Three Ways to Build Trust For Effective Conflict Resolution

If you don’t trust the other party, you can’t resolve conflict with them. You may even come to an agreement but without trust, you won’t stick to it. The problem is, if you are in conflict with somebody, you probably don’t trust them very much anymore!

International mediators know that States need to foster good will at the start of any mediation to ensure talks gain momentum, that cooperation grows and if they can do this, the parties are more willing to openly discuss their interests and uphold any negotiated settlement. They use a variety of confidence building measures (“CBM”s) to allow the parties to demonstrate their mutual desire to act with integrity and that they can be trusted, at least for the purpose of conflict resolution.

In negotiations, parties who trust each other are more likely to cooperate and reveal information that may risk vulnerability. This may range from expressing a feeling of exhaustion to divulging confidential financial reports, depending on the level of trust at the start and how it is built upon as the negotiations continue.

Every conflict is different as are all relationships. Some people may trust each other and be in conflict. Others may not trust anybody and not see this as an issue. In fact, trust is unlikely to be present at the start of any conflict, especially if it is intense but it can slowly and carefully be built upon by skilled communicators and mediators.

Incredible story of a woman who used conflict to build trust

Confidence Building Measure Categories

You can use the 3 categories of CBM’s below[1] to help you build trust in your relationships and in the workplace or in any other contexts where you distrust the person you are in conflict with but want to find a solution.

  1. Expressing a desire to communicate. This involves both talking and listening. To convince the other party that you want to resolve this conflict genuinely, express that wish clearly to indicate that you are taking it seriously. You could also do this by saying how much the conflict is costing you both, or how fed up you feel. A party who also wants to communicate with sincere intentions will respond that they will listen to what you have to say. Notice that there is no commitment to resolve but you are revealing your intention to act with integrity and credibility. Remember that your actions must also demonstrate this, otherwise, you could create more distrust.
  2. Indicating the will to meet the needs of the other party. You could express this by saying you are committed to finding a solution that mutually benefits you both and to see how you can both find ways to fulfil your respective needs. Consider telling the other person which of your needs the conflict has left unfulfilled and asking them about theirs.
  3. Relationship Focused CBMs. A good starting point is to ask what you need to do to save a damaged relationship. What do you need from the other party to repair your relationship? One of the most common CBM’s in this category is an apology. This is not about saying sorry, it’s about sincerely acknowledging pain and suffering, how you caused it and telling the other person what you will do to prevent the same from happening in the future. If an apology is too hard for you to give at this stage or you are worried that it might have legal repercussions, you might want to consider saying something along the lines of “I know I hurt you, I didn’t mean it and I will make sure it never happens again by…” If you need an apology, ask for it.

Trust is like a crystal vase that you have taken months or years to craft with another person. When it sparkles in the sunlight, you can both sit back comfortably and feel fulfilled with the work you both put in to make such a beautiful and pure creation. When one smashes it to pieces, it takes time to put it back together. It’s not that it can’t be done but you both have to know how to do it properly. In that task, you may need the help of a trained mediator.

Let me know what you think!


[1] Daryl Landau, Sy Landau, “Confidence Building Measures in Mediation”

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