Christopher Moore’s Circle of Conflict


The Circle of Conflict was originally theorized to support mediations. This makes it a flexible tool to utilize in conflict resolution. The circle, divided into five components, illustrates the potential sources of conflict in negotiations. Understanding the impact of imbalances within the circle forces all parties to first identify and diagnose the source(s) of conflict, and then parley for resolution. Listed below are the characteristics of each component within Moore’s circle of conflict.

Interest Conflicts

In any negotiation, people will voice what they want; or what we call their ‘position’. Interests are their motivations, or the why. They are what drives one’s position and they will often be challenged. Understanding party interests and proposing solutions to their issues and fears will play a vital role in conflict resolution.

Structural Conflicts

Perceived power inequality, competition over limited resources, and divergent interests amongst groups are the fundamental factors that contribute to structural conflicts. External factors make one or all parties perceive the other to be in a stronger, more privileged position. For example, meetings between an employer and their workers union see each other as having the upper hand in negotiations when in reality, both need each other to survive.

Intervention Strategies:
Refine and/or change roles,
Eliminate and replace destructive patterns of behavior,
Redistribute ownership and control of goods,
Introduce a fair decision-making process,
Transition from position based to interest based negotiation (focus more on the problem, not the person),
Change the way how parties influence each other (less extortion, more permission)
Redefine external pressures.

Data Conflicts

This conflict is based on the possession of information, or lack thereof. Inaccurate information and the different interpretations of data are grounds for conflict. Examples of data conflict are legal disputes arising from ambiguous interpretation of the law, conflicts based on contradictory research results, or on false information, such as hearsay. Interventions are necessary to avoid a conflict evolving into a destructive one.

Intervention Strategies:
Unify data,
Select relevant information to the specific conflict,
Consent on one data collection process,
Form a common criteria for the evaluation of the data,
Seek expert opinions in the case of stagnation.

Relationship Conflicts

Parties with previous negative experiences with each other are most prone to relationship conflicts. Fueled by emotion, stereotyping the opposing side, personal animosities, and poor communication contribute to these conflicts. Relationship conflicts do not give much leeway for parties to consent; interventions are needed.

Intervention Strategies:
Create procedures for when parties become too emotionally invested,
Encourage parties to verbalize their emotions (rather than acting out),
Change how parties perceive each other,
Build a positive image,
Eliminate repetitive negative behavior by changing the structure,
Inspire a positive approach to the problem.

Value Conflict

Much like interest conflicts, value conflicts arise because parties have different values and principles. Unlike interests however, values are nonnegotiable and unwavering because they are the foundation of personal identity. Individuals, let alone parties, will swiftly defend their values when challenged. Value conflicts do not give parties an opportunity to come to an agreement making interventions, necessary.

Intervention Strategies:
Avoid defining the issue by value,
Allow the parties to agree and disagree,
Create a sphere of influence in which one kind of value dominates,
Seek a superior goal for both parties

Module Knowledge [40-60 minutes]

Introduce the theory with a short lecture or discussion with the participants. Refer to the specific issues that appear during the game. During the discussion with the participants, find examples of specific conflicts that appeared in the game and write them on a flipchart. This list will become useful during the next exercise.

Exercise [20-30 minutes]
Divide participants into 4 teams. Give participants flipchart paper and markers. The task of each of the teams will be to produce possible interventions that may deescalate the conflict. Each team will take one of the following conflict types: structural, data, relationship, values. Teams should attempt to apply their proposals to the situation given. If the groups are working quickly, you may expand the exercise to give examples of real life conflicts.

Summary Exercises
Start by presenting the results of each team. Groups will present their proposals for interventions and examples of conflict within 2 minutes. After each presentation, allow other groups to discuss what was presented and also give your own commentary. At the end, summarize the module, making sure that everyone understands the issues therein.