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Mapping as a Conflict Resolution Strategy

A practical strategy to use to try to understand a problem or issue; can be used as preparation to a communication or with the people involved.

Conflict Resolution Strategy

How can I map issues / conflict / future plans?

(Adapted from original source Conflict Resolution Network)

Mapping is a very simple and powerful strategy to be better informed about what really is going on in a conflict or potential conflict situation. Mapping can also be used to map a problem or issue as part of a planning exercise. Some people find it challenging to take the time to complete a mapping exercise for many different reasons. The value of a mapping exercise is it will start to give you the whole picture not just one or two perspectives. When we have difficulty actually completing a mapping exercise it can inform us of what we may not know in the situation and may need to find out in a communication with the people involved.

Read before you start to map:

Defining the issue/s:

We focus on what is the real issue/s; we do not identify the person as the problem.

Label the issue in broad, objective terms, in a way that all parties to the conflict would agree.

eg. : Not "my partner never returns the kids on time" but "access agreement".

Aim for a clear idea of the issue/s to be mapped, but don't worry if it's not exactly right. Sometimes the process of mapping itself clarifies the issue. Keep it open ended and objective to provide a good starting point.

Identify who is involved:

Write down all the major parties in the conflict. Include individuals and groups. Include people who may be directly and indirectly involved. E.g. Mother, Father, child, grandparent 1; grandparent 2; new partner etc.

If people share common needs and concerns they can be grouped together.

List the major needs and concerns of each party:


Recognising the different party's needs is a basis of a Win/Win Approach. When everyone's needs have been identified and understood appropriate solutions can be generated. The word 'Need' does not have to be used too precisely. It may include wants, interests or the things you care about. Needs may be tangible or intangible. Needs are those things which we are motivated to move towards. Sometimes the same need applies to several people. Listing it for each person shows that there are common needs - a great empathy builder.


Concerns include fears, anxieties, and worries - those things which we are motivated to move away. They may be tangible (such as not having enough money) or intangible (lack of respect).

Sometimes it's easier under concerns to draw out motivations that don't surface so well when considering needs. For example it is easier to say 'I fear being out of control and powerless'. than  'I need to have power and control'.

Reading a map:

- Reading a map prepares us to develop appropriate options.

- What common threads or points do you notice on your map?

- Draw together common needs, concerns, threads, similarities to build partnership.

- Notice new perspectives and insights?  Hidden agendas or pay-offs?

The Mapping Chart

In a chart, define briefly the issue, the problem area, or conflict in neutral terms that all would agree on and that do not invite a 'yes/no' answer e.g. 'family communication', not 'she yells at me'.

In the chart, write the name of each important person or group.

Write down each person's or group's needs. (You must try to write needs from their point of view not from your point of view; if they were present what would they say?) What motivates him/her?

Write down each persons or group's concerns, fears or anxieties.

Be prepared to change the statement of the issue, as your understanding of it evolves through discussion or to draw up other maps of related issues that arise

When we are happy that we have all the needs and concerns written down that we can recognise we can move onto options. If we carry out the exercise as a preparation exercise for future communication the options will be simply our options. If we have completed the mapping exercise with the people involved it will become an option building exercise generated from all the people involved.

Designing Options

When we believe we understand all the needs and concerns of those involved in the issue or problem we move on to designing options. We do not jump to solutions. To design options read your map drawing together common needs and highlighting points of special concern or importance.

Common Ground:

- Look for needs and concerns held by all or several parties.

- Identify common threads that may be described in different ways.

- Explore similarities that may already be identified on the map, but can be agreed on in principle

- Build a sense of partnership from which to consider areas of difference.

New perspectives and Insights:

Consider the way in which the mapping process has changed the perspective on the issue and the people involved. Sometimes there are very significant insights and other times there are small shifts in perspectives.

Hidden Needs, Concerns and Pay-Offs:

- Look for unexpressed needs and concerns, as appropriate with sensitivity. Ask gentle, probing questions to explore the needs and concerns hidden under satisfiers.

- Be aware that frequently needs, concerns and payoffs are not intentionally being hidden. They just may have not been considered.

- Be aware also that, on some occasions, people may not want to state their needs, concerns or payoffs because of embarrassment or fear; or because they have intentions they don't want known by others.

- Note any areas that need priority consideration.

Designing Options:

When you use your map to design options people will gain confidence in the problem solving technique that allows them to have their needs and concerns validated.

Methods of Option Designing:

BRAINSTORMING - No censoring, justifying, debating. Use Lateral thinking.

SELECTING - Chunking into smaller pieces? Researching? Goal setting? Feasible?

ACTION PLAN - Steps involved?  What is to be done?  By whom?  By when?

Designing Options and Planning

Step 1. Brainstorm Options

Step 2. Choose options you are willing  to action.

Step 3. Action Plan - What is to be done? By whom? By when?
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