Close this search box.
Close this search box.

on land


Guideline for land problems / RESOLVING: 5.1 Constructive communication techniques

Interventions and evidence explained

Most plausible interventions explained

During the orientation process of the available literature, we identified the following interventions as most plausible for shaping solutions in ownership and use of land disputes:

  • Competitive communication techniques 
  • Constructive communication techniques 


During the shaping solutions phase of a negotiation or other resolution process, parties to an ownership or use of land dispute “have an opportunity to work together toward an agreement” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, p. 101). To achieve this, they should use dialogue to “analyse each other’s points of view as possible options and try to understand their respective motivations. Only by doing so will they appreciate what their priorities are, what is negotiable, and what seems non-negotiable” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, p. 101).

If parties are unable to explore possible solutions on their own, they may choose to bring in a mediator or other neutral third party to facilitate the process. “It is the practitioners’ job here to promote creativity and flexibility by encouraging the stakeholders to break the barriers imposed by their starting positions and consider alternative solutions” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, 2006, p. 101). “A neutral can help the group invent options for mutual gain by facilitating brainstorming and creating subgroups for in-depth discussion of specific issues” (Susskind, 1999, p. 14). The neutral “should encourage creative solutions and problem-solving, but allow the parties to arrive at the final resolution themselves” (Namati, p. 173).

Whether the parties are negotiating independently or with the help of a neutral third party, the process of brainstorming and shaping solutions hinges critically on effective communication (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano 2006). Communication between parties to an ownership or use of land dispute tends to be either competitive or constructive in nature.

Competitive communication techniques

Parties to ownership and use of land disputes may resort to competitive communication techniques in the resolution process for a number of reasons. “Stakeholders are not usually in the frame of mind to be conciliatory, especially at the beginning. They tend to fear that this kind of attitude could be taken as a sign of weakness, giving more power to the other party” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, 2006, p. 101). It is also often the case that one or both parties have invested their reputation or their financial resources in a particular position (COWI, 2018).These factors make the parties unwilling to concede. 

It is also possible that “one or both parties [does] not enter [the process] in good faith, meaning that they have no intention of finding a resolution…Their intent may be to go to court and seek a resolution that maximises the outcome in their favour, and they have been coerced into mediation [or another resolution process] as a precondition to court action” (COWI, 2018, p. 11; Herrera & Guglielma da Passano 2006). Their participation may also be motivated by a desire to “gather information on the other actors’ positions” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, 2006, p. 98) or the belief that “they are more likely to succeed in securing a beneficial outcome from mediation than they are in any other dispute resolution forum” (COWI, 2018, p. 11).

Parties that take a competitive approach to resolving their ownership or use of land dispute may use the following communication techniques:

Constructive communication techniques

Constructive communication techniques come in a variety of forms, and can be used by parties to an ownership or use of land dispute or by a neutral third party facilitating the resolution process. The following techniques are recommended for shaping solutions in ownership and use of land disputes:

Selected interventions for comparison (defined as a PICO question)

For parties to an ownership or use of land dispute looking to shape solutions, are competitive communication techniques or constructive communication techniques more effective for well-being?

Search strategy

The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Taylor & Francis, and ResearchGate.

For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: land dispute resolution; land disputes shaping solutions; land disputes brainstorming solutions; land use dispute resolution


Assessment and grading of evidence

The main sources of evidence used for this particular subject are:

Quality of evidence and research gap

According to our research method, we grade the evidence comparing competitive communication techniques and constructive communication techniques for shaping solutions ownership and use of land disputes as very low. There is a dearth of empirical research on this topic, as well as meta-analyses or systematic reviews. This may be because it is difficult to isolate the effects of various communication techniques on resolution outcomes. As a result, expert opinions based on extensive experience resolving land disputes in the field are the primary source of evidence available.

Comparing the two interventions

Desirable outcomes of the interventions

Competitive communication techniques
Constructive communication techniques
In some cases, competitive communication techniques cost the parties less time overall and produce outcomes more quickly than constructive communication techniques (COWI, 2018).
Focusing on the positive can discourage spiteful or vindictive communication that gets in the way of the search for solutions. In one case study in the United States for example, a mediator established the ground rule that “parties could raise an objection, but they also had to put forward a positive alternative. This ground rule prevented parties from vindictively blocking progress and encouraged the search for better solutions” (Susskind, 1999, p. 16).
“Encouraging parties to be creative and forward thinking are ways to get around negotiating constraints of predictability, familiarity and cautiousness” (COWI, 2018, p. 17). Left unaddressed, these constraints may cause parties to devalue a proposition or possible solution, “not because of its merits but its source” (COWI, 2018, p. 17).
Sharing and celebrating gains made during the resolution process can help to shape sustainable solutions and avoid future conflict. “To choose lasting solutions means that the stakeholders involved in the mediation should be able to leverage the gains and progress throughout the process. Sharing and celebrating the gains and showing how to capitalize on them can galvanize the parties and avoid conflicts in the future” (Remy, Sylla, & Paluku Mastaki, 2013, p. 6).
“A mediator skilled in drawing possible scenarios will help the stakeholders find more sustainable solutions to their conflict and prevent future conflicts, or at least lay the basis for resolving them” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, 2006, p. 107).
A study of 100 land use disputes in the United States found that most participants (86%) had a positive view of assisted negotiation (using constructive, consensus-building communication techniques) and the outcomes it achieved. “They thought the negotiated results were better than what they imagined the outcome would have been if they had pursued “normal” channels instead of consensus building” (Susskind, 1999, p. 20). “Among the respondents who stated that some sort of settlement was reached in their cases, most thought the agreement was well implemented (75%), was more stable than what could have been achieved without mediation (69%), and was creative in producing the best possible outcome for all parties (88%). Furthermore, 92% of respondents whose cases were settled thought that their own interests were well served, and 86% thought the interests of all parties were met by the settlement” (Susskind, 1999, p. 21). “Participants in both settled and unsettled cases thought the mediators made an important contribution to the quality of the dialogue and the effectiveness of the settlements that emerged” (Susskind, 1999, p. 21).
The same U.S. study found that “in general, participants thought that assisted negotiation [using constructive communication techniques] took less time (81% + 4% = 85% combined) and cost less (81% + 10% = 91% combined) than confrontational strategies such as litigation or administrative appeals” (Susskind, 1999, p. 22).
Constructive communication techniques can benefit parties to a land dispute even when they are unable to reach a solution. “In the event that parties disagree on the solutions to the conflict, they can always commit to adhere to the other achievements of the mediation: respect the other party and their point of view, the improvement of the other party’s positions, etc.” (Remy, Sylla, & Paluku Mastaki, 2013, p. 42). The aforementioned U.S. study found that “even in the nearly 40% of all cases that were not settled, the majority of respondents (64%) thought that the assisted negotiation process had helped the parties make significant progress toward resolution of the conflict in a number of respects. These included informal and partial agreements that became a starting point for future negotiations; enhanced relationships among stakeholders…In some instances improved relationships allowed the parties to improve communication and avoid future misunderstandings. In other cases the parties were able to rework their agreements at a later time when new information could be shared or new circumstances arose. The process also helped prevent subsequent disputes because the parties had learned a new model of how to work things out and achieved a higher level of trust and respect” (Susskind, 1999, p. 22).

Undesirable outcomes of the intervention

Competitive communication techniques
Constructive communication techniques
“If the actors adopt an attitude of competition instead of cooperation, or if they think that the solution will come out of acceptance of what they propose, the management of the [resolution or mediation] process will be more difficult. In land tenure conflicts where a big power imbalance exists – as may be the case in a conflict between landowners and small-scale farmers – it is possible that the landowners will be participating in the mediation only to legitimate their position, and with no intention of negotiating an agreement” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, p. 96). “[Third party] practitioners should always explain that it is impossible to find any kind of long-term solution if the stakeholders are unwilling to cooperate” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, p. 101).
Land use dispute resolution processes using constructive communication techniques may not be appropriate for shaping solutions when: “public health or safety requires that action be taken immediately; precedent setting is important; participants do not recognize the other side’s rights” (Susskind, 1999, p. 23).
The use of competitive communication techniques is more likely to result in a stalemate than a solution. “If one or more stakeholders blame the conflict exclusively on the other parties they will not be able to use the conflict for change, and instead will be in a situation where conflict and change are controlling them. This is a typical scenario in conflicts where the margin for negotiation established by the stakeholders is so narrow that it leads to a stalemate. The actors are not able to move forward unless they decide to cooperate” (Herrera & Guglielma da Passano, 2006, p. 96).
Competitive communication techniques that center on the parties’ positions make it difficult for neutrals to identify their underlying needs and interests, which are important for collectively generating solutions. “Disputes about land are not always as straightforward as they might first appear. They may not always be the root cause of a dispute but a symptom or by-product of another type of dispute. For instance, animosity between two families may manifest in arguments their common boundary line, or contests or rivalry between family members may appear to be contests about the family land. Therefore, it is important that the mediator quickly identifies the underlying interests and needs of each party and not just their positions” (COWI, 2019, p. 18).

Balance of Outcomes

Taken together, the available research suggests that whereas competitive communication techniques (such as stating an extreme position, exerting pressure, or blaming) generally make shaping solutions in ownership and use of land disputes more difficult, constructive communication techniques (such as speaking in the first person present tense, focusing on the positive, highlighting gains and areas of agreement, and drawing future scenarios) generally facilitate the search for sustainable and mutually-satisfying solutions. Evidence also suggests that they can help to prevent future conflict.

The only identifiable desirable outcome of competitive communication techniques – that they may cost the parties less time overall – is called into question by empirical research suggesting that third party resolution processes grounded in constructive communication techniques cost less time and money than more competitive approaches. The same research provides strong evidence that constructive communication techniques improve trust and respect between parties to land use disputes, and can therefore be beneficial even in cases where no resolution is reached. Although constructive communication techniques are not appropriate for certain kinds of ownership and use of land disputes, this disadvantage is clearly outweighed by the tendency of competitive communication techniques to result in a stalemate. Therefore, using constructive communication techniques to shape solutions in ownership or use of land disputes is preferred.


Taking into account the balance of outcomes, the value of communication techniques that help generate creative and forward-thinking solutions rather than obstructing them, and the quality and consistency of the evidence, we make the following recommendation: For parties to a ownership or use of land dispute looking to shape solutions, constructive communication techniques are more conducive to well-being than competitive communication techniques.

Table of Contents

5. Recommendations on RESOLVING
5.1 Constructive communication techniques