Many of the areas with high levels of violence are also poor, like this community in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. Photo: Sarah Newnham/Tearfund

From: Footsteps 92

Suggestions for how to analyse and resolve conflicts by facilitating dialogue and seeking peace

In the process of handling conflicts it is important to look for ways of expanding the possibilities for dialogue amongst the parties involved. Dialogue is often abandoned too early as emotions rise, and people begin to use forceful strategies. But eventually the parties will return to dialogue as they try to work out an agreement to end the conflict. 

Facilitation of dialogue is a skill that can be especially useful during the stage of confrontation, before the situation has polarised to the point of crisis. Of course, the application of this skill will need to be adapted to the particular culture and circumstances in which you are working. Facilitating dialogue enables people to share their own views and listen to differing views about a political or social concern, thus gradually moving towards a deeper understanding of their situation. Agreement is not a primary aim of dialogue, but understanding is. 

Any effort to encourage conflicting groups to enter into dialogue needs to ensure that it does not increase tensions. The following guidelines are aimed at preventing this.


Be clear about your own role and objectives

Be clear about your own role and objectives icon

As facilitator, be clear about what is or is not part of your role. Your role is to assist the process of communication without expressing your own views about the issue being discussed. Your objectives are to provide a setting and an atmosphere in which differing views can be exchanged and listened to honestly but without hostility.

As facilitator you are responsible for the process, but not for the content of the discussion. If you are working as a team of facilitators, then it is important that co-facilitators agree in advance about roles and objectives. It is also important that you explain your roles and objectives clearly to the participants and check that they have understood and agree with them.


Help the participants to identify their own objectives

Help the participants to identify their own objectives icon

In advance of the session, you should try to meet with key people from the groups involved to help them set their objectives. This will make it more likely that groups will ‘own’ and support the structure and aims of the process. In any case, there should be a brief statement of agreed objectives at the beginning, to remind everyone why they have come.

For example: they may want to present their side’s perceptions or a party position, win votes for an upcoming election, envision people about the future or give a personal perspective. Is this objective consistent with the aims of other parties to the discussion?


Assist participants to agree on ground rules for this dialogue

Assist participants to agree on ground rules for this dialogue icon

Help them to set guidelines for themselves which they own and follow during the dialogue. Consider in advance, and make clear, the mechanism for dealing with difficulties.




Encourage participants to listen to each other

Encourage participants to listen to each other icon


Political talking often seems to include very little listening – it is what someone called ‘the dialogue of the deaf’. While one person speaks, the others prepare what they want to say, and they listen only to contradict each other’s arguments.

For change to happen, people must really hear each other, and must feel that they have been heard. As facilitator, you need to have ideas for ways to encourage listening. Some ways in which you might help people to listen to each other include:


Despite the pressure caused by all the things a facilitator should do, try to focus your eyes and your attention on each speaker, and try to imagine how each listener is coping. If there is any possibility that listeners might be having problems, encourage the speaker to slow down, speak more loudly, or define terms. If possible, have a co-facilitator who can look after time, process and note-taking, freeing you to concentrate on the content of the discussions and the participants.


 Have a strategy for coping with strong emotions

Have a strategy for coping with strong emotions icon


The first step in dealing with strong emotions is to notice them. As facilitator, be attentive to signals that indicate strong feelings. Then:


Talking about emotions and experiences can free us of our positions, and enable us to concentrate on needs. Getting beyond ‘party positions’ to honesty is more likely to lead to cooperation and discussion that is focused on the problem, rather than on our strategies for winning. Open-ended questions may allow participants to suggest future actions or new possibilities in an attempt to meet everyone’s needs.



Some possible scenarios

There are various situations in which one might want to encourage and facilitate political and/or social dialogue, including: 




This extract from Working with conflict (page 113-115) has been adapted and reproduced with the kind permission of Responding to Conflict (www.respond.org). For contact information and details of how to order the book, see the Resources page.

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