Conflict A-Z: Glossary

Conflict A-Z: Glossary


Typical western tendency to remove a person or object from context to ‘objectively’ examine their essence in isolation and thereby classify them for purposes of control and prediction. The underpinning of modern scientific method, which is in the process of challenge from complexity science and also from other cultures such as Chinese which are far more contextually oriented.

After Action Review

A process based on learning from what has happened, derived from the US military process of the same name. Typically asks questions like ‘what went well, what could have been better and what you do differently next time?’, in the light of what you were trying to achieve (the mission). In order to learn from experience it helps to have a frame to make decisions and then this frame can help look at what has happened in a disciplined way and either conclude that specific mistakes were made or that the frame needs modification. Simply staring at what happened without a frame is unlikely to lead to useful understanding. If a systemic frame of reference is to be added and the causes more fully explored a Root Cause Analysis make be appropriate (see entry)

Autism: Conflict Induced (in terms of the theory of this blog)

Inability to read the mind of the other party in the conflict so being reduced to applying Game Theory. Inability to form empathetic bridges, possibly caused by failure of mirror neurons to fire or cognitive override based on feeling generated by the conflict or past betrayal.

Axelrodian Space

  1. In Game theory, iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma in which the options are cooperate or defect for n rounds of interaction. Various strategies compete against each other to establish which rule set wins out. Name for …..Axelrod whose research suggests tit for tat wins: cooperate unless the other side defects and then defect once in punishment.
  2. In real life, any situation of rapidly repeated interactions that off the choice of cooperation or defection with clear feedback to the next round of interaction. Stable and sustainable relationships tend towards Axelrod’s tit for tat ruling


Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement: the one bit of positional thinking the model encourages. Though the caution is that any BATNA is really only a BEBATNA (see entry)

BEBATNA: Best Estimate of the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Once you revert to the Game stage of decision making and drop the collaboration, the other side’s reaction to your action, which may determine the outcome, may be indeterminate. The Cuban Missile Crisis illustrates the perils of this and the crucial role of interrogating your data to establish the degree of certainty in your BATNA.

Causal Loops

A technique for mapping the multiple causes of events, especially useful in a social or conflict situation. A way to recognize significant complexity and get closer to an eastern view of reality, rather western abstraction. An essential step in Getting Real (see entry)

Cognitive Map/Mapping

The process of laying out your perception of the conflict you are involved in, its frame of reference, the other parties involved, your and their paradigms of the situation and other ways that you perceive what you are getting involved with.

Conflict Landscape

A set of variables that define the territory of the conflict (the map is not the territory) and which can possibly be measured in ways that would be useful to participants in the conflict. The conflict model scale is a first attempt to measure this space.

Conflict Model:

A six step process consisting of the following stages (see separate entries)

  1. Getting Real
  2. Getting Clear on our Interests
  3. Getting Empathetic about the Other Side’s Interests
  4. Getting Creative about Solutions to the Conflict
  5. Getting Stereoscopic: Seeing the Conflict from Both Side Simultaneously      Interests
  6. Getting Specific on the Dea
  7. Getting Wise: learning from the process via After Action Reviews

Contrarian Analysis

Overriding our tendency to seek and emphasize data that supports our paradigms, the deliberate search of data that would disprove our paradigms in a Popperian way. Essential part of Getting Real stage of the model. Also asking yourself and/or the other side: ‘what data would it take to make you doubt your position on this?’

Getting Creative

A disciplined process of ‘what ifs’ and other brainstorming techniques that build on deconstruction of self and other’s interests in earlier stages of the conflict model.

Getting Real Stage

The initial step of specifying the frame of your conflict, the paradigm or lens through which you see it, the data that populates your frame (and if available the others frame and data sets), what you know, don’t know and maybe don’t even know you don’t know about the conflict situation you face.

Deconstruction of Your/Other Side’s Interests

The process by which either your own or the other side’s position is taken to pieces by establishing the underlying interests that drive it.


Having an accurate theory of mind of the other person so being able to feel what they feel without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with them. At neural level, your mirror neurons fire with theirs unless cognitively overridden. Could even mean: know your enemy in a way certain dominant powers in the world feel unable to try.


Possession by a belief system that includes the instruction do not doubt this belief or something very bad will happen to you and do not subject this belief to testing against reality as this is the same as doubting it. Only hope in unpicking fundamentalism is probably with its internal contradictions, which may get worse or more evident as reality changes. Conflict involving two sets of fundamentalists are no fun at all to a third party unless extremely masochistic.


From Antonio Gramsci, the process by which dominant social or political groups use belief systems to persuade non-dominant groups to perceive and act in ways contrary to their underlying interests (also called False Consciousness) and stop them from realizing it.


The product of deconstruction of positions. The underlying interests of the individual human or group of humans that may reflect TASS/gene interests, meme interests and analytical reasoning. Some prima facia reasons exist to favor vehicle (individual human interests) rather than gene or meme when they conflict, but the important thing is to surface and examine all of these categories and make a conscious choice, especially in conflict situations.

Mapping a conflict landscape:

The process whereby we assess reflectively or unreflectively, the situation of conflict we confront and assess the data, rationality, interests, parties and degree of trust that is evident in the landscape, using the conflict survey instrument where possible to quantify the assessment.


A cultural artifact invented by Richard Dawkins and used extensively by Keith Stanovich, that spreads as a short cut of information/processing and exists largely to spread itself relying on the lack of reflection of the carrier. Rather like a computer virus. Especially problematic in conflict landscapes because of capacity to distort and prevent parties seeing their underlying interests: false consciousness in Marxist language.

Neurathian Analysis

The recognition that we have in life or in conflict no foundational position from which to objectively assess reality or our theories so that we are forced to pick one set of our beliefs from which to interrogate the rest of our beliefs and from those of the latter that stand up to the testing, we can then judge the original beliefs.

Getting Empathetic about the Others Side’s Interests

The deconstruction or translation of the other side in conflict interests and the creation of a cognitive map of how they see the world/the conflict we are involved in and how they feel about it. Made easier and less threatening, if we have clarity on our own identity and interests. Use this to then reflect back on our own identity/interests.


The way we construe the world and in particular how we construe the conflict we are in and the extent to which we are prepared to subject it to the reality test or want to it remain fundamentalist and unchallengeable to data or changing circumstances

Performative Argument

Arguing for its own sake; something common in relationships, in which the substance of what is being argued about matters little, and the positional arm wrestling is all. The Conflict Model is not a lot of use in these cases.


  1. A fundamentalist holding of a stance in a conflict that is impervious to analysis, or deconstruction
  2. The situation that exists before deconstruction and the source material for the deconstruction into real interests

Post Autistic Game Theory

The attempt to enrich Game Theory with empathy to allow more generative, creative and non-zero sum higher level solutions to conflict situations.

Reverse Engineering:

The process of arguing back from a desired conclusion, so as selectively to find the data that would support the conclusion, and suppress the data that would counter it. Much used by intelligence services.

Root Cause Analysis

A disciplined attempt to unpick the causes of a conflict situation by asking why at five levels of analysis to find  out what is really causing the situation as a first step to reversing some of the causes rather than working on the symptoms for ever.

Scenario Based Futuring

A technique developed at Shell by Arie de Geus and systematized by Peter Schwartz and others, for creating heuristic stories about how the future might unfold that allows us to ‘learn from the future’, understand the crucial variables in the present that may influence the future, to allow us to rehearse how we might respond to certain alternative futures, and in conflict situations especially useful for helping see how our underlying interests might play our in the alternative futures.

Getting Clear on your own Interests

The deconstruction or translation of our positions into our underlying interests using Stanovich’s analysis of TASS, memes and analytical reasoning and Neurathian analysis of our paradigms


The ability to see an issue in conflict situation from both sides of the conflict, thereby seeing its complexity and systemic nature more clearly, and increased ability to find a creative synthesis or higher level solution


The contrasting pole with empathy in Baron Cohen’s model. Intense focus on detail for the purpose of creating taxonomies and abstractions that allow control over rule bound processes by making apparent those rules and any exceptions to them


A modification to Baron Cohen’s concept of systematic and replacing it with a more eastern holistic approach to the complexity of systems using causal loop diagrams and other approaches that see people and objects in context. Less concerned with the taxonomy of objects and people, and more on the forces linking them.


Another term for the process of converting positions on issues in a conflict, into their underlying interests. This can be carried out through a process of self reflection in the case of self interests, and empathetic bridging in the case of the other side’s interests. In either case can create a cognitive map of the underlying interests for better handling of associated conflict.

Win-Lose or Zero Sum Game

The standard understanding of conflict that we are competing over a fixed size of resource and that one side’s gain is another side’s loss. In my experience, most conflict is not like this and indeed this idea generates wars and other forms of negative sum games in which the conflict over win-lose leads to massive losses on both sides.

Win-Win or Non Zero Sum Games

In my experience much more common than Win-Lose Zero Sum Games. With a little creativity and dropping the rigid belief that conflict is Win-Lose, both sides can gain, though there is still the issue of who gains the most and there is no reason that this should not be contested but not at the expense of destroying all that is of value for both sides = war.

Footnote: This glossary is in the process of construction and will be added to over time. Comment welcome to improve its comprehensibility, applicability and humor! Conflict without humor is a lost cause, especially if we lack the ability to laugh at ourselves.

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