By Kevin R. Betts
Clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government appeared subdued this weekend after over two months of violent confrontations. Integrative agreements in protest situations like this are often impeded by mirror-image perceptions that opposing parties hold about one another. For example, a Thai government official was quoted saying about the protestors, “They don’t want a peace offer…They don’t want a peaceful resolution to this.” Mirroring this criticism, a CNN reporter claimed that the protestors did in fact wish to see the conflict end, and blamed military forces for much of the violence. In short, both parties claimed that the other was preventing the conflict’s resolution.
At least in part, many conflicts have been prolonged due to mirror-image perceptions between opposing factions. Shamir and Shikaki (2002) provide evidence that parties to the century old Israeli-Palestinian conflict both consider the violent behavior of the other side to be terrorism, while simultaneously seeing the violent behavior of their own side as justified. Similarly, De Dreu, Nauta, and Van de Vliert (1995) provide evidence that professional negotiators, governmental decision makers, and organizational consultants view their own conflict behaviors as more constructive than those of their opponents. From these examples, it seems worthwhile that when attempting to resolve new and old conflicts, we start by examining potentially reciprocal viewpoints of opposing factions. In many cases, both sides may be motivated to reach an integrative agreement, but unable to successfully communicate this intent to their opposition.