You have four ways to do this . . .

and only four . . . . . .

1. Escalation
2. Arbitration
3. Mediation
4. Invitation

So, you have a conflict.

What are you going to do? The good news is that you have four options. Dr. Ron Claassen, professor at Fresno Pacific University, offers an explicit illustration of these four options. I have taken some liberty to adapt his model as illustrated above.

I use this as a decision tool in most mediation settings. I ask, "Which one do you want to do? I can probably help you with two of them."

Every conflict has four response options:

Escalation: One party can simply overpower the other party. One party will make the decision. Examples: The party with power (indicated by being inside the circle) uses power to get their way. This party could be a policeman, a soldier, a criminal with a gun, or the bully on the playground, or even the party with the majority vote. This party could be a person who rescues another person even against their will. (If my granddaughter was playing in a street and a truck was coming toward her, I would use my power as an adult to physically remove her from the street even at the risk of her not understanding, hating me, protesting, or even fighting me as I try to help her.) This party could also be someone who chooses to use their power to leave another party, group or organization; or to withhold financial support, such as, child support or even church tithes. This party could also be the one to withhold emotional involvement or love, including avoiding or being evasive, giving the cold shoulder or quiet treatment.

However, on a de-escalation note, this party could also be the one to tolerate or even overlook an offense (Proverbs 12:16, 16:32, and 19:11. ) with the intent to never bring it up, in essence, to love, to extend grace, to forgive, and to never hold the offense against the other party. Hmmm, the power to love, accept, forgive, honor, respect . . .

Arbitration: When parties cannot agree, an outside party can be empowered to bring resolution and to make the final decision. Hence, the "X" is in the circle. Examples: X is the party with the power to resolve the conflict. This party may be a judge, jury, or arbitrator. X could be any authority figure with the positional power to make decisions, direct and lead others. Such as: a teacher, a store manager, a coach, a counselor, or advisor. X could be an outside authority that is not necessarily a person. Such as, the dictionary when playing the game of Scrabble - the dictionary decides the correct way to spell a word. X could be the traffic signal - the signal decides who will stop and who will go. X could be a coin as in head-or-tails - the coin decides who is right or who is wrong, or who will receive and who will kick the football. X could be who or what you go to for advice or direction when you are stuck, such as, a trusted friend, "The Golden Rule," God in prayer, or the Holy Bible.

Mediation: When parties cannot agree, an outside party can serve as a mediator to help all the participants (stake holders) to be empowered to experience resolution and to make a joint/mutual decision in a collaborative way. (Note: everyone is in the circle except the mediator, i.e. "X"!) Examples: facilitator, a discussion leader, listener, counselor, “go-between,” observer, peacemaker, negotiator, interventionist, or a parent.

Invitation: All parties are constructive and naturally invite and receive each other into a process of reconciliation without outside help. Examples: One party taking the initiative to invite another party into a time of discussion about a disagreement or offense. And in response the party being invited accepts the invitation. If the issue is an offense, the party doing the invitation can be the author or receiver of the offense. The invitation has a sense of urgency about it. Resolution is sought quickly and timely. The invitation is based on love, care, or value placed on the other parties or at the very least a willingness to be constructive.

You can be sure you will use one if not all of these options when responding to your conflict.

Which ones are the most redemptive? Actually, they could all be used in a redemptive way if your intent is to be respectful, reasonable, and restorative. Escalation can bring redemptive value. Certainly, Jesus taught a process of escalation when teaching about how to minister to an offender. But the process was always to bring that person to a point of listening and ultimately redemption and change. Jesus taught us to "go" - to make invitation our first choice whether we are the author of the offense (Matthew 5:23-24) or the receiver of the offense as seen in Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus taught us to escalate if the other party was not listening.

Even so, the escalation that Jesus taught was mild compared to how we escalate. I am always cautious about giving any type of approval to escalation, simply, because it is our nature to go there first as a powerful option/weapon. I am reminded of a time when I taught on Matthew 18 and the mandate to go to the other party and to invite them into a process of reconciliation. From my "teaching," an individual thought it appropriate to go and tell-off the other party - immediately after church! Yes, he did escalate the conflict but not for redemptive purposes.

There is so much more that could be said about these options. If you have a question or comment, please send me an email at

(c) Copyrighted 2008, Tony Redfern, All Rights Reserved Worldwide