Conflict Resolution: the Game

epistemic status: very low. I am not a domain expert here. This was supposed to be a book review of Non-Violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg, but I got carried away. I welcome criticism and feedback.


Congratulations on purchasing the popular board game, “Conflict Resolution”! You may have heard of it or even played it before, but it’s important to read the rules thoroughly to fully understand the game. Most importantly, have fun!


The goal of the game is to resolve a conflict between two parties under guidelines that protect both parties from mistreatment, abuse, or further hurt feelings. In an ideal world, we would resolve conflict by plugging our brains into each other, living each other’s life experiences, and understanding where the other person came from. However, this is not possible, so we attempt to communicate our experiences to each other. The issue is that mistakes can be made, lies told, and situations escalated. The game aims to solve this problem by providing a set of rules that make it hard to take advantage of the situation. When used correctly, these rules can ease a situation and resolve conflicts without confrontation. Our game attempts to solve this issue by a set of rules that we think would be hard to take advantage of. When used properly these can ease a situation and solve issues without confrontation.


The game is for two players, but the rules can be scaled up for more players.

Assume that conflict occurs when one party is hurt by the actions of the other. If both parties are hurt, separate the two-way-hurt game into two different games. The roles are as follows:

Hurt: This is the person who feels hurt

Friend: This is the person whose actions caused the hurt

Remember those roles, they are going to get a lot of mileage in this post.

Starting the game

1) Hurt is allowed to express their hurt feelings without judgment.

Anyone can express how others’ actions made them feel at any time. No one is ever wrong about how they feel. If someone feels hurt, no one can deny that.

2) Hurt doesn’t need to start a game every time they are hurt.

Discussing feelings isn’t owed to Friend, and Hurt does not need to be consistent with what they bring up or let slide.

Hurt’s allowed moves

1) Hurt can state the following:

  • The action that made them hurt

  • Their emotional reaction (that they are hurt)

2) Hurt is not allowed to blame, accuse, or judge Friend for the emotional reaction that hurt feels.

It is important for Hurt to own their emotions. Hurt is the only one responsible for their own emotions. To say Friend made Hurt feel the way they do is giving them way too much power over Hurt. Just because Hurt is hurt, it doesn’t mean Friend is to blame.

Additionally, Friend cannot be expected to predict feelings. We all experience the world differently and predicting people’s emotions all the time is not possible.

Negative Example 1: hurt says, “You hurt my feelings! That’s wrong!”

  • This breaks rule 2, we are not allowed to blame others for our emotions.

Negative Example 2: hurt says, “you know I hate sand and you still took me to the beach? That’s rude!”

  • Unless Hurt had previously said “don’t take me to the beach” it’s unfair to expect friend to predict the negative response.

3) Hurt is not allowed to blame, accuse, or judge Friend’s action.

Put aside all notions of “who was right and who was wrong” because it doesn’t matter in this context. Arguing whether Friend’s actions were good or bad is not allowed because any judgment is prohibited in this game. Regardless of whether Friend’s action was a wise one that led to unfortunate hurt feelings or an evil decision that caused hurt feelings, the outcome is the same: Hurt’s feelings were hurt. Regardless of intent, we need to ensure that Friend’s action does not happen again.

The outcome of this game is independent of any judgement or blame because if someone’s action causes hurt, the action needs to be stopped regardless of intention.

Negative Example: Hurt says, “You did a bad thing by commenting on my hair, you know I’m sensitive about my hair loss”

  • This is not allowed by rule 3, we cannot judge anyone’s actions. Maybe Friend didn’t know about the sensitivity. Regardless, of whether this was a bad thing or acceptable thing, Friend’s action needs to change. To discuss whether the action was good or bad is irrelevant, distracting, and should be avoided.

4) Hurt’s hurt feelings should be avoidable.

The point of this game is to resolve conflict. If something is brought up that cannot be changed by actions, it doesn’t fit the scope of this game. It is always healthy to discuss feelings, and people should do that often. But if you bring up feelings that are not actionable you will not be able to resolve them in this game.

Negative Example 1: Hurt says ,” I don’t want you to change anything, I just want to understand where you were coming from.”

  • This breaks the rule. If Hurt had their feelings hurt, they deserve to have that action avoided in the future. For Hurt to say they don’t want any change, they are saying they would allow themselves to be hurt again later.

Negative Example 2: Hurt says ,”I just want an apology and I will be happy.”

  • This breaks the rule. There is a whole section on apologies later, but an apology with no changed behavior means nothing, it’s just words.

5) Hurt doesn’t have to play along

If at any point Hurt feels like the relationship is truly lost, they can leave the conversation and end the relationship. This should be avoided at all costs but can be done.

Friend’s allowed moves

1) Friend can either accept that Hurt feels this way and change their actions or they lose the game (and friendship).

Regardless of intent or circumstances, Friends actions need to change to preserve this relationship.

2) Friend cannot deny or argue about hurts feelings.

Hurt is justified for feeling this way, no one can deny the feelings they feel. Everyone feels different ways in different circumstances, and no one is ever wrong for that. It is always wrong to tell someone they shouldn’t feel a certain way.

Negative Example: Friend says, “If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t be hurt”

  • This breaks the rule. **Hurt** was still hurt by the action regardless of how anyone else would have felt in their position.

3) Friend should not defend their actions

Hurt is passing no judgement on friend so therefore friend has nothing to defend. To argue over whether Friend’s action is right or wrong would be moving the conversation in the wrong direction.

Negative Example: Friend says, “But I was sleepy when I said that!”

  • Hurt is passing no judgement. Arguing whether friend’s action was right or wrong is counterproductive because regardless of the intent, change needs to happen.

4) Friend doesn’t have to play along.

Friend doesn’t need to play this game and hear out Hurt. Although, not playing the game and discussing Hurt’s needs will end or halt the relationship. If that is acceptable to Friend they can choose that. This should be avoided at all costs.

How to win

This game is won when Hurt follows all the rules and states the action, emotional response, and sets a boundary. Then friend must accept their feelings and discuss and agree upon a boundary. Most of this so far hasn’t been a discussion, this is the first part that truly is, we must set boundaries. This term comes with its own baggage, and I might be pushing the definition further than is usually used here.

Boundary negotiations

Both parties must agree on a boundary to be set. Action for what should be done if the boundary is broken should also be discussed. If you can agree on a boundary you win! Otherwise everyone loses the game (and relationship).

A boundary is a rule or change in action for one or both parties. Here are some qualities a boundary must have:

  • It should be healthy, simple, and concrete

  • The boundary must prevent **Hurt** from being hurt again

  • The boundary shouldn’t be a punishment of any sort

A lot of the time a boundary might look like this, “Please don’t say that again or we have to discuss how we can avoid this further.” But other times it may look like, “I think our daily get-togethers should be about an hour by default, unless we discuss otherwise. Is that okay with you?”

The rules for setting a boundary are as follows:

  1. Hurt proposes a boundary and whether it’s negotiable.

I would love to live in a world where hurt could just propose a boundary and no discussion, but the problem here is that:

  • Boundaries are pointless if one party doesn’t respect/​abide by them so just declare “this is my boundary!” Isn’t useful without discussion.

  • preventing the action may mostly fall on Friend, so Hurt may need input on what is feasible or other options that also will prevent the action

Hurt must decide if they are willing to negotiate the boundary. Deciding this may depend on the following questions:

  • is this the first time this action has ever been brought up

  • is this action socially acceptable

  • can Friend discuss boundaries in good faith

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then hurt may want to consider a non-negotiable boundary. Otherwise, allowing the boundary to be discussed is usually a net positive move. Of course it opens the door to possible manipulation or bad faith arguments so Hurt must be careful.

2) Friend must agree upon boundary or suggest a viable alternative that has all the qualities of a good boundary defined above.

Discussion can go back and forth until a conclusion is reached. If a boundary is reached, you win!


In other knockoff versions of this game, apologies are used. In this game apologies don’t matter much. Hurt isn’t passing judgment so there is nothing to apologize for. Apologies should never be expected or forced in any way. If Friend wants to offer an apology for their actions they can, and hurt may or may not accept the apology. Regardless, if hurt were to change their mind on setting boundaries because of an apology that would be a mistake. So the apology should, in essence, be ignored by both parties as boundaries are set.

Following the rules

Here is the tough part. Not everyone plays by the rules here. In fact, reminding people about the rules or sending them this post is not okay. People are allowed to express themselves however they want, and we can’t tell them they are doing it wrong. The best we can do is try to steer the conversation in this direction. For example, Hurt may say, “you stabbed me in the back” which is not an allowable move in our game because it is accusation and judgmental. Friend may say something like, “I hear that when I ate the last cupcake from the fridge you felt upset.” Friend is basically translating Hurt’s statement into Non-Violent Communication and now follows the rules of the game.

Even if someone isn’t playing right, a lot of the rules still apply:

  • - you are the only person in control of your feelings, and no one is responsible for them but you.

  • - you should never feel responsible for someone’s feelings.

  • - you never NEED to bring something up, only if you want to.

  • - You never can get upset at someone for not expressing their feelings in the moment, we all have different changing thresholds for what we want to discuss.

  • - you never need to justify your feelings, no one can deny how you are feeling

  • - You can never tell someone what they are feeling is wrong

  • - you never need to apologize

  • - You never can demand an apology

  • - an apology doesn’t make things better, only actions do

  • - you never need to justify setting boundaries

  • - you never need to just accept boundaries; they need to be agreed upon.


Do not play this game if:

  • - you desire an apology

  • - you want to hurt someone

  • - you want someone to feel remorseful or sorry

  • - you want someone to repent for previous actions

But why don’t people resolve conflict like this

And scene! Game allegory aside, I will be talking as myself now...

I think if everyone resolved conflict like this, a lot less people would be manipulated, and relationships may be better. But we don’t, we don’t even come close. Often when an action is taken, people try to figure out “why”.

Nate Soares on lesswrong-

One hypothesis I have for why people care so much about some distinction like this is that humans have social/​mental modes for dealing with people who are explicitly malicious towards them, who are explicitly faking cordiality in attempts to extract some resource. And these are pretty different from their modes of dealing with someone who’s merely being reckless or foolish. So they care a lot about the mental state behind the act.

(As an example, various crimes legally require mens rea, lit. “guilty mind”, in order to be criminal. Humans care about this stuff enough to bake it into their legal codes.)

Nate concludes his post by stating that; regardless of intent, actions look the same. Our drive to discover intent seems strong but is not required in almost all cases. To ignore the intent of someone’s actions goes against some primal evolutionary drives but is needed to resolve conflict outlined in this post. A pillar of the thinking that led to these rules is that it is never acceptable to judge another’s actions. I will write a whole post about this later and link it here, but I hold the belief that it is never acceptable to judge someone as a person or even their actions. Any time I feel the urge to judge someone, I try to flinch away from that feeling and instead say that “their current world view does not match my own”.

This tiny shift in perspective, from wrong to disagreeing about what’s important or true in life can allow us to live a judgement free life. We can still pick friends and social groups that align with our current world views without being a hypocrite. We can still choose a partner to spend our life with and we can still decide to keep or say goodbye to relationships. But we aren’t doing any of that because of what’s right and wrong, we are doing it based off who is compatible with us. No blame being assigned, just happiness when we find people similar, and sadness when we see people drift away.

Resolving conflict should happen in all relationships, especially healthy relationships. Using these skills can strengthen your relationships with others and relationship with yourself.