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The Agreement to Conflict

The Agreement to Conflict

Within relationships we care about, professional or personal, those we hope will keep-up their stride for the long-run, I am inspired by this tool: a contractual agreement for our conflicts.

Firstly, we agree to conflict (n):  We are agreeing to be in conflict, as it arises. This willingness reduces or eliminates the resistance to conflicts that often belabors resolution.

Second, we agree to conflict (v): We set up ground-rules and parameters so that when we are conflicting there is fair-play and the best chance to be constructive.

Dr. Clare Fowler discusses and teaches parameters that can distinguish positive conflict from negative conflict. An “Agreement to Conflict” intends that conflict is not-resisted, respected as part of relating, as well as aimed toward growth and deepening in a relationship. These intentions define a type of “positive” conflict.

To me, it is only natural that relating includes harmony and conflict both. And, that conflict is an opportunity to learn from another, to gain understanding and even cooperate. 

Imagine if we were “taught this in school.” Imagine that conflictual situations were embraced, the opposite of avoided. Imagine if conflicts were already demonstrated to us as a means – how ever bumpy- to grow mutual understanding and learn from the perspectives of another – both about facts and about feelings. Imagine if we were taught in our early years of peer interactions that along with the “butterfiles and roses” of intimate relating, conflict also can bring us closer, and deepen our love and respect.

My imagination of turning culture and embedded conventions on their head is broad on this topic! Whatever we could imagine needs to be different in order to conflict well, I propose that at the foundation can be a prior contractual agreement. Let’s take a look at what terms need to be discussed and mutually agreeable in order to formulate “An Agreement to Conflict.”

  1. An intention to welcome conflict as a natural cycle within relating (or at least not resist it actively).
  2. Parameters for the time/place context wherein the identified conflict can continue to be expressed.
  3. Parameters for skillful communication and emotional support, perhaps inclusive of particular persons or methods.
  4. Potentially a mutually scripted phrase for either party to communicate they are identifying a “sticky” or “deep” conflict escalating.
  5. A shared and articulated intention to place any “sticky conflict” within the Parameters both parties have set up.
  6. Ground-rules for self-expression, listening, and confidentiality while within a conflict.
  7. A co-created menu of tools and potential exit-points, identified at this time and used as subsequently as a resource in that time when a conflict ensues.

If conflict is only natural (isn’t it self-evident that harmony cannot be the only dynamic?) and both self-knowledge and intimacy can potentially grow from conflict– then let’s start making Agreements to Conflict with friends, family and co-workers.

Want to try? Reach out, let’s meet. I am making a special offer on meetings to draft with parties Agreements to Conflict, this spring/summer season.

Want to try with your own clients? Let me know what you discover works or doesn’t. We can keep exploring and refining this idea, together.


Keren Khaya Abrams

Keren Khaya Abrams [MA Interdisciplinary Arts, BA in Psychology] has devoted her career to facilitating Human Potential, founding "Be Brilliance." Moving from Professional Performing Arts into Counseling & Somatic Energy-work over decades, her current focus is in providing online communications courses, co-creative conflict resolution trainings and mediation. She is Principal… MORE

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