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Changing Conflict Stories

From the Handbook of Solution-Focused Conflict Management by Fredrike P. Bannink.

There are four types of ‘conflict stories’ that can be changed to ‘solution stories’. These conflict stories are:

  • Blame stories, in which someone gets the blame for the conflict;
  • Impossibility stories, in which change is seen as impossible in a given situation;
  • Invalidation stories, in which someone’s feelings, desires, thoughts or actions are seen as wrong or unacceptable;
  • Nonaccountability stories, in which people are excused from responsibility for their actions, by claiming that they are under the control of other people or some other factor that is beyond their control.

Conflict stories can be changed to solution stories by acknowledging the impact of the conflict and the facts of the situation instead of evaluating, judging or explaining it. Counterevidence can be found that contradicts the unhelpful conflict stories and your clients can be reminded that whatever story they have, that story is not all there is to them. Creating compassionate and helpful stories and finding a kinder, gentler view of themselves, the other and/or the situation is also helpful (O’Hanlon, 1999). Solution focused conflict management (Bannink, 2007; 2010) is about balancing acknowledgement and possibilities for change. In solution focused conflict management the role of the mediator is to acknowledge the impact of the conflict and to help the clients to focus on possibilities for change instead of impossibilities. In doing so, persuasion and influence are always present.

One of the challenges mediators face is seeing a case from other’s perspectives. In solution focused conflict management the process is seen from a different perspective than is typical in other forms of mediation. In this model the conflict is considered from the perspective of the clients and what goal they want to achieve, rather than from the perspective of the mediator or what evidence is and what the likelihood of success is at trial, opening a new and broader perspective to see options for resolution. It is about finding the win-win scenario, where clients are invited what they would consider to be a win and ask the mediator to help them create that goal.

Lazarus (2000) developed and researched a model of how individuals react to stressful events. His research indicated that when the event is viewed as a threat, people tend to use wishful thinking, avoidance, and even hostility and aggression as a coping strategy. When the stressful event is seen as a challenge, then they are more likely to find solutions and thoughtful action as a result of their perception. The Chinese character for crisis is pictured below. Crisis (Wei Ji) means danger and chance.

You could tell your clients about this Chinese wisdom and ask them the following solution focused questions:

  • Suppose you do not only see the threat or danger in the conflict, but also the challenge or chance, which challenge or chance would you see?
  • Suppose you would take that challenge or chance, what would be different?
  • What would you be doing differently?
  • How would that be helpful?
  • How would that change your relationship with the other(s)?
  • What or who would be helpful to be able to see the situation from that point of view?

In this way you can create more positive and compassionate stories with your clients, enabling them to look at possibilities instead of impossibilities to resolve their conflict and restore collaboration.


Bannink, F.P. (2007). Solution-Focused Mediation: The Future with a Difference. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 25, 2, 163-183.

Bannink, F.P. (2010). Handbook of Solution Focused Conflict Management (Cambridge MA: Hogrefe Publishing).

Lazarus, R.S. (2000). Toward better research on stress and coping. American Psychologist, 55, 665-673.

O’Hanlon, B. (1999). Do one thing different. New York: Quill, Harper Collins


Fredrike P. Bannink

  Drs. F.P. Bannink MDR Master of Dispute Resolution (University of Amsterdam) Mediator for the Amsterdam District Court. Past Chair of the Foundation for Professional Neighbour Mediation Amsterdam Clinical psychologist (University of Amsterdam) Graduate study programme lecturer and in-company trainer in solution focused brief therapy and positive psychology Trainer in… MORE >

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