P is for Peacebuilding

The positive majority of people want to live in peace. They want to build on what they have in common and find creative solutions to challenges. They want to encourage both present and future generations on the planet.

People can sometimes be affected, however, by the psychopathic minority who want to poison the atmosphere. This can lead to collateral damage in which innocent people suffer.

During the past 50 years most of my work has been with the positive majority of people. There have been occasions, however, when it has been necessary to deal with challenging situations.

The aim then has been to help people to feel both physically and psychologically safe. This has involved taking practical steps:

To create a positive and predictable environment in which people can feel at ease.

To help people to move towards enjoying a sense of peace.

My work has been limited to working with families, teams and organisations that wanted to take these steps. Many other people, however, have done peacebuilding work with communities and societies across the world.

The success stories they have produced highlight some of the principles that seem to work. These include the following themes.


People can focus on what they have in common.  

People can clarify what they each want and set common goals. 

People can work together to get successes and build sustainable peace.

There are many approaches to making peacebuilding work. Below is an excerpt from an excellent toolkit that highlights the work done in Monaghan. This project was part financed by the European Union’s European Regional Development fund through the Peace III Programme funded through Monaghan Peace III Partnership.

Peacebuilding toolkit


Peacebuilding is a term used to describe the processes and activities involved in resolving violent conflict and establishing a sustainable peace.  

It is an overarching concept that includes conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, reconciliation, development and leadership.  

It is similar in meaning to conflict resolution but highlights the difficult reality that the end of a conflict does not automatically lead to peaceful, stable, social economic development.  

The goal of peacebuilding is for people to accept each other and be reconciled to living together peacefully.

Peacebuilding involves building bridges and establishing good relations between ordinary people on all sides of a conflict.

Peacebuilding also involves trying to understand what caused the conflict so that the violence of the past is not repeated.

Peacebuilding involves a shift from a society characterised by conflict and division to a society based on equality and justice.

The process of building peace involves many stages and a range of participants with different roles. It aims to address both the causes and effects of conflict.  

Peace is not a product that can be achieved in the short-term. It is a long-term process whereby the people directly involved or affected by the conflict work collectively to transform society. 

All parts of society must work together in peacebuilding. and community and voluntary groups can play a critical role in promoting ‘peacebuilding from below’. 

Step-by-step guide
to peacebuilding

This section of the toolkit provides a framework for groups who wish to undertake peacebuilding work in their area.

It can be used both by groups who are new to this work and by groups who have already been involved but now wish build on and develop their work further.

The step-by-step guide is set out in five stages with materials to assist groups to work through each of the stages in a structured way.

The 5 Stages


Brigadier Michael Harbottle had a distinguished military career which evolved into him focusing on peacebuilding. He co-wrote The Thin Blue Line: International Peacekeeping and Its Future. He also founded Generals For Peace.

Michael and his wife Eirwen contributed to the organisation Peace Child International. You can discover more about its work via the following link.


Below are excerpts from a piece Michael wrote with Eirwen called The Peace Building Role of United Nations’ Operations. You can discover more via the following link.


Until the publication of An Agenda for Peace, the term peacebuilding had not found a place in the UN’s vocabulary.

If there had been any previous reference to it, it would have been described as a two-word concept or as ‘building the peace’ – a reference to the theoretical solution to conflict.

Peacebuilding as a single word is something different. It is the practical interactive approach to the solving of the structural causes of violence and regenerating peaceful relations between people and communities which will convert confrontation and ‘enemy images’ into cooperation and partnership.

I first advanced the peacebuilding concept as the third dimension, with peacemaking and peacekeeping, in the peaceful resolution of conflict 25 years ago. It is at last being recognized for the important factor that it is.

To sum up the three dimensions of the peaceful settlement of disputes:

Peacemaking is the diplomatic resolution of the politics of conflict. 

Peacekeeping is the military intervention and peaceful resolution of violence in a conflict, by non-enforcement means. 

Peacebuilding is a set of physical, social and structural initiatives which can help to prevent and resolve the consequences of conflict, and provide post-hostility structural reconstruction and rehabilitation. 

Of the three, peacebuilding has to be paramount. Peacemaking and peacekeeping can only be transitory measures. They have no long-term or lasting effect as long as the peacebuilding factor is missing.

Peacebuilding is the healing agent which ensures that the structural roots to a conflict are removed.

Unless this happens, the conflict is not resolved. It will only repeat itself and the peacemakers and peacekeepers will be required to return.

We need to understand clearly that conflict resolution is not just the successful defeat of the enemy and an end to the fighting (e.g., the Falkland Islands and the Gulf Wars), but the restoration of law and order, social and economic stability, the guarantee of peoples’ human rights, rehabilitation of the structures of society and government, the reestablishment of peaceful relations (interstate, intrastate, inter-ethnic) and the ending of the structural violence which prefaced the manifest violence. Peacebuilding indeed!

Above all, it is good to remind ourselves that the essence of all conflict resolution is peacebuilding.

In the words of the Chinese philosopher and military historian, Sun Tsu, who lived in the 4th century BC: 

“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting, that is the acme of skill.” 


Earlier I mentioned some of the themes highlighted in many approaches to peacebuilding. These are for people to focus on what they have in common. It is then to clarify what they each want and set common goals. Finally it is for people to work together to get successes and build sustainable peace.

People often want similar things in life. They want to feel safe and have the basic materials for life. They want to be loved, healthy, happy and have the chance to succeed. They also want to enjoy a sense of peace.

There are many models you can use to help people to build on what they have in common. Let’s explore one of the most successful approaches.

Encouraging People To
Focus On The Third Side

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People can be encouraged to channel their energies towards achieving an agreed Third Side. The following section explores how this approach can be used when working with people who have differences.

It is an approach that has proved successful in helping people to work towards common goals. As negotiators sometimes say:

“The key is to start by focusing on the areas of agreement, because this sets the tone and builds confidence. You can also aim to get some quick successes.

“People will then feel more able to move on to the areas of disagreement and find solutions. It you start with the areas of disagreement, you are less likely to achieve success.”

Imagine the scene. Two parties are arguing about an issue. They each believe they are right and the other is wrong. This script is repeated in virtually every conflict.

People can get into difficulties because they ‘sit opposite each other’ and fight for their own agendas. Each party says the equivalent of: “I am right,” or “Our side is right.” “You are wrong.” These are the First and Second Sides.

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People are more likely to solve things if they can sit ‘side by side’ and look together towards a Third Side. This can be the greater goal, the mission, the company’s picture of success or whatever.

This is the ‘What’ and ‘Why’. People often get into arguments about the ‘How’, but it is important to focus on the higher purpose.

This purpose may be, for example, the children’s welfare after a divorce, the team’s mission, the company’s goals or the kind of world we want to pass on to future generations.

If you are a facilitator, you can sit side by side with the interested parties. You can then encourage them to look together at a compelling Third Side.

William Ury, who co-wrote Getting To Yes with Roger Fisher, applies this approach in his work with mediation. You can discover more about his work in this area via the following link.


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Imagine that you have been asked to help people to resolve a conflict. This could involve a divorcing couple, departments fighting each other or warring factions in a society.

Good facilitators set up things to succeed. Bearing this in mind, it is important to make sure the right conditions are in place for solving the problem. Most conflicts only get solved when the following conditions are in place.

The people must want to solve the conflict.

The people must be prepared to work to – as far as possible – get win-wins.

Timing is everything. Many conflicts only get resolved when the parties are exhausted. Couples feel weary from fighting a divorce, terrorists became too old or tired to fight, employers and strikers are exhausted after an industrial dispute.

People get fed-up with the negative energy. They are then more willing to sit down and find positive solutions.

Remember, however, that some people are addicted to anger. They feel powerful when blaming others. This means that some people may choose to stay angry and refuse to find other solutions.

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Before getting involved in any conflict resolution, it is important to ask the following questions:

Do people really want to solve the problem? Do they want to create a more positive future? Are they ready to work together? Are they prepared to find – as far as possible – win-win solutions?

What do I think each party wants? How can I clarify what each of them wants? Looking at what each may want, can I find ways to build on common ground? How could people work together towards achieving an agreed picture of success? 

People buy benefits. Will it be possible for me to show people the benefits of achieving the goal? How can I help them to cross the emotional threshold where they want to achieve the goal? Is there anything else I can do to help people to achieve the agreed picture of success?

People must be prepared to look ahead. Some people want to simply argue about the past and allocate blame. Whilst it may be vital to admit mistakes, the key is to focus on how to create a positive future.

Good facilitators create a safe environment in which people feel at ease. They outline their understanding of the provisional goals for the session. They ask if people would like to add anything and then agree on the agenda.

Such facilitators sometimes outline the guidelines they would encourage people to follow in the session in order to get a positive outcome. They outline their responsibilities as a facilitator and also the responsibilities of the participants.

They encourage each party to talk about their aims on the way towards setting common goals. This calls for following certain rules. It is important: 

To show respect and recognise the authenticity of each person’s feelings. Everybody must feel that they have been heard.

To encourage people to look to the future rather than fight about the past.

To get people to be specific about the desired outcome. Ask people: “What are the real results you want to achieve?”

To encourage the parties to put the challenge in positive terms. For example: “How can we work together to achieve success?” Rather than: “Why can’t we stop fighting?”

To build on the common ground, get some quick success and begin to build confidence. 

Roger Fisher was somebody who took this route. During his life he made a great contribution towards peace. Known for his books on negotiation such as Getting To Yes, his obituary in the Economist described him as a ‘lawyer, teacher and peacemaker.’

His approach was different from that of many lawyers. Roger focused on creating alignment, rather than seeing negotiation as an adversarial process. He believed the keys were for people:

To sit down together side by side.

To focus on the job to do, which was to find a solution.

To work together to solve the problem.

Roger believed it was important to say to people: “We have a shared concern here. Let’s work together. How do you see it?”

He spent more than 40 years as an academic at Harvard, where he taught law. But as the Economist said:

Roger Fisher was really a fixer. He would relax by mending the plumbing, or laying brick terraces at the summer house he loved in Martha’s Vineyard. But that was tiddler stuff.

At breakfast he would scan the New York Times, looking for bigger problems he could fix: arms control, hostage-taking, the Middle East.

Over dinner the conversation would be sorting out Vietnam, or ending the war in El Salvador.

At his 80th birthday party, most other guests gone, he was found deep in a discussion of peace between Arabs and Israelis.

As long as there were disputes in the world and energy in his body, he was going to help resolve them.


Roger believed it was vital for the parties involved to show respect to each other as human beings. Wherever possible, it was important to separate the problem from the people.

Providing you looked at what each of the people wanted, it was then often possible to solve the problem. The difficulty was that the solvable problem had often become complicated by the personal feelings – such as anger and disappointment – becoming wrapped in the problem.

In the following video Roger is asked to look back on his career and describe one lesson he hoped his students would carry into the future. He describes the importance of focusing on what people have in common rather than immediately taking an adversarial position.

This video was produced by Mediate. You can discover more about this organisation’s work via the following link.


Clarifying what each party wants
and agreeing on common goals 

Imagine you are taking this route. How to create an agreed Third Side? One approach is to clarify what each person or each party wants. If appropriate, you can list these in the following way:

Party A Wants:

1) To …

2) To …  

3) To … 

Party B Wants:

1) To …  

2) To …  

3) To …

Bearing in mind what each party wants, you can focus on what people have in common. Some people may try to draw you into arguing about the differences, but return to the similarities.

You can then agree on common goals. It can also be useful to outline the benefits – for the various stakeholders – of achieving these goals.

What happens if you are working with many people who have lots of agendas? Create an encouraging atmosphere and go through a similar process. Bring out all the things that people want.

Encourage people to simply share their goals. Ensure they do not get into leaping into the ‘How’ or judging each other. You can then focus on the one goal – or more – that people have in common.

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When working with divorcing parents, for example, you can focus on the shared aims they have in common. They may get into arguments, but both will probably say they want the best for their children. You can then build on this shared goal.

Providing you are clear on the agreed overall goals, you can then say things like:

“These are the goals to achieve. This is the picture of success.

“These are the benefits of achieving the goals. Are these something you want to work towards achieving?

“If so, how would you like to work towards achieving the goals? What support do you need? How can you get some quick successes?”

“That sounds simple in theory,” somebody may say. “But how does it work in practice?”

Imagine that you have been asked to facilitate a discussion about enabling people to work together towards a common goal. As mentioned earlier, the first steps are to build a positive atmosphere and clarify the potential Third Side.

This is what I was asked to do when invited to work with two department heads in a company. The Chief Executive was losing patience with the two teams that were supposed to work together to achieve the company’s goals.

But each team focused only on their own targets. When asked about cross-functional work, they blamed each other for failures. This downward spiral affected the service given to customers and the whole company performance.

Bearing this in mind, I met the Chief Executive to clarify the real results to achieve. He was crystal clear on what he wanted them to contribute towards achieving the company’s picture of success.

This called for the respective departments to implement certain strategies to work together, deliver high levels of customer satisfaction and, in the process, contribute to achieving the company’s goals.

The key would be to encourage the department heads to focus on these outcomes. They had forgotten to focus on the real ‘What’ – the things they must deliver to achieve the company’s picture of success. Instead they had fallen into arguments about the ‘How’.

“This sounds relatively straight-forward,” somebody may say.

“But what happens when you don’t have an authority who can communicate the Third Side?”

Good facilitators then involve the key parties in clarifying the picture of success. Sometimes this calls for asking questions that uncover the real results to achieve.

How to make this happen? One approach is to invite people to look into the future. It is then to ask:

“What do you want people to be saying about how you behaved and what you did in this situation?

“What are the actual words you would like to hear each of the stakeholders – children, colleagues, customers, future generations and others – saying?”

This is an approach that can be used with couples, educators, leaders and people who care for future generations.

Building on the answers given, it is then possible to create an agreed picture of success. This becomes the Third Side.

Committing To The Third Side

Imagine that you have been asked to facilitate a discussion around enabling people to work together towards a common goal.

The second step is to, where appropriate, make sure everybody understands the Third Side. It is then to check if people are committed to achieving this picture of success.

Looking at the example with the two departmental heads, the Chief Executive asked them to meet with me. He explained the purpose of the meeting was to focus on how to pool their talents to achieve the company’s goal. He asked for their complete backing in the session and afterwards.

Both leaders had worked with me before, so they knew the session would be positive. During the meeting it was important to go through the following stages.

To create an encouraging environment and explain it was recognised that they were working flat out.

To explain that, if they were open to it, we would explore how they could be supported to combine their talents to achieve the company’s goals.

To put these goals in front of us so that we were literally all on the same side and looking together at the company’s picture of success.

Going deeper, I explained we had been tasked with working together to find solutions. Were they willing to work towards satisfying the customers and achieving the company’s goals?

“Yes, of course we are willing,” was the joint reply, followed by a few caveats.

The key, however, was to focus on this Third Side. Were they willing to work together to achieve the goals? Later we could explore solutions regarding how to deliver this picture of success.

Good facilitators create an encouraging environment. When appropriate, however, they also outline the specific results that they and the parties are expected to deliver.

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Concrete Steps Towards
Achieving The Third Side

The next stage is to encourage people to take concrete steps towards achieving the Third Side. Success builds confidence. So it is vital for focus on specific things that people can do to deliver some early wins.

This is what happened with the two department heads in the company. They made specific action plans that involved them co-operating:

To deliver superb service to the customer. 

To produce success stories that enhanced the reputation of the customer and company.  

To proactively keep the Chief Executive informed about their ongoing contribution towards achieving the company’s picture of success.

People worked well together and achieved the goals. They then kept showing what good looked like by producing Success Stories.

These stories highlighted the principles people followed to do fine work and how they could follow them in the future. Such stories provided practical tips and ongoing encouragement that helped people to deliver success.

This article has explored some aspects of peacebulding. Bearing these in mind, let’s return to your own life and work.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want to follow some of the principles? You may apply these in your family, work team, organisation or other area.

You may want to clarify people’s aims and then agree on common goals. If appropriate, how can you help people to see the benefits? How can you encourage them to get some early wins and then do what is required to achieve the picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in which you may want to follow some of the peacebuilding principles.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow these principles in the situation. 

Describe the specific benefits – for all the various stakeholders – of following these principles.

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