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Barsky's Four Approaches to Conflict & Negotiation for Helping Professionals

Updated on April 18, 2013
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge holds an EdS in Curriculum and Instruction, an MS in Elementary Education, and a BA in History. She also homeschools her children.

Conducting a counseling or conflict resolution session? Learn about the four basic approaches to negotiation.
Conducting a counseling or conflict resolution session? Learn about the four basic approaches to negotiation. | Source

Reflections on Barsky’s “Conflict Resolution for the Helping Professionals”

Not all negations interactions will be formal, some negotiations are emergent — meaning that those needing to negotiate just sometimes need assistance. When working as a negotiation counselor or helping professional, it’ is best to analyze the situation and determine how to approach the conflict before entering into the negation process. As described in Barsky’s 2007 book, “Conflict Resolution for the Helping Professions,” there are four basic approaches to negation: power, rights, interest and transformation.

The power approach views parties as competitors who both “try to influence the other and gain advantage” over each other (p. 69). The power philosophy believes that the sheer power, strength or intelligence wins the conflict, with the “primary goal of interaction is to maximize personal gain (p. 72). A classic example of the power approach is how big businesses, such as Wal-Mart move into an area and intimidate smaller businesses to close their doors because Wal-Mart has better buying power and stronger advertising than the smaller shops.

When helping professionals utilize the rights approach in negation, they attempt to level the playing field, and establish “ fair play” between the parties (p. 69). This approach is concerned with “what the relevant laws prescribe” notes Barsky (p. 75). An example of the rights approach is how the legal system treats both parties fairly and applies the same rules to both parities; then the parties can’t determine the answer on impartial judge decides what is fair.

The interests approach encourages parties to work together in a “ joint problem-solving process” (p. 77). It views parties more as collaborators than adversaries, and tries to “ resolve conflicts by identifying mutual interests” (p. 70). Rather than being concerned just about the legal rights of the parties, the when helping professionals employ the interest approach they show that the relationship is the most important thing in the issue. An example of the interest approach at work is when divorcing parents enter into a custody suit over the children. While both parents want custody of the children, they realize that what is best for the children is more important than their personal preferences.

The transformation approach attempts to resolve the emotional conflict more than the physical conflict and how to grow personally. Transformation recognizes the different parts of the situation, and demonstrates empathy for the other party’s problems (p. 70). The approach stresses the empowerment of restoration of “values(s), strength, and capacity to handle life’s problems” (p. 70). An example of the transformation approach is when a counselor helps a couple resolve their differences with each other.

As a future teacher and administrator, I can see myself using the rights, interest and transformation approach when working in the mediation or negotiation process. While I don’t foresee myself using the power approach in negotiations, I can see how I might be the counselor helping the person suffering from the disadvantaged position. As Barsky notes, “using power with another person rather than power over another person fits with the interest-based and transformative approaches to negotiation”(p. 75) which is what I tend to prefer as a negotiation strategy.


Barsky, A. E. (2007). Conflict resolution for the helping professions (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.


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    • Diane Lockridge profile imageAUTHOR

      Diane Lockridge 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Glad you liked it.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      8 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Interesting hub.


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