Filmmaker Steven Spielberg has an interesting story about conflict transformation upon which I will build this week’s discussion:
When I was about thirteen, one local bully gave me nothing but grief all year long. He would knock me down on the grass, or hold my head in the drinking fountain, or push my face in the dirt and give me bloody noses when we had to play football in phys. ed. … This was somebody I feared. He was my nemesis. … Then, I figured, if you can’t beat him, try to get him to join you. So, I said to him, “I’m trying to make a movie about fighting the Nazis, and I want you to play this war hero.” At first, he laughed in my face, but later he said yes. He was this big fourteen-year-old who looked like John Wayne. I made him the squad leader in the film, with helmet, fatigues, and backpack. After that, he became my best friend.
Spielberg succeeded in drawing the bully to his direction. He managed to create a point of retreat for the bully and while doing so, positioned the bully toward a solution. This is called building a Golden Bridge.
Building a Golden Bridge
Building a golden bridge is a strategy for conflict transformation. The idea of building a golden bridge was popularized by Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, in his book Art of War. Sun Tzu postulates on the need to build an opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
Conflict has been defined on this blog as a divergence of interest(s) between two or more parties. In some cases, to resolve a conflict at hand, it takes two sides meeting at the table to frame a resolution. While there are various ways of influencing the other side to meet at the negotiation table, this depends on the power play at hand. Focus on the primary goal should never be lost, being to get the other side to the table without hampering the relationship. To this end, building a golden bridge entails pulling the other side to your direction in a pleasant way that will make them trust the process.
The idea of a movie, for the bully, sounds enticing. This idea made him feel important. He was going to be a star. In the mind of the bully, the thinking most likely was that Spielberg was worshipping him or that he highly regarded him. However, it was Spielberg who was in control. He managed to turn a foe into a friend, but all for a reason. This was the turning point towards resolving the conflict at hand.
Transforming a Conflict
Many conflicts escalate because the antagonists are unwilling to momentarily wear the shoes of the other side, and while at it, examine what the other party is going after. Transforming a conflict by building a Golden bridge is premised on molding the experience of the other side and feeling their fortune or misfortune. The key here is to propose a resolution aimed at satisfying their interests–as best as you have understood them–without giving up on your interests. This is all about satisfying the other side’s interests that rhyme with your interests. This is what conflict transformation is all about.