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Reader’s Review, October 2011

By John Baker

THE FIVE PERCENT: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts

By Peter T. Coleman
275pp. New York: Public Affairs, 2011
Hardcover (USA) $27.99

Peter T. Coleman is Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University. Dr. Coleman is also the Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University.

The premise of Dr. Coleman’s work is that five percent of the world’s conflicts are intractable disputes. These seemingly intractable conflicts may be international, socital or personal, but they share qualities that require new ways of thinking to resolve. “This book,” the author asserts, “presents the first systematic, integrated, evidence-based model for understand the five percent, and offers a coherent set of principles and practices for resolving them,” (p. 9). The subject of this work is the result of fifteen years of research into the problem by Professor Coleman and an interdisciplinary team of scholars at Columbia University.

Intractable conflicts are complex affairs, the author explains, fueled and reinforced by interlinked feedback loops and reinforced by inhibiting feedback loops that must be discovered and decoupled to permit any hope of conflict resolution. This subset of conflicts is captive to the forces created by its own history, increasingly complicated over time, and incapable of solution by traditional conflict management methods and strategies.

Given their peculiar qualities, intractable conflicts require new ways of thinking, extensive research and an understanding of how they organize to solve them. Dr. Coleman carefully explains his team’s approach, its method and its recommendations on training and basic skills necessary to dealing with the intractable conflict type. He includes many illustrations from real world situations ranging from conflicts in Mozambique to the Middle East and throughout the world. I am certain readers will find the book of considerable interest and a message of hope. Let us join in the author’s conclusion that “even impossible problems can be brought to an end (p.224).”

Both practitioners and students of conflict management are certain to find THE FIVE PERCENT to be a valuable resource. The volume includes an extensive bibliography in its “Notes” section and a well-developed index.
Highly recommended.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine (October, 2011) Copyright © 2011 The Negotiator Magazine