The third aspect of our roadmap is roles. Roles here has a double meaning. In the first, it means the roles each of us has played, as in what each person did – what was their contribution? In the second, it is linked to the identity of the person and the role this plays.


By contribution, we mean identifying how each person has contributed to the situation of conflict by what they said or did (or did not do). This means examining each contribution and how it added to the whole. This analysis helps to frame the situation as a sequence of events that collectively resulted in something going wrong. The purpose is definitively not to allocate fault or to identify who is to blame. This process starts from the point of view that both (or more) people have contributed to making the conflict situation what it is and that it could not have got to where it is without all their contributions. Focusing on what each person contributed is a good way of changing the conversation from one that is looking to allocate blame into one that is more productive.

For this approach to be at its most useful, it is best if all those in the conversation first accept that they may have contributed to the situation in some way.


We perceive ourselves through certain lenses or templates – and how we see ourselves, in combination with how others perceive us, forms our identity. A sense of identity is a basic human need.

In fact, we have more than one identity. We adopt multiple roles depending on the situation we are in. For instance, many people see themselves quite differently at home than when at work – such perceptions lead us to behaving differently in different contexts. Sometimes the social pressures are so strong that it appears that this is forced upon us. Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly the case that we are expected to think and behave in specific ways in specific situations – what is appropriate at a football match is not necessarily appropriate elsewhere.

You may have noticed that identity and status are basic human needs within the Esteem group of needs. So, in a conflict situation, any challenge to identity and status can result in a negative emotional reaction.

Identities are made all the more complicated because how we see ourselves is not necessarily how others see us. We are also prone to cognitive biases, where we accept information that supports our view of ourselves and ignore that which we believe contradicts it. And bear in mind that others may well be doing the same, accepting information that supports their view of you and rejecting that which contradicts it. You may think you pour oil on troubled waters, but do others see you that way?