accomplishing timeline goals and keeping positive momentum consistent. Practitioners may emphasize setting clear expectations and motivating interim concessions that will help to build accountability and motivation. Make no mistake — this is a formidable challenge at times that will keep even the most experienced practitioners on their toes. Third-party facilitators may recognize the difficulty in helping to build positive momentum during dispute resolution processes that will withstand potential future breakdowns — leading with flexibility, patience, diligence, and productive communication is quintessential to building positive momentum and follow through, even in the face of strong doubt or unforeseen altercations.  

Broadly, helping parties tap into communication and problem-solving modes that yield lasting agreements, can hinge on a practitioner’s ability to help parties maintain a focus on interests and needs rather than positions. In short, positional bargaining is a process whereby parties cling to a particular position that is framed in a win-lose outcome depending on fulfillment. This is typically indicated by the parties unwillingness to stray from a particular position — inhibiting the consideration of potential outside solutions that may address their motivations and goals differently than their fixed position (****). Developing positive momentum can be challenging with this method because consensus building can be threatened by a back-and-forth dialogue of offers and counteroffers which are seemingly isolated in nature. To the contrary, we find that interest based bargaining takes on a more cooperative and amenable style. Each conflict must be examined thoroughly to understand how to help individuals and groups remain focused on interests and needs. However, it should be made clear that depending on the preferences of parties, positional bargaining may be more appropriate to use — for example, some individuals and groups may desire a more strict negotiation process given certain cultural, social, or political factors. Practitioners may also find that both indirect and direct methods can be used depending with respect to the personalities and interests of those involved. Sometimes it may be more appropriate to use brass-tax type language (direct) with parties while in other cases story-telling (indirect) can be a highly effective. As shown, positive momentum is more likely to strive when parties feel comfortable and recognized. To this end, the neutral role of third-party facilitators enables the capacity to see what is working and what is not with regards to individual preferences and momentum and agreement-making. Certain suggestions may thus be warranted. In sum, third-party facilitators should remain open to readjusting styles and process to encourage positive momentum. 

A lot can be said about the effect of momentum in dispute resolution, especially when writing about it in comfort. That said, the preceding paragraphs highlight that we must be willing and open to directly experiencing it for ourselves. It is rather clear and obvious that most of us have likely come into contact with positive, neutral, or negative momentum in a conflict irrespective of our role or possible involvement. Grasping a better understanding of momentum in both practical and theoretical affairs of dispute resolution seems quite valuable. It would appear that these two domains influence each other — concerning momentum, when we experience an opportunity to apply conflict resolution method, we can reflect on the outcome thereof which may alter how we handle or engage in future mitigation efforts. Whether examining international, state, community, or personal conflicts, it may be reasonably concluded that there is a complex web of factors which make up and influence the momentum found in each dispute. Indeed, we must account for numerous considerations when discussing momentum in dispute resolution — more research and critical-thinking on this topic is encouraged. When people say that they don’t feel that a conflict is going a certain way, we might make reference to the state of momentum as discussed in the writing here. Conflict resolution practitioners should account for these types of viewpoints held across the table. This frames an important question for third-party facilitators: “how can we help to motivate parties with a sense of positive momentum such that buy-in, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication strive?” Challenges and prescriptive methods to this question were noted in previous paragraphs whereby practitioners and parties may create greater positive momentum in dispute resolution processes. For example, third-party facilitators should be ready to act on breaking points with thoughtfulness, method, adaptability, and care — specifically, to ask meaningful questions, create reflection, examine relationship factors, and otherwise motivate buy-in. We should be careful not to place a limit on the potential of momentum as it can change gradually or rapidly. And, it may alter course or take off in a certain direction even when it’s been a driving force in the opposite direction. Indeed, some of the most fascinating dispute resolution outcomes are when standstill moments (breaking points) become operative shifts that turn doubt and unproductive resolution processes into confidence and productive agreement-making. That said, building positive momentum in conflict resolution will be easier in some cases than others. Optimistic and realistic perspectives both have their place in this discussion. It is fundamental to improving consensus-building that we continue to access and work on certain methods that have a legitimate impact on creating positive momentum in favor of agreement building. There’s no reason to deny that most of us align on innovation, humility, and respect — we should seek common ground upon these key pillars of positive momentum.

CJ Clayton Jr.


Edited: 01/07/2019

Work Cited:

* Hicks, Donna. 2011. Dignity: The Essential Role it plays in Resolving Conflict. Pennsylvania: The Maple Press. Kindle.

** Kennedy, W.J.D. & Carpenter, S.L. 2001. Managing Public Disputes: A Practical Guide to Handling Conflict and Reaching Agreements. San Francisco, CA: Kennedy Jossey-Bass

*** Liebman, Mariann. 2000. Mediation in Context. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 

**** Moore, Christopher W. 1996. The Mediation Process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers

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