Hit enter after type your search item

What Is An Intractable Conflict?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Gmail

intractable ConflictWhen conflicts are lasting between parties and it seems like there are no options to move past, it may be time to move beyond intractability and find creative solutions to solve the conflict and restore some of the relationships between the parties.Intractable conflicts involve a variety of issues, but their common characteristic is the resistance to resolution over some time.A variety of moments and dynamics may cause a conflict to move from a regular conflict to an intractable conflict, but many involve struggles for power or disagreements over values and beliefs.While intractable conflict may seem like it cannot be solved, some tips and tactics can be applied to move a conflict toward resolution.This article will explore the characteristics and origins of intractable conflict and end by providing some tips to adjust traditional dispute resolution to solve these disputes.

Defining Intractable Conflicts

Intractable conflicts are conflicts that are destructive, deep-rooted, complex, and lasting.These conflicts are the ones that stubbornly evade resolution, even when the best dispute resolution tactics are used.The term “intractable conflicts” is the product of Beyond Intractability, an organization providing support to people working to address the intractable conflict problem.These conflicts are often about topics that are deeply rooted in the moral values of individuals or from decades-long conflicts between two countries.These are often the conflicts that feel impossible to solve and need a skilled and multifaceted approach to overcome the differences.These conflicts continue because both sides are unwilling to shift or move to accomplish a resolution.A likely result of a conflict that falls into this classification is violence, either physical or verbal, toward the other party.This is often the type of conflict that wars and death are started over.

These conflicts are different from other conflicts in certain key ways.These characteristics are what make intractable conflicts so stubbornly resistant to mediation and other traditional forms of dispute resolution without some adjustments to the way that the process is carried out.These characteristics are:

  • Duration: Intractable conflicts do not last for days, weeks, or even months.These conflicts often take place over a long period, usually years.
  • Players: Intractable conflict often involve players or actors with a specific grievance that this party would like to or needs to address to solve the problem.This actor has held this grievance in play for a while in history before bubbling to the surface.
  • Hostility: Often, when a conflict is intractable, the relationship between the parties is at a place where the parties are hostile toward one another and see each other as evil or the opposition. This is usually where the violence will stem from.These conflicts are particularly destructive for the parties.
  • Geopolitics: Many intractable conflicts are international conflicts between states.These conflicts are often characterized by disagreements over land between powers or when there are clashes between people inside a country.
  • Issues: These conflicts are not ones about what is the best color to paint a kitchen or which fruit to add to the fruit salad.These are often over complex issues of values, identity, or beliefs.
  • Resistance: The final characteristic of intractable conflicts is the resistance to conflict management that these conflicts have.These conflicts will not resolve through traditional means and require a new approach.

These characteristics, taken together, are what separate intractable conflicts from regular conflicts that are just tough to solve.The more of these characteristics that are present in a conflict, the more likely it that the conflict is intractable.

Causing Intractable Conflicts

The best way to deal with intractable conflicts is to not let them develop into intractable conflicts in the first place.However, this requires understanding the causes of intractable conflicts and how to avoid them to avoid an intractable conflict.Several factors may contribute to the development of an intractable conflict.These are:

  • Power and Status: Many times, intractable conflicts are the result of a struggle for power between two groups and how their power is distributed and who is the person or group at the top of the social scale.This can also be called domination or pecking order.These conflicts are caused by the way that power shakes out in a system.Typically, this is a group with less power fighting for more and a power group refusing to give up any of their power.
  • Morality: Many of the intractable conflicts that exist are caused by a difference in what groups of people view as moral or ethical.We see this commonly in American politics and life.Both sides believe that they have the right interpretation of ethics and morality and require others to follow suit.These disputes may not be settled easily because it involves what the parties believe is a noble quest to establish a moral status quo.
  • High-Stakes Distribution: Distributions in negotiations or mediations are deals and negotiations that involve a controlled pot of money, land, water, or other important items that must be distributed among the parties.Every bit that someone wins, another party loses.When the parties must split a seemingly impossible item, they may end up in an intractable conflict.

Intractable conflict may be caused by any or all of these factors.Recognizing an intractable conflict and the cause of the conflict will be helpful for resolution strategies.

Handling Intractable Conflicts

An intractable conflict often feels impossible to overcome.However, it is important to remember that even the strongest, most stubborn of intractable conflict may be addressed through conflict resolution.There are a few tips to deal with these conflicts and encourage the parties to continue to move toward resolution.These tips are:

  • The resolution does not need to be a resolution. In dispute resolution, it is often only considered a resolution if it fully resolves the dispute between the parties.However, a full resolution may not always be possible, especially in situations with intractable conflict.This means that it can be a resolution for a dispute for the parties to shift their thinking away from violence and hatred toward the other person and creating a working and healthy relationship so that they can move forward with their lives, even if the underlying conflict is not fully resolved.
  • Do not ignore conflicts.When conflicts are ignored, they often get worse, rather than better.While it may seem like a conflict is harmless if ignored, it may end up spreading and harming more people if it does not get resolved, at least partially.
  • No conflict is hopeless.Occasionally, even the most stubborn conflicts will end up being resolved.In discounting conflicts, we lose the ability to transform conflicts from violence into peace or tentative good faith.


Intractable conflicts can often feel impossible.They are long, value-based struggles for power and self-determination.Intractable conflicts may be caused by distributions in power or other high-stakes items or by morals that will not be changed.Finding ways to transform a conflict into a situation that allows the parties to move forward and away from violence and destruction will always be the best option.However, it is important to remember that no conflict is beyond any resolution, but not every conflict can be fully resolved.Intractable conflicts are stubborn and difficult, but even the most violent conflicts can be transformed into constructive conflicts.

Related posts:

  • Stone Soup: How to make the most in a Continuing Education Program
  • The Art of War in the Kingdom of Probate
  • The Predictability of Distributive Bargaining
  • Categories * Articles, Communication, Psychology

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar