Resolving conflict through explicit bargaining

Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Edward J. Lawler

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20 Scopus citations


This article analyzes the impact of conciliatory initiatives on conflict resolution in two- party bargaining. It specifically develops and tests a theory of unilateral initiatives derived from Osgood's (1962) notion of Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension Reduction (GRIT). The major propositions of the theory indicate that, given a pattern of mutual resistance or hostility, unilateral initiatives and tit-for-tat retaliation in response to punitive action will produce more conciliation and less hostility by an opponent. To test the theory, a bargaining setting was created in a laboratory experiment in which parties exchanged offers and counteroffers on an issue across a number of rounds while also having the option to engage in punitive action against one another. The results indicated that (1) unilateral initiatives produced more concession making and less hostility than a reciprocity strategy, and (2) tit-for-tat retaliation heightened hostility initially but reduced it ever time. The article suggests some general, abstract conditions under which two parties in conflict can produce conciliation and reach agreements without the intervention of third parties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1183-1204
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1991

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* This article is based in part on the first author's M.A. thesis, conducted under the supervision of the second author. The project was partially supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to the second author, and both authors would like to thank Rebecca Ford, Edgar Kiser, Barry Markovsky, Charles W. Mueller, and Cecilia Ridgeway for helpful comments. Directcorrespondence to Edward J. Lawler, Departmentof Sociology, University of lowa, Iowa City, L4 52242.


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