Conflict Transformation Playbook
Volume 1

“Communicating Across Political Differences”

Playbook Resources

Alternate Definitions of Conflict

      • Conflict is a fractal. The same patterns of conflict can be observed at different levels of society, from interpersonal relationships to large-scale social and political conflicts.
      • Conflict is a search,  for example, in asking questions that invite authenticity, open-hearted communications, and partnership
      • Conflict is a way to learn about ourselves and others, and to build stronger relationships.
      • Conflict is part of creativity and innovation.
      • Conflict is a catalyst for growth and personal development.
      • Conflict provides an opportunity to practice empathy and develop better communication skills.
      • Conflict can uncover important information and perspectives that may have been previously overlooked.
      • Conflict can be a powerful tool for promoting change and progress.
      • Conflict can lead to deeper understanding and appreciation of others’ experiences and viewpoints.
      • Conflict can help us identify and address systemic issues and injustices.
      • Conflict can foster resilience and perseverance.
      • Conflict can ultimately lead to greater harmony, cooperation, and collaboration.
      • Conflict is the sound made by the cracks in a system, the manifestation of contradictory forces coexisting in a single space.  
      • Conflict is the voice of the new paradigm, a call for change in a system that has outlived its usefulness.
      • Conflict reflects an inability to say good-bye, a refusal to let go of something that is dead or dying.
      • Conflict is a superficial interpretation of difference, diversity and opposition, one that ignores their essential role in creating balance and symbiosis.
      • Conflict is a request for authenticity, emotional honesty, acknowledgment, intimacy, empathy, communication, understanding, growth, or learning; in other words, for a better relationship.
      • Conflict represents a lack of awareness of the immanence of death or sudden catastrophe.
      • Conflict arises wherever there is a failure of collaboration or community.
      • Conflict reflects an ignorance of our essential inter-connectedness, of the beauty of the human spirit.  
      • Conflict is a lack of acceptance of ourselves that we have projected onto others, a way of blaming someone else for what we perceive as failures in our own lives, of diverting attention from our mistakes.Conflict is a lack of skill or experience at being able to handle a particular kind of behavior.
      • Conflict is the continued pursuit of our own false expectations, the desire to hold on to our unrealistic fantasies.
      • Conflict is a lack of appreciation of subtlety in what someone else is saying .

Communication Skills


Observations: Consider your lived experiences with the issu

Feelings: Own your experience. Feelings are not opinions. Avoid hidden accusations (e.g.: “I feel ignored/attacked/left out.”)

Needs: Why is this important to you? What’s at the heart of it.

Requests: Ask for what you want. Don’t say what you don’t want. Requests are not demands. 


Acknowledgment: Let go of your ego and shift your attention to them for a moment. Imagine what they’re going through. Validate or guess their feelings (even if you don’t agree with their perspective).

Reflection: Repeat back what you hear.
Check to see if you got it right, and, if not, try again. 

Curiosity: Ask follow up questions.
Show you care about their perspective. Try to understand what’s most important to them. Show you care about their interests and priorities. Help them articulate what they want to see happen

Some Statistics to Consider

Status quo democracy crisis

    • 87% say political polarization is a threat to America. (AP/NORC)
    • 86% of Americans say that they feel exhausted by the division in America. (Hidden Tribes)
    • 81% are concerned about “political divisions within the country.” (Fox News)
    • In the United States, 71% believe elected officials don’t care about average citizens. (Pew)Unable to make important decisions
    • “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
    • 70% agree with the statement that America has become so polarized that it can no longer solve the major issues facing the country — and that those differences will only continue to grow. (NBC News)
    • 77% have few or no (41%) friends from the other side. (Pew)
    • 85% say those who voted for the other presidential candidate don’t understand people like them. (Pew)
    • 60% now live in ‘landslide counties’ where the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate wins by 20+ points. (New York Times)
    • “Three in five Americans are dissatisfied with American democracy” (read about this at YouGov America or The Hill) (Pew)
    • 71% say the United States is losing its national identity—that is the beliefs and values the country represents. (The AP-NORC Poll on The American Identity:)
    • 71% believe that elected officials don’t care about ordinary citizens)
    • 93% of Americans say it is important to reduce divisiveness in the United States, including two-thirds who say it is very important to do so. (Public Agenda)
    • 77% have few or no (41%) friends from the other side. (Pew)
    • 85% say those who voted for the other presidential candidate don’t understand people like them. (Pew)
    • 60% now live in ‘landslide counties’ where the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate wins by 20+ points. (New York Times)

      People are Ready for Change

        • 61% would be interested in talking across political differences if they “would be listened to respectfully.” (Making Caring Common Project)
        • 79% say that creating more opportunities for people to talk and interact with those who have different values and views would be effective in reducing divisiveness and destructive disagreement. (Public Agenda)
        • 58% of Americans believe that creating well-organized opportunities for people to get together and discuss ideas for addressing problems in their communities would help bring the country together. (Public Agenda)

      Wicked Problem Management

      We face numerous complex challenges that can’t be addressed by binary thinking. These are called Wicked Problems. Every wicked problem includes key tensions that cannot be solved. Given that we can’t decide that one is important and the other is not, we’ll have to continue to balance the tensions in our decision-making. Wicked problems can only be addressed through collaborative, multi perspectival, nuanced, ongoing processes that can respond with distributed responsibility.

      Wicked problems Features (Horst Rittel, 1973)

      1. There is no definitive formula for a wicked problem.
      2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule, as in there’s no way to know your solution is final.
      3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false; they can only be good-or-bad.
      4. There is no immediate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
      5. Every solution is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
      6. Wicked problems do not have a set number of (many) potential solutions.
      7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
      8. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem.
      9. There is always more than one explanation for a wicked problem because the explanations vary greatly depending on the individual perspective    
      10. Planners/designers have no right to be wrong and must be fully responsible for their actions.

      Wicked Problem Management

      • informed diverse population
      • Collaborative communication
      • understand the key values tensions and paradoxes that influence the problem
      • Ongoing action 
      • Widespread public engagement and governance
      • make tough choices using a diverse set of perspectives

      Some US American Values hold inherent tensions:

      • Freedom and Equality
      • Our Freedom and Freedom of Future generations
      • Freedom and Security
      • Justice is a tension within itself (justice as the ideal between too much and too little reward or punishment)
      • Individual rights and community good
      • Unity and diversity
      • Cooperation and competition
      • Opportunity and Individual responsibility
      • Flexibility/Innovation and Consistency/Tradition
      • Best use of resources (money, time, people)
      • Partisan Gridlock is a wicked problem in and of itself.

      Shared Criteria for Success:
      Finding the Noncontroversial Essence

      Characteristics for Shared Criteria 

      • Is noncontroversial (no objections)
      • Can be evaluated (subjectively)
      • Uses positive language (what we want, not what
      • we don’t want)
      • Is relevant to the content (about this decision)
      • Is operational (possible to attend to through action)
      • Can apply to anyone (even if some don’t need it, no names)

      Opening the process

      • What is important to you about this decision?
      • What is something you want this solution to address?

      Inviting more responses

      • Who has something to add that hasn’t already been said?
      • Imagine a solution that you wouldn’t like. What bothers you about it?

      Inviting all voices

      • Are you aware of any important considerations for other people who may be affected by this decision?
      • Is there something you haven’t shared yet because you are not sure how to say it or need support in figuring it out?

      Moving towards closure

      • Is everything that is important to you already on this list?

      Checking for controversy

      • Is anything on this list confusing? 
      • Does anyone have concerns about any of these items?

      About The Omni-Win Project

      The Omni-Win Project is a multimedia effort to raise awareness of the myriad existing and emergent opportunities to improve our democracy and heal our political culture.

      Our mission: facilitating the healing and evolution of our democratic systems and political culture, so that we can co-create a future that works for everyone.

      Meet The Host

      I am omnipartial: I am biased in favor of the success of everyone and the whole. I believe it is possible to improve systems of communication and interaction in ways that will allow humanity to thrive and evolve through our complexity and diversity.

      My purpose in life is to support an omnipartial revolution. How? By helping the world understand the fractal nature of conflict and how we can transform conflict into a positive and inspiring experience. We are all in this together. I firmly believe we can do this complex dance through life with much more grace and beauty.

      I am specifically committed to transforming how we work together in teams and organizations and how we experience conflict and collaboration in our democracy.

      Fractal Friends

      Duncan is also the host of the Fractal Friends podcast. An exploration of our self-similary across our diversity.

      Fans of the Omni-Win project podcast will enjoy this collection of episodes: about Transforming Politics and Healing Democracy

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