Jonathan Cohen

Constructive dialogue with armed groups is hugely important – to prevent, mitigate or resolve violent conflict. But it is equally challenging and variable in terms of the context, actors involved, purpose of such dialogue, and means by which it is achieved.

This roundtable discussion, facilitated by Conciliation Resources and the Center for Empathy in International Affairs, considered the role that empathy can play in helping to establish and sustain such dialogue. The workshop, convened on 15 March 2017 in London, involved a total of 21 experts and practitioners, including peace-builders, mediators, academics and diplomats.

In particular, the workshop considered:

  • What do we mean by empathy in this context and what does it involve?
  • What does empathy look like in practice?
  • Who should empathise – the mediator, third party, parties themselves, or other actors – and with whom?
  • What practical purposes can empathy serve? Can it help to establish trust, humanise others, promote a sense of recognition, or stimulate new ways of thinking? What insights can we draw from practice?
  • How does empathy relate to other skills and tools for establishing meaningful dialogue?
  • What are the barriers, limits or risks of empathising?
  • Is it possible to encourage or develop empathy and how do you do it?
  • Looking ahead, what could be done to encourage and apply empathy by those who seek to engage armed groups?

Read Hard Feelings, a joint CEIA – Conciliation Resources briefing paper which captures key insights and observations from the discussion.

Photo: Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director of Conciliation Resources.