Realistic Elements of Conflict

Leo Smyth

Professor of Management, National University of Ireland

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I am of the opinion that one has to accept that while there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done on people's psychology and perceptions and feelings and all that sort of stuff, nonetheless, there are realistic issues that need to be sorted out... Well, maybe they can't be sorted out, which I think is the thrust of what I'm saying, until some work has been done there. Equally at the other extreme, if you like, while there are grounds for saying there is such a thing as power politics, there is such a thing as realistic conflict, there are such things as real conflicts of interests, they do exist.  

But at the same time I think one needs to understand that they are not as objective as all that. They are always perceived through interpretive schemes, which is one reason why things that seem utterly incredibly important at one point in time seem to be basically capable of being negotiated away later. So they always exist through these. And consequently our understanding of third party interventions must be to try to hold both of these together. That's reflecting at least the way I seem to understand conflict management.

Q: Steering between the objective and relative in a sense? Steering between "we'll find what we look for" and "this is what's actually there right now"?

A: Yes, but maybe not so much steering between, as trying to hold both in the one conceptual frame, which is uncomfortable.

Q: It's no easy task.